August 2011        

Jean-Claude Charlemagne

On 2 June 2011 the president of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, accepted the “Charlemagne Prize for European Unity” and made a telling speech about the success of the EU and the euro in responding to the crisis, and the opportunity they have seized to correct some of the deficiencies of European monetary union, all in the name of the common good and of European unity and peace.
     Filled with eloquent quotations and references to the Enlightenment, Trichet dazzled his audience of European “citizens”: central bankers, Commission staff, MEPs, and a host of Brussels and Strasbourg technocrats, not to mention a hack journalist or two.
     But the name of the prize gives a real indication of his political agenda and what Trichet and his cohort are really about.
     If anyone else is like me, then Charlemagne rings a bell from second-year history as a European emperor, but little else comes forth, and so in writing this article I had to do a bit of investigating to get some facts right.
     Charlemagne, or Charles I of Germany and France, reigned from AD 768 to 814 as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. With power based in Frankish tribes, Charlemagne, following brutal conquest, successfully “united” these with Germanic tribes while also “uniting” them through further brutal military expansion with the peoples of Italy and Spain, including a particularly violent campaign against the Moors that lasted for decades.
     Charlemagne was thirty years at war—almost the whole of his reign—leading armies that butchered the innocent and led religious crusades against those who believed in another religion. Leaving an empire with wars on many fronts and regular uprisings and revolts by its “citizens,” Charlemagne was buried in Aachen, the site of Trichet’s award ceremony.
     Back to Mr Trichet and his award.
     He starts with a self-congratulating monologue about the success of European monetary union. (I kid you not.) “EMU has brought growth.” Well, it brought minimal if not stagnant growth to the German economy but facilitated massive exports of capital to the periphery in growing speculative bubbles that totally distorted peripheral economies and have left entire countries bankrupt.
     “EMU has fostered trade.” Ireland’s biggest trading partners are the United States and Britain.
     “EMU has brought employment.” Ireland’s unemployment is now close to 15 per cent. Sustainable employment in Ireland has either been indigenously created through public and private investment or from foreign direct investment from the United States.
     “EMU has brought price stability.” Ireland has been subject to massive inflation and rip-off scandals. House prices soared, indebting families throughout Ireland as a result of cheap credit from the core. Continued inflation in 2011 is hitting families hard, with basic necessities becoming difficult to fund.
     “EMU has brought monetary stability . . . There is no crisis of the euro.” Who is he kidding? The Federal Reserve (the US central bank) had to bail it out earlier this year. The European Central Bank has turned into the biggest purchaser of government debts in Europe, a job it was never meant to do, and the euro has become the source of constant predatory attacks from the very speculators his authorities have bailed out. But no, it’s not in crisis: it’s doing fine.
     Following this he outlines the policy for countries receiving “financial assistance” and the strict conditions attached, the three-pronged approach of surveillance, recommendations, and sanctions. But even this is a bit too hands-off for Mr Trichet, who would rather a stage 2 approach, where the ECB and the EU Commission (both unelected) take direct economic control of the country. In addition to this, the EU authorities should have the right to veto any economic policies that don’t suit them and establish a single European Ministry of Finance.
     Trichet recommends making changes to the treaty in order to establish a confederation of states, with power centralised in the Commission and euro institutions in order to protect the core countries from crisis made in the periphery!
     If this was the rambling of a delusional cheerleader one might laugh it off, but this is actually the policy vision of one of the most powerful people in Europe, and his speech was published by the press and information service of the ECB.
     The only difference between Trichet and Charlemagne is that Trichet and his legions march with financial weapons of mass destruction to secure the mutually beneficial interests of Germany and France in expropriating billions of people’s money and resources from the periphery of Europe.
     He is thoroughly deserving of this award, and maybe one or two more I could name after other European dictators who have tried similar “unity” projects.

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