SHAPE OF THE FUTURE (2D)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

2 – The Final Empire: Its Physical Geography

2-A. Dual Nature of the Empire
2-B. Economic Superpower: the New Beast
2-C. Who Are the Two Superpowers of the End?
2-D. Is Modern Europe the “Beast from the Earth”
2-E. Eighth Head
2-F. Who Are the “Ten Horns”

2-D. Is Modern Europe the “Beast from the Earth” ?

So far, we have learned how this view of a dual empire split into the EU (European Union) and Russia appears to have been foreseen in the symbolic portrayal of the legs and feet of the “image” in Daniel 2. How then might the two Beasts of Revelation 13 fit into this framework? The Scriptures (in Ezekiel 38-39) point specifically to Russia as representing the “beast from the sea”. But what can we say about identifying Europe as the “beast from the earth”

The modern historical situation does seem to offer some good signposts that might point us in that direction in our thinking. Take, for example, the fact that Europe’s unity hinges on a monetary union. Not military or political authority, but financial authority, is the foundation of her power. And this, as we’ve learned, seems to be one of the strong points about the earth-beast in Revelation 13: his ability to control the buying and selling activities of the world.

In recent history the EU has surged steadily towards becoming the world’s dominant economic power. Its members are supposed to observe strict fiscal guidelines, with the aim of building an association established on a firm financial foundation. Had its members followed through on these guidelines, it would have been easy to predict that the EU would fulfill the role of the earth-Beast in charge of the world’s buying and selling systems as outlined in Revelation 13:16-17. Even so, as it stands now, the EU, as a collective entity, has emerged as the world’s largest economy – at least until Brexit; Britain’s soon departure will likely cause the EU’s GDP to slip behind that of the U.S. At any rate, with such a large economy, this bodes well for any future role the EU might take on as the world’s next dominant commercial superpower.

In recent times the EU has undergone much strain in its unity and economic affairs, so it remains to be seen how the new superpower will emerge from the present crises. In the end it may strengthen the Union, as it centralizes more authority to itself, or it may weaken it.  Anyway, we’ll have to wait and see how things pan out.  (See Appendix 1 : News articles)

Regardless of recent events, as an economic association, the EU stands out as a much different sort of empire to those that have come and gone through history. And this reflects how the “earth” symbolism for the Beast in the Revelation 13:11-18 passage differs from the symbolism for the other Beasts in the Books of Daniel and Revelation, all of whom rose “from the sea”. As one of the news articles in the Appendix stated, “Simply by its creation, the EU is already an unprecedented phenomenon in the history of international relations.” (from “New Era as Brussels Tightens Its Grip on Budget Miscreants”)

Of course, much the same thing could be said of China and its ambitious plans to unite the Eurasian continent economically through its wide-ranging infrastructure projects known as the “Silk Road”. And since only God knows the future and we don’t, it won’t hurt to be open to the very real possibility that China may occupy the role of Earth-Beast in these last days.

But for now, this study will stick with the EU-as-the-Earth-Beast interpretation.)

Besides economic features, Europe differs from other superpowers in another way too: compared to the warlike Antichrist “beast from the sea”, or for that matter to the American superpower, Europe is more peaceful and tolerant. Having suffered through two World Wars, Europe has learned to distrust war and is far more conciliatory in her ways than other world powers. Europe’s role in world affairs seems to fit nicely the symbolism of the earth-Beast having “two horns like a lamb” – a rather un-warlike portrayal when compared with the other sea-Beast and his “ten horns” of whom it was said, “Who is able to make war with him?”

But the fact that it “spoke like a dragon” reveals another side to the picture. Instead of being a warmonger like the Antichrist, the False Prophet plays the role of deceiver: “he deceives those who dwell on the earth.” (Revelation 13:14) But to do that well he has to make himself appear respectable. So, what better way to achieve such an end than to clothe himself in the garment of a peaceful superpower like Europe? It makes a useful façade. By projecting an image of righteousness through the EU, the False Prophet can more easily deceive the world into rejecting the ways of faith. How true it seems to be in this world that no matter how useful a new invention, a new philosophy, or in this case, a new organization of states may be, the forces of Darkness are always right there to seize, corrupt, and use it in some way to serve a harmful design.

The world looks at this superpower that has become so secular in its ways, yet behaves well on the international scene, and concludes that God’s way doesn’t work. It sees that Christian America’s self-appointed role as the world’s policeman is not working due to her aggressive, clumsy approach to international relations; it sees that Islamic extremism and Judaism’s belligerence in the Mideast are also not working. So what are people to conclude? Europe’s way of secularism must be the answer – goodness without God.

It is sad, of course, that this kind of message is being projected into the world; it undermines faith – just as does the poor example of the above-mentioned religious groups. Their misguided activities on the world scene, supposedly in the name of God, are playing straight into the hands of the forces of Darkness and will give the Antichrist plenty of fuel for his propaganda fire, his “blasphemy against God” and “pompous words against the Most High”. (Revelation 13:6, Daniel 7:25)

The following prophetic message seems to size up well the dilemma that mankind faces these days in world affairs and how God sees the situation:

◊ “(Jesus:) Neither the American way nor the European way bears good fruit in the end, for neither is My way. Both work to turn people against Me, whether they do so overtly or more subtly. The American worldview and way are more physically destructive, and the European worldview and way are more spiritually destructive… Both work to prepare the way for the Man of Sin [the Antichrist] and for his way in the Last Days, when he will declare that he has succeeded where religion has failed, so the world should worship him.” (published by The Family International, April-2006)

So neither the American way nor the European way is God’s way. America’s Christianity seems to have forgotten such basic principles as Jesus’ words in the historic “Sermon on the Mount” to “love your enemies”. (Matthew 5:44) And Europe has forgotten how much of her history was rooted solidly in the Christian faith, and how much Christian ideals and practices are woven into the fabric of her culture, and how much she has benefited from that and from the work, ideas, and inventions of dedicated Christians in the past.

But in this world it will always be rare to find a government that is truly following God’s way of faith, peace, and love. For the most part that is something that will have to wait for Christ’s Second Coming and intervention into the affairs of mankind, as foretold in several passages from the Sacred Book.

So then, considering all these different factors, what better location for the “earth-beast” than this odd new superpower, which has been taking shape before our eyes over the last 50-plus years? What better place to headquarter the earth-Beast’s cashless society and worldwide credit system based on the “mark” and “666-number” than in Europe. (Revelation 13:16-18) This superpower has the financial infrastructure, advanced technology, educated manpower, administrative capabilities, secular culture – everything the False Prophet needs to carry out his side of operations in the world government of the End Time.

If indeed the earth-Beast is stationed there, then it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine the Dark forces, working there as a hidden driving energy, pushing European society towards welcoming the new system.

It seems then that if the long-foretold “earth-beast” of Revelation 13 has headquartered himself anywhere, it would have to be in the modern, technologically advanced superpower of the EU. This transformation of Europe into an economic union showcases this Beast’s success in forging a modern, commercial empire out of a group of once-powerful, independent nations. These nations are being herded into their economic union, often for very good reasons.

