Europe's problems have definitely come to a head, or, to use the elegant Italian expression, its knots have reached the comb. The less refined equivalent Anglo-Saxon figure of speech refers to the mechanical effect of excrement coming into contact with the blades of a fan.
Be that as it may, following Greece's "stabilization" – from Brussels' point of view – another member state seems about to rebel. As we mentioned a fortnight ago, the situation in Portugal has grown tense. The left-wing "triple alliance" that scored a conclusive victory in the latest elections (with 50.7% of the votes) has wasted no time in scuppering the minority conservative government forced on the country by President Anibal Cavaco Silva. The new majority has an explicit mandate from the Portuguese people, who will expect it to honor some very clear campaign promises: to abandon the euro and return to the escudo and to reject the EU-imposed austerity of recent years.
Things are not much better in Britain, where neither the right nor the left seems prepared to make much effort for the sake of European unity – whatever they may think and say – with the looming prospect of a national referendum on the subject which could go either way.
The problem is that voters there, "the people," are confronted with two incontrovertible facts: that it was an excellent idea to opt for sterling rather than the euro and that by flatly ignoring Brussels' economic "advice" the UK has achieved the continent's healthiest economy. At a more emotional level, the images of thousands of migrants thronging to Calais prior to invading Britain are a cause for concern. Apart from the understandable plain anxiety caused by the situation, it is a living example – as the newspapers point out almost every day – of the EU's inability to deal with crises, or indeed anything more than routine matters.
This all raises an interesting problem for the zealots in Brussels who thought they had become the governors of an entire continent. Empires – and there is an undeniable "imperial" aspect to the concept of "ever-closer" Union – cannot allow provinces to go their own sweet way. As the Greek case has shown, they must at least be made to pay the highest possible price if they attempt to do so.
Let's imagine that things were to go well for Portugal, having broken free from European control. That may be unlikely, but it's possible. Portuguese success would disastrous for the Unionist true believes. It would send out entirely the wrong message and would have to be fought with every possible means – all for the sake of European unity and the continent's greater happiness, that is, for the sake of an ideal loftier than the wishes of a crowd of confused Lusitanians.
In other words, there would be an almost irresistible temptation to wage at least clandestine economic warfare on Portugal, to make the country pay for its lack of gratitude and to hamper its chance of success – all for the common good of course.
But – and it is a big but – can all this be done in full sight of the British? Just as they are about to pass judgement on the value of the achievements and prospects of the EU? And just as Germany is starting to grow seriously worried about its excessive isolation at the head of the EU and might well seek a "separate peace" with Britain?
They say Jean-Claude Juncker is not averse to the occasional drop of cognac. That's hardly surprising.
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