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EUROPE/ A puzzle to take apart and put back together

July Fri 13, 2012

(Fotolia)  (Fotolia)

Greece is the only known example of a country that has lived in bankruptcy since the day that it was born… All of the country’s budgets, from the very first to the one just out, have been in deficit”. This quote is not an excerpt of an IMF report, but rather a compendium on “Contemporary Greece”, written by Edmond About. A minor detail: the work was published in 1858. Chapter VII, Finances, reserves other surprises: “The powers that protect Greece have been obliged to guarantee the solvency of the Greek state so that it can negotiate with external lenders. But the loans thereby obtained have been squandered by the government without any benefit to the country: and now that this money has been spent, the guarantors have no other option but to have the good grace to pay the interest, which Greece cannot reimburse”.

This merciless portrait brings us back to 2012 and calls for a reflection on the crisis of the euro. After verifying that the main causes come from overseas, the crisis has shown a number of structural differences and weaknesses that countries have long swept under the rug of the single currency. This has resulted in the paradox that the euro, and the public debt, which has become the symbol of this currency, is put in the dock as the most immediate measure of European weakness, while the analyses of the structural problems and errors committed in Brussels too often are based on difficult to erase prejudices.

First among them is the belief in a sole socio-economic model, the one set in Maastricht and sealed by the Stability and Growth Pact of 1997, with which sooner or later every EU country must align itself, even at the cost of cancelling the culture and traditions of a nation. The crisis, of the debt/GDP and various indices, seems not to care, however, uniting countries that the treaties call virtuous and those called non-virtuous without much distinction.

The proof lies in the fact that the definition of distressed countries is not an easy thing. It began with the PIGS, an acronym in which the arrogance of the financial analysts was equal only to their ignorance in economic matters, before changing to PIIGS and then southern Europe, according to schemata worthy of the Thirty Years War, leading up to the current label of “peripheral countries”. According to this analysis, Germany fills the worrying role of a central core.

The crisis of the European Union evidently has various facets and, if for some countries the difficulties are clear on a daily basis, for others a rough evaluation threatens to transform existing contradictions into unpredictable difficulties (while this piece is being written, the Libor scandal is raging across the Channel and the Élysée “discovered” that they have to cut public spending by at least 50 billion euros by the end of the year).



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