Yet at the same time, if it is true that the earth-Beast is symbolic of the EU, or at least is using the EU as his base of operations, then we could assume that the powers of Darkness must be operating vigorously behind the scenes to guide the formation of the EU into something that can be used later on as a means of ruling the world economically. This is a hidden reality, difficult to prove right now perhaps, but in the future it shouldn’t surprise us to see the emergence of Europe as the new controlling authority on matters to do with allegiance to the reign of the Antichrist and a new world order with its “mark-number” buying and selling system.

There are, of course, many advantages to the greater unity and economic stability existing now in the EU (although that stability is being shaken somewhat lately). And if that were the end of the story, it would be fine, but behind it all there does exist a plan to use the EU’s resources and organization for world takeover. (Further on, we will take a closer look at this “plan” and how it is being implemented.)

Now this mention about “world takeover” does not mean that there is something wrong with the idea of having a world government; this is not bad in itself. The world needs some kind of overall organization and coordination amongst its various nations to manage international crises of war, pollution, food scarcities, etc.; this is what the United Nations is supposed to be for. The problem is that, no matter how worthwhile and idealistic a new endeavor may be, the Forces of Darkness are always right there to infiltrate, distort, and cause the new plan or invention to serve the wrong purposes.

Especially in the sphere of peace-keeping, the U.N. has become rather weak and ineffective so that stronger nations are not restrained enough from pursuing their own selfish agendas. As a result the world has seen too many pointless wars and genocidal conflicts since the U.N. was founded in 1945. We can be thankful, however, that the coming of Christ will set mankind free to pursue worthwhile endeavors and goals unhindered by the interference of Satan and his hordes, and that God’s plan to establish His Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” will be fulfilled. (Matthew 6:10)

Getting back to what is going on in the EU: The ever-growing power of its international government is steadily paralyzing sovereign initiatives from individual states that might interfere with the growth of the new empire. ◊ Once the EU is better established, then the next step to bring in the rest of the world under the Antichrist will be made easier. It’ll just be a matter of following the EU’s example, extending operations a bit – perhaps giving outside nations membership or favored nation status.

However it happens, Europe’s new unity and financial power would make her the ideal base of operations from which the False Prophet can subject the rest of the world under the future regime of the “mark-number” economic system. To conclude, it seems quite possible - however things may turn out once the dust settles from the EU’s present upheavals – that an up-and-coming federation of European nations could very well serve as the future geographical seat of the Earth-Beast’s empire.

◊ In current news there is at least one state, Greece, that would like to drop out of the Union. The EU has bent over backwards to hold on to Greece, knowing that if Greece goes, it could lead to the breakup of the Union. It will be interesting to see if the EU has become strong enough now that it can force Greece to stay. [Now in 2015 it looks as though Greece will remain in the Union after having been forced to adopt strict austerity measures imposed by the EU, IMF, and European Central Bank. Of course, the question still remains, what about the anti-EU factions in some nations whose platforms are built around leaving the EU? We will have to wait and see what happens.]

A further crisis for the EU happened with Great Britain’s vote to leave the Union; known as Brexit, this took place recently on June 23, 2016. It is difficult to prognosticate how this could affect the EU. But one likely result of Brexit is that it will reduce America’s influence over EU affairs. America’s close English-speaking ally (Britain) served as an avenue through which America was able to have a measure of influence over EU policies. So, will this cause a polarization between the U.S./Britain and the EU? And will it lead to the EU beginning to drift towards Russia? And how much will the present Trump administration drive a wedge between America and the EU? Well, it will be interesting to watch how political events and alliances might start to shift along these lines in the near future. (On this subject there are a couple of interesting news articles in Appendix 2)

And, besides being a commercial empire, Europe is a media empire as well. Next to the U.S., Europe is the world’s major media center and should be capable of fulfilling what Revelation 13 says about the False Prophet Beast: He “causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast (the Antichrist)”. (verse 12) He causes the lifelike “image” to be broadcast, which will “both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed”. (verse 15)

Modern press, TV, movies have influenced Europe, and other nations, to stray from their Christian roots, mainly by promoting so much materialism. Since this Beast is also called the False Prophet, then his main job must be to communicate to the world an anti-God attitude and message… and eventually bring it to the point of worshiping the Antichrist.

And to do this, he must control the media. In the early days of press and TV, these outlets were independent and useful sources of truth, but nowadays they have fallen under the control of the wishes and whims of big business, those who handle the purse strings. Except for a few small independent outlets (and lately some not-so-small based in the Internet), all the mainstream media have become mouthpieces for the status quo or whatever emerging status quo happens to be looming on the horizon – which in the days to come will manifest as the dual empire of the Beasts of earth and sea.

To sum things up so far, it seems safe to predict that the Antichrist will make a military conquest of the world through his wars in the Middle East and against America. (This can be deduced from the following chapters: Ezekiel 38-39, Daniel 11, Revelation 17-18.)

But to complete that conquest, he will need a strong financial base and infrastructure that can provide an alternative to America’s Dollar capitalist system. He will also require the support of the media to foster worship of himself. There will also be a need for an effective surveillance system to keep an eye on the world’s vast population. So, who takes care of all that? It would be difficult to picture Russia alone possessing enough of that kind of power to effectively rule the world as she’ll need to.

However, looking at the present historical landscape, it would be easy to picture Europe as the superpower capable of providing those elements necessary for a thorough conquest of the world. Next to the U.S., the European states, collectively, are the largest economy in today’s world. The Euro has become the major alternative and arch-rival to the Dollar’s dominance in the world’s currency markets, and, depending on how she weathers the present crisis, Europe is set to continue as almost the strongest economy in the world. The EU is also a major center of the world’s computer surveillance networks and cashless economic system, and a major media broadcasting center.

All these features combine in this peculiar new empire – one that happens to fit very well the prophetic description of the False Prophet Beast given in Revelation 13:11-18. Taking all these factors into consideration, if the False Prophet Beast were to have a geographical headquarters somewhere, then the EU seems to fit as the right location, the superpower that fits well the role attributed to the earth-Beast in Revelation 13: “He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast… He causes all… to receive a mark… that no one may buy or sell… (verses 12,16,17)

The overall picture from the Daniel and Revelation Books points to the arrival of an End Time empire consisting of two parts. We know Russia fits as one part. So, we’re just trying to complete the picture and figure out who the other part is. We might call Europe the anti-Christ False Prophet Beast, and Russia the anti-Christ Antichrist Beast. And it is by means of these two that this dual empire is able to conquer a large part of the world in a thorough manner – militarily and politically by the Antichrist (from Russia), economically and spiritually by the False Prophet (from Europe, or maybe China). That may be a very simple picture, and it’s difficult to know accurately how things will pan out in the future, but for now it’s a starting point.

By the way, this portrayal in Revelation 13 of the “beast from the sea” and the “beast from the earth” echoes a previous vision in chapter 6 of the Book of Revelation. It describes the “red horse” and “black horse” who are symbolic of spiritual forces – the powers of war and greed, Militarism and Materialism – that were to be unleashed upon the Earth in these last days at the opening of the “scroll [of the future]… sealed with seven seals”. For centuries since the Revelation Book was written, these forces did not seem to manifest themselves in any greater measure than before – that is, not until recently when technology has begun to cause their destructive power to multiply enormously.

The Revelation 13 chapter seems to portray these same spiritual forces from a more down-to-earth viewpoint, describing the actual military and economic strongholds from which these Horses/Beasts carry out their destructive influence in the earthly realm. And going even further with this, Daniel 2 also appears to symbolize, from another perspective, these spiritual forces of Militarism and Materialism – as “iron and clay”. So, that’s an interesting pattern in the Bible’s tapestry that the Lord seems to have woven into the Daniel and Revelation Books. (Revelation 6:3-6, 5:1-2) 

From what we’ve learned so far, the False Prophet presides, not only over the religion of Antichrist-worship, but also, because of his control over the world’s wealth, he should also be regarded as the one who presides over the religion of Materialism. And Materialism is a religion in its own right, and one that has persisted throughout history. Along this line, here is an interesting quote:

◊    “The Lord epitomizes or symbolizes it [Materialism] by calling it Mammon, who was the god of wealth and things of the ancient World. Jesus Himself said it, He uses that as a symbol. He uses that god that they were familiar with and they knew was the god of wealth and things and possessions. He said, ‘You cannot serve both Mammon and the Lord.’ (Mat 6:24) …”
       
“They [Capitalist & Communist governments] all worship this world and this Earth and what it can provide, things and money and wealth and possessions and gadgets and the power that it gives them. The World has only one really genuine worldwide religion which would be popular with everybody, the worship of materialism, and greater than any other religion, more widespread than any other religion, more general…”
       
(from David Berg lecture, June/1985, www.davidberg.org)

Just as the Antichrist, coming out as the world’s new demagogue, does so by virtue of commanding a powerful military-political empire, so the False Prophet, coming out as the world’s new promoter of Materialism, commands enormous power through his control over the world’s economy and wealth – its finances, industry, natural resources, and so on.

The domains of the two “beasts” are very different, and this would make sense: as the Revelation Book pictures it, these beasts don’t just co-exist but are like co-regents. It would be difficult to do that if both were operating in the same arena of power. Two military superpowers would come into conflict with each other. But with the Antichrist as the military superpower, the False Prophet could join forces with him from a different angle as the world’s economic superpower (and along with that, be its guiding religious influence).

So, in a sense, there are actually two Antichrists. This is a very simple picture, and there are more facets to be covered later. But for now, this is a starting point. It will give us a better view of the “elephant” and will help us better understand this mystery about the dual nature of the Antichrist kingdom.

Perhaps we’re not used to thinking of the False Prophet beast as another Antichrist. One is enough. Until the time comes, it’s a little difficult to pinpoint exactly how the roles will play out. But the Revelation Book does suggest that two high-profile personages will play their parts on the End Time stage. Generally, we could say that the False Prophet won’t be worshiped like the Antichrist, but his power is probably just as great, and his influence is just as anti-Christ as the Antichrist’s, if not more so.

Continue to 2E: Eighth Head

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Appendix 1: News articles about the European Union.

        [The first article brings to light the intention of Europe’s planners to forge an empire out of a group of once independent nations. The second and third expose how much Europe is being controlled by those who pull the strings of financial power. The fourth gives an idea of the European Union’s potential to dominate the world of the near future. The fifth reveals how the EU’s recent troubles have caused more centralizing of financial authority. Significant portions are highlighted.]

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The Greek crisis brings us even closer to the European empire
By Norman Tebbit, Daily Telegraph, June 23rd, 2011

        A long time ago, when I spent a lot of time at the Council of Ministers in Brussels, my good friend Otto Graf Lambsdorff and I would wearily raise our heads and mutter “Beware the Greeks when they come demanding gifts” when confronted by yet another plea for a subsidy from our Greek colleague. It would be very easy to think that current events in Greece are just a continuation of that same problem.
        That would be to misunderstand the grand strategy being pursued in Brussels. It is designed to achieve, without recourse to war, the realization of a dream unfulfilled since the fall of Rome, the first pan-European Empire. Spain, France and Austro Hungary failed in their attempts to build such an Empire and after yet another destructive European war, the founding fathers of the EU swore to achieve through politics what warfare had failed to deliver.
        The creation of a common, or to be correct, sole currency, the euro, was not an end in itself, but a weapon to achieve by economic means, a European government. It was about politics, not economics.
        Had it been about economics, the Germans would never have closed their eyes and held their noses as the Greek government met the requirement for admission to the currency union only with blatantly falsified statistics. There could never have been any serious doubt that sooner or later there would be a crisis requiring a Greek bailout, default or exit from the eurozone. Nor can there be any doubt that there will be bailout after bailout, with the sums at risk if Greece were to default and exit the zone growing to the level at which it would inflict huge damage to the wider European and world economy. Indeed, there are already whispers that it is our interest to do anything to avoid such a disaster, for if Greece went down Spain might be next.
        In short, gradually the Greek escape route out of the euro to reconstruct its economy is being blocked. However, things cannot go on as they are, with drip-feed bailouts while the desperate problems of the Greek people grow worse.
        So it will not be long before the would-be collective Emperor in Brussels announces that Tebbit was of course right all those long years ago when he told Chancellor Clarke that no currency can have two, let alone a couple of dozen chancellors and there must be One Euro, One Chancellor, One Finance Ministry, One Tax Rate and One Europe or the whole European economy, including ours, will be brought down.
        Could that be a democratic state? Please do not ask awkward questions like that. Just do as you are told. If not, it will be all the worse for you. You must be ready to pay the price for peace (of a kind) and prosperity (of a sort).

Escaping the Clutches of the Financial Markets
Essay by Dirk Kurbjuweit, Der Spiegel, June 3, 2011

