“I’ll give Europe a year. Two at the most....” Those could be words coming from the mouth of an actor in a tragicomedy about the current crisis. A feeling of frustration over unfulfilled promises still lingers.

During the Dark Ages, when the Black Death stalked Europe, we didn't just learn to wash our hands better. We can also take some “inspiration” from our ancestors for how to get to grips with the crisis. The French philosopher and historian René Girard notes that in times of crisis (cholera, plague, political instability), when society gets overwhelmed by disorder and the rules fall by the wayside, we seek not causes but the guilty (innocent) ones.

The ideal candidate is a stranger (or at least sufficiently "other"), who, playing the role of scapegoat, brings the society together. The real reasons, arguments or facts do not play as significant a role as that which the majority decides to believe in.

The myth of Europe in decline

Did the Jews cause the plague? Did the euro cause the crisis? Or are we just in the midst of chaos, where it suits us Czechs just fine that Božena Němcová [Czech woman writer of the mid 19th century Czech National Revival movement] and Papa Masaryk [Tomáš Masaryk founder and first President of Czechoslovakia] are still tucked happily into our wallets. It may seem to us that, in a period ruled by science and facts, myth belongs to an era we left behind long ago. Or perhaps, simply, we do not know about the greatest triumph of myth? World Bank economist Indermit Gill, working on the European economic model, speaks about the five myths that we are prone to believe.

The myth that Europe is in decline might be accepted a bit too glibly. If we look at its development since 2000, we find it has maintained a stable 30 percent of world production, while the share of the U.S., for example, has fallen from 31 percent to 23 percent. Another indicator popular with analysts is GDP, which over the past twenty years has grown by about two percent per year. In Europe we came up with something like a “convergence machine," says Gill. Poorer states that enter the union strengthen their economic position and, thanks to regional trade, catch up with the stronger.

Are European finances the worst in the world? And who then has the best? Money should flow from rich to poor. That, at least, according to economists, would be the ideal situation. But in the world but we see the exact opposite (or the "China Syndrome", as Gill sees it).

European states, it seems to us, are too big. In European countries, where social welfare is the core model, the government spends ten percent more of GDP than governments outside Europe.

We are better off

It’s also a fact that developed European countries are better off than at any time in history. The French, for example, work nine years fewer than they did in the 1960s, and they live about six years longer. Of course, this coin has a flip side to it. How to motivate people to support the system and help to maintain it, and not abuse it? The answer may lie to the north. Scandinavia and its model provides a possible solution and, at the very least, proof that even big government can work.

And in the end, despite all that, we Europeans are urged to forget our whole model and start all over again. No wonder that in such a mood it’s hard to find the enthusiasm to continue. But we also must realise that when it’s raining outside, we do have a waterproof coat and someone did remember to bring an umbrella.

The main problem is not the crisis itself, but what brought it on. We have seen in several cases (e.g. Germany in early 2000), that the crisis can be overcome and so motivate other countries (Slovakia). Europe's diversity can, from this point of view, constitute a wealth of experience in how to cope with the crisis. Or are we simply to think up a suitable story, which we’ll choose to believe in and with which we’ll simply rationalise this "plague"?