EMU and International Conflict

MONNET WAS MISTAKEN

To most Americans, European economic and monetary union seems like an obscure financial undertaking of no relevance to the United States. That perception is far from correct. If EMU does come into existence, as now seems increasingly likely, it will change the political character of Europe in ways that could lead to conflicts in Europe and confrontations with the United States.

The immediate effects of EMU would be to replace the individual national currencies of the participating countries in 2002 with a single currency, the euro, and to shift responsibility for monetary policy from the national central banks to a new European Central Bank (ECB). But the more fundamental long-term effect of adopting a single currency would be the creation of a political union, a European federal state with responsibility for a Europe-wide foreign and security policy as well as for what are now domestic economic and social policies. While the individual governments and key political figures differ in their reasons for wanting a political union, there is no doubt that the real rationale for EMU is political and not economic. Indeed, the adverse economic effects of a single currency on unemployment and inflation would outweigh any gains from facilitating trade and capital flows among the EMU members.

The 1992 Maastricht Treaty that created the EMU calls explicitly for the evolution to a future political union. But even without that specific treaty language, the shift to a single currency would be a dramatic and irreversible step toward that goal. There is no sizable country anywhere in the world that does not have its own currency. A national currency is both a symbol of sovereignty and the key to the pursuit of an independent monetary and budget policy. The tentative decision of the 15 European Union (EU) member states (with the exceptions of Denmark and the United Kingdom), embodied in the Maastricht Treaty, to abandon their national currencies for the euro is therefore a decision of fundamental political significance.

Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis