Europe’s economic tribulations run north-south rather than east-west. It has proven difficult to manage a single currency shared by diverse national economies, not all of which are well aligned with one another. In particular, Germany’s taste for austerity at home and across Europe, augmented by the advantages that have accrued to German exports from the Euro, has exposed a rift between a prospering north and a suffering south. Most likely, the German electorate would not tolerate a departure from austerity, and German workers do a great deal to fund the EU. At the same time, southern Europe’s economic misery has created the perception of German indifference or worse. This perception sharpened when in September 2015, as Drozdiak writes, “Merkel did not bother consulting with other EU leaders before deciding to fling open Germany’s doors” to migrants.
Culture is Europe’s third fault line. The European project today does not have a solid cultural foundation. In a pattern familiar from American politics, more educated and cosmopolitan Europeans tend to favor the EU, while populist and other assaults on the EU rise up from rural and economically depressed areas. The EU has a long record of faring badly when national populations vote on its policies in referenda. A decade before Brexit, French and Dutch voters rejected an EU constitution, demonstrating the limits of popular support for greater European integration. Nothing quite captures the EU’s popularity deficit than the superbly cynical quote from Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission: “We all know what to do, we just don’t know how to get re-elected after we’ve done it.” Put differently, Juncker and his colleagues really do not know what to do.
Europe’s challenges are not intractable. They could be resolved by the EU’s evolution into a republic, with well-defined borders, an army and a top-down capacity to balance the economic disparities that have made Germany so skeptical of Greece and Greece so skeptical of Germany. This republic could inculcate a republican identity in order to be buoyed by a shared and singular political culture. Or Europe’s challenges could be resolved by reducing the EU to a confederation, which is what the European project was in the 1950s. This would be painful. It would involve untangling bureaucracies that have long been joined. But countries that have reclaimed more of their sovereignty may be better at cooperating on core issues of security and economics, without requiring the cultural homogeneity to which Europe has never been prone.
Since 2003, what Drozdiak describes as “the world’s first postmodern superpower” has come down to earth. In the future, it will be less postmodern, less historically anomalous, less of a theoretical novelty and more like a traditional confederation or a traditional republic. By moving closer together or further apart, the countries of Europe will hopefully achieve a more lasting union. To do so would be to heal the fractures that currently scar the continent.