David Cogswell | February 15, 2016 4:00 PM ET
European Union: Farewell to the Dream
Things are not looking good with the European Union. It’s starting to look like the League of Nations.
Now after 20 years of passport-free travel within the EU, we read that EU countries are going to require passport checks at borders again.
Oh, that’s a dreary headline. For travelers, the possibility of traveling around Europe without having to show your passport every time you crossed a border was a great thing. It felt like the Great Leap Forward. The world was finally approaching Utopia. International cooperation and understanding. The world had reached a new plateau of civilization. The End of History. Again.
It’s not really so bad to have to show your passport at borders if you aren’t an international smuggler. But it was symbolic. It seemed that the world was becoming so advanced, and we with it. Europe was becoming like a new United States. The world was all coming together!
But no. It’s not. The world isn’t coming together. It feels like it’s coming apart, the EU anyway. It feels like the wheels have come off the cart.
Those who hold tightly to optimism may say, well, this is only a temporary setback. All grand projects encounter some setbacks.
That may be true. But this does not feel like a setback in a forward moving trend. It feels like a reversal, a failure, a relinquishing of the Grand Idea.
It started with the unraveling of the economic proposition. Great Britain was suspicious in the first place, and was not about to give up the Pound Sterling for the newly proposed euro.
Holding together an economic union with so many countries is such varying circumstances has not been easy. It’s amazing that countries can work anything out with all their different currencies around the world. It seemed like it would simplify everything if it could just be one currency.
But no. It’s not as easy as it looked.
Last summer when the crisis over Greece’s solvency came to the boiling point, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote, “Europe never had the pre-conditions of a single currency.”
At that time Greece was experiencing a replay of The Great Depression. Spain was said to be returning to growth, but had 22 percent unemployment. And northern Europe was also in trouble, experiencing what Krugman called an “arc of stagnation.”
How did things go so terribly wrong? Krugman asked rhetorically.
“The answer is that this is what happens when self-indulgent politicians ignore arithmetic and the lessons of history,” said Krugman. “And no, I’m not talking about leftists in Greece or elsewhere; I’m talking about ultra-respectable men in Berlin, Paris, and Brussels, who have spent a quarter-century trying to run Europe on the basis of fantasy economics.”
There were plenty of economists who did the math and predicted the consequences at the beginning. But they were ignored. Why did Europe go forward with such a lofty idea that was so untested and presented such dire consequences if it were to fail?
According to Krugman they just couldn’t resist the appeal of a beautiful idea.
“Mainly, I’d say, because the idea of the euro sounded so good,” he said. “That is, it sounded forward-looking, European-minded, exactly the kind of thing that appeals to the kind of people who give speeches at Davos. Such people didn’t want nerdy economists telling them that their glamorous vision was a bad idea.”
Bad economics leads to bad social conditions which can then lead to horrifying political events. Look at how the unsustainable economic conditions of Germany after what was then known as The Great War led to a revival of that war and a renaming of it so World War I could have a sequel.
Hitler thought he could unite Europe too, and look how well that turned out. The Thousand Year Reich got about 12 years into its millennium.
But while the harsh economic conditions in Europe are leading to political instability that can lead to dangerous political outcomes, what is really wrecking the Union politically comes from circumstances that originate outside of the EU’s internal economic problems.
What is now breaking the back of the EU and destroying the dream of open borders is the ongoing catastrophe of war in the Middle East.
In the global village, the idea that the consequences of war can be contained is no longer tenable. Whatever your feelings about war, and there are many who appreciate it for one reason or another, it is not good for much.
War is always a disaster for the travel industry. And it is obviously not helping the EU to hold itself together. The refugee crisis from all this destruction in what very well may end up being designated World War III is pushing Europe’s open borders policy to the brink of ruin.
Will the open borders come back? Who knows? But at the moment all trends are in the opposite direction.
I wish I could propose a solution. Right now it looks like one step up and two steps back.
Meanwhile just be sure to have your passport with you if you are planning to travel around Europe.
More by David Cogswell
Get Travel Deals and Travel News
Latest Travel News
Hotel & Resort
Cruise Line & Cruise Ship
Features & Advice
Airlines & Airports
Airlines & Airports
Features & Advice
Destination & Tourism