Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Twilight of Eutopia

Yesterday my South African correspondent, Ms Azra Alli from Joburg, asked the following clear-cut question: ‘Is there no end to this European crisis? Is there even an ultimate solution?’

An ultimate solution to this pretty mess? Ay, if only I knew, I could become the third president of the European Union (i.e. the one in charge of solving the continent’s problems).

Unfortunately, I don’t think one can speak of solutions in this case, only of outcomes. One possible outcome is that the wealthy northern nations accept the harsh reality that they will have to pay through the nose to bail out the less efficient and productive southern countries, and not just now but until doomsday. Call it the Florida scenario: a socio-political union of constant money transfers southward. It is the price the Germans, Dutch and Fins would have to pay for a getting a U.S.E.

Yet I cannot really see this happen. The northern electorates are very fed up with being milked and will not stand for more inescapable obligation; so it can only be realized through despotic means. Brussels is indeed trying to pull off this covert revolution the Paper Way (think Eurobonds, banking union, Power To The People’s Commissars, etc), under the slogan that the bureaucratic pen is considerably mightier than the policeman’s sword. But such tactics only go so far. Not even today’s Europeans, sheepish, pleasure-seeking dunces that they have become, will all be fooled all of the time.

The other outcome, which I fear is far more likely, is that the Eurozone goes bust. In which case southern countries would return to national currencies, the north will probably stick to a single Euro-Lite or D-Mark-Plus, and we will all pass through two years of chaos and penury. The fact is that nobody really knows what this period of transition will look like or how it will run out. But one thing is certain: any conversion to a new currency will turn out to be yet another along-the-line looting of citizen’s savings, just as the introduction of the Euro itself – in hindsight – was revealed to be the largest collective wage-reduction in history. There will be an Argentinian-style ‘corralito’ of people’s bank accounts, followed by an ‘internal’ exchange rate which skims 10 or 20 or perhaps even 30 % off the purchasing power of private assets. This in the name of a return to competitiveness. Unthinkable, you say? Well, do not underestimate the ruthlessness of our political leadership in times of crisis. They know from their history books and from the recent Argentinian example, that popular fury can be held in control by the thin blue line for a week or two, and that it then abates.

A final scenario, which frankly has my preference, is that one morning we wake up to discover that the Swiss have descended from their mountains and radiated out into every nook and corner of the continent, occupying Europe for the good of all. Cheese fondue will be the mandatory meal on Sunday afternoon; cuckoo clocks will replace crucifixes and royal portraits in all schools and public buildings, and the Euro will be firmly pegged against the Swiss Frank. Town Hall Meetings will be called in which all men (sorry, ye well-prepared upwardly mobile young ladies…), properly girded with their virile sabres, will decide by ballot whether or not The Third Man shall be banned from the village cinemas. Tax evasion becomes a folkloristic sport, which gains the winner medals rather than prison terms and a bad reputation, and everyone in Europe will become as rich as he becomes boring. In short: Bern will bring the Prosperity and Democracy that Brussels promised but could not deliver, on the point of Swiss fondue-forks. As I said: this has my preference, but I am uncertain of its feasibility.

Swiss Weapons of Mass Construction

But enough cheerful nonsense. Let’s get back to reality. The fact is that the introduction of the single currency was a mad experiment of the Dr Frankenstein type, which should never have been undertaken, least of all so fast and eagerly by people so blinded by their own ideology and self-importance. But – as the Romans, Montesquieu, Jefferson, Stuart Mill, Hobbes and who not might have told you – such frolicking hubris is what you inevitably get, if you hand over sovereign power to people who are not subjected to checks, balances and electoral correction.

Today, our Brussels boys and girls are presenting themselves as the promoters of Eutopia. The day after tomorrow, the history books will reveal them for what they are and always have been: architects of Mafra, the megalomaniac palace that bankrupted the Portuguese Empire into oblivion.


  1. I like your Swiss solution. I keep on thinking of all the good chocolate that will replace some of the crap that sit on our shelves. And good chocolate means happier people.

    I guess only time will tell Mr. Mittington :)

    1. You're right! I forgot about the superior Swiss chocolate. And the Rüstli (although there are people who would consider that rather a disadvantage of the whole plan). But not all is gold that glitters, of course. One unappetizing side of the Helvetian Solution is the risk that we would all be asked to speak Swissdeutsch. Which is awful enough to depress even the very cheerfullest soul on the face of the earth! So a citizen's commission better start negotiations with the Swiss as soon as possible!