NPR: the euro. But the continent's financial crisis, which began earlier this year in Greece, has thrown the euro's future into doubt. In the last of our series on Europe, NPR's Rob Gifford takes a step back and asks: Can the European experiment survive?
ROB GIFFORD: If you want to understand the biggest problem faced by the euro currency, don't look at fiscal policy or monetary policy. Look at soccer.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)
GIFFORD: Unidentified Man #2: Dutch. Dutch first, definitely.
GIFFORD: Although there are euro coins in their pockets, there is no European soccer team on their screens. It turns out that it takes more than a few E.U. treaties and a new currency to overcome centuries of fierce nationalism for people like 25-year-old student Daniel Dunker and his friend.
DANIEL DUNKER: They want to make one European front against the Americans. With money, that's not a problem, but if it changes the culture or anything, then it's going to be a problem.
GIFFORD: Soccer fan Daniel Dunker highlights the second problem.
DUNKER: Our tax money is going into Europe instead of our own country, to Greece and to Portugal and those kind of countries. We pay for their mistakes.
GIFFORD: The Brussels correspondent of The Economist magazine is David Rennie.
DAVID RENNIE: The problem is that's just not going to happen. You look at public opinion. There just isn't support for that kind of great leap forward. So if their stark choice is disintegration versus integration, well, they better have a plan b. And it's going to have involve ad hoc solutions and fudge and mudge and muddling through.
GIFFORD: As well as working out how to say fudge and mudge in 27 European languages, the EU has been trying informal attempts to harmonize those national policies on taxing and spending. But David Rennie says that has exposed very different opinions between the euro's two key members: France and Germany.
RENNIE: Then you sit down someone from the southern European bloc led by France, and they go, well, it's very simple. We have to have redistribution from richer countries to poor. We have to lower the borrowing costs to the governments that are currently being fleeced by these evil, wicked Anglo-Saxon speculators.
GIFFORD: And these disagreements have slowed the European response to the crisis.
PIGS: Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing in Portuguese)
GIFFORD: Sitting, listening to the music is Miguel Judice, the president of the Portuguese Hotel Association. He loves the euro. It brings so many benefits, he says. But he says things in Portugal do need to change.
MIGUEL JUDICE: If you are living in a civilized country, you need to pay taxes. That's what happens in Sweden more than in Portugal, which doesn't mean that we want to be culturally identical to the Swedish. I think it's important to bridge the gap socially and economically, but not culturally, I think.
GIFFORD: Observers have been encouraged that there have been almost no protests so far at the austerity measured proposed in Portugal, and that the PIGS seem to be prepared to take their medicine.
CAMILO LOURENCO: Either we change, or we'll be left behind.
GIFFORD: Portuguese economist Camilo Lourenco says the alternative, leaving the euro with its low interest rates and low inflation, is too dire to contemplate. He, for one, thinks greater EU integration is imperative.
LOURENCO: Unidentified Group: (Singing in German)
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "ODE TO JOY")
GIFFORD: Andre Sapir is a senior fellow at Bruegel, an economics think tank in Brussels.
ANDRE SAPIR: Even if you don't have those words on the check of a trillion dollars, to me, it sounds very much like a step towards fiscal union. And what else is a fiscal union if not the beginning of political union?
GIFFORD: Others say that it may, in fact, be the wealthy countries like Germany who decide they don't want to pick up the tab any longer.
DAVID MARSH: We are on a knife edge, without a doubt.
GIFFORD: David Marsh is a Financial Times reporter-turned-banker who has written a book about the euro.
MARSH: Although both routes would be very, very difficult, and very calamitous for the European ideal, I think, on balance, it's more likely the stronger currencies would leave over the next, say, three to five years than the weaker ones. It would still be an immense parting of the ways for Europe, and it would be a demolition of the European ideal.
GIFFORD: Robb Gifford, NPR News.
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