On 6 May, seven parties fought their way into the new Greek parliament. Four of those parties, three left and one right wing, could be labeled – at least from the European mainstream point of view – as extremist. They were unable to form a coalition government and the Greeks will next month head to the polls again [17 June]. However, in the meantime their unreformed country will run out of money and will most likely have to leave the eurozone.

European politicians, including the new French President François Hollande, will thus be drawn into a decision over which they have only limited influence, if any at all. It will be the third time since the autumn of 2009 that European politicians will have to get involved in putting out a fire instead of dealing with its prevention. The acute Greek problem that could have been solved a long time ago by a controlled bankruptcy is once again distracting European leaders from answering deeper questions about the future development of the whole of Europe.

Economic suicide

In the long term, Europe's prosperity will be decided more by the way the eurozone bosses combine support for growth with their politics of cuts than by whether the Greeks choose to commit economic suicide with the help of democratic elections. It looks like Europe is close to doing what it should have done a long time ago: separate Greece from the euro zone.

The Americans, while going through a similar crisis, were able to make quick and crucial strategic decisions. They helped the banking sector and key companies in their domestic economy, such as in the automobile industry. The swift action paid off. State aid has already been returned, Detroit is coming back to life again, while we in Europe are again dancing in a circle.

The Americans looked ahead and made a decision. Europeans, in the face of a major challenge, are instead just zigzagging. In the midst of a European integration crisis we are thus living a different version of a situation described exactly ten years ago by the American thinker Robert Kagan in his famous essay (Of Paradise and Power: America and. Europe in the New World Order.) : [Americans are from Mars and Europeans from Venus](Let’s be more American).

There are also fundamental differences in opinions on how to solve long-term problems: Americans tackle them quickly and aggressively to prevent these problems from compromising their society, their way of life and the stability of their political system. This is also the very reason why Europeans fear quick and long-term solutions: they are living in an intricately constructed post-war protective shell of European integration and welfare state.

A common flag

Europeans are only slowly starting to appreciate that sometime in the future they might have to risk their lives under a common flag and to pay a common tax. Such an eventuality could help reduce the Union’s democratic deficit – taxpayers would then want and be able to better keep an eye on how Brussels spends their money. Nation states will remain a basic functional unit on the European continent for quite some time to come, but the present difficulties in the eurozone and their repeated recurrence should force them to consider the longer time horizon.

Before the upcoming NATO summit (20-21 May 2012 in Chicago), there will surely again be much talk about the state of the transatlantic relationship, about the breaching of bonds between Europe and America. It is therefore worth recalling Kagan’s old idea, but applied to the economic policy: Americans are simply more flexible, more action-minded, they are better at strategic thinking.

If the European Union is to survive as a global, competitive unit, it is left with only one option: to change its culture of short-term strategic thinking within the confines of a comfortable welfare state and four-year electoral cycles. It needs visionaries who will direct it towards further integration, and who will show it where and how it can invest, thereby increasing its competitiveness.

And it needs to say resolutely to those sabotaging the common goals that it is willing to build prosperity without them – subject to their free and democratic choice. Solidarity in Europe has, and has to have, two faces. Only then can the European Union move on in its development.