        The economy is booming, with 1.5 percent growth in the first quarter. We are as prosperous as we were before the crisis, which has finally been overcome. Congratulations are in order for everyone.
        The banks, Deutsche Bank above all, deserve particular congratulations. In the first quarter, it earned €3.5 billion ($5.1 billion) in pretax profits in its core business, and by the end of the year the bank will likely report a record €10 billion in pretax profits, its best results ever. That number is expected to rise to €11 billion or even €12 billion in two or three years.
        Less than three years after the peak of the crisis, it seems as if it never happened. That is true of the economy, but it also true of us as economic subjects. But is that all we are?
        No, we are also citizens and participants in a democratic society. As such, we have no reason to be celebrating. Instead, we ought to be sad and outraged. Democracy, after all, is not doing splendidly, or even well. It is gradually becoming a casualty of the financial crisis.
        Trouble is brewing all over Europe. Young people with little hope for the future are protesting in Spain. In France, 1.4 million copies were sold of a manifesto titled “Be Outraged.” Young Frenchmen and women are devising utopias that extend well beyond civil society, because they no longer expect anything from it. A deep depression has descended upon Greece, combined with a rage directed at politicians and at the rest of Europe.
        In Germany, this is what politicians are hearing from their citizens today: You spent billions to rescue the banks, and now I’m supposed to be footing the bill? Forget it! Hardly anyone is willing to put up with their politicians any more. And German leaders have lost support—and some of their own legitimacy.
        They seem helpless, unable to come to grips with the euro crisis. They meet in Brussels, and they talk, argue and adopt resolutions, and yet nothing improves. Greece isn’t getting out of its hole, Ireland and Portugal are teetering on the brink, and Spain and Italy are heavily indebted to a dangerous degree. And no politician is providing leadership.
        And then there were the lies. Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg, had his spokesman deny that a meeting of European Union finance ministers on the Greek crisis was taking place, even though that meeting was in fact taking place. It wasn’t the kind of lie that frequently crops up in politics: the broken campaign promise. Rather, it was more crass type of untruth: the denial of a reality. Juncker no longer had the courage to speak the truth. He was guided by fear of the financial markets. His lie was a capitulation of politics.
        This is what is so disturbing about the current situation, the fact that politicians seem so helpless and powerless. They have been given a new master, and it’s not us, the people, who tend to intervene in milder ways. Rather, it’s the ruthless financial markets. The markets drive politicians even further into anxiety, weakness, incapacity and lies. Those who govern us are now being governed by the banks. That’s the situation.
        How has this happened? What are the consequences? And how do we extricate ourselves from this situation?
        Would it be erroneous to say that those who are now at the top are the ones who caused the whole disaster in the first place? That would include Deutsche Bank, whose CEO, Josef Ackermann, has just announced such magnificent financial figures. When Ackermann was asked how concrete the banks’ willingness is to contribute to solving the crisis, a November article in the German financial daily Handelsblatt says he replied by saying the issue is taking a “very unfortunate turn at the moment.” The markets, Ackermann added, have reacted negatively to this debate. His remarks could be seen as a threat: Those who make demands will quickly find themselves up against the banks.
       At Deutsche Bank’s annual meeting last Thursday, Ackermann crowed that the bank was in the process of “bringing in the harvest.” But the harvest of what? And from what seed? Investment banking alone is expected to contribute €6 billion to the anticipated €10 billion in annual profits. Have we already forgotten that excessively greedy investment banking triggered the financial crisis in the first place?
        The rating agencies also continue to participate in world politics, seemingly unperturbed as they issue credit ratings on which the fate of entire nations hinges, because the interest rates for government bonds are based on these ratings. Belgium threatens to lose its AA+ rating, and Fitch Ratings has just revised its outlook on Belgium from “stable” to “negative.” Have we already forgotten that the big rating agencies were partly responsible for the financial crisis, because of their positive valuations of bundles of assets that contained toxic securities?
        So this is what the new masters look like. They were substantially to blame for part one of the financial crisis and is being brazen in part two. They are extremely jumpy, greedy and only interested in numbers. Those numbers inform the way they control and drive politics.
        But why do politicians allow themselves to be controlled and driven? Why don’t they simply shake off the unforgiving dominance of the financial markets? The answer is that they can’t, because the political world is dependent on the banks, and it has only itself to blame. Greece would not have fallen into the maelstrom of the financial crisis if it hadn’t been deeply in debt. Greece has borrowed more money than it can handle, and it constantly needs to borrow even more. It has become addicted to credit because of its own dissolute lifestyle. As a result, the country has become a pawn of rating agencies, interest rates and the calculations of men like Ackermann.
        In principle, this applies to all countries in the euro zone, including Germany. Although the German finance minister can easily service all loans, he too is dependent on ratings, interest rates and Ackermann’s calculations. Through the euro, Germany is entangled with Greece, Ireland and Portugal, and its own financial situation isn’t sufficiently spectacular to eliminate all concerns. The German government cannot simply do what it thinks best. It must constantly take pains to avoid being pulled into the maelstrom itself.
        Now, policies of immoderation—the urge to impose as few burdens as necessary on citizens while giving them as much as possible—is coming home to roost. Such policies gave us a high standard of living, but now, partly as a result of the euro, it has delivered us into the clutches of the financial markets.
        As such, it isn’t just the banks that are at fault for the current disaster. Politicians also deserve their share of the blame. But that isn’t the whole story either. We, the citizens, are also culpable. Don’t we expect high returns from financial institutions, and don’t we expect a smaller tax burden from the government while receiving generous subsidies and social benefits?
       In other words, the financial and euro crisis are a reflection of our own wishes. We play a role in the behavior of banks and politicians, because they also seek to fulfill our wishes so that they can win us over as customers or voters.
        The public is becoming mistrustful of politicians. Citizens feel treated unfairly when politicians fulfill the banks’ wishes with billions in bailouts, while ignoring the wishes of citizens. Why does the German government buy up 25 percent of ailing Commerzbank, but not 25 percent of a struggling bakery around corner or of that other cash-strapped enterprise, the family with three children? One could say that it’s because Commerzbank is so large and important to the financial system—too big to fail—but that doesn’t alleviate our discomfort with an unfair situation.
       One could see the whole thing as a duel between politicians and the financial markets—but if it is, the politicians aren’t looking good.
       The economy has all the advantages. Financial companies are not obligated to serve the general good. They are under no pressure to legitimize their actions, they operate in a secretive way, and they pursue a clear goal that they are wildly determined to achieve: high yields.
       Politics, by contrast, particularly on the European level, is cumbersome. National leaders must legitimize their actions and reconcile conflicting interests and goals, and they must do so under the watchful eye of the public. They grapple doggedly over the euro, and sometimes things get ugly. But they are almost never successful.
       Besides, democracy is based on the word. Without free speech and the open exchange of views and ideas, democracy is impossible. Secrecy is the domain of authoritarian states. But at the moment, European politicians cannot speak openly about one of their most important issues, the euro. All it takes is a few words uttered by a finance minister for the banks to react with extreme sensitivity. They immediately shift billions in assets, often to the detriment of entire nations. Words have become expensive, and that makes them dangerous.
        As a result, politicians are watching what they say. Pretty much everyone recognizes that it would be fair to involve the banks in the rehabilitation of Greece. But hardly any politicians dare to pursue such a course with any consistency.
       The banks and investment firms now play the role once held by the gods. Hardly anyone dares to criticize them, and the fear of their wrath guides the behavior of politicians. Many are reluctant to speak frankly, while others seek refuge in lies.
        In such conditions, democracy has lost its dignity. And that is dangerous. The foundation of any dictatorship is the tacit or open threat of violence against citizens. Their fear supports the system. The basis of democracy is respect among citizens. Their approval supports the system. If this approval disappears, democracy crumbles.

From the destruction of Greece to democracy in Europe
By James K. Galbraith, Boston Globe, August 22, 2016

       In protesting the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I, John Maynard Keynes wrote: “The policy … of depriving the lives of millions of human beings, of depriving a whole nation of happiness should be abhorrent and detestable–abhorrent and detestable, even if it were possible, even if it enriched ourselves, even if it did not sow the decay of the whole civilized life of Europe.”
       
