The Farce of European Austerity

With Europe's economic crisis underway, many of its countries have decided to take a turn towards austerity. This move brought Europe back on the global stage, and put it in direct contradiction with the American model of spending in order to get the economy going. However, not all of the EU countries agree, even though the European “austerity” perspective is seen by many in the world as a reasonable and logical one. 

Led by Germany, the austerity plan had the support of a majority of the countries in the EU. But, with recent changes in the governments in Greece, Spain, and France, it became more obvious that the austerity measures do not have the support needed from the people. Recent elections in German states showed that even Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel does not have full support for austerity. This puts a smile on the face of American politicians, as it might mean that they were right from the beginning.  

There have been many shifts of power between the U.S. and European states throughout history; they have rotated control of the global leader stage. Decades ago, the U.S. took a lead that is still ongoing. European states were the ones with colonies and the greatest power until the 20th century. It would be a lie to say that Europeans were afraid of touting their supremacy throughout the world. However, after Europeans went through two bloody world wars, the conflict on their soil lessened European supremacy. American involvement was a crucial factor in both wars which later strongly influenced the creation of this new world order. With its industry, territory, and citizens isolated from the conflicts, there was nothing that could stop stable progress and expansion of the American economy. 

After World War II, Europeans had to accept that power had shifted towards the U.S. and that the U.S. was a rising world hegemon. At that moment, the existence of a common threat kept the Western alliance together. The Soviet Union had openly shown that it pursued domination, which helped tighten the bonds between Western Europe and the U.S. The U.S. saw an ally in Western Europe and hoped that by investing and helping Europe rebuild it was also investing in its own development. 

The Marshall Plan was implemented and NATO was formed as an official common security organization. NATO was functioning quite well for many years, until the first major crisis with Charles De Gaulle in 1963, when France left the military structure of the alliance. After the common threat disappeared, the Soviet Union, and Marshall Plan funds provided a basis for the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community which has evolved to be the European Union present today. With 27 members, and a 28th joining next summer, the European Union was finally stable enough at the end of 20th century to focus on further unification efforts and promote development of its economic capabilities. However, it did not count on this crisis.

There are some differences in the political orientation of the citizens of the U.S. and Europe. Therefore, there are also different approaches towards the economy. There are also points of shared opinion which have provided the basis for a transatlantic cooperation between the U.S. and Europe for all these years. Those principles include support for democratic rule and its values, support for human rights, equality in a political and a legal sense, and tolerance towards others; all of these criteria describe a Western civilization. However, Europeans and Americans hold different views on how to institutionalize democracy in order to achieve the above mentioned goals.

Citizens of the United States predominantly support libertarian ideas such as a minimal state, self-responsibility, and competition of citizens in the marketplace. In contrast, European citizens support social democratic ideas and institutions, such as an interventionist welfare state providing social equality and solidarity. The differing political views can affect the design of the future economic world order and other issues high on the foreign policy agenda. However, the Europeans have to realize that based on their political beliefs, social spending cannot be cut and that measures other than austerity have to be found. President Hollande, as well as many other leaders in Europe, may be taking Europe on a different path. A welfare state is a costly one, and the desire for it in Europe is still a mainstream idea. By promoting austerity measures, Europeans are making the possibility of their rise on the global stage an absolute farce. 

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Marko Ceperkovic

As Policy Advisor at the U.S. House of Representatives Marko is dealing with Foreign Affairs, Defense, Immigration and Human Rights issues. At the same time he is a fellow at Johns Hopkins SAIS, participating in the Aitchison Public Service Fellowship in Government. Before coming to Washington, Marko lived in France, studying at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris. As former Executive Director's Assistant at Helsinki Committee for Human Rights he led Human Rights Schools for Western Balkans, while at the same time presiding over the Commission for Youth Rights in Serbia.

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