Ultimately, monetary union was the price for Germany's economic strength, which was already putting pressure on the other European economies in the 1980s. The D-Mark was "Germany's atomic bomb", it was said in Paris, and therefore its communitarisation, in particular the communitarisation of interest rate policy, was the primary objective of French President François Mitterrand, which he achieved with the Maastricht Treaty.
The monetary union decided there, however, was a peculiar construction. It communitised monetary policy and set up a supranational institution for this purpose, the European Central Bank. Fiscal policy, on the other hand, remained a national responsibility. To this end, a set of rules was agreed which were primarily intended to limit national indebtedness.
Monetary union abolished the old mechanism of compensating economic imbalances through currency adjustments. Instead, their implicit logic was to compensate for economic weakness through internal reforms and thus improved competitiveness. However, this was not clearly stated in the Treaties. On the other hand, what was clearly formulated was the so-called "no bail out" clause: the member states' exclusion of liability for the debts of other participants in the monetary union. It was therefore expressly not designed as a transfer union.
Many people said from the outset for various reasons that this could not work. But now a mechanism began to shape European integration since the 1990s: its ideologization. According to Helmut Kohl in 1990, the alternative to European monetary union was "back to Wilhelm II," which meant "a relapse into earlier nationalist thinking with all its terrible consequences. The monetary union was morally charged and thus immunized against criticism.
The "ever closer union", as the European Treaties state, was justified by the metaphor of the European bicycle, which had to be moved forward continuously to prevent it from falling over (Udo Di Fabio, former judge of the Federal Constitutional Court, remarked, however, that a cyclist who could not dismount should be withdrawn from circulation).
Against this background, the political and cultural differences that continued to have a powerful effect were also ignored. The Italian "Solidarismo" sympathises with the "povere Diavolo" shaken by the external circumstances and aims at the communitarisation of achievement and merit as well as responsibility and guilt. This is the opposite of the Anglo-Saxon idea that everyone is the blacksmith of his own fortune. For Germany, monetary stability is what the welfare state is for France. While the Germans are guided by legal norms and institutions, in France the primacy of republican politics prevails. And while inflation is the historical trauma of the Germans, the trauma of the French lies in the German supremacy in Europe.
Through the "sacralisation of Europe", as Hans Joas called it, and the motto of an "ever closer union", the European Union has lost its capacity for self-criticism and self-correction. However good an idea may be, it always becomes dangerous when it breaks away from reality. Political will can only push back economic realities to a limited extent - at some point tensions break out.
This is the point that monetary union has now reached. Nun raises the question of how things should continue - and at the same time there is the old question of the "finality" of European integration, which has always remained unanswered. One possibility lies in a more consistent deepening of the monetary union through a common economic government and the further development into a transfer union, as has been proposed by many European politicians, most recently also by French President François Hollande.
But the question is whether a problem can be solved by increasing the speed in the direction you have chosen, even if it leads to a dead end. The alternative is to take a step back and not to demonise this step as a step back, but to see it as an opportunity to ideologically disarm and sort out what works and what does not work in Europe.
On the positive side, European integration has achieved invaluable historic successes. Belgium, Luxembourg and Poland are no longer areas of marching through for the armies of enemy great powers, but represent presidents of European institutions. And the great, often forgotten success story of the European Union after 1990 lies in its contribution to the stabilisation of Central and Eastern Europe - the region that transformed itself after the First World War into the Bloodlands of unstable statehood in which the 20th century raged most devastately.
The European Monetary Union, on the other hand, has not lived up to expectations because what does not belong together cannot grow together. Instead, it has documented that the independence of an "ever closer union" generates its own counterforces and thus endangers the historical success of European integration. This can be seen in the emotional upsurge around Grexit, in which long overcome national stereotypes and enemy images have powerfully reappeared - instead of treating him as a pragmatic solution to the problem that Greece and the monetary union do not fit together.
Europe now needs the courage to dispose of its blinkers and disarm ideologically, to re-order itself and take a step backwards instead of following the fixed idea of an "ever closer and ever larger Union" and openly discussing how far European integration should actually go - and where not. And we should discuss the rules under which a flexible monetary union can function, including an insolvency order for its members.
A temporary withdrawal may not mean a stigma, but must be a normal option. Then the crisis offers an opportunity to reposition the historic project of European integration and make it stable for the 21st century.®