Advancing a Free Society

The EU Shows the Risks of Selective Intervention

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

As Europe's leaders leave Brussels with a new fiscal treaty, I found myself thinking back to last June when Nicolas Sarkozy said:

Without the euro there is no Europe and without Europe there is no possible peace and security.

It makes you wonder how we got to this. If true, it would make the well-being and security of all Europeans hostage to the future of the Euro. Yet the euro is a relatively recent invention. It was not around for the first half century of the postwar era. Europe was peaceful and the European Union was working effectively long before the euro was brought in.

Given the model was already working reasonably well without the euro, you could understand Sarkozy to mean that Europe's architects willfully introduced a new feature that, if then removed one day, would bring it crashing to the ground. How dangerous is that!

Confronted by the possibility of eventual Eurozone disintegration, which the new fiscal treaty does not remove, I caught myself thinking:

If only Europe's builders had stopped with the single market.

The single European market, enacted between 1987 and 1992, was a huge achievement. The single market eliminated physical, technical and tax-related barriers to free movement [of goods and people] within the Community. The single market was enforced by tough laws that improved competition. In turn, competition and free trade within the community raised average productivity and incomes.

The European economy wasn't perfect. The common agricultural policy remained a blot on the European rural landscape. There was continual pressure on the member states to harmonize national social, employment, and fiscal policies. Within the single market itself there were still national currencies. The single market was marked by regional price differences arising from exchange rate fluctuations, currency exchange costs, and the lack of transparency associated with pricing in different currencies. The transaction costs alone might have been worth a few billion euros.

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