How Germany Reconquered Europe
The euro and its discontents
Published in the February 2014 issue of Harper’s Magazine, “How Germany Reconquered Europe” explores whether Europe can and should remain united, given its economic woes. The full article is free to read at Harpers.org through July 12. Subscribe to Harper’s Magazine for access to our entire 165-year archive.
From a New York Times report, published July 9, 2015, on Greece’s decision, after missing a loan payment to the International Monetary Fund, not to adopt austerity measures in exchange for financial relief.
Back in 2012, Alexis Tsipras, then a maverick candidate for prime minister, lost a pivotal government election after Greeks decided there was too much of a risk he might lead Greece out of the euro. During an interview at the time, he pointed out that he liked to “play poker.”
But as austerity continued to hit the Greek economy, Mr. Tsipras’s popularity grew, and he was propelled to power in snap elections earlier this year.
Today, after the no vote, fears of a so-called “Grexit” seem to be hurtling toward reality.
Since the financial collapse of 2008, Americans of all political persuasions have been frustrated both by the tepid recovery and by the political dysfunction that seems to get in the way every time the economy looks ready to turn itself around. But there’s another region where recovery has been even weaker and political dysfunction arguably even worse. Europe has faced its first major economic crisis since its post–Cold War integration and its subsequent adoption of a common currency. The continent — long admired by American liberals as the home of a more just social order — has embraced fiscal austerity to a far greater degree than has the United States, with drastic budget cuts for poorer member nations such as Greece and Portugal.
For observers in the United States, Europe’s struggles raise many questions. Can a united Europe survive — and should it? Does European integration represent the transcendence of the continent’s bloody twentieth century, or its continuation by other means? Has a project begun in a spirit of liberty, equality, and fraternity turned authoritarian, hierarchical, and antagonistic? If the union is as bad as its critics claim, why does it remain so popular in many member nations? And how will the future of Europe affect that of the United States?
This past fall, Harper’s Magazine brought together experts from several European nations and the United States for a private forum, followed by a public discussion at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Both events were moderated by Jeff Madrick, the author of Harper’s Anti-Economist column.
JAMES K. GALBRAITH
Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. Chair in Government/Business Relations at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, Austin
Associate for Germany at the Open Society Initiative for Europe
JOHN N. GRAY
Emeritus Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics
Max Weber Chair in German and European Studies at New York University
Historian, social anthropologist, and political scientist at the National Institute of Demographic Studies, Paris