Van Rompuy: “Europe is still sexy…”

So sayeth the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, as the BBC Europe editor Gavin Hewitt notes

Europe’s leaders are unsettled, scratchy. Old certainties have given way to anxiety. The open road to ever closer union is now strewn with boulders.

You can gauge the ebbing confidence from remarks that didn’t need to be made.

“Europe is still sexy,” declared President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy. “As long as a club attracts new members,” he added, “it is in good shape.”

More easily you can detect fear in the words of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Without the euro, he said, there would be no Europe.

Both he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have said that the fight to save the eurozone is a fight to save the European project.

In their view the threat is existential.

And the Irish Times notes the Greek response to the comments by the President of the Euro Group of finance ministers, Jean-Claude Juncker [a not entirely reliable witness – Ed]

Greece will stave off default not only for its own sake but because its survival is vital for the euro zone and the global economy, Greek finance minister Evangelos Venizelos has said. 

With help from its EU partners and fresh determination, the debt-ridden euro zone member will regain its fiscal sovereignty as soon as possible and aims to return to markets in the middle of 2014, as expected, the minister said.

“We will make it, because this is vital not only for Greece but for the stability of the whole euro zone and the global economy, because in Greece the stamina of the financial system is being tested,” he added.

That might depend on the ruling by the German Federal Constitutional Court, or “the Elders of the planet Tharg” as a certain “blood-crazed ferret” has dubbed them…

And the new Finnish government are raising their voice

Finland’s new finance minister said today the Nordic country will demand guarantees against participation in any new euro area bailouts and wants private investors to bear more of the burden.

“We want to limit Finland’s responsibilities. The new government has taken a tougher stance than the previous government regarding crisis countries’ aid packages,” Jutta Urpilainen told in a television interview with public broadcaster YLE.

Meanwhile, as Mick has noted, Portugal’s debt has just been downgraded to junk status by credit ratings agency Moody’s.

“The Portugal downgrade clearly is negative because as the downgrades spread from the weakest to the weaker, the market is now asking, ‘if Portugal is downgraded, will Spain be next?'” said Cary Leahey, an economist at Decision Economics in New York.

“It’s symptomatic of the contagion effects in the eurozone.”

Once again, as for the wider picture?

The existential crisis will remain…  And, for supporters of the “European Project”, the longer-term options are stark.

As Gavin Hewitt says

The crisis in Greece is raising some very fundamental questions and not just in the UK.

The current strategy is to muddle through. It might just work. Greece might find growth from somewhere and its debt mountain might subside – but don’t bet on it. And the deeper the crisis, the more all kinds of ideas and visions will bubble to the surface. The debate would be on.

  • DC

    Re a new debate – I was alway taken with the concept of a two speed Europe, it makes sense.

    Tell me as a so-called British citizen, where can I go in Europe, which country, that offers me wage differentials of up x3 or x5 times what I would get here in NI/UK for cleaning toilets?

    There isn’t one country that offers me this opportunity if I wanted it, so there isn’t equality of opportunity. It’s one-way traffic. It’s one-way stuff because of the lopsided economies which split down via an east west axis. Eastern European countries tend to be poorer, western ones wealthier.

    The EU project has admirable goals for the long term. Better economies all round as a result of more trade etc, but in the short term who suffers – it isn’t the liberal elite around Brussels, it’s the working class of the wealthier nations who are displaced by the more motivated and qualified eastern Europeans – attracted over because of these wage differentials.

    It seems unfair that highly educated eastern Europeans are able to clean toilets and do low skilled jobs simply because it pays more than working at home, and the quality of life tends to be better in the UK as it is a relatively wealthier nation.

    In doing so local people – the long term unemployed are being out-competed. In general the long term unemployed probably fit more so into the working class bracket and are probably less motivated, due to circumstances.

    Of course, being outbid by qualified and intelligent eastern Europeans doesn’t help with the old motivation problems either.

    And now the government is cracking down on benefit recipients as well, attacking welfare payments and promoting survival of the fittest for even low skilled jobs at the same time.

    What a mess.

  • DC

    At least the Germans had slightly more sense – they maxed out the time limits available before fully opening up its economy – which was – if I’m – correct 2010.

    Of course Britain is naive – having not been invaded since William the Conqueror and having continuous sovereign governments since 1066, it would be slightly more circumspect if it had its own sovereignty abused, territory invaded – and the sort of political changes that France and Germany have had over the last century – and perhaps those even further back.

    Oh yes open the borders – everything will be fine, don’t monitor changes in your workforce composition in order to keep track of the pace of change in employment, don’t have ID cards either, and don’t register residency officially with local government either (like is done in Germany), never mind all that, it will all work out fine!!!

    Come and go as you please.

    And as for the euro….

