You may have heard that the Chinese word for “crisis” is composed of two characters representing “danger” and “opportunity”. Well… Forget that – it is wishful folk etymology. And next time you hear a fluffy motivational speech using this handy rhetorical device, expose the scam !

Anyway, I would love to believe that the current crisis is indeed an opportunity. European political integration has been mired in national egoism for so long that I have found myself wondering if we would ever achieve any practical degree of coordination for the things that actually matter to our sovereignty, namely defence and finances for starters.

According to a TNS-Sofres/Logica survey on 26 March 2009, 58% of French people believe that the banks bear the bulk of the responsibility for the crisis. Doesn’t everyone love to pile on the scapegoat ? Let’s get beyond that – we must take responsibility for our complacency !

Two months ago, the IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn reiterated the common wisdom that coordinated economic policy is inseparable from currency union. But so far European Union was a political project without political support. By exposing weaknesses in our institutional framework, the financial crisis may have changed that :

“I don’t like it, but it was probably the only way to force all the governments together, to have more discipline on their budgets and on their deficits and more centralised government of the eurozone”  – Yves Carcelle, Louis Vuitton’s chief executive – interviewed by the BBC.

Will it be enough to force the national governments on that common path ? As Henrik Müller writes for the Spiegel :

“If the monetary union is to survive, member states will have to abandon their egos”.

“The member states must learn to understand themselves as a community that shares a common fate and together they must strengthen democratic control over shared finances”.

Strong democratic control over our common fate… That’s my wish for Europe – a wish that some such as George Friedman greet with scepticism :

“What we have learned is that Europe is not a country. It is a region, and in this region there are nations and these nations are comprised of people united by shared history and shared fates. [..] but in the end, they share neither a common moral commitment nor a common fate”.

I disagree. We are the citizens of Europe – willingly or not we will stand or fall together. This is a common fate and it binds us together with a moral commitment toward our success as a people.

Will the politicians finally accept the need for the deeper transparency and the democracy that will empowers us ? As Dominique Strauss-Kahn told :

“20 years from now, when Europeans look back at the present period, will they see a missed opportunity ? Not to be too emphatic, but what is at stake in the current debates is simply the future of Europe”.

Twenty years is not even what it will take us to repay our irresponsible debts… Lean years are ahead of us – let’s make them count toward a better future for us, as the people of the European Union.