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European Debt Crisis

EU summit takes place in Brussels; divisions abound

Stephen Beard Dec 8, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: Here’s what happened with the news in Europe, it came in two phases today. Early this morning, the European Central Bank lowered interest rates and said it’s not necessarily in the mood to buy large amounts of questionable European government debt. Then late this afternoon, there was a leak out of Brussels — site of the frantic confabbing that’s going on over there — that negotiations aren’t going well in the Franco-German push for a new European treaty. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy say the EU itself — not individual countries — should have final say over budgets.

In front of the official meetings tomorrow, we sent Marketplace’s Stephen Beard off to the European Parliament in Brussels to see how that’s going over.

Stephen Beard: If you want to understand the depth of division in Europe, look no further than its lawmakers.
At one end of the spectrum is Nigel Farage, head of the U.K. Independence Party. He doesn’t see this summit as “make or break” for the euro.

Nigel Farage: Well this is the eighth summit this year that we’ve been told was here to save the euro. So I think we should take that with a pinch of salt really.

Not that Farage wants to save the euro, anyway. He says it was always a mistake to shoehorn 17 very different economies into the same monetary system. In the corner of his office, he has an actual coffin with a euro symbol painted on the lid. He’d like to bury the common currency.

Farage: The euro itself is the problem. And what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to prop up, we’re trying to reinforce failure. That’s how damned stupid this whole summit is.

Farage doesn’t just see the eurozone as the enemy, but the whole European Union. And he wants Britain out.

A hundred yards up the corridor from his office in the European Parliament, German lawmaker Alexander Graf Lambsdorff takes a very different view of the summit.

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff: The summit is about creating credibility to make it very clear to the outside world that the European Union is serious about defending the euro and serious about defending the member states of the eurozone.

Lambsdorff wants an ever closer European Union. On his office wall hang photographs of derelict border posts around Europe. For him, they symbolize the irrelevance of national borders in a united continent. He applauds the main plan being discussed here in Brussels. That unelected bureaucrats in Brussels scrutinize national budgets and fine countries that run up big deficits.

Lambsdorff: Which is very new for Europe, but I think it’s the right way ahead if we want to have a credible fiscal union.

But that’s the kind of talk that makes Nigel Farage seethe.

Farage: The idea that a free, independent country is hijacked and taken over by some faceless bureaucrat in Brussels, people won’t stand for it.

He says trying to save the euro has propelled the EU down a dangerously undemocratic path. He points out that serving, elected prime ministers in Greece and Italy have been replaced by unelected technocrats favored by the European Union.

Farage: I mean, this is the nearest thing you will ever get to a technocratic coup d’etat.

And Farage was not impressed by the recent sight of Elsa Fornero, an unelected Italian minister, weeping as she unveiled more austerity on the orders of EU.

Farage: You know, she announced cuts and she burst into tears. Dear oh dear oh dear. Listen, you can cry as many crocodile tears as you like. The fact is, they are destroying democracy in Europe.

Not true, says Alexander Graf Lambsdorff.

Lambsdorff: Every country is free to leave the European Union or the eurozone.

But he says Brussels has to exert much stricter central control over national budgets.

Lambsdorff: The sovereignty of each member state is untarnished by this because the ultimate choice is to leave or to stay in. But when you stay in, you have to play by the rules.

However, Nigel Farage says the EU is getting more and more undemocratic. That coffin he keeps in his office, he and his colleagues wanted to carry it around the parliament building in protest, but they were banned.

In Brussels, I’m Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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