The Agony of Wolfgang Munchau, Euro Hater

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 1/11/2012 10:46:00 AM
Brother will kill brother; spill blood across the land
Killing for religion is something I don't understand...

Do Financial Times columnists listen to Megadeth? I admittedly do--and proudly so. One of my trademark posts in the run-up to the global financial crisis concerned "The Subprime Wisdom of Megadeth" which was true then as it is now. However, it seems that the FT's Wolfgang Munchau wants to do me one better by implying that Europe is not only combating financial crisis but is also engaged in "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due" [padarumph...padarumph...padarumph (I can hear air guitars riffing the intro already)].

To avoid possible conflicts of interest, let me disclose that the FT once gave me a fairly lucrative prize a few years ago. While I still regard it as being at the pinnacle of financial reporting alongside the Wall Street Journal sans the latter's op-ed section, I'm beginning to wonder if the standards of the FT in the column writing department are now approaching WSJ neocon territory. Which, of course, is not quite good unless you're a firm believer in bombing Iran ASAP, reducing taxes to single digit rates and other wingnut causes that render you politically radioactive.

Which brings me to Wolfgang Munchau. In the past, I have found him to be a trenchant if pessimistic commentator on the European Union. The British famously produce many Eurosceptics whose dislike for "being enslaved" by Brussels borders on the fanatic. But while you may expect such writing from the worst lot of the Eurosceptic British press, you expect the FT to have higher standards. So it was a big surprise to me in late November when Munchau formed his own Euro-doomsday movement by stating that the Eurozone would expire on 7 December. I suppose that such prophecies not coming true would have quieted him somewhat alike other end-of-the-worlders who've found the world existing past its putative sell-by date, but I guess not. It makes me think that he may be a British Eurosceptic in disguise. After all, he has subsequently disparaged assertions that the French defenders of the euro will fare worse than the British with their neoliberal policies favouring financial services industries.

But that's not all. He now suggests that what we have with Europe's financial woes is nothing less than a rehash of the Thirty Years' War between Catholic and Protestant religions. In his scheme of things Catholic Italy, Portugal and Spain are engaged in a conflict with Germany:
But what remains unchanged from those times are the underlying cultural conflicts between Protestants and Catholics, north and south, Britain versus the Continent. The many decades of European integration have not ended this fundamental mistrust. This is also one the reasons why the Europeans have created such an irrationally unbalanced monetary union. Its rules were not the result of a rational economic argument, but designed to allay very old German suspicions.
While working in London, something striking is that I always had Catholic flatmates for some reason--French and Italians among others. Yet I was the only one who bothered with going to mass on Sunday. It is a fairly well-known observation that Europe is becoming increasingly secular. Many Europeans never bother to attend services, and this phenomenon cuts across Catholic-Protestant divides. Nor is there much stigma in out-of-wedlock births across Europe as evidenced by soaring rates of illegitimacy. Gay marriage in Spain raised nary an eyebrow elsewhere despite vehement opposition from the Catholic church. In other words to quote Munchau, something which truly unites Protestants and Catholics, north and south, Britain and the Continent is a pronounced increase in secularism. That is a cultural unity, not an underlying cultural conflict. The numbers back me up, not Munchau.

It is also odd that Munchau does not mention his bete noire France in this context given that it lies at the heart of the EU-2 Franco-German "Merkozy" leadership complex. Isn't it (nominally) Catholic as well--like thrice-married Nicolas Sarkozy? Again, it is very odd to compare today's goings-on with those of holy wars of so long ago when today's putative combatants are largely indifferent to religious culture. What's more the last I checked, Germany not only is about evenly divided between Protestants and Catholics but is also the proud homeland of the current Pope, Benedict XVI, and an admirable one to boot.

Bottom line: this comparison is ludicrous. While drawing (far-fetched) analogies is par for the course from economic commentators, this one goes far beyond imperial overstretch by invoking religion where it explains next to nothing. What's next, Turkish EU accession will be a re-run of the Battle of Gallipoli?