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Restructuring Europe Amid A Complex Political Climate


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. More turmoil in Europe. Greece may have the week off, because this week's worry has been about Spain. There are those who say the current crisis in Europe - or something like it - has been fated ever since the treaties were signed that roped very different countries into a binding union. Lord David Owen is a veteran of Europe's complicated politics. He was Britain's foreign secretary in the late 1970s and went on to form and lead the Social Democratic Party. And in the 1990s, he played a significant role in brokering an eventual peace in the Balkans. Lord Owen has been trying to solve the problems of European integration for 50 years. This week, he has a new e-book out on the subject, called "Restructuring Europe." Lord David Owen joins us from the BBC studios in London. Lord Owen, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: And let's start with the creation of that single currency, the euro. What was your position at the start, decades ago?

OWEN: Well, I was totally against Britain joining the euro. I think a currency is part of a sovereign government. It's extremely difficult to see how you can operate a currency across a large number of different countries. In very general terms, there's a very considerable difference in attitude, in philosophy, in way of life between Southern Europe and Northern Europe.

SIMON: Wasn't there a thought, though, a number of years ago that because of changes in technology and because, for that matter, of the weight of history it was time for a different and refined version of nationalism?

OWEN: Yes. That was put about by quite a lot of people and we were told that we were living in a new era and that we were in this world where sovereignty and boundaries didn't matter. A lot of it came from America, incidentally, and from the U.S. State Department, endlessly telling everybody in Europe that they should get together and this union was a very good idea without remembering your own history of how long it took you to build your union.

SIMON: Could you remind Americans with some of the consequences of either the collapse of the euro or a diminution of the Eurozone could be?

OWEN: Well, it's pretty clear that the United States, from its Treasury secretary up to its president, is extremely concerned of the impact on you. I mean, you sell into this Eurozone market and you would immediately find it much harder to do so. So, I think at the very least you would see a fall-off of sales and impact on balance sheets of quite a lot of American companies. But also you might see a contagion effect going through to some of your banks who've lent quite heavily to European countries.

SIMON: Lord Owen, is Germany sometimes cast as the heavy in these times?

OWEN: Well, unfortunately, they are in Greece at the moment. I think it's unfair. I think majority of Greeks are well aware of the fact that they have made some very serious mistakes, and so they don't claim that all this is the fault of foreigners, let alone Germans. But there's been accompanying this mood of austerity a degree of stringency which is quite honestly not possible for a country to deliver, and in my view, when you look at Germany at the moment, their attitudes to Greece has been to impose a level of austerity that is simply not recoverable from without a change in policy.

SIMON: What's your feeling about what should be done now, now that you have a European Union, of which Britain is a part?

OWEN: Well, we have a collapsing Eurozone and a very serious crisis inside the Eurozone area. I just think it's inconceivable that Germany will allow the euro to fail completely. And there will be a grouping around Germany that will certainly be able to sustain a euro. And I think that is something which we must try and ensure happens. And if they decide and they can manage to keep all 17 countries together, I think that's broadly in the best interests of the global world. Whether it's in the best interest of some of those countries, well, we can argue about.

SIMON: And is there an accumulating increasing distrust of European bureaucrats?

OWEN: I think that's the public mood. I think, to be honest, it is exaggerated. A lot of these mistakes are mistakes made by politicians. Politicians are not very good at handling big global financial questions. And that has been the problem. They've been saved by strong central banks, and by and large some pretty good heads of banks. And they tend to tell politicians you can't do these things 'cause they're independent. When they're ignored, disaster follows pretty quick.

SIMON: Lord David Owen, veteran British politician and author of the new book "Restructuring Europe," joined us from London. Thanks so much, Lord Owen.

OWEN: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.