Last year’s third bailout of Greece, imposed by Europe and the International Monetrary Fund, does to Greece what Versailles did to Germany: It strips assets to satisfy debts. Germany lost its merchant marine, its rolling stock, its colonies, and its coal; Greece has lost its seaports, its airports–the profitable ones–and is set to sell off its beaches, the public asset that is a uniquely Greek glory. Private businesses are being forced into bankruptcy to make way for European chains; private citizens are being forced into foreclosure on their homes. It’s a land grab.
       
And for what? To satisfy old public debts, incurred for tanks, submarines, the Olympics, big construction projects outsourced to German firms, and to hide deficits in health care, with creditor connivance–a quagmire of graft to support an illusion, that Greece could “compete” as part of the euro. Already in 2010 the IMF knew it was breaking its own rules by pretending that Greece could recover quickly, sustain a huge primary surplus, and repay its debts. Why? To help save French and German banks, which the IMF’s sainted managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, wanted to do, because he wanted to be president of France.
       
Europe crushed the Greek resistance in 2015. Not because Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, thought his economic plan would work; he candidly told the Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, that “as a patriot” he would not sign it himself. But Germany wants to impose its order on Italy and on France, where civil society continues to fight back. And Chancellor Angela Merkel could not admit to her voters, or to fellow Europeans from Slovakia to Portugal, that back in 2010 she’d saved Germany’s banks by saddling them with Greek debts that could never be paid.
       
Greece was given collective punishment as a lesson. It was done to show that “there is no alternative.” It was done to stop any other attempt to develop, articulate, and defend a more rational policy. It was done to protect the power of the European Central Bank, the German government in Europe, and the policy-making authority, in face of a long record of failure, of the IMF.
       
Greece is now a colony–the polite say “protectorate.” Elsewhere in Europe the left–Podemos in Spain, the Left Bloc in Portugal, Die Linke in Germany–has stalled out, for now. In France the Socialists are destroying themselves. Italy alone is interesting: It is in the midst of a banking crisis whose only solution is stronger growth; this requires the government to defy Eurozone doctrine or it may lose power to the radical Five Star movement soon. But, apart from that one case, progressive Europe is blocked.
       
Next up will be the far right, especially the National Front in France, which if it came to power would blow the European Union apart. Similar pressures are building in Poland and Hungary, which have governments already outside of European democratic norms. In Britain, right-wing Tories and the UK Independence Party have combined to vote the UK out of the European Union–although with surprisingly moderate political results so far.

Think Again: European Decline
By Mark Leonard, Hans Kundnani, Foreign Policy, May/June 2013

Europe Is History.”
        No. These days, many speak of Europe as if it has already faded into irrelevance. In the words of American pundit Fareed Zakaria, “it may well turn out that the most consequential trend of the next decade will be the economic decline of Europe.” According to Singaporean scholar Kishore Mahbubani, Europe “does not get how irrelevant it is becoming to the rest of the world.” Not a day went by on the 2012 U.S. campaign trail, it seemed, without Republican challenger Mitt Romney warning that President Barack Obama was—gasp—turning the United States into a “European social welfare state.”
        With its anemic growth, ongoing eurocrisis, and the complexity of its decision-making, Europe is admittedly a fat target right now. And the stunning rise of countries like Brazil and China in recent years has led many to believe that the Old World is destined for the proverbial ash heap. But the declinists would do well to remember a few stubborn facts. Not only does the European Union remain the largest single economy in the world, but it also has the world’s second-highest defense budget after the United States, with more than 66,000 troops deployed around the world and some 57,000 diplomats (India has roughly 600). The EU’s GDP per capita in purchasing-power terms is still nearly four times that of China, three times Brazil’s, and nearly nine times India’s. If this is decline, it sure beats living in a rising power.
        Power, of course, depends not just on these resources but on the ability to convert them to produce outcomes. Here too Europe delivers: Indeed, no other power apart from the United States has had such an impact on the world in the last 20 years. Since the end of the Cold War, the EU has peacefully expanded to include 15 new member states and has transformed much of its neighborhood by reducing ethnic conflicts, exporting the rule of law, and developing economies from the Baltic to the Balkans. Compare that with China, whose rise is creating fear and provoking resistance across Asia. At a global level, many of the rules and institutions that keep markets open and regulate world trade, limit carbon emissions, and prosecute human rights abusers were created by the European Union. Who was behind the World Trade Organization and the International Criminal Court? Not the United States or China. It’s Europe that has led the way toward a future run by committees and statesmen, not soldiers and strongmen.
        Yes, the EU now faces an existential crisis. Even as it struggles, however, it is still contributing more than other powers to solving both regional conflicts and global problems. When the Arab revolutions erupted in 2011, the supposedly bankrupt EU pledged more money to support democracy in Egypt and Tunisia than the United States did. It was France and Britain that led from the front in Libya. This year, France acted to prevent a takeover of southern Mali by jihadists and drug smugglers. Europeans may not have done enough to stop the conflict in Syria, but they have done as much as anyone else in this tragic story.
       
In one sense, it is true that Europe is in inexorable decline. For four centuries, Europe was the dominant force in international relations. It was home to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. It industrialized first and colonized much of the world. As a result, until the 20th century, all the world’s great powers were European. It was inevitable—and desirable—that other players would gradually narrow the gap in wealth and power over time. Since World War II, that catch-up process has accelerated. But Europeans benefit from this: Through their economic interdependence with rising powers, including those in Asia, Europeans have continued to increase their GDP and improve their quality of life. In other words, like the United States—and unlike, for example, Russia on the continent’s eastern frontier—Europe is in relative though not absolute decline.
       
The EU is an entirely unprecedented phenomenon in world affairs: a project of political, economic, and above all legal integration among 27 countries with a long history of fighting each other. What has emerged is neither an intergovernmental organization nor a superstate, but a new model that pools resources and sovereignty with a continent-sized market and common legislation and budgets to address transnational threats from organized crime to climate change. Most importantly, the EU has revolutionized the way its members think about security, replacing the old traditions of balance-of-power politics and noninterference in internal affairs with a new model under which security for all is guaranteed by working together. This experiment is now at a pivotal moment, and it faces serious, complex challenges—some related to its unique character and some that other major powers, particularly Japan and the United States, also face. But the EU’s problems are not quite the stuff of doomsday scenarios.

The Eurozone Is an Economic Basket Case.”
        Only part of it. Many describe the eurozone, the 17 countries that share the euro as a common currency, as an economic disaster. As a whole, however, it has lower debt and a more competitive economy than many other parts of the world. For example, the International Monetary Fund projects that the eurozone’s combined 2013 government deficit as a share of GDP will be 2.6 percent—roughly a third of that of the United States. Gross government debt as a percentage of GDP is around the same as in the United States and much lower than that in Japan.
        Nor is Europe as a whole uncompetitive. In fact, according to the latest edition of the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, three eurozone countries (Finland, the Netherlands, and Germany) and another two EU member states (Britain and Sweden) are among the world’s 10 most competitive economies. China ranks 29th. The eurozone accounts for 15.6 percent of the world’s exports, well above 8.3 percent for the United States and 4.6 percent for Japan. And unlike the United States, its current trade account is roughly in balance with the rest of the world.
        These figures show that, in spite of the tragically counterproductive policies imposed on Europe’s debtor countries and despite whatever happens to the euro, the European economy is fundamentally sound. European companies are among the most successful exporters anywhere. Airbus competes with Boeing; Volkswagen is the world’s third largest automaker and is forecast to extend its lead in sales over Toyota and General Motors in the next five years; and European luxury brands (many from crisis-wracked Italy) are coveted all over the world. Europe has a highly skilled workforce, with universities second only to America’s, well-developed systems of vocational training, empowered women in the workforce, and excellent infrastructure. Europe’s economic model is not unsustainable simply because its GDP growth has slowed of late.
        The real difference between the eurozone and the United States or Japan is that it has internal imbalances but is not a country, and that it has a common currency but no common treasury. Financial markets therefore look at the worst data for individual countries—say, Greece or Italy—rather than aggregate figures. Due to uncertainty about whether the eurozone’s creditor countries will stand by its debtors, spreads—that is, the difference in bond yields between countries with different credit ratings—have increased since the crisis began. Creditor countries such as Germany have the resources to bail out the debtors, but by insisting on austerity measures, they are trapping debtor countries like Spain in a debt-deflation spiral. Nobody knows whether the eurozone will be able to overcome these challenges, but the pundits who confidently predicted a “Grexit” or a complete breakup of the single currency have been proved wrong thus far. Above all, the eurocrisis is a political problem rather than an economic one.

Europe Is Irrelevant in Asia.”
        No. It is often said—most often and loudly by Singapore’s Mahbubani—that though the EU may remain relevant in its neighborhood, it is irrelevant in Asia, the region that will matter most in the 21st century. Last November, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed that the U.S. “pivot” to Asia was “not a pivot away from Europe” and said the United States wants Europe to “engage more in Asia along with us.”
        But Europe is already there. It is China’s biggest trading partner, India’s second-biggest, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)’s second-biggest, Japan’s third-biggest, and Indonesia’s fourth-biggest. It has negotiated free trade areas with Singapore and South Korea and has begun separate talks with ASEAN, India, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. These economic relationships are already forming the basis for close political relationships in Asia. Germany even holds a regular government-to-government consultation—in effect a joint cabinet meeting—with China. If the United States can claim to be a Pacific power, Europe is already a Pacific economy.

Europe Will Fall Apart.”
        Too soon to say. The danger of European disintegration is real. The most benign scenario is the emergence of a three-tier Europe consisting of a eurozone core, “pre-ins” such as Poland that are committed to joining the euro, and “opt-outs” such as Britain that have no intention of joining the single currency. In a more malign scenario, some eurozone countries such as Cyprus or Greece will be forced to leave the single currency, and some EU member states such as Britain may leave the EU completely—with huge implications for the EU’s resources and its image in the world. It would be a tragedy if an attempt to save the eurozone led to a breakup of the European Union.
        But Europeans are aware of this danger, and there is political will to prevent it. Germany does not want Greece to leave the single currency, not least due to a fear of contagion. A British withdrawal is possible but unlikely and in any case some way off: Prime Minister David Cameron would have to win an overall majority in the next election, and British citizens would have to vote to leave in a referendum. In short, it’s premature to predict an EU breakup.
        This is not to say it will never happen. The ending of the long story of Europe remains very much unwritten. It is not a simple choice between greater integration and disintegration. The key will be whether Europe can save the euro without splitting the European Union. Simply by its creation, the EU is already an unprecedented phenomenon in the history of international relations—and a much more perfect union than the declinists will admit. If its member states can pool their resources, they will find their rightful place alongside Washington and Beijing in shaping the world in the 21st century. As columnist Charles Krauthammer famously said in relation to America, “Decline is a choice.” It is for Europe too.
        [Mark Leonard is director of the European Council on Foreign Relations and a Bosch public policy fellow at the Transatlantic Academy. Hans Kundnani is editorial director of the European Council on Foreign Relations.]

New Era as Brussels Tightens Its Grip on Budget Miscreants
Reuters, September 26, 2013

       BRUSSELS—Four months ago, President Francois Hollande warned Brussels not to tell France how to run its finances. In a few weeks’ time, the European Commission will do exactly that as a new era of rigid fiscal surveillance begins in Europe.
       In one of the most far-reaching responses to the region’s debt crisis, the Commission, the EU’s executive, will now run the rule over the budget plans of the 17 euro zone countries before they are fully digested by national parliaments.
       The aim is to raise a red flag before it is too late and prevent a repeat of the turmoil of the past four years, which began because countries were living far beyond their means.
       The Commission, which acts as a civil service for the EU, will have the right to send back any budget plans it thinks do not make the grade. Countries can ignore its advice, but face tough, rapidly imposed fines if they stray out of line.
       The rules underscore just how far power over budget policy has shifted from capitals to Brussels and marks a fundamental change in the way the currency area is run, with a sizeable amount of sovereignty being surrendered—perhaps more than many governments realized at the time.
       If it works, it may launch the euro zone towards a single finance ministry handling taxation and bond issuance—a once unthinkable scenario that the crisis pushed leaders to consider.
       “In the euro zone, whatever one country does affects everyone else,” said Pablo Zalba, a Spanish lawmaker in the European Parliament, which this year approved the Commission’s monitoring powers, known in EU jargon as the Two-Pack.
      “We cannot make the same mistakes again,” said Zalba.
      The International Monetary Fund, which has played a central role in euro zone bailouts, backed the idea of a fiscal union in a new report this week, seeing it as a way to underpin an emerging single banking framework for the currency bloc.
      The United States faced a similar dilemma more than 200 years ago when its original confederation of 13 states found they faced financial ruin until they agreed an effective, central government with a wide range of enforceable powers.
       Under the new rules, countries must submit their draft 2014 budgets to the Commission by October 15. They are then scrutinized for any shortcomings, whether they be unrealistic revenue projections, insufficient spending cuts or base financing that relies more on creativity than reality.
       They also face peer pressure to behave. Euro zone finance ministers will hold a special meeting on November 22 to coordinate fiscal policy and ensure everyone is meeting agreed targets.
       What’s more, the rules are only one piece of a complex jigsaw of budgetary surveillance, which extends to the European statistics agency Eurostat and the powers it has to search governments suspected of massaging their accounts.
       Governments have also signed up to a fiscal pact that imposes quasi-automatic sanctions on countries that breach deficit limits and enshrines balanced budget rules in law.
       It all adds up to a new world order, but one that runs the risk of putting errant countries at odds with the Commission and testing whether governments can submit to a higher authority.
       EU officials concede they are worried about whether big euro zone countries will follow the Commission’s advice.
       “The Commission and governments are going to clash,” said Carsten Brzeski, a euro zone economist at ING. “Integration means that someone else can tell you what to do.”

       [RETURN]

Appendix 2: Brexit and U.S. policy uniting EU and driving it away from U.S. 

       [Significant portions are highlighted.]

New Tans, Same Old ‘Polycrisis’ as Europe’s Summer Ends
Reuters, Aug. 28, 2016

BRUSSELS–The European Union grinds back into action this week after its August break, still dazed by Britain’s midsummer vote to quit the EU and facing much the same “polycrisis” as a year ago: a mass of refugees, a fragile economy, hostile Russians and, yes, those Brits, now more awkward than ever.
       When President Jean-Claude Juncker makes his annual State of the Union address to Parliament in Strasbourg on Sept. 14, he might easily repeat last year’s warning: the EU had a “last chance” to save itself from a tide of centrifugal nationalisms.
       Last week, the EU’s remaining Big Three–German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and their host, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi–felt they needed to renew their vows at the wellspring of the union, the island of Ventotene, where in 1941 prisoners of Mussolini wrote a manifesto for a united Europe.
       That they met on the deck of the aircraft carrier Garibaldi reinforced the sense of beleaguered leaders rallying to the EU’s defence as they contemplated an obstacle-strewn political calendar for the year ahead.
       The EU leaders are first preparing for a summit on Sept. 16 in Bratislava–without Britain–that aims to sketch out a post-Brexit future for the Union.
       On Oct. 2, Hungary’s right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orban, is set to deliver another slap to Brussels: a largely symbolic referendum to reject an EU quota system for relocating refugees among member states–a scheme Juncker invested much capital in a year ago, but which has barely got off the ground.
       On Nov. 8, Orban is hoping for victory for a man he calls the “valiant” Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election. Few of Orban’s EU peers are so enthusiastic. They see Trump as a disruptive maverick whose endorsement of and by Brexiteer-in-chief Nigel Farage marks him as no friend of the Union.
       A Trump win could snap a transatlantic coalition on Russia that is already fraying in Europe, where governments from Paris to Bratislava are seeking a review of Ukraine-related sanctions when measures expire at year’s end. Trump might also inject a new dose of post-Brexit uncertainty for world trade.
       At home, all the Big Three leaders face their own electoral challenges from eurosceptics.
       It starts with Renzi, today trying to persuade Italians he has the youthful energy for rebuilding after the latest earthquake in the Apennines, unlike the scandal-tainted Silvio Berlusconi at L’Aquila in 2009, when more than 300 people died.
       Probably in November, Renzi will put to a referendum the constitutional reforms he says are needed to break a political deadlock that is choking the Italian economy. Polls are tight and the eurosceptic upstarts 5-Star are gunning for the socialist premier, who is expected to resign if he loses.
       Hollande is threatened with a drubbing on April 23 at the hands of far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen in the first round of France’s presidential election.
       Her appeal has been enhanced by Islamic State carnage in Paris and Nice and the summer row about burkinis on the beaches, although pollsters doubt she can win a May 7 runoff vote against Hollande or any other survivor from a mainstream party.
       As for Merkel, she has yet to confirm she wants a fourth term at parliamentary elections due in just over a year. The biggest threat to her re-election remains her decision last year to welcome a million migrants to Germany as EU borders buckled. That has already weakened support for her conservative party.
       Such threats to domestic survival have often spurred leaders to take potshots at Brussels–even if only the British have taken it to the length of turning most voters against the EU entirely. But even if little has changed in Brussels since last summer, optimists might see reason to hope for more unity now.
       While rows go on about how, indeed whether, EU states should share out the burden of asylum-seekers stranded in Greece and Italy, what is new is how few are arriving, at least in Greece.
       Rights groups were outraged this year by hard-nosed deals with non-EU Balkan states to bar the routes north from Greece and with Turkey to stop Syrian refugees reaching Greece in the first place. But those deals did slash the numbers arriving.
       It’s something EU officials find hard to boast of. Many admit privately to unease at policies that, along with efforts to pay African governments to stop people setting off for Italy, sit uncomfortably with the Union’s lofty humanitarian ideals.
       But look again at Merkel, Hollande and Renzi on the Garibaldi, flagship of an EU mission off Libya that is part rescue operation and military deterrent against people smugglers, and a slightly different image of today’s EU emerges.
       All three spoke of Europe getting tougher and more cohesive on security. It is the kind of language that may resonate with sceptical voters dissatisfied with Europe’s struggle to thrive in a globalising world and with the likes of Orban and other eastern leaders alarmed by Merkel’s earlier open-door policy.
       Relieved of the need to keep Britons from bolting, Juncker wrung howls of outrage last week from London’s europhobic press when he called national borders “the worst invention ever”. He also renewed his call for a “European army”, which was long just a pipe dream for the Luxemburger as long as Britain had a veto.
       The past few days have seen Merkel and a succession of other leaders she has met, including Orban, echo such hopes of joint military structures, indicating one area where EU integration may now forge ahead in response to the British departure.
       That still leaves a host of issues dividing European leaders in the coming year: whether to be nice or nasty to Britain once it decides to open negotiations; how to shore up weaknesses in the economic cooperation that underpins the euro; how far to ease sanctions in the hope of better ties with Moscow.
       Consensus will be a tall order. Merkel, standing on the deck of the Garibaldi, cited security, investment and youth opportunities as three priorities for a post-Brexit new start for a Europe united and strong. But, she warned: “Danger exists, of fragmentation, of selfishness, of retreating into ourselves.”

EU Worries Grow over U.S. Economic Chaos
By Christian Reiermann, Der Spiegel – Sept. 11, 2017

