Archive for June, 2012
I was sitting on a night bus after Greece had failed to express its current national attitude to Germany in football terms. In a seat in front of me, a young guy was on the phone, analyzing the EURO 2012. He was betting on and hoping for Germany to make it to the finals, laughing to a surprised reaction on the other end of the line. “You see, not many people cheer for the Germans.” A few hours before, a Slovak commentator kicked off his intro on the widely-watched match: “Forget the eurozone crisis, this is pure football.” Just a TV switch away, however, one could hear about Germany, Greece (plus Spain and, alas, Italy) and us in a very different way, again.
On Friday (22 June), the Slovak parliament gave its green light to the European Stability Mechanism, a permanent bail-out structure due to come into force this summer. The treaty was passed with an overwhelming majority of 118 out of 150 MPs. But in a parliamentary debate ahead of the vote, there was a talk of treason compared to the Munich agreement of 1938 or the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. The liberal Freedom and Solidarity party (SaS) has been criticising the eurozone’s bail-out funds ever since they were put forward and its headline-grabbing rhetoric is no surprise. After all, the party refused to change its view on the matter even when it could prevent the fall of its coalition government last October.
Still, apart from the economic arguments blowing in the air for some time, debaters in the Slovak legislature also touched upon “the Future of Europe Group” of German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle and its first paper circulated to press on Wednesday (20 June). The idea of creating some sort of United States of Europe with strong new institutions was presented by some media as a concrete plan to be followed. So why were we missing in that refection group? And how come, the vice-chairman of the parliamentary committee on constitutional affairs was asking, we had only learned about the initiative on such strategic and sovereignty-related issues from the press?
Despite a dubious impact of the informal reflection group, some Slovak MPs (not SaS members) argued that its sheer existence made them vote against the ESM. They say that it is no longer true that by agreeing to tough bail-out fund membership conditions for Slovakia (the second highest amount per GDP to be cashed in and guaranteed) we will play in the big leagues, as claimed by the Social democrat government. And if it is not for the country’s good place round the EU table, what good is it for anyway?
One could conclude that it is just a storm in cup to feed the local media. In fact, one MP openly admitted (off the record, naturally) that he was just grabbing the chance “to be heard” and heard he was you can bet. But I think that in sensitive times we are living, those hoping to lead Europe should think twice on how they want to organise their reflection ventures and how they want to word and present their conclusions. Not so much for the sake of all the small (or perhaps rather irrelevant like Slovakia, naughty like the Czech Republic, impossible like the UK… the whole anti-list to be checked by Mr Westerwelle) and offended states and their statesmen but for the sake of their citizens. Because – perhaps not only in Slovakia – there are currently so many other reasons for people to be sceptical over Europe. And over Germany, some economists might add.
Although in football, personal affinities play no role, the expert on the Friday night bus was explaining. “Only Spain and Italy are strong enough to put Germany in danger,” he concluded.
(At least I hope he had not switched to the eurozone crisis by then).