Geithner didn’t mince his words. He warned that political divisions, and incessant public talk about bankruptcy and a pan-European fiscal crisis by European leaders, will continue feeding the turmoil in world markets and increasing the risk of an uncontrollable chain reaction. Intra-European differences, Geithner underlined, are “very damaging” and must be reined in before it is too late.
There was little doubt that the American admonitions would draw a miffed reaction from some of the Europeans -- who, as a group, are always ready with words but equally always short on action.
Austria’s Finance Minister Maria Fekter’s statement perfectly summarized the Eurogroup’s reaction to Geithner’s warnings. Said Fekter: “I found it peculiar that even though the Americans have significantly worse fundamental [economic] data than the Eurozone, that they tell us what we should do.”
Good sound bite, Mrs. Fekter, but this is certainly not the time for European braggadocio -- but braggadocio we will get given the barren approach to the current crisis by almost the entire membership of the “union.”
At the root of this developing, dangerous transatlantic rift lie the fundamental differences between the American and European approaches to doing what needs to be done.
While the Americans, for all their obvious faults, are ultimately looking for an operational solution to a given problem, the Europeans prefer the higher brow, but almost always ineffective, path of endless political debate.
The European “union” has an already established record of summits and meetings and so many other get-togethers that have led to either one big fat zero or, alternatively, to a “solution” without breath or the elements of survivability.
The current juncture though is much more dangerous than previous tiffs.
Driven by German domestic politics, and the unchanged German “way,” the current billowing crisis of the political legitimacy of the “union” itself continues to be subject to petty electioneering politics and the likes and dislikes of particular European electorates bent on punishing miscreants, like the Greeks, over the strategic issues of long vacations and early retirement.
Unlike Geithner and the Americans, who seem to realize the potential impact of a European implosion in its totality, European leaders continue to squabble over the technicalities of bailout when the “union’s” political and social core is dangerously close to meltdown and key countries, like Italy and Spain, are on the verge.
And the Americans, unlike most northern Europeans, can see the impact of forcing Greece into a corner and/or pushing it out of the euro zone. American talk about Greece’s need to “rationalize” and economize notwithstanding, it appears that the American interpretation of the reverberating potentialities of a Greek default is much closer to reality than those of the Germans, the Finns, the Slovaks, or the Dutch.
With high debts, shaky banks, no growth, and restive voters, Europe is dangerously toying with political attitudes we believed had been permanently relegated to history books.
Perhaps this thought was in the back of the mind of Polish finance minister, Jacek Rostowski, when he spoke of the dangers of the European “union” falling apart and predicted that war could return to Europe not very far down the road. Rostowski, unlike most of his counterparts, obviously remembers September 1939 and the period immediately preceding it.
Geithner’s visit with the Eurogroup yet again reminded us of how short European memories are: most of those bothered Euro ministers, who sped to whack the US official over the head for being so insolent toward the lofty “union,” have obviously forgotten that if it were not for the Marshall Plan, for example, their countries could have been still going slow after the utter devastation of the last world war -- not to mention Europe’s long years of steadily diminishing defense spending and reliance on American power to ensure against the Soviet threat during the Cold War.
Few would expect international politics to be based on gratitude of course, but being a bit more prudent with remarks, when one is as totally in a fumble as our current European “leaders,” wouldn’t hurt at all; if anything, it would help us hope that reason has not entirely deserted the current European political class overwhelmingly populated by political midgets.