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Past, present and future of Europe

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João Fazenda (NYTimes Feb 7, 2014)

What would Jean Monnet have done?

By Strobe Talbott (The New York Times, Feb 7, 2014)

WASHINGTON- Money is an instrument of governance as well as commerce. In almost all countries on earth, the change in people’s pockets and the bank notes in their wallets are an assertion of national sovereignty.

Today, there is an exception: the euro, the common currency of 18 of the member states of the European Union. The euro zone puts these countries in the vanguard of the greatest experiment in regional cooperation the world has ever known.

Yet that venture has had a rough five years. In the wake of the Great Recession, the euro has become economically disruptive and politically divisive, pitting the states of northern and southern Europe against one another. The crisis is not over, but Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President François Hollande of France and their fellow leaders are determined to keep the euro zone intact. They are reinforcing accords on national budgets, spending and financial regulation, pushing ahead with a banking union, and tackling unemployment.

These measures are necessary to salvage economic integration and serve its original purpose: to bind up the wounds of the most bloodstained continent in modern history and turn it into a zone of peace, prosperity and democracy, governed by common policies and administrative structures.

That is the European Project. Its master architect, Jean Monnet — even though he died nearly 35 years ago — would have understood the mistakes, dilemmas and dangers that threaten that project now. It is likely he would also have supported the remedies that European leaders are attempting, since they fit with his conviction that political institution-building and economic integration had to be carefully synchronized.

Monnet has been hailed as a statesman. In fact, he was something far rarer and more consequential — a key figure in the transformation of the concept of statehood itself. He never held elective office or a ministerial post, but he was an effective advocate. Modernization, this Frenchman believed, was more than the exploitation of new technologies to improve industry, transportation and communication; it also meant adjusting to the ways in which individual nations were conjoined by an ever thickening skein of economic transactions.

Monnet quit school when he was 16 to enter the family brandy business. The experience taught him to respect consistency of method and the importance of proper sequence in a complex process: hanging the vines on meticulously laid-out trellises, fermenting the juices of the grapes for weeks, distilling them twice, then storing the final product in neatly arrayed oak casks in dark cellars for anywhere from two years to five decades or more. As a salesman of this patiently produced and precious commodity, he absorbed the basics of finance and commerce… MORE

Strobe Talbott was deputy secretary of state from 1994 to 2001, under President Bill Clinton. This article is adapted from The Brookings Essay, a series published by the Brookings Institution, of which Mr. Talbott is the president.

The Brookings Essay

Monnet’s Brandy and Europe’s Fate
A determined Frenchman’s vision of integration serves as a guide to ending the eurozone crisis
Strobe Talbott

Published 02/11/14

Money is an instrument of governance as well as commerce. It enables citizens to participate in the economic life of their societies while reminding them where political authority resides and where their loyalties belong. So it has been since ancient times, when visages of Nebuchadnezzar and Caesar were stamped on the coins of their realms, and so it is today. In almost all 195 countries on Earth, the change in people’s pockets and the banknotes in their wallets are an assertion of national sovereignty.

But today there is an exception to that general principle: the euro, which is the common currency of 18 of the member states of the European Union. The eurozone puts them in the vanguard of the greatest experiment in regional cooperation the world has ever known.

However, that venture has had a rough five years. In the wake of the global financial and economic meltdown in 2008, the euro has become economically disruptive and politically divisive, pitting the states of northern and southern Europe against each other.

The crisis is not over, but Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President François Hollande of France, and their fellow heads of government and state are determined to keep the eurozone intact. They are reinforcing accords on national budgets, spending, and financial regulation, pushing ahead with a banking union, and tackling unemployment.

In taking those and other remedial measures, today’s European leaders, like their predecessors in the middle of the last century, are heeding the wisdom of Jean Monnet. He died 35 years ago, long before the euro went into circulation. Still, he would have understood the purpose that monetary union is meant to serve: binding up the wounds of the most bloodstained continent in modern history and turning it into a zone of peace, prosperity, democracy, and global clout, animated by common values and governed by common policies and institutions. That is the European Project. As its master architect, Monnet would also have understood the mistakes, dilemmas, and dangers that threaten the project now.

The method that guided him throughout his long life put a premium on the careful sequencing of innovations in economic policy so as to make irreversible the overall process of political integration. Unlike Monnet, however, the leaders responsible for the adoption of the euro in the 1990s failed to ensure that the necessary political conditions and institutions were in place, thus making the current troubles of the European Union all but inevitable.

The relevance today of this historical figure is all the more striking in the light of his idiosyncratic career. Monnet spent much of his life as a private citizen. He never held elective office or a ministerial post. He was an effective advocate, who used his carefully cultivated mellifluous speaking voice and forensic skills to good effect in interviews and declarations. But it was primarily from behind the scenes that he influenced generations of major actors on the world stage: in his youth, Georges Clemenceau, Arthur Balfour, Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt; in his middle years, Dean Acheson, Konrad Adenauer, and John F. Kennedy; in old age, Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt, and Shimon Peres. At crucial moments and on vital issues, these leaders and others took his counsel and adopted his ideas as their own.

In a sense, Monnet is once again exerting his influence, this time from beyond the grave. The crisis in the eurozone has focused minds in key capitals on cobbling together institutional measures of the sort that he believed were necessary for monetary union. As a result, his vision of a united Europe may well survive and, over time, succeed.. MORE

Strobe Talbott and Steven R. Weisman discuss Jean Monnet’s passion for European integration and whether Europe is moving in the right direction in the face of the euro crisis, austerity, and rising nationalism.(Brookings: http://brookings.edu/europesfate)

 

 

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