mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
The Comprehensive Eurofail

Having spent months warning readers about the incompetence of Europe’s political leadership and the incoherence of its institutional structures, I thought I had seen the worst.  But for even this hardened and cynical observer who has had years of watching European ineptitude the last 24 hours have been a revelation: the Europeans are totally at sea.

The Greek government has fallen apart; nobody in the cabinet or out knows what is happening or what should be done.

Silvio Berlusconi’s authority has collapsed in Italy, but while Berlusconi can’t govern anymore, nobody else can take the reins.  At a moment of grave financial crisis, the Italian ship is drifting rudderless in a stormy sea.

Europe’s institutions cannot cope.  Decades of building intricate rules and complicated institutions have failed to create an institutional architecture than can resolve basic disputes.

Not all of Europe’s leaders are empty suits.  Angela Merkel, David Cameron, Olli Rehn and a surprisingly large number of others are people of real substance and conviction.  George Papandreou is a serious man. But the absence of an effective organizational structure plus the failure (perhaps because it was impossible) to build a European political culture means that in Europe the whole is much less than the sum of the parts.

We can still hope that sheer desperation will force the Europeans into some kind of coherent action. The house is on fire, the boat is headed for Niagara Falls, the cow flops are hitting the fan, the dam has broken and the volcano is erupting: perhaps somebody somewhere will act.

But right now the world’s largest economic bloc is running around like a chicken with its head cut off.  This is not a drill.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Neville

    It’s a mistake to think that Cameron for instance is more in control than Papandreou. It’s more accurate to say that throughout the EU the bureaucrats do what they want, and elected government ministers either pretend to be in control or are led to believe they are by their civil servants, who continually steer the vast apparatus of the parasitic administrative state so as to protect their ever-growing numbers, perks and privileges. As soon as that is no longer possible of course the whole thing falls apart, as in Greece today. For more details see the wonderful BBC TV series ‘Yes, Minister’.

    In this sense the problem is not the “absence of an effective organizational structure”, it’s the onerous cost and disastrous impact of the highly effective and resistant organizational structure they do have.

  • Neville

    With reference to my earlier comment, here is just today’s example of abject surrender by Cameron to the British civil service unions (Daily Telegraph):

    Trying to avert the widest industrial action since the 1920s, David Cameron unveiled an improved “take it or leave it” offer yesterday. The Prime Minister said it would provide many public sector staff with “far, far better pensions than people in the private sector”.

    Under the new terms, they will retire with pension deals worth up to 20 times that of the average private sector worker. Some will even see their pension entitlements rise, the Treasury said.

    The move led to claims that the Prime Minister had backed down in the face of trade union threats.

    But the concessions failed to appease union leaders, who said their plans for a “day of action” on Nov 30 would continue unchanged. One dismissed the concessions as “marginal”…

  • Eurydice

    Uh huh, preach it to those of us who’ve been saying this for the past 20 years. And I don’t know where you’ve gotten the idea that Papandreou is a serious man – perhaps you mean he has no sense of humor? Or maybe you mean that he’s serious about clinging to his political position and politically derived family fortune? But if you mean that he’s a serious public servant with serious ideas that will help his country, you might want to think again. His plans are the same Greek brand of “headless chicken in a Kafka novel.”

  • AC1

    > …David Cameron, … are people of real substance and conviction.

    What colour is the sky on your planet?

  • George

    Why should we wish the Europeans into “coherent action”? “Coherent action” means nothing more than that this crisis becomes the foundational moment for an anti-democratic European superstate.

  • Mike M.

    As is so often the case, Margaret Thatcher was right. She knew that the European Union was a disaster in the making from Day One and tried to warn everyone, but as usual the know-it-alls thought they knew better.

    The Brits must be thanking their lucky stars every day that they had the good sense not to get themselves entangled in this mess.

  • Dantes

    It goes without saying that the good ship USA is not far behind.

  • RKV

    The US had a moment like this under the Articles of Confederation. We got a central government and Constitution. Not going to happen in Euroland.

  • Constitution First

    Sometimes a person or nation’s purpose in life, is only to serve as a warning to others. Watching “EuroFail” tempers the noise of the March Moochers from being taken too seriously.

  • Ken Moore

    Re Neville’s first comment: When a system keeps delivering a result voters don’t like, it is by design.

  • Tam

    Any solution they come up with that doesn’t involve retrenchment and kicking non-performers out of the club is just prolonging the agony. Once the gangrene sets in, you can’t save the leg with iodine and bandaids.

  • Richard

    The EU was ultimately a Gaullist project to make Europe a third force in the world. It all stemmed from De Gaulle being told by an American general that missles based in France were under the exclusive control of the President of the United States. Europe is now paying a heavy price for this affront to De Gaulle’s dignity.

  • megapotamus

    Most of the other figures of substance and conviction have already been through the mill but let me state my recent and profound dissappointment in Merkel, who certainly seemed to be such. Her de-nuking of Germany in the shadow of the Japanese quake/nuke disaster reveals that she is either as unserious as Berlusconi or an opportunistic panderer. The former, I think, is more subject to correction.

  • Mr. G

    I unfortunately heard on the radio while driving back from work that “the United States has a constructive role to play in the European debt crisis”. I doubt that Europe is hoping for our advice.

    The worst part of this is that the very same types of people who will unquestionably support a US bailout of Europe will be the first to turn around and say we have billions to spend on other countries but we have no money to spend on domestic social programs.

    In practical New York City terms this means having to put up with insufferable, filthy rich Upper West Side types just giggling when the subject of bailing out Europe comes up (they will condescendingly say there is no logical choice while they never actually explain the logic). Then having to put with the Working Family Party and social activist types screaming about an overseas bailout and that it is only “right” that their own organizations get even more tax money as a result.

  • glenn

    And much more important is that old adage that “Nature Abhors a Vacuum” Last time there was one in Europe The Italians chose Mussolini, The Germans chose Hitler, and the Spaniards chose Franco. Just sayin’

  • WigWag

    “Not all of Europe’s leaders are empty suits. Angela Merkel, David Cameron, Olli Rehn and a surprisingly large number of others are people of real substance and conviction…” (Walter Russell Mead)

    David Cameron may have “substance” but I am not quite sure how “real” it is. More than anyone else, Cameron reminds me of John Major.

    But Professor Mead’s characterization of Cameron is a step in the right direction; at least the Professor has tuned it down a little bit. A few short weeks ago, he was comparing David Cameron to Margaret Thatcher and even Winston Churchill.

    That was so far over the top that it boggles the mind.

  • Snorri Godhi

    I’d look to Eastern Europe for politicians “of real substance and conviction”. But that could be just cognitive dissonance on my part, trying to rationalize my decision to move from Denmark to Estonia.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I have been saying for sometime that the EU is going to fly apart just like the Warsaw pact and the Soviet Union, and for many of the same reasons. Diverse cultures speaking different languages, forced together by political fiat, and held there by a bloated Government Monopoly. Even the French wouldn’t vote for the ridiculously long 250 page constitution, so no legitimacy for the EU.
    The US should focus on what comes after the EU’s demise, primarily maintaining trade so that the damage from economic collapse is reduced.

  • Joe McHugh

    I suspect we’re seeing disarray in Europe because nobody there sees any real way out. Unfortunately, this is probably because there really is no way out.

    The consensus seems to be that Europe’s banks are insolvent. So the banks will not be in any position to bail out any insolvent governments.

    Meanwhile, Europe’s governments skirt the edge of insolvency. If their banks begin to collapse, they are not in any position to bail the banks out.

    There’s every reason to believe that one major incident (a Greek default?) may be enough to trigger some form of systemic collapse. At the same time, it looks like no existing European institution is in a position to cope with such a collapse.

    “This is not a drill?” Truer words were never spoken.

  • TMLutas

    The problem is one of calibration. Instead of asking what can the state afford to cut, one should be asking what is the best government that one can afford with currently available tax revenues and only then, what should the government do in addition to that with borrowed money in order to finance projects that would increase the economy and improve the lives of the people. Everything else needs to be spun off to a non-profit and work off of donations as best they can. And if nobody wants to pay for it, perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea in the first place.

  • Owen J

    I don’t think they are going to be the “world’s largest economic bloc” for long.

  • gazzer

    This has been inevitable and almost comical to watch. If they don’t throw Greece overboard, then this is going to spread to the others

  • teapartydoc

    I’m the last person who would accuse anyone of shooting fish in a barrel, but…

  • srp

    There is a modest proposal for how Americans can help in this time of great Euro distress at

  • WigWag

    Professor Mead thinks Cameron, Merkel and even Papandreu are leaders of substance; maybe he’s right. My view of the most competent chief of state in the contemporary developed world is Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada.

    Is there a developed nation that has weathered the recent economic downturn better than Canada. Not as far as I can tell.

    Harper and Cameron do share one feature in common; they’re both frightfully boring. Harper makes up for his lack of charisma by performing his job brilliantly. Cameron, not so much.

  • mark l.

    altruism versus self-preservation.
    or, philosophy versus reality.

    place your bets…

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service