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Self-interest could end the EU dream

24 July 2015

TWO weeks ago, I drafted a column about the motorbike-riding former Finance Minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, who was the first casualty of the Greek referendum, when the people voted for the end of austerity while wanting to remain in the euro.

I said that Mr Varoufakis’s contribution to the crisis was to make this outcome practically impossible, and that, in that sense, his brief political career can only be judged a failure. I then went on to say that, in spite of this, I had found him rather magnificent. He conveyed a kind of charismatic electricity that made me want to shout "Yes!" at almost everything he said, even though I thought he was wrong about almost everything.

I was, however, stirred by his passion for his cause, his scorn for his adversaries, the humour mixed in with dire threats — and always the sense that, if he got bored, he could walk away from it all. This, in the event, is exactly what he did.

More recently, as the crisis goes on, I have come to wonder whether Mr Varoufakis’s exit was less an expression of egoism and more an acted prophecy, a demonstration of the sheer impossibility of the European enterprise in its present form.

In a recent interview, before he resigned, he said that he believed that Greece should never have gone in with the single currency. When asked about the possibility of Grexit, he refused to voice an opinion. But there can be no mistaking the revival of anti-European sentiment from the British political Left’s chiming in with other radical European voices.

It must be deeply disconcerting to Chancellor Angela Merkel, and those who believe in political and fiscal union, to find themselves portrayed as the cruel gatekeepers of a rich man’s club.

For the first time, I find myself seriously wondering whether a united Europe is impossible. Perhaps the self-interest of European Union members is simply stronger than their ability to forge the lasting political unity that, everyone agrees, the single currency needs.

It is becoming clear that it is not only UKIP and its other right-wing counterparts who would rejoice to see the whole house crumble. I actually believe in Europe, and I hope my forebodings are unjustified. But the past few weeks have shown how old and bitter some of our divisions still are.

It would be tragic if festering wounds from the war years were to infect the institution whose initial aim was to reconcile old enemies. Mr Varoufakis’s rhetoric is at least a warning.

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