There is a stark generation gap in Europe. There is an older generation, reared in the aftermath of the Second World War, who regard the EU as a bulwark against some future European conflict. The EU, they believe, is the guarantor of peace and prosperity in Europe. Then, there are the younger generations, who take peace in Europe for granted, and so cast an increasingly questioning eye over the whole European project.
Thanks to the Euro crisis, the younger generation of Europeans are now more cynical than ever about the EU's grandiose and utopian promises. The millions of unemployed young people across Europe know all too well that the EU and the single currency has failed to bring prosperity. Across the EU-27, 21.3 percent of young people are now out of work.
Youth unemployment in Greece recently hit 51 percent. Similarly in Spain, the number of 16 to 24 year olds out of work rose to 51.4 percent last December. Spain is now losing 30,000 jobs a week. Europe's youth -- and numerous economists -- now increasingly blame the euro and the EU itself for the devastation of their prospects in life.
Helmut Kohl is an exemplar of the older generation. Last February, this prominent architect of the single currency wrote in Germany's Bild newspaper that the survival of the euro was a matter of "war and peace," and that "more Europe" was the solution. Likewise, last October, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "No one should believe that another half century of peace in Europe is a given -- it's not... if the euro collapses, Europe collapses."
Many in the younger generations find the notion that war would break out in Europe frankly comical -- and with good cause. Since the second World War the only real threat to peace in Europe was Cold War divide between the communist bloc and the Western democracies. This divide is long gone.
In any event, it was not European Coal and Steel Community, or the European Community of the 1970s and '80s that guaranteed peace in Europe during that period. It was NATO. The Soviets did not militarily fear the nascent free-trade alliance. They did, however, greatly fear NATO and its advanced military capabilities.
It is historically inaccurate to say -- as some politicians do -- that the EU has kept the peace in Europe since the second World War. It's far more accurate to say that NATO kept the peace. It's more accurate still to say that United States kept the peace in Europe since the second World War: After all, it was American technology, money and military prowess that truly guaranteed the safety of Western Europe during the Cold War.
The European Community's free trade area once played a welcome role in promoting prosperity and mutual understanding in Western Europe, but it did not guarantee peace. It was NATO's policy of nuclear deterrence that guaranteed peace in Europe, not the European project.
However, the older generation of European leaders sincerely believe that war might break out if the Euro collapses. It's important to understand that such leaders have personal memories of the horrors of war: Helmut Kohl was born in 1930, and saw war first hand. His older brother was killed as a teenage soldier. Mr. Kohl was himself drafted as a boy soldier just before the war ended. In his formative years, he was deeply traumatised by war.
The same is true of many other figures who led the mad drive toward the single currency: Francois Mitterand was born in 1916, and served under the Vichy regime in France before joining the French resistance. Valery Giscard d'Estaing was born in 1926 in Koblenz, Germany, when France was occupying the Rheinland. Born in 1925, Jacques Delors also personally witnessed the Second World War.
No wonder they retain such a terror of war. They sincerely saw an "ever closer union" as essential bulwark against further conflict, and as a way of dissolving the old national animosity in Europe. However, by the 1990s, there was no reasonable prospect of a major continental war in Europe, and so there was no need to shoehorn Europe into a federal superstate against the will of its people. By then, their fears were essentially paranoid and delusional.
When the Euro was created, many leading economists argued that a single currency would not work without political union. Others said that Europe's economies were too diverse to unite under one central bank and set of fiscal policies. The events of recent years have proven them absolutely correct. However, at the time, the architects of the Euro pressed on regardless. Why? Because they felt these economic risks were justified, as they were pursuing the higher utopian goal of a unified Europe -- to avoid another war.
The older generation of leaders' personal memories of war left them with paranoid fears of a European conflict. This in turn caused them to become reckless in creating a single currency before any democratic desire for political union existed.
Inevitably, the single currency caused unsustainable economic booms in peripheral countries after the year 2000. Next came the ferocious busts of 2008 onwards, which have left a whole generation stranded: One if five young Europeans are out of work. Over half in Greece and Spain. The numbers rise daily.
The older generation prematurely -- and recklessly -- created federalist structures like the single currency. This has created economic chaos across Europe. We already see the more extreme political parties rise in Greece. Last week in France, the far right took 20 percent of the vote. Nationalist antipathy is returning: Chancellor Merkel is routinely portrayed as a Nazi in Greek newspaper cartoons.
The older generation, traumatized by war, have bequeathed to young Europeans a landscape of joblessness and economic chaos, within which extreme political ideologies are flourishing. The architects of the Euro have inadvertently created precisely the conditions they wished to avoid.
Follow Rory Fitzgerald on Twitter: www.twitter.com/roryfitzgerald