Greek Drama: Behind the Scenes of EU Integration

By Schimmer, Markus; Kunisch, Sven | Kennedy School Review, Annual 2012 | Go to article overview

Greek Drama: Behind the Scenes of EU Integration


Schimmer, Markus, Kunisch, Sven, Kennedy School Review


The primordial gods--along with the world economy--must be sitting at the edge of their seats right now as they watch a very Greek drama unfold in the European Union (EU). As public debt in the EU's most vulnerable countries has reached higher and higher levels, several now face a serious risk of insolvency. With the maturity dates of these countries' sovereign bonds resembling the ticking of a time bomb, the EU as a whole has become the stage for a doomsday scene.

Economists and politicians alike have had no shortage of advice on how to solve the so-called Euro crisis. Their consultation stretches between two basic suggestions: a breakup of the EU or its further integration, with hopes that the adoption of either would resolve the current crisis. Yet, even as critics repeatedly call for EU leaders to take more decisive actions, time and again, European officials have made only last-minute and seemingly unavoidable decisions. What are EU leaders doing?

We believe that EU leaders do have a rough plan to solve the current crisis that fits into their general vision for future European integration. But to execute this plan and reach their grand vision, a painful process is first required to resolve the flaws that underlie the design of the union itself. In reality, an instant jump to the preferred outcome is simply not possible. Put differently, in order to come to the preferred ending of the Euro crisis drama, those in charge must carefully stage the entire play instead of jumping the gun on the final act.

How will the drama unfold? To understand, we must first examine the earlier scenes of the play. Before turning to the current crisis we will briefly recap EU history.

Although the EU can trace its roots back to the European communities of the 1950s, it was only established in 1992, and it wasn't until 2002 that the Euro became the common currency for many but not all EU members through the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). Yet in many ways the creation of the Euro was driven by a political rather than an economic vision (Europa n.d.). To some extent, for example, the EMU was meant to dispel the concerns of a reunified and economically strong Germany.

This primarily political motivation has meant that economic factors and constraints have received a lower priority in the design and running of the EMU. For instance, by creating a monetary union without also creating a fiscal union--as most other currency zones in the world are set up--the EU lacks an effective mechanism to enforce its participation rules. So rather than even out economic differences between countries, the Euro has exacerbated them while also seducing economically weaker countries into higher levels of debt.

This fundamental flaw in the EMU's design has produced a rather obscure scene. Ever since the outburst of the Euro crisis, the EU has threatened its highly leveraged countries with ending its support even though the EMU itself partly accounts for the reasons behind the deficits. …

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