       Under Donald Trump’s leadership, the U.S. is in the process of forfeiting its position of economic supremacy. An internal EU document shows that the Europeans are worried.
       Stanley Fischer, the 73-year-old vice chair of the US Federal Reserve, is familiar with the decline of the world’s rich. He spent his childhood and youth in the British protectorate of Rhodesia, in present-day Zambia and Zimbabwe, before going to London in the early 1960s for his university studies. There, he experienced first-hand the unravelling of the British Empire.
       History repeats itself, sometimes even within a single person’s lifespan. Now an American citizen, Fischer is currently witnessing another major power taking its leave of the world stage. Under the leadership of President Donald Trump, the United States is losing its status as a global hegemonic power, he said recently. America’s role as guarantor of global organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) can no longer be taken for granted, Fischer says. “I had a picture of the world economy in which the United States was an anchor,” he recently told the Financial Times. “Not a source of volatility.”
       The U.S. political system could take the world in a very dangerous direction, says the economist, who has held a number of powerful positions in his career. He has been the chief economist of the World Bank, deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund and governor of the Bank of Israel. His resume makes him part of the caste of “globalists” despised by Trump supporters.
       Fischer is seeing things today that he has never experienced in his entire professional career. For instance, he believes the current US government’s efforts to loosen regulation of the banking sector, hardly more than 10 years after the financial crisis, are simply “mind-boggling.”
       Last Wednesday, Fischer took the next logical step and announced his resignation, meaning that the world’s most important central bank will lose an undisputed expert. America’s reputation in the world of economics and finance is taking another hit.
       For decades, the United States was something of a guarantor of global economic stability. It helped Western Europe emerge from the rubble of World War II with a massive redevelopment program, the Marshall Plan. Whenever there was a financial crisis somewhere in the world, the U.S. Treasury Department and the IMF joined forces to orchestrate supporting measures. When the worst world economic crisis in 80 years erupted in 2008, the Americans led the globally coordinated rescue effort.
       Little is left of that dominant position. The United States, a former superstar, is now fighting to stay in the top league. The economic policy coming out of Donald Trump’s Washington is characterized by timidity and despondency, sometimes erupting into boastful nationalism. The former economic superpower has embarked on a self-prescribed retreat. Once the home of the Washington Consensus, a policy that emphasized international cooperation, competition and market forces, the U.S. capital is now beset by economic navel gazing.
       Everything that formed the basis of the West’s economic triumph in the last few decades has been discredited. Trade agreements are being called into question, while traditional partner countries are being sharply criticized for supposedly causing unemployment. A nation once bursting with self-confidence is now plagued by self-doubt and fear of decline, as it increasingly isolates itself.
       Trump takes every opportunity to complain that the United States has been bamboozled in trade agreements, accusing his predecessors of negotiating bad deals. In Trump’s world, it is almost as if the United States were a victim and not an enabler of globalization.
       Inferiority complexes, fears of decline, incompetence: All of it is having an effect on America’s status in the world. At international meetings like the G-7 and the G-20, Americans are being sidelined because of their lack of a coherent position. On important issues, from climate change to trade policy, Washington is increasingly finding itself unanimously opposed by other members.
       Just how deep the divide between the EU and the U.S. has become can be seen in an internal position paper from the Economic and Financial Committee of the European Union. The committee consists of top officials from the finance ministries of member states, who coordinate a joint EU position on important economic policy issues.
       This time the experts are weighing in on a different document, a July IMF assessment of the condition of American economic policy. That report alone is eye-opening.
       The IMF has adjusted its 2017 and 2018 growth forecast for the United States downward, and it has urged the US government to finally address pressing problems such as the aging of society, flagging growth and the unequal distribution of income.
       For the Europeans, the criticism coming from IMF experts doesn’t go far enough. They view Washington’s deliberations on restricting free trade and international cooperation as an attack on economic world peace, but also as a detriment to the United States itself. The EU financial policy experts are critical of the IMF, saying that it should have focused more strongly on the risks of growing protectionism. “Its impact may be much more adverse than currently acknowledged,” they write.
       The document reads like a settling of scores with the economic policy of the Trump administration. Item by item, the experts tear apart virtually all the plans of the current US administration. On government spending, for example, the EU committee argues that because “public sector debt is already on an unsustainable path,” Trump’s extravagant budget planning poses “nearer-term risks for the global economy.”
       Instead, the paper argues, the U.S. government ought to “adopt measures on both the revenue and expenditure side in order to ensure longer-term sustainability.” This is a barely concealed call for the Trump administration to cut spending and raise taxes. The document continues: “We find that the administration’s proposed reorientation of expenditure towards defence is contrary to wider policy goals concerning inequality and boosting potential growth.”
       On investments: The Europeans are concerned that international investors have been increasingly avoiding the United States recently. “The decline of the net international investment position, albeit also reflecting the strong performance of the U.S. economy and valuation effects, is a potential vulnerability,” the EU paper reads.
       On taxes: The planned tax reform, which would primarily reduce the tax burden for upper income classes, “is likely to aggravate rather than address the widely discussed challenges to U.S. economic outlook, such as an increasingly polarised income distribution, rising poverty and falling labor force participation.”
       On health insurance: The goal of eliminating the Affordable Care Act, which is frequently referred to as Obamacare, is also viewed critically. “It deserves to be recalled that the U.S. already ranks poorly in health care coverage among other OECD countries and that the proposed reform might lead to a further deterioration.”
       None of this is minor nit-picking. The document exposes substantial differences of opinion between former partners–and it lays bare Europe’s belief that Trump’s America is in the process of losing its claim to leadership.
       The incompetence in Washington has already claimed one victim: the dollar. As recently as the beginning of the year, foreign currency experts were still anticipating exchange rate parity between the U.S. dollar and the euro. But that has now changed. The euro surpassed the $1.20-mark last week and has been hovering just below that threshold since then.
       The dollar is not just performing poorly against the currency of the newly strengthened euro zone. It is also losing value against other battered currencies, like the British pound and the Japanese yen.
       The dollar’s loss against other currencies signifies nothing less than a vote of no confidence against Trump and his team. The political newcomer’s grandiose announcements of a new era have been followed by failure after failure. The U.S. president has not managed to get a single one of his major projects off the ground. The promised repeal of Obamacare has already failed twice, the vast tax reform that was announced with such great aplomb hasn’t materialized, and the pledged investment offensive is faltering.
       This has an unavoidable impact on the country’s role in the world economy. Indeed, a tectonic shift in the world currency structure is underway. In the last few decades, the American dollar has always strengthened when a political crisis erupted somewhere in the world, prompting investors to seek refuge in the only remaining superpower. The dollar was seen as the most secure safe-haven currency on the globe.

       The U.S. currency was a constant for financial markets, even when the system of largely fixed exchange rates came to an end in the early 1970s. A statement made by former Treasury Secretary John Connally summed up the Americans’ self-confidence: “The dollar is our currency, but it’s your problem.”
       That has changed, and Trump’s presidency isn’t helping. When the conflict with North Korea came to a head recently, the dollar lost a significant amount of its value, with international investors shedding their positions. The once undisputed reserve currency is suffering in two ways. Trump’s incompetence is not only undermining America’s economic foundations. The isolationist course he is charting is ruining the country’s reputation in the world together with that of its currency.
       The euro is one of the beneficiaries of the dollar’s decline, something Klaus Regling sees reflected in his travel expense reports. As head of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the euro bailout fund, he is essentially the euro’s primary booster. He has spent years traveling the world to encourage international investors to buy the bonds issued by the ESM. The proceeds are then used to bail out cash-strapped member nations.
       Regling spent years explaining the complicated construct of the euro to Asians, South and North Americans, convincing them to invest their money in ESM bonds. Recently, though, he has begun spending more of his time at his desk in the ESM headquarters building in Luxembourg. Business, after all, is doing just fine without him.
       “I don’t have to do much advertising for the euro anymore,” he says with satisfaction. “Investors have recognized that the euro crisis has been overcome and that the euro zone is in good shape again.”
       It is certainly in better shape than the United States. Growth in the monetary union recently surpassed that of the United States and unemployment is declining in almost all member states. The United States has a high trade deficit while the euro zone is experiencing surpluses. Compared to the United States, the euro zone now feels like a haven of stability and predictability.
       The austerity programs in Europe’s crisis-ridden countries have worked. Even Greece is back on track and is now able to raise cash in financial markets on its own.
       Trump administration chaos is not helping to build confidence in the dollar. On the contrary, Trump and his troops are not just managing the decline but are in fact accelerating it. “The United States has been losing influence on the international stage for some time, as China and other emerging economies gain in importance,” says ESM Managing Director Regling. “This is why a multipolar currency system is currently taking shape, one in which the euro plays an important role.”
       Fischer, for his part, is pessimistic when it comes to the future of the United States and the world economy. The seasoned economist expects the new mood of uncertainty to continue. “We are left with a world that doesn’t quite have an anchor country–unless things change in the U.S.”
       [RETURN]

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