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Bernard-Henri Lévy Headshot

Build a Political Europe, or Die

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If Europe does not become a political entity, the euro will disappear.

This disappearance can take a number of forms and go through several detours.

It may be an explosion, an implosion, slow death, a dissolution, or a division.

It may take two, three, five, ten years, preceded by a great number of successive remissions, all of which may give the impression, every time, that the worst has been avoided.

The event that triggers it might be the collapse of a Greece overwhelmed by austerity plans that are impossible to effect and unbearable for the people, or the feat of one Karlsruhe Court or another, refusing, on the part of Germany, the unlimited risk to which the country would be exposed in the event of the default of a member State.

But it will disappear. One way or another, if nothing happens, it will disappear. This is not a hypothesis, a vague fear, a red flag waved in the face of recalcitrant Europeans. It is a certainty. And it is deduced, this certainty, not only from logic (the absurdity of the pipe dream this abstract single currency, virtually floating since it is not backed by common economies, resources, and fiscal policy, will become if things remain as they are) but from History (all the situations that have occurred in the past two centuries that remind us of the crisis we are experiencing now).

For the euro is not the first single currency experiment the West has attempted.

There have been at least six, the chronicle of which -- even if, as always, the situations are not comparable -- is full of lessons.

Two of them clearly failed, and they did so because of national egotism coupled with inequality of development among countries that could not speak the same monetary language without uniting (moreover, in the first case, the key episode was a default of payment on the part of... Greece!): These are the two adventures, today long forgotten, of the Latin Union (1865-1927) and the Scandinavian Union (1873-1914).

Two proved fairly rapid and clear successes -- and if they succeeded, it was, in each case, because the process of monetary unification was accompanied by political unification: They were the birth of the Swiss franc in 1848, when, after half a century of trial and error due to the refusal to pay the political price of the economic Union, the Constitution establishing the Helvetic Confederation replaced the different currencies that had up until then been issued by the cities, cantons, or territories; and, secondly, the victory of the Italian lire which, at the moment of Italian Union, triumphed over the myriad currencies indexed either on those of the German States, or on the franc, or on former ducal or republican traditions. (And even then, at what price this triumph! And in return, particularly in the south, for how many tragedies, former structures shattered, micro-societies that disintegrated, entire towns forced to emigrate to the north, if not to France or America!

Two took tentative steps, fell back, nearly failed, and finally succeeded, yes, invented an actual common currency after undergoing a thousand crises, retreats, temporary abrogations and, thanks to courageous leaders, finally understanding that a currency exists only when backed by a budget, a tax system, a system of allocation of resources, labor laws, social rules, in short, policies that are truly mutual: , lsuch is the story of the new mark that became a reality, nearly forty years after the Zollverein of 1834, against the florins, thalers, kronenthalers, and other marks of the Hanseatic League cities; and it is the story of the dollar which, we tend to forget, took a hundred and twenty years to establish its dominance and did so, in truth, only after the agreement to federalize the debt of the member states of the Union.

The theorem is implacable.

Without federation, no common currency.

Without political unity, the currency lasts for a few decades and then, due to a war or a crisis, it crumbles.

Otherwise put, without the process of this political integration, to which the obligation is inscribed in all the European treaties but which no leader in France or Germany seems to want to take seriously, without the nation-States turning over their spheres of competence, and thus without a resounding defeat of these "sovereignists" who, in reality, are pushing the people towards withdrawal and collapse, the euro will disintegrate, just as the dollar would have if, for example, the Confederacy had won the Civil War.

Before, one used to say: socialism or barbarity.

Today, we should say: political union or barbarity.

Better yet: federalism or rupture and, right on the heels of rupture, social regression, precariousness, the explosion of unemployment, and poverty.

Better still: Either Europe takes one more step, passing a mark in the path to this political integration without which no single currency will succeed in enduring, or it will leave History and sink into chaos.

We no longer have the choice: It is political union or death.

Everything else -- the incantations of some, the little tweaks and changes of others, the Such and such solidarity funds, the Whatsits stabilization bank -- can only push back the deadline and encourage in a dying man the illusion that he is not condemned.