Narcissism Versus Hysteria

Jacques Sapir, Faut-il sortir de l’euro?, Seuil, 2012

As we know, François Mitterand was terrified of the prospect of German unification. If the French president could have it his own way, Germany would remain divided. When, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Helmut Kohl proposed a joint walk under the Brandenburger Tor, Mitterand refused. He later explained: “I do not have to take part in this. He wants me to legitimise the takeover of the GDR? Journalists are always ready to kneel at the feet of the victor, as in 1940!”

In 2012 the French elites are again afraid of the prospect of German domination in Europe. Only the reason for these fears is different—the euro. When in Paris, just before the first round of the presidential elections, I noticed that a voodoo doll Sarkozy with a set of pins was a bestseller in the bookshops. Alongside with books directed against the common currency. The French have long forgotten whose child the euro is. Twenty years ago, they were sincerely convinced that the euro was the only way of stopping the German march across Europe. And they staged a fierce battle to wring the common currency from Berlin’s hands.

Jacques Sapir has long been appealing to the French to leave the Euroland (and he has been prophesying the collapse of the eurozone since 2006), his newest book being another example of this. He reminds the readers that after the introduction of the euro, the German surpluses in trade with other EU countries have been steadily growing, while in the remaining countries (with the exception of Holland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) only the deficits have been on the rise. In 2009, the German surplus in foreign trade with EU countries was 116 billion euro, of which as much as 51 billion was accounted for by France and Italy. (The much vaunted openness of the German economy to the world is a myth: the German surplus in the exchange with the tiny Belgium is just one third smaller than in the exchange with the USA. It is within the EU that the Germans make the best deals). As we know, football is a game in which the Germans always win. Apparently, the EU economy is such a game, too. Just before the first round of the presidential elections, Sapir wrote an open letter to the candidate of the Left, Hollande, where he called for an open conflict with Germany. The key element of the proposed strategy was to be blackmail: “if you do not change your economic policy, we will leave the euro” (but in a conversation with me, Sapir expressed the view that Hollande had no chance in the confrontation with Angela Merkel, so his letter was rather a leap of faith).

It is pointless to quote arguments against the common currency. They are widely known, for example: Since its creation, the eurozone has been the slowest developing economic region in the world among all developed countries. Something else is worth pointing out—until recently, it seemed that peripheral countries such as Greece, Portugal and Ireland were the main problem. It was a very optimistic vision of the future. Now we clearly see that all countries except Germany are infected. Spain has already asked for aid and Italy will probably do the same soon. Even France has not escaped the disease— the difference in interest on French and German bonds is exactly the same as before the introduction of the euro and in a while it will probably be bigger (“France loses between 1.5–2.1% of growth annually, because the euro is overvalued and devaluation, unlike in the era of the French frank, is impossible,” writes Sapir). If the sick men of the eurozone were quarantined, everyone would land in a hospital (with the Germans as wardens, which would undoubtedly suit them).

Sapir is convinced that survival of an unreformed eurozone would mean lack of growth prospects until 2015—at best. An assumption that the EU is headed for a lost decade (George Soros recently said exactly the same) seems more realistic to him. But despite all that, everyone is defending the euro: “Because it lost its meaning as a financial instrument, judged by the results; is has become a true fetish in the religious sense of the word. Euro is the religion of our times, with false prophets and prophesies continuously contradicted by reality.”

When Sapir attacks “false prophets”, assuming the guise of an anti-prophet, he makes any argument impossible because you can’t argue with anti-prophets just as with prophets. But he is right when he rubbishes the most often quoted argument for the euro (besides the vision of a war or the end of the world) namely that the euro is struggling, for its proper functioning requires a still more united, federal Europe. In other words, the fault is not with the euro but with those who reject the only right direction, which is federalism.

But it is not the enemies of the euro who have stood in the way of federalism. It was halted by the EU nations, which are against such a Europe. Vaunting such arguments, the proponents of federalism are not defining the future—they only prove to what extent they are blinded.

Gotz Aly once wrote that Germans were supporting Hitler not out of blindness or hatred for the Jews, but because for most of them, the war did not mean a decreased standard of living. And today, toutes proportions gardees, they are behaving in a similar way. They do not associate the crisis with bad living—they are a narcissist power. On the other hand, a French answer Sapir style does not resolve anything. It was the French who forced the introduction of the euro and it is the French who now want to force its liquidation. And to go back in time, as if until 2002 France was thriving. This is how the French-German engine of the EU looks like today. The narcissus is leading the way. And his French hysterical partner is showering him with invectives. And nothing gives him more pleasure than abusing his master, whose overlordship he is doomed to.

Maciej Nowicki

Maciej Nowicki is Deputy Editor In Chief of Aspen Review.

Share this on social media

Support Aspen Institute

The support of our corporate partners, individual members and donors is critical to sustaining our work. We encourage you to join us at our roundtable discussions, forums, symposia, and special event dinners.

Current issue - 01/2020

Heart of Europe on the Periphery

Illiberal backsliding is getting stronger in Visegrad countries recently. Central Europe suffers from a complex of inferiority, they say. Is it a legitimate feeling? Discover the heart of Europe and its pounding chambers on the periphery.

Download PDF