Perspective is a funny thing. Here in Brussels, I am one among many: an editor trying to make sense of what is happening in the Eurozone and then turning some of it in articles that are not entirely unreadable. Back home in Germany, I am "our man in Brussels". Going to a family reunion invariably involves the moment when an aunty or uncle grabs a beer and a chair to sit next to me and hear me out.
The opening question varies according to political inclination, worldview, individual character, and amount of alcohol consumed. But that first question already gives you a good idea of what the other wants to hear.
The concerned: "Will the Euro collapse?"
The doomsayers: "When will the Euro collapse?"
The Europhiles: "How can we save the Euro?"
The nostalgic: "Why do we need the Euro anyway?"
I tried different tactics. At first, I went to great lengths explaining:
- It’s also Germany’s fault. Property bubbles were fueled by artificially low interest rates.
- We have a historic responsibility, still owe Greece money from WWII, and profited from the Marshall plan.
- Austerity is no solution; it only makes things worse, especially for average people.
It's all part of the plan
This might work if the evening is still young. But at a later stage, many people simply end up staring at me or their glass, a blank look on their face. If they are polite, they mumble: "Thought so." If not they just get a refill.
At this stage, I usually try a simple marketing trick: if you can't improve the product, improve the rhetoric. This, I would declare my friend or relative, wasn't a crisis but simply part of the plan. When the Euro was introduced, thinkers involved had known that a financial crisis was the only way – other than war – to achieve European unity. Even the USA had gone through a civil war before turning into a melting pot. If we were to get this without bloodshed or dictatorship, a few years of crisis and insecurity was a fair deal.
Looking for a scapegoat
This works well on the more idealistic, but conservatives and traditionalists don’t share the premises that a united Europe is worth a major crisis. If they keep on harassing me about the incompatibility of North and South, I sometimes cave in and go for the simplest way out, the scapegoat solution.
I usually hate myself for that afterwards, but it is just so easy. Few crises offer an easier scapegoat than this one: the bankster. This international money elite not bound to any nation or state, the globalised few that reap without ever sowing. Those greedy men and women that steal money from old ladies and pension funds alike, that blackmail politicians and honest business men into submission – the joke of the moneylender, Europe's historic villain. And I hate to say so, but the old cliché still goes down well with many people.
Now, I am fed up and just want the bloody debate to end. But there is only one way to do that quickly: full out attack, no apologies. Here is how that goes: "I have no clue what is going to happen to this mess, but even if EU and Euro implode tomorrow we will still be stuck here on this little Asian peninsula; and even the British won't be able to tow their island to more prosperous waters.”
I drink a bit of lukewarm beer and wait until it sinks in. “We simply have to find a way to get along with all the French, and the Polish, and the Greek. We cannot just pretend none of this has ever happened.”
If people still disagree, I go for more beer.