The euro crisis struck at a time when the traditional driver of European integration—enhancing opportunity for people and businesses—was running out of steam. Stepping into the breach, the need to avert an economically catastrophic breakup of the eurozone has become the new dynamic force in the European Union. Necessity is a powerful integrating factor indeed, and in an effort to save the euro, the EU is intruding deeply into core areas of national decisionmaking that were considered taboo just a few years ago.
All this has happened with too little political discussion. Worse, it actually runs against the prevailing mood of the European population. The gap between the technocratic imperative of deepening integration in order to save the euro and what most people really think should happen is wider than it has ever been before. Unless this problem is addressed through a comprehensive and inclusive political process, the EU will remain on a crash course.
Most of the dynamics of the first five decades of European integration were about enhancing opportunity. Ensuring freedom of movement for goods, services, capital, and people; reducing obstacles to trade and mobility; harmonizing norms; and eliminating border controls—all these steps conformed to the logic of the expanding European economy of the postwar decades. Obviously, entrenched interests resisted this process and crises occurred time and again. But the forward momentum of integration based on increasing opportunities continued well into the early years of this century.