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Civil war in Europe?

November 3, 2011

In the 19th century a continental union was torn apart by the tension between running two incompatible economies within a single monetary zone: the industrialising north versus the slave-plantation south.  This unresolved tension led to the American civil war, perhaps the worst war in history until that time. Even no less a sage that Bob Dylan says in his book Chronicles that “it was one big battle between two economic systems, that’s what it was.” Later he notes that it was also a war between two cultures: the north where you had to be on time and live by the clock, and the south “where you lived by sun up, high noon, sunset, spring, summer”. (Bob Dylan, Chronicles Vol 1, 2004, Simon and Schuster UK Ltd.)

Could the same happen again, this time in Europe? On the one hand, I doubt it: war in Europe seems unthinkable now outside the Balkans; and hopefully not even there. But on the other hand, why not? If the current eurozone crisis goes the way the pessimists say it might, the people of southern europe will face economic ruin and devastation. What will their governments have to offer them, apart from military revenge against the economies of northern Europe who have ruined them, in populist rhetoric? Meanwhile, northern European leaders will explain to their people how their economies have been undermined by the profligate and  ill-discplined south.

There is more at stake than we perhaps realise, in this “eurozone crisis”. It is not just about the banks and jobs; and it can’t be contained within national borders. The public institutions of the EU and of European civil society are our buffers against a political and human crisis which could, in the extreme case, lead to violent conflict within the EU zone.

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