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The Introduction of a Common Currency (May 7, 1998)

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Brussels Acquires More Power and More Enemies

The Common Market remains and holds everything together. More than half of all exports from the Federal Republic go to the European Union. But aside from that? Since reunification Germany has become more self-confident. The Eastern Bloc has burst. Brussels needs and wants to cut back on farming subsidies. Speaking of Brussels: Whoever acquires more power gains more enemies. And whoever exercises that power independently gains even more enemies.

Daring more democracy, that remains one of the main tasks of the EU after its decision to introduce the Euro: The last European venture that makes sense to almost all Germans. Everything else on the horizon in Europe promises only indirect, long-term, and (initially) rather abstract benefits to German citizens.

Of course, it is in the interest of the Federal Republic for the EU to expand eastward and help create stability there. But that will cost money, for example, the money from Brussels that farmers and many other subsidy recipients feel entitled to.

The EU member states have to do a better job coordinating their foreign policies, no question about it. Citizens are ashamed (somewhat) when Europe sits by and watches as the Serb Slobodan Milosevic goes on another rampage. But it is so comfortable to let the Americans go first. How nice that the British and French militaries are also standing ready and German soldiers bring up the rear.

Organized crime is definitely a danger, and Europeans need to act in concert. But isn’t that a step toward forming a super-state? And why are the border controls being eliminated?

To be sure, the Europe of the single market and the Euro didn’t trouble itself much with social matters. But what tangible benefits derive from the oft-invoked social union, considering that German workers are still in a better position than most Europeans. Will Germany again have to pay in the end?

These are questions the people are asking. The EU is successful, but the mood is nevertheless bad – and not only among Germans. The idea of European integration struggles to assert itself amidst the Zeitgeist and its three manifestations of “every man for himself”: “Location competition”* prevails among the states and regions; neoliberals announce the virtue of egoism under their big banner; and glaring nationalism reemerges under the pressure of the new Right.

And here comes the Euro. It ties EU members even more tightly together, although they exhibit less solidarity than before. It demands discipline even from those countries – especially Germany and France – that have shied away from major reforms up to now and have a rocky road ahead of them. It obligates governments, some of which are fickle: It was precisely the half-hearted reformers who reaped the greatest protest, and in several European states the party landscape is changing from the ground up, and this makes politics less predictable.

*Standortwettbewerb. The term refers to efforts to attract businesses to invest in particular locations – eds.

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