Didier Le Menestrel

To the mines Europe !

Europe is struggling: debt in Greece, the timid response to the crisis in Haïti and rocketing costs for the Airbus A400M are all examples of the opinion that political inefficiency has simply been galvanized by the economic crisis. The benefits of the common market and the single currency have been forgotten and replaced by disgruntled citizens faced with the malfunctioning felt in a Europe lacking strategy.
However, in the introduction to the treaty constituting the European Coal and Steel Community ratified in Paris in 1951, the six member countries stated they were “aware that Europe would only be built by concrete achievements creating firstly a de facto solidarity and by establishing the common basis of economic development”.

Sixty years later, it appears that the founding principles of the European idea of “solidarity” and “common basis” have fallen by the wayside. In the case of Greece, this is legally justified. Indeed, the European Central Bank is forbidden to provide credit to a struggling member state (1). The treaties also stipulate that neither the European Union, nor any member state can be held responsible for the commitments or the negligence of a constituent country (2). OK. But should legal orthodoxy threaten the European Union as a whole?

Jean Monnet, one of the “fathers of Europe” and the first president of the ECSC affirmed that “’We only have the choice of change between those we trained for and those we knew we wanted to accomplish.” European companies understood this long ago and have made the European idea profitable. Companies in each member state have gone beyond their national borders and “Europeanised” their markets before globalising them.

This trend came to the great joy of shareholders in European companies. The latest rankings in Fortune magazine shown that while 37 out of the 500 largest global companies are Chinese and 140 American, 163 stem from European Union countries. This is not negligible. It is also proof that these companies have managed to make the most of an open common market before attacking the rest of the world.

In 2000, the Lisbon agenda had the extremely ambitious target of “becoming the most competitive and dynamic economy of knowledge in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth together with a quantitative and qualitative improvement in employment and greater social cohesion” (3). In order to meet this aim, European companies naturally need regulatory stability, but also monetary stability. After the euro rocketed to $1.60 for reasons beyond the Euro Zone, the single currency is now weakened by the upheaval in Greece, but above all, by the lack of European political determination to resolve the crisis. This is nevertheless good news for companies since a weaker Euro is a windfall, by which exporting companies are the first to benefit.

Europe also needs to rebound in terms of visible and palpable measures. As we pointed out, the Treaty constituting the ECSC states the need for concrete achievements. 2010 should see the arrival of a universal telephone charger in the European Union, eliminating the piles of obsolete and abandoned chargers in our drawers. Although less spectacular than the first flight of an Airbus A400M, it is still a feat.

“Men only accept change when necessary and only see necessity during crises”. Jean Monnet did not realise how true this statement was given that the European Union has often been built on a string of crises. Its up to us “convinced Europeans” to help transform the current difficulties into reforming momentum. The EU 2020 agenda currently being drawn up in Brussels should provide an excellent opportunity for European political authorities to get in tune with corporate momentum.