A tale of three Europes

Three parallel Europes inhabit the EU, each with its own goals. And the single budget, which used to unite them, is increasingly a source of division and, in the long run, will be unsustainable.

Published on 11 October 2012 at 14:07

The first Europe, hit by the debt crisis, closes ranks to save itself from disaster. This it does with more or less success, but for now at least it has held together.

The second Europe stands on the sidelines, nervously looking at how things are going on in the first one. It does not want to join Europe no. 1 yet, because it does not know whether the latter will survive, and joining would mean costs. But it worries that if the first Europe does survive, the gap between them will widen too much. And that when it eventually joins the first Europe, it will have no say in it. Schizophrenia.

The third Europe is not really Europe anymore. It lives in the shadow of its former glory, covered by the patina of an empire, convinced of its own uniqueness and ability to survive without Europe no. 1 and no. 2. It is dominated by national egoism. That is why the third Europe warns the first and second ones that it will not hesitate to block their progress if it has to defends its own interests. Because interests come before anything else.

The first-Europe countries are trying to push forward the integration and coordination of their economic policies, tightening the control of the stronger countries over the weaker ones in the process. Europe no. 2 is trying to control what is happening in Europe no. 1, because we all ride in the same train. Europe no. 3 is happy that there has been a split, because it has long wanted to go its own way.

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Britain increasingly marginalising itself

It is not hard to guess who is who in this story. The first Europe is the eurozone – seventeen countries that have adopted a common currency for better and for worse. The second Europe are the non-eurozone countries: Scandinavia and the new member states, notably Poland. Most of them, with the exception of Denmark, have no choice but to eventually join the euro – but no one knows when this will happen.

The third Europe is Great Britain. Great by name only, hard hit by a crisis, contending with Scottish separatism, increasingly marginalising itself in the EU. David Cameron, the Conservative PM, said during his party’s rally this week that if need be, he would veto the entire 2014-2020 EU budget.

The community budget had so far united the three Europes, but is now beginning to divide them. Berlin is proposing a separate budget for the eurozone, that is, Europe no. 1. Germany pays, so it demands. Leaks to German press suggest that at this point it could amount to 20 billion euros. Even officials responsible for Poland’s EU policy admit that sooner or later such a budget will be created. Poland would rather, of course, that it happens later rather than sooner, and that creating a second budget does not mean shaving the first one. Alas, this is unlikely. The British will help, eagerly blocking the budget to reduce their contribution to the EU’s joint finances.

So a single budget for three Europes is indefensible. What Poland can and should do is try and delay the budgetary bifurcation. And become part of Europe no. 1 as soon as possible. Assuming there is still something to join.

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