The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Merkel's Duct-Tape Solution for Europe Coming Apart?

Angela Merkel is now 0 for 2 in trying to influence the outcome of elections in important Latin countries in Europe. In both France and Italy, voters solidly rejected the candidates she supported and gave their votes to candidates she opposed. And this could just be the beginning, the New York Times speculates:

But experts said the Italian vote served as a warning shot that a new round of political instability could be coming in the neighboring large economies of Spain and France. Their leaders have also adopted austerity programs to keep the euro debt crisis from engulfing their economies, despite concerns that the programs are impeding the economic rebound that might help them grow their way out of financial distress. [...]

Few experts anticipated the depth of anger displayed by Italian voters over the austerity that Mr. Monti, the technocrat beloved by other European leaders but resented at home for pushing tax increases and spending cuts, represented. The electorate chose two men convicted of crimes — Mr. Berlusconi and Mr. Grillo — over the one Italian leader in whom the rest of Europe had put great faith.

We’re not sure who these legions of surprised experts are. From where we’re sitting, there has never been any sign of a fundamental fix to the European money mess. Thanks to the ECB the crisis has stayed quiet, but the European leadership has been as ineffectual at devising a strategy to end the crisis as it was incompetent at designing the currency in the first place. The Italian election is more evidence that the EU is exactly where it was 18 months ago: only the Germans have the money to fund programs that can hold the eurozone together, but the only plans they come up with require so many sacrifices and such wrenching change in target countries that the ensuing political deadlock and bitterness threatens to rip the currency zone apart. The result is failure, papered over for the present by the ECB.

This chicken wire and spit solution has worked for the past few months. Merkel indicated last November that she anticipated that the EU’s sovereign debt crisis would last for at least five more years. A five year agony isn’t a crisis; it’s a disease, and if the Italian election is any indication, more and more people in Europe are ready to check out of the hospital against medical advice.

Published on February 27, 2013 9:00 am