The Euro and the European Union
The Octavian Report: Do you think Europe has now passed the point of crisis or are there still problems that need to be addressed?
José María Aznar: In my opinion, the key is that there is no doubt at this moment about the future of the euro. The future of the euro is clear. The construction of the banking union is a guarantee for everybody everywhere, and this produces a feeling of more tranquility in the markets and in countries. This is good news.
Another thing is the capacity to grow in Europe and that I believe in this moment is very limited. The economy is in a process of recovering some degree of growth but at very low levels, and it is maybe not enough to produce a very serious reaction in all economies. There are differences among countries: in the countries that have the possibility to make important reforms to gain competitiveness and flexibility, the situation will be better than in others.
OR: Do you think the euro can survive in the long term without a real political integration now?
Aznar: I believe this is indispensable. Because if you decide to create a single currency, you must finish building it. If you decide to build a house, it is absurd not to finish the roof. It is necessary to finish the Eurozone. And to finish the Eurozone means in the first place to create a banking union. The resolution mechanism recently approved is a new step in this direction, but we need more steps. We need the Eurozone to function as an integrated monetary area and as one financial system. Now, there are seventeen financial systems. That the value of the euro is the same in Italy as in Germany as in France as in Spain is indispensable as is more political integration among the members of the Eurozone.
The other political question that is very important is to establish bridges between the members of the Eurozone and the members of the European Union that are outside of the Eurozone.
OR: Do you see a scenario where eventually foreign policy and political governance are integrated in a federal Europe?
Aznar: Well, not exactly a federal Europe. I think that we need a more integrated Eurozone and more flexibility in the European Union, maybe with more competencies for national parliaments and national governments in some areas that will permit countries such as the UK to live more tranquilly in the European Union. If we establish this balance, I think the future of Europe will be safer, more secure and more prosperous.
OR: Tension between the core and the periphery of the Eurozone – especially with Germany – has receded somewhat. But certain states would like to see more aggressive monetary intervention. Do you see these frictions flaring again?
Aznar: The problem between the core and the periphery is always there in the European Union. But I share the idea that if you are a member of a club, you must respect the rules of the club. The problem in some countries is that they do not respect the rules of the club.
In my view, the two key rules for the euro are, on the one hand, discipline, on the other hand, flexibility. If you lose discipline, you have a problem. If you lose both, you have a disaster.
In my view, the second important thing is taking the decision to put our house in order, to clean the house. To clean the house means to recover discipline, competitiveness, to make reforms, labor reforms, fiscal reforms, to very seriously manage the budget and so on. But in parallel, we must build the Eurozone. If not, this is absurd. We must build the Eurozone.
In terms of political power, there is a very serious difference in Europe today than fifteen years ago or ten years ago. The power of Germany has increased and increased. The situation of the European Union is weak, and the crisis has affected other countries’ ability to establish some balance of power in Europe. The position of the Germans is increasingly more important in Europe. This is the reality. You can like it or not, but this is the real situation in Europe in this moment.
The Rise of Nationalism
OR: There are a number of high profile secession movements and referenda in Europe, including the recent one in Scotland and efforts in your country in the case of Catalonia and the Basques. How serious do you think the threat is of a political break up of not just the EU but of individual countries?
Aznar: It’s a real threat. I think it’s the most important threat at this moment in Europe. Traditionally in our history, in European history, nationalism has been a catastrophe. It means a catastrophe. The explosion of nationalism in different countries is very serious. And this is a threat for these countries and a threat for Europe. It is a focus of potential conflicts in the future.
I think that it is impossible to organize the European Union and the coexistence of Europe without respecting the historical legends of Europe, because our history, the history of Europe, is a history of our nations. It’s the history of Spain, of France, of Germans, of Italians, of Britons, of Poles. And trying to eliminate this, it is absurd. Trying to reinforce the reasonableness of the boundaries of states inside the European Union, respecting the founding rules of the EU – that is, reasonable coexistence between nation states – is the right path and continues to be a good idea.
For the people that created the European Union or for my generation, we understand that the European Union from the beginning historically means peace and prosperity. Why? Because the history of Europe is a history with more conflicts than peace. Europeans wished seriously to have a period of prosperity after two world wars and so on.
José María Aznar was the Prime Minister of Spain from 1996 to 2004.