NBC Dateline Brussels, Belgium, 2025.
Camera pans an imposing star shaped building, revealing the odd broken window, and weeds growing up through the forecourt. A vandalised sign, missing letters, reads “ur ommission”. Camera pans to a handsome man in his early 40s. The accent is American.
“Ten years ago, this building, housing a body called the European Commission, was one of the most important places in Europe, possibly in the western world. It was here, in sleepy Belgium, now one of the world’s backwaters, that American, Japanese, German and even Chinese businessmen would pay attention to see what consumer protection regulations would have to be met to permit their products be sold to European citizens in Greece, Germany or Galway. It’s hard now to imagine the central committee in Beijing, or tycoons and industrialists in Mumbai caring what Europeans actually think about anything, but there was once a time when the tiny nations of Europe didn’t pander and grovel to China for economic scraps, but were in fact a mighty combined economic power in their own right.
Indeed, when one looks at Prime Minister Cameron having this week to welcome the Chinese invasion of Taiwan, for fear of losing Chinese investment in Britain, it’s a sorry sign of how far Europe has fallen. So what happened?
Well, Europe had a choice: It could have gone for full fiscal union, to save its currency, but the truth was, the people of Europe, particularly the people of Northern Europe, didn’t want to. The northerners didn’t want to bail out the south, and the south didn’t want to be bailed out if it meant living by northern rules. The currency started to unravel. A new ultra-nationalist Greek government, desperately clutching for populist easy solutions, immediately announced a return to the drachma, which triggered a panic in the eurozone. After valiantly fighting to maintain their bond ratings, Portugal, Spain and Italy, one after the other, found themselves having to leave the eurozone as the only way of convincing the markets that they could achieve significant economic growth, through new heavily devalued currencies. None of those countries had the political stomach to impose real economic reforms. France, now desperately overpriced in two of its key export markets, attempted first to protect French manufacturers by introducing temporary tariffs on non-euro imports.”
Cut to images of long queues of cars at the French border.
“When tariffed countries retaliated, hurting French exports even further, President Sarkozy announced, after a stormy summit with the German Chancellor, that France would be withdrawing from the eurozone. Within nine months, explosive devaluation occurred in France. Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands announced their withdrawal in order to stay competitive. The euro was dead.
The return of the deutschmark was initially met with jubilation in Germany, with opinion polls showing support for its return exceeding 80%. But the new currency immediately appreciated rapidly, becoming the world’s second reserve currency, and coupled with devaluation in nearly all of Germany’s European export markets and a weak US dollar, Germany’s export driven economy had the handbrake pulled on it, with unemployment, initially in border regions in the retail sector, but feeding into manufacturing, rising sharply. A disturbingly strong election performance for the neo-nazi NPD in the Berlin city elections caused panic in the Bundeskanzler’s office, and resulted in the SPD/Left government deciding that Germany would no longer permit non-German citizens, even from other EU member states, to work in Germany. Although the member states would later meet to agree a treaty to dismantle the union formally, a process led enthusiastically by Foriegn Secretary Farage on behalf of the British Conservative/UKIP coalition, that was the moment most historians agree the EU died.”
Cut to images of the EU flag being lowered from the Commission building, and an interview with a tearful Jacques Delors.
“The irony is that the collapse of the EU did not bring the resolution that eurosceptics across Europe believed it would. Within 18 months European countries were engaged in populist protectionist tariff and devaluation wars against each other, expelling each others citizens and disrupting trade in favour of home markets. The European economy has shrunk sharply in size for 5 years in a row now, with the cost of living in most European countries rising as the low prices caused by free trade within Europe became a thing of the past.”
But what is also notable is how ineffective European countries have now become. Last month, 17 children in Ireland, Britain and Denmark died from tainted baby food manufactured in China. The Chinese response? They threatened to block all exports from those three countries to China if those countries continued to diplomatically protest. The three countries have been silent on the matter since.
As one former European commissioner said to me last week: “We’re just cowering in the shadows now, hoping none of the big boys notice us. That’s what Europe has become.”