  • wee buns

    I didn’t want to be the first to laugh outrageously out loud (LOOL) at the idea of Europe still being sexy. Come ON. Guys. Please. The Daniel O’Donnell fan club expands by the minute in membership but in sexiness…errrr.
    Where oh where Pete, has the debate gone wrong.
    Definitely maybe it was during the second Lisbon treaty.
    Where indeed, was the debate?
    I was about to claim it was discouraged (main parties shirked it &EU connived to litter the proper information leaflets only into libraries and post offices etc) but more accurately debate was STYMIED at local and other levels. We were not allowed to have it. It did manage to take place…in small rooms organized by fringe groups. People were furious. Our legitimate first vote was disallowed. Now this blatant defilement of every democratic principle by FG. None of which could by the wildest reaches be described as sexy.
    Now Herr Van Rompuy, if he understands what has taken place in Ireland, can only be partial to S & M.

    The east/west divide that you refer to as being rich/poor. Surely it is the periphery countries that are also exposed to poverty, not due to their lack of natural resources, but because of EU exploitation of same.

    The Finnish objection/voice/upstart is welcome because that’s what the EU lacks: any political opposition/FORUM.

    My heart, bien sur, bleeds for Sarkosy. No EU = pas la belle France avec it’s extraordinary high level of DEBT.

  • Pete Baker

    wee buns

    “Where oh where Pete, has the debate gone wrong.”

    Once again, as for the wider picture?

    The existential crisis will remain… And, for supporters of the “European Project”, the longer-term options are stark.

  • I still haven’t heard anyone explain why a Greek default or restructure means it would have to leave the euro. Would California be kicked out of the dollar if it defaulted on its debt?

    DC, your definition of “equality of opportunity” is faulty. There’s no job in the world that pays a thousand times better than Bill Gates’s job, so does that mean he doesn’t have the same equality of opportunity that you do?

  • Cynic2

    “Would California be kicked out of the dollar if it defaulted on its debt?” It might have to be

  • Cynic2

    Europe …..exciting …but only in Belgium.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Talking of Belgium, is it still there?

    It almost seems as if the eurocrats are determined to wreck the whole thing rather than surrender any control, the train is breaking up and they think going faster will fix it.

  • DC

    DC, your definition of “equality of opportunity” is faulty.

    Thanks, but I disagree.

    Out of the 27 member states name the ones – which countries – where such opportunities are able to be had by the likes of me and others living in the UK looking for something similar out of other European countries?

    There aren’t any that I can think of. There are some countries like Holland which used to offer good pay for skilled trades like butchers and engineering-type work similar to the stuff FG Wilson’s does, but not for the non-skilled stuff.

    Your Bill Gates comparison is faulty – what you would be better doing is say imagining the USA opening its borders to China and allowing hundreds of thousands of Chinese hi-tech IT graduates equal access to American labour markets – tell me there wouldn’t be a knock on effect on wages with that there.

    I don’t blame the EU per se – its ideals are fine, but what I do blame is the complete lack of governance on the transition – does free movement mean there shouldn’t be any monitoring of workforce or does free movement necessarily have to equate to equal access to welfare payments and benefits as part and parcel of the deal – should it not take longer before benefits are paid out to new EU migrants, simply because they haven’t been paying into the national coffers for that long etc etc.

    My main gripe is the neoliberal approach in general – whether on markets or migration – fgs where is the government of things nowadays. It’s completely hands off, out the window stuff.

    There has to be a bit of authority and control, especially in terms of city planning and housing – and planning for public services – including welfare.

    As a member of the European Movement myself – pro-EU – I still accept much of the arguments about the drawbacks of migration, as well as the positives to it. New cultures, new people, new styles etc.

    There are issues there – time to deal with them. Not bluff them away.

  • DC,

    Equality of opportunity doesn’t mean that a given change in the rules should produce equal gains across the board. If the new rules are more fair, then it is natural that those who lost out under the old system will gain disproportionately compared to those who were comfortable.

  • PaddyReilly

    the quality of life tends to be better in the UK as it is a relatively wealthier nation.

    Mistake here: the quality of life in the UK, most particularly in the London region, is poor. England is not a rich country, so much as an expensive one. This allows a whole economy to grow up around it.

    The Brazilians that a friend of mine teaches English to use this expensiveness for their own benefit. They come to London, work as cleaners for 18 months, and then go off home and buy a house with the proceeds.

    Within the EU this can be put to your advantage, even if you live in expensive-land. You can’t make a mint by going somewhere else to work and bring your wages home, but you can sell a rather grotty terraced house in Hollywood and buy a mansion in Riga. If you can think of some way of supporting yourself there (teaching English, computers, pension etc) it will be enough to feed you and you will have bought your house and swimming pool.

    Retirees generally prefer somewhere warmer. Portugal offers the best price differential: Greece should be watched for future reference.

  • DC

    the quality of life in the UK, most particularly in the London region, is poor.

    And why do you think that is?

    Equality of opportunity doesn’t mean that a given change in the rules should produce equal gains across the board.

