on 3 July 2014
Let's get this straight out in the open: Any account of almost anything to do with the EU is never going to be easy to tell. Such is the nature of the beast, of the labyrinthine complexities that this bureaucratic behemoth generates at will. Mr Hewitt does an admirable job of breaking down the breaking down of the pro-Euro consensus from 2007 onwards.
There is, however, little insight or opinion. Hewitt recounts meeting after meeting and records what was discussed and agreed. In a way it is more like a collection of news reports from the period. Perhaps it is supposed to be? But one longs for some personal input from the author. After a while, chapter after chapter about interminable meetings, agreed actions and then failure to take them grates.
Two important takeaways from the book. Firstly, for those that believe the Anglo-Saxon capitalist model is not despised by mainland Europe, dream on; the bitterness and resentment is palpable. Secondly, the pro-EU, pro-Euro bureaucrats and politicians are not economically literate; they really did (do?) think the markets damned the Euro, not the other way around. Stunning naivety - and stunning arrogance from those involved, who make continual noises about somehow circumventing the market each and every time bond yields rose!
The final chapters dwell on the mounting hysteria in Greece and Spain, on riots and soup kitchens; on "Shining Dawn" and other extremist groups. Nothing is mentioned at all of mainstream pro-Sovereignty parties in Europe. No mention of UKIP, for example. This is more than odd, even for an author whose primary employer would appear to be the BBC.
on 1 April 2016
This is a fascinating survey of the EU’s self-induced crisis.
Hewitt notes, “The Celtic Tiger had been built on a property bubble, fuelled by cheap money.” In just ten years, property prices quadrupled. As the Irish Times put it, “Having obtained our political independence from Britain to be masters of our own affairs, we have surrendered our sovereignty to the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.” Hewitt describes the bail-out script: ‘the long defence, the frantic cost-cutting, the rising borrowing costs, the humiliation and the terms of surrender’.
The then President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, said, “There is no sovereignty any more. Only the markets are sovereign.” Roger Altman, the former US Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, said, “Financial markets have become a ‘global supra-government. They oust entrenched regimes where normal political processes could not do so. They force austerity, banking bail-outs and other policy changes … They have become the most powerful force on earth.”
Barroso claimed in 2010 that the euro was ‘a protective shield against the crisis’. But as Hewitt observes, “The single currency was supposed to be a building block towards closer European integration, melding countries together. The opposite was happening.”
As Hewitt points out, “Research done by a respected international polling organisation found that ‘the European project stands in disrepute across much of Europe’. No country, it found, was more disillusioned with Europe than France: 77 per cent of those polled believed European economic integration had made things worse.”
The head of the European Central Bank said that the Bank was ready to do ‘whatever it takes’ to save the euro, whatever the cost to the people of the EU. Former European Commissioner Frits Bolkestein said, “The party is over … we shall all have to work longer and harder, more hours in the week, more weeks in the year, and no state pension before the age of sixty-seven.” Angela Merkel stated in 2011, “member states face many years of work to atone for past sins.”
The economist Luis Garicano noted that “the euro has converted developed countries into developing ones.” The American economist Paul Krugman observed, “You get a picture of a European policy elite always ready to spring into action to defend the banks, but otherwise completely unwilling to admit that its policies are failing the people which the economy is supposed to serve.”
At the end of 2011, the elected leaders of Greece and Italy were ousted. “The rule of the technocrats had begun. In the place of elected leaders were an economics professor and a banker nourished by the world of Europe and its institutions. In parts of Europe, democracy was being discarded like unwanted clothing.” France’s President Sarkozy denounced Greece’s elected leader as a madman because he suggested offering his people a referendum.
The EU’s leaders threatened that if Greece did not obey their diktat, Europe would be plunged into war. Charles Dallara, head of the Institute of International Finance and chief negotiator for the body representing private sector holders of Greek bonds, said that the damage to the rest of Europe from Greece leaving the euro would be ‘somewhere between catastrophic and Armageddon’.
Hewitt observes, “in attempting to save the currency, ‘the consent of the governed’ was in danger of going missing. It had been the definition of democracy in the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 that ‘governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed’. The opposite was true in Europe. Leaders had ceded control over tax and spending to unelected officials in Brussels who would get first sight of national budgets. At the heart of the European project lay a suspicion of the people. The European Union had been built by stealth, often without the support of the voters.”
But the EU ploughs on regardless towards their desired single state. Merkel said, “The task of our generation is to complete economic and monetary union, and to build political union in Europe, step by step.” And, “We should give Europe a real right of intervention in national budgets.”
The referendum gives us a great chance to halt the EU leaders’ undemocratic schemes. As Hewitt points out, “Canada, Australia, Singapore, Turkey and countless other countries do not believe that unless they are yoked together they are marginalized in the global world.” Outside the EU can run our own affairs and build a thriving economy.
on 23 January 2014
Excellent explanation of the events leading up to the various crises of the Euro from 2008 to 2013. I saw Gavin Hewitt talk on the subject and decided to buy the book. He writes in an engaging and informative manner which is easy to read and understandable to a wide audience. I gained a lot from the book, especially about how different European cultures have long histories of conflict with other European countries, of different ways of dealing with their finances, and how they react to domination from Brussels and other European countries.
on 10 May 2013
This is an excellent for those who want a background to the crisis and the events that have unfolded, and will appeal to those without an understanding of economics too. There are I feel a few things passed over, such as the issue of France and French debt problems, which are mentioned though only briefly. Hewitt also repeatedly refers to the German dominance and insisting on reforms, and the damage caused by these reforms and cuts being demanded, though does so in a very one sided manner, completely failing to outline the alternatives that would exist if the Euro collapsed.
Worth a read, even with the numerous spelling errors/typos throughout.