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The Euro changes
the chemistry of Europe




December 27, 2001

LONDON - The age of Euro-pessimism is dead. From January 1st on every child in the countries of European Union, bar those in Britain, Sweden, and Denmark, will hold in their hands the first coins of their future - a Europe without borders, barriers and, most important, wars. Of course, it can all be undone, but not in a moment.

The common currency binds in a most extraordinary way the destiny of the peoples of this peninsular protruding from the landmass of Asia. If culturally it is a potage of languages, peoples and traditions (and long may it be so!), politically it is no longer a moveable feast of sovereign states whose borders are battered and changed by continuous argument and warfare.

I've spent my Christmas in a small out of the way Spanish village where I once briefly lived whilst writing a book. Over coffee the headmaster of the village school reflected on the equanimity with which Spaniards were accepting the end of the peseta, one of the older currencies of Europe and the arrival of the Euro. "Antagonism, violent competition, war - there is no future for Spain in that. All our recent wars have ended in defeat for Spain. Our civil war tore us horribly apart. We have to be bound closely with the rest of Europe".

"Perhaps this is one of the reasons Britain has stayed out," I ventured in reply. "We have won all our wars in the last century. And when at the end of the Second World War Britain was more or less offered the leadership of a united Europe we refused the offer, and still does. But the British too will now feel the irresistible pull of the Euro."

In his profound book of a decade ago, "Barbarian Sentiments", my fellow columnist William Pfaff wrote: "For four hundred years European civilization has dominated the world - for better or for worse. It is convenient and flattering for Americans to assume that this is all over, but it is very rash to do so". "Americans", he wrote, "tend to think of Europe as a 'used-up civilization'".

It was a prescient remark written at a time when the European economy was not at its best, when America seemed to be at the pinnacle of influence with its victory in the Cold War followed by its swift defeat of Saddam Hussein and its promise by its Secretary of State James Baker to quickly find an end to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, at that time the only serious blot on the geo-political landscape.

But, a decade on, it is Europe that appears resurgent, more controlled in its political passions, more wisely aware of what can and cannot be done in the world outside. While individually the West European countries have long been major economic powers, now collectively they are an industrial giant, equal to the United States and double that of Japan. Militarily, they have chosen to play second fiddle to the U.S., which is no bad thing, although the growth of a separate European defence identity and a distinct foreign policy, if slow to mature, are all but inevitable.

Indeed in foreign policy, if one leaves out Britain, there is already a common identity, most clearly seen when the policies are compared with Washington's. Most important, for the first time since World War 2, Europe feels confident to be with or apart from America, depending on the issues. The coming of the Euro can only drive this process forward even faster.

Much of the European debate on a day-to-day basis is an argument among specialists. But not this one. The Euro is tangible unity and tangible momentum. And the next historic step that will be felt by the man in the street is already foreseen- the entry of the former communist countries of Eastern Europe in four or five years' time.

Yet there will be a piece missing - Russia. And this, more than Islamic fundamentalism, is the issue that fascinates and absorbs contemporary European thinkers and policy makers. Indeed, absorbing Russian into the European Union is more important than creating a "united states of Europe", which according to the older generation of Europeans (and still the Germans) is the ultimate goal.

These two goals are clearly now in conflict. There is no way that Russia could be a member of Europe that was united politically, as well as economically and financially, without creating a sovereign single territory which would be too large to be governable by a single regime.

Russia belongs in Europe - its artistic and philosophical traditions point it that way, and its intellectual talent would be a precious contribution. To keep it out would be to leave a dangerous loose canon on the deck. As with Germany, it needs to be tied down in a wider body. Yet it is sufficient if it is part of what Europe is now, a loose political coalition (with a loose security consciousness) but with strong economic, financial and environmental integration.

There does not have to be a "united states" of Europe for a powerful "Europe" to exist. The Euro has seen to that.

I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


Copyright © 2001 By JONATHAN POWER



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