While Britain and the US kickstart their economic recovery, Europe clings to its sinking ship
Rarely has the economic gulf that separates the English-speaking world and continental Europe looked quite as wide as it does today. While much of the eurozone remains mired in an economic funk, Britain and America are recovering fast, with rising demand and near record levels of private-sector job creation.
As if the last, crisis-ridden three years haven’t already given Europe’s policy elite enough to think about, this juxtaposition in fortunes must surely have awoken them to the truth: monetary union isn’t working. Unfortunately, the reality is that euroland continues to stumble blindly from one botched response to another, neither able to reconfigure the single currency in a more sustainable form nor enact the sort of measures that might give it a credible future. This week’s blueprint for a banking union is only the latest example. Even in Brussels, they struggled to call it a job well done; this was meant to be the most significant leap forward for European integration since the launch of the euro itself, but in the event it was just another messy compromise.
Overly complicated and chronically underfunded, it fails some of the most basic tests for any credible banking union. Decisions on whether to wind up failing banks remain subject to national veto; more crucially still, there is no agreement on collective responsibility for the costs. At some stage in the future, these things are meant to fall into place, but Europe really doesn’t have the luxury of time. Even major economies such as France, Italy and Spain are right on the edge of social and political fracture. The euro offers no plausible path back to growth, yet they cannot or will not give up on it.
Not that these failings should be cause for triumph in Britain and America. Europe’s tragedy is Britain’s misfortune, forcing the UK artificially to support demand via the palliative of extreme forms of monetary stimulus to avoid the same fate. This can work for a while, but eventually Britain needs to rebalance its economy away from consumption to trade and investment.
European leaders tend to console themselves with the thought that the UK’s economic recovery is therefore just a conjuring trick, which cannot last. Even so, they can no longer ignore the contrast. Their own forced march to ever closer union seems to have resulted only in policy paralysis and economic ruin. By pursuing their own solutions outside the madhouse of eurozone integration, Britain and America seem to have kickstarted growth.