    Andrew, there isn’t any consensus on what equality of opportunity actually means in specific terms.

    See here:

    My point is that the EU has aspirations of moving beyond the nation state to a more transnational system, but until that actually happens, all there seems to be is redistribution from wealthier nation states to the less wealthy ones – either through money being sent home by those working here, or where big business profits through relocation to low wage economies. Of course it is allowed to under EU rules.

    Now in the long term this redistribution and levelling out of wealth across Europe might make the european region a more happier place, but in the short-to-medium you have to wonder who benefits, and of course who loses.

    My main gripe is the failure of collective government and collective political action to monitor change and to manage it – neoliberal approaches do come with social costs whether from being neoliberal on markets or on migration or even on the media – re Murdoch taking over Sky despite some harmful and illegal behaviour.

    When there is failure of good governance / lawful collective action, don’t be surprised to find individual action pop up instead.

  • PaddyReilly

    And why do you think that is

    Because a false market, fuelled by planning laws, makes property unrealistically expensive, and with it everything else. If you had five maiden aunts and they all left you their houses, then you are laughing: if you are a Brazilian migrant worker, all to the good, but English schoolteachers have to live in shared houses in London, like studets, and this is hardly indicative of a higher quality of life.

  • abucs

    The European Project largely remains the forced re-engineering of fast fading European cultures by Political elites with promises of a future peaceful, secular and prosperous society.

    Does anyone still buy that?

    It’s looking more and more like the old left wing Marxist collective. We all know how that turned out.

    Such ideological progressive fantasy wrecked their culture and sent them bankrupt.

  • DC

    There’s no way the EU is Marxian or Marxist. It works with business, I suppose there are some social democratic critiques coming out of the EU in that bond holders should take a hit – but that’s really about it.

    Whether in practice that even happens is another thing entirely.

  • wee buns

    ‘It’s looking more and more like the old left wing Marxist collective.’

    Almost as funny and untrue as the EU being sexy!

    Though the euro has created some impressive investment flows, its overall effect has been to centralise the control of capital — in the north — rather than distribute it.

    Throughout its successive stages — ECSC, EEC, EC, EU, and the post-Lisbon EU — the EU project has been founded on the idea that national sovereignty would be delegated to a supranational body, and thus in theory, still under the control of the European peoples.

    That was bollocks, of course, and most of the key people involved didn’t believe that at all — aiming instead for a post-democratic technocracy, run by an elite.

  • abucs

    I would have thought a ‘post-democratic technocracy, run by an elite’ was just what the Marxists were aiming at.

    Sure, the economic side of things is still capitalist, but the EU wants more and more control every day. Give it time, it will get there via the Swedish route of an increased Government sector, regulated by that political elite and the enforcement of European court social “teachings” created by the same political elite.

    Russia all over again, 30 or 40 years down the track.

    The only question is will they run out of money before they get there, or like the Russians plod along for a couple of generations in a state controlled fantasy land before reality strikes.

  • DC

    I would have thought a ‘post-democratic technocracy, run by an elite’ was just what the Marxists were aiming at.

    Bureaucracies predate democracies – Germany’s bureaucracy existed before WWII and operated fine during it – it hardly strove for Marxist ideals.

    Re control – yes you are right, it is whether these EU laws become inappropriate for the people they affect and are in fact harmful over the short-to-medium term, this is what will undo the EU, that plus of course demanding more money from member states despite said member states running out of money.

  • wee buns

    From what I’ve read = the philosophy of EU pioneers such as Monnet, Schumann and Kojeve had always been that a united Europe would be achieved by stealth — a series of common sense steps that no one could object to, starting with heavy industry co-ordination, moving to trade, customs, etc.
    NOT Marxist in the least.

    Key bodies such as the Agricultural Commission were founded decades before anyone got around to starting a European parliament — which, until recently, had no actual power over EU policy at all.

    My understanding is that the economic crisis of the 70’s saw the monetarists starting to take the lead.

    Interests diverged in the 80’s and 90’s with northern elite and Germany in particular leaping ahead while the south of Europe and the periphery needed constant further development……

  • DC

    Despite the myriad problems currently facing the European Union, democratization is not the answer. Rather, the EU’s elites need to improve — and power has to be taken away from the periphery.

    Europe’s political elites are a pathetic sight at the moment, from their contradictory reactions to the rebellions in the Arab world to their timid handling of the euro crisis. Either they persist in doing nothing or they flee from one falsehood to the next, all in the expectation that this will enable them to gain control over the markets. Now that the European elites have had to produce proof of their long-held claim that Europe is a capable player on the global political and economic stage, they have done nothing but flounder. And because they refuse to believe that this is the case, they celebrate every stumbling move as the salvation of Europe and the euro. The poor image Europe is currently projecting is largely the result of the impotence of its elites.

  • DC

    I’ve just come across another comment on the site:

    No German government would survive if it defended the benefits of redistribution of wealth on a continental scale.