Nobody can agree on what Europe’s future holds

The World
European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, French President Francois Hollande, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi take part in a euro zone EU leaders emergency summit.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, French President Francois Hollande, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi take part in a euro zone EU leaders emergency summit on the situation in Greece, in Brussels, Belgium.

REUTERS/Yves Herman

Scathing criticism of the European Union following Greece’s economic meltdown collides with optimistic reflections on the EU's accomplishments. Who is right about Greece and Europe?

The focus has been on Europe’s shortcomings during these past few days, in light of Greece’s resounding rejection of more austerity measures. Now the world is abuzz over the possibility that Greece will leave the EU: What would be the impact on European finances?

Many say the prognosis is dismal.

But Beppe Severgnini disagrees. An Italian journalist and contributing reporter for The New York Times, he wrote a surprisingly hopeful evaluation of the future of Europe. He reflected upon the many accomplishments of the European Union, and why it still deserves our praise.

Indeed, Severgnini is “high on Europe.” He undoubtedly acknowledges the severity of Greece’s situation, but refuses to accept this as a sign of failure of the European endeavor. “We avoided a major war for 70 years after killing each other for 2000 or 3000 more years. Now you can go from Poland to Portugal and feel at home, and it’s all a huge failure because of someone called Varoufakis? Come on!”

“There are people working and studying and researching together,” he says. “Ask anybody who’s in science, in economy, in finance, in business, in industry.”

To Severgnini, the Greek debt crisis is not a symptom of a fundamentally flawed project, but a disastrous event with an evident cause: “Greece was obviously not ready for the euro. It was a big mistake.” The euro’s major shortcoming was the lack of an exit plan. Severgnini recalls the infamous Eagles lyric, “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”

David Francis of Foreign Policy Magazine has a different outlook. Francis sees the “Grexit” — Greece leaving the eurozone — as a worst case scenario, one that may “signal the beginning of the end of modern Europe.” Whatever happens, says Francis, “it’s pretty certain that Greece will be in pretty steep financial trouble.”

The situation could get worse. “Unemployment in Greece right now is 25 percent. I would expect that number to go up,” Francis says. “Some people think that the currency, if Greece reverts to its old currency, would decline as much as 80 percent against the USD. That would be pretty catastrophic for a country that’s already in the middle of a financial downturn.”

Though the effects of such a crisis would be very real for Greece, the journalist seems to think that its effects on the rest of Europe would be mostly psychological: “Having a country leave, especially under these circumstances, I think really does a lot of harm to the psyche of Europe.”

However dire the outlook, both journalists agree the uncertainty of Greece’s future is incredibly worrying. “No one really knows what happens when [a country leaves the eurozone] because it simply hasn’t happened before,” says Francis. “The idea of modern Europe, a united Europe with one currency, the future of that is really in doubt now.”

In the case of a “Grexit,” however, there is definite potential for a domino effect, with Spain being most at risk. Another, more unexpected consequence comes from an unlikely source: “Russia has said that it would consider giving Greece financial assistance if needed, and people have told me that that’s Russian President Vladimir Putin’s way of sticking his finger in the eye of Europe,” says Francis. “And that would cause a lot of problems in terms of the situation in Ukraine; European unity would be fractured over the sanctions that are in place right now.”

Severgnini, however, argues that European leaders have used Europe as a scapegoat, “to hide and cover their failures and weaknesses. ... I think the world media, when it comes to Europe, is over-emotional."