Euro crisis: “We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get re-elected once we have done it.”

In the Irish Times, Arthur Beesley identifies “one of the fundamental dilemmas in political leadership” being faced by eurozone politicians caught in a manifestation of  “the political trilemma of the world economy”

This presents a cocktail of nasty choices for EU leaders, many of whom seem more comfortable in the local arena than in the European amphitheatre.

Previously, they were free to do as they pleased in a currency system that did not hold debt-addiction to be any great sin. Now, national exchequers are on the hook for billions of euro if markets close to neighbouring countries. Furthermore, the drive to cut spending and increase tax creates social tensions of varying degrees. Add in the push for far-reaching policy co-ordination from Brussels and there is big potential for further pain down the line.

None of this is remotely appealing in electoral terms, for voters rarely give thanks for the avoidance of catastrophe. For a neat illustration of that, look no further than Merkel’s setback eight days ago in North Rhine-Westphalia, a regional poll which deprived her of a majority in the upper house of parliament.

That these are early days in the battle to save the euro only adds to the pressure. How would countries react, for example, if Greece didn’t repay the entirety of the bilateral loans that kick in this week? In the Berlaymont building in Brussels, home of the European Commission, officials point to a maxim set out years ago by Luxembourg’s long-serving prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker: “We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get re-elected once we have done it.”

If this stands as a powerful summary of one of the fundamental dilemmas in political leadership, it seems obvious at this point that the euro’s fate will be determined by the calibre of leadership shown. In a good or bad way, legacies will be made of this affair. The rescue fund does no more than “buy time”, says Merkel.

Indeed.  And to re-quote Stephanie Flanders, again.

But even the greatest fans of this new institution may still stop to ponder what has been lost – and what has been gained.

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