While all 50 United States follow, like lemmings, as the same bureaucrats who created the current financial crisis pretend to correct it, in the European Union it’s not so easy.
Over the weekend, Europe’s leaders met and pledged to implement steps to allow EU member countries to recover from their own fiscal woes. But while individual countries vowed to help their own floundering banks, the group stopped short of any “joint effort” to pool aid for any European bank that needed help. Spain, Germany, and Estonia could not, in the end, act as financial equals.
Beyond the obvious economic differences between Malta and Berlin, for example, the EU lacks homogeneity among its members. While Americans claim regional differences—New Englanders vs. Southerners or Midwesterners vs. anybody else, for example—when push comes to shove we put our hands over our hearts and sing the Star Spangled Banner as if we mean it (assuming we can remember the words and carry the obtuse tune, that is.)
Overseas, the Italians have little in common with the Danes, and Athens has a worldview very different from Warsaw, while the French disagree with almost everyone. The EU may be a “union” in theory—Teutonic, Nordic, Baltic and Greco-Roman offshoots joined by a common currency—but it is a mistake to think of the EU as a “United States of Europe.”
Varied as the root backgrounds of Americans may be, and deep as the classic distrust even fourth generation U.S. WASPS and ethnics still have for each other, we coexist as “one people.” We may think of ourselves as “Irish Americans,” “African-Americans,” or “Jewish Americans,” at times, but when terrorists take down two towers in New York City or the stock market crashes on Wall Street, we understand how connected we are and how common our pain really is.
Americans tend to forget their individual differences in times of crisis, becoming more “American” as times get tougher. Europeans, instead, retreat into their distinct cultural caves when life throws them a curve.
Though historically Washington is the cultural “new kid on the block” (compared to, say, Rome or Paris) Americans have been sharing a uniform currency, singular allegiance, common language and free travel between all the states of our union for more than 200 years. In Europe all of these are recent (1992) ideas, which, in some places, haven’t caught on yet.
Since we’ve been “one people” longer than they have been trying to become such a thing our job is more difficult now. Iowa and Maine, Georgia and Nevada may all want Europe’s leaders to stabilize the European markets so Wall Street can benefit, but London, Amsterdam, and Budapest may not be in harmony about how to do it jointly.
The almighty dollar may be less mighty these days, but the world still recognizes it on a price tag. Euro prices, conversely, are still translated into lire, francs or marks—whatever currency locals think of as “real money.”
So as long as our friends overseas count their money differently within their individual borders, they will find it harder to come together to embrace a European economic solution. Until then, their global neighbors can only wait, and pray.
- ▼ 2008 (17)