The sheer sway of stupidity in European countries and the Union itself is staggering. The crisis that started in 2007 should have supplied a little extra insight and convinced them it’s time to quit shilly-shallying, time for politics to regain the upper hand: that the hour of European government is, at last, upon us. On the contrary, it would seem the crisis has taught them nothing, in spite of the huge financial burdens the Union has now agreed to bear.

Though the nations have pledged huge sums and painful sacrifices, idiocy prevails, and what Europe seems to do best is keep a stupid smile on its face. As the euro swings up and down more and more frantically, the heads of state just put on a happy face and trust that their show of high spirits will infect the markets. Our leaders don’t talk about the raging storm, lest they be taken to task for dozing at the helm, simply hoping the financial waters will miraculously calm down on their own.

England can't go it alone

Meanwhile they are trying to spend their way out of the maelstrom, which isn’t such a bad idea, but paying isn’t the only thing needful. Our helmsmen have the impression they’ve already taken care of the politics, already shown the requisite leadership by signing off on the Lisbon Treaty and holding a couple of summits with the major governments. The only upside of the crisis is that national governments have suddenly stopped taking it out on the Eurocrats in Brussels. In their heart of hearts they know perfectly well that the world thinks Europe is on its last legs. The fault lies with the states and their national politicians: indeed, a fool often take the guise of a moderate, practical man who thinks he has mastered the art of disillusionment, of the infectious nonchalant approach.

England is a past master in that art of apparent disenchantment, steeped as it is in illusions and incantations: the illusion that it can go it alone, as the heir to its own empire; incantations to mask the facts and fill the void with agitation in lieu of action. All that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats have done is to retreat from their Europeanist positions to form a young, cheerful, photogenic government with Eurosceptic [Tory leader] David Cameron. The day they clinched the coalition deal, to wit, Graham Watson told the BBC “there’s no problem with Europe”. For the time being, he added, no further transfers of sovereignty or powers are planned or desired.

Europe is faring better than the US

But new transfers of sovereignty are a must at this very moment if Europe is finally to become a credible political entity (credible to the markets, the United States, China, India). And at this very moment Europe’s leadership, like a passer-by importuned by a second and then a third beggar, is begging off: “Yeah, but we just paid the other guy.” And yet nearly every passing day makes it painfully obvious, what with the crisis and the sacrifices demanded of us, that failing a sea change in the Union, there’s precious little hope on the horizon.

Economically, to be sure, Europe is faring better than the US. But the US is not falling apart because it’s a federal system, i.e. a visible entity. Underneath the euro, on the other hand, is a suit of armour, and inside that armour a nonexistent knight. It’s as though European culture didn’t have a long tradition of scepticism about markets and the predominance of the economy, a tradition that has given rise to fratricidal wars, but has also stood its ground by inventing democracy, checks and balances, the autonomy of the political sphere, and the welfare state.

A currency born with a fundamental defect

In the aftermath of the war, that deep-rooted culture bred a union of states that were aware of their own limitations and resolved to pool their old sovereign powers ­– a union which, among other things, has upheld the welfare state to stave off the extremisms born of social turmoil in the 19th century. It’s as though we’d never had a hallowed tradition of opposition to the reign of the market and the economy, a tradition that ranges from Condorcet and Adam Smith’s ethical and political theories to Beveridge and Keynes’ social proposals. Since the 18th century, Europe has been a wellspring of such ideas and ideals, which have now been forgotten.

The euro was born with that fundamental defect. The market and the banks were everything, the great demiurge sat in Frankfurt [headquarters of the European Central Bank]. Politics was there to guarantee the necessary freedom to securise financial dealings. Harmony was to ensue automatically, so there was no need to allow for the worst-case scenario. But the worst has now come to pass, it’s already upon us.

We can act as though it weren’t there, and give that illusion the name of pragmatism. But pragmatism without the wholesale transformation of Europe isn’t pragmatism – nor even disenchantment. It is an ideology aspiring to ultimate hegemony. And when allied with inertia, it packs the power of sheer stupidity. The power to block, as the German constitutional court and the English would have it, any further – and badly needed ­– transfers of sovereignty. It packs the punch, doubtless gratifying but utterly useless, of smiling in the face of adversity even as the crisis bears down on societies and democracies to tear them apart.