Reviewer James Broderick, Ph.D: James is an associate professor of English and journalism at New Jersey City University. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he is the author of six non-fiction books, and the novel Stalked. His latest book is Greatness Thrust Upon Them, a collection of interviews with Shakespearean actors across America. Follow Here To Listen To An Interview With James Broderick.
Author: Johan Van OvertveldtPublisher: B2 Books
Author: Johan Van OvertveldtPublisher: B2 Books
The 5th Century B.C.E. Greek philosopher Heraclitus once famously opined that “Opposition brings concord. Out of discord comes the fairest harmony.”
While there’s something to be said for timeless wisdom, of course, one wonders what Heraclitus would make of what’s happening in his native land today. As this review is being written, a two-day national strike is underway in Greece, with angry public-sector employees and trade unionists clogging the storied streets of Athens, hurtling angry epithets at the Greek Parliament and vowing to cripple the transit system until the legislators relax Greece’s painful austerity program.
Their protest is the latest manifestation of widespread social upheaval as Europe braces for the coming winter of discontent. Whether a glorious summer follows – or merely more anger and economic dislocation – is anyone’s guess. But if you want to make yours an educated guess, rather than the uninformed speculation that fuels talk radio and tabloid journalism, do yourself a favor and read Johan Van Overtveldt’s The End of the Euro: The Uneasy Future of the European Union.
Overtveldt, editor in chief of a leading Belgian economic journal and longtime close observer of the fractious continent-wide effort to forge an economic union, makes clear just why those Greek protesters are so angry – and why things are likely to get worse before they get better. In his critique of the European Union’s past, present, and future, he locates the never-quite-dormant fault line that runs through the economic union as the chasm of fiscal discipline dividing Germany and its more socialist neighbors. (As a four-part series on the crisis in the European Union, published last week in the German news weekly Der Spiegel puts it, this conflict pits “The north against the south, the Deutschmark Economy against the Lira economy…strict Protestants [vs.] sensual Catholics.”)
Overtveldt’s book advances the now widely held position that Greece, and its sister social welfare states like Italy, Portugal, Spain, and France, can’t continue to maintain their economies in the wake of global economic retrenchment. And it falls upon Germany, the pillar of economic propriety and the anchor state of European economic union, to call them to account. Greece is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, but as a member of the broader monetary coalition, its fate is tied to the fate of other Euro-denominated countries. So Germany is compelled to play the role of the tea-totaling big brother, forcing the alcoholic spendthrift sibling into rehab. The intervention isn’t going well, however. Hence, the protests.
The End of the Euro is strongest in its discussion of a half-century’s worth of efforts to forge an economic union among the wildly disparate dispositions of the European family, most of them doomed to fail because of vastly differing ideologies regarding monetary policy – and plain old distrust. Yet they can’t keep themselves from trying. France, the author argues, has refused to sit in the backseat as Germany drives the European economy, and a monetary union offers them a chance to sit right up front, a hand on the wheel. As Overtveldt notes, “In the slipstream of the 1989 reunification of Germany, French President Francois Mitterand convinced German Chancellor Helmut Kohl into acceptance of a monetary union. Mitterand’s political acumen led to the realization of a dream the French elite had cherished for decades: breaking German monetary hegemony and curbing the dominance of the Bundesbank, the German central bank, over Europe’s monetary and economic destiny.”
Overtveldt pulls no punches regarding the bleak prospect for a resolution to the discord that roils the European union but I wish his analysis had included a more thorough discussion of the consequences of the collapse of monetary union. He seems certain that worse days are to come for the EU countries but offers little perspective on what will happen when the wheels finally come off the wagon. His book ends with a dire but vague two-sentence prophecy about the member countries of the European Union: “They are quickly running out of time. As a matter of fact, it is probably already too late.”
Even a die-hard optimist like Heraclitus would surely be unnerved by such a prospect.
Click Here To Purchase The End of the Euro: The Uneasy Future of the European Union