Is the ECB capable of saving the Euro?

For the third time in three years, the European Central Bank (ECB) deployed heavy artillery to lift the Eurozone out of the doldrums. Mario Draghi, President of the ECB, continues to find new monetary recipes to save the political currency. But southern Europe is cracking under the austerity policies, while France is in the grip of anti-EU sentiment. Political turmoil is threatening Europe and there is nothing the ECB can do about it.

Without the ECB, the euro would no longer exist, but can the currency union survive only thanks to the ECB? The answer is no. At the end of 2011, monetary union was on the verge of collapse and European leaders were powerless. Draghi stepped in and pumped €1.1 trillion into the banking sector. Banks got loans for a period of three years at a low interest rate and without asking a lot of questions about collateral. This 'revolutionary action' helped for several months. In the summer of 2012 Draghi was again taking the lead as interest rates on Italian and Spanish government bonds were skyrocketing. To save the euro, he said he would do "whatever it takes". Lenders could count on Draghi to speed up the printing press if necessary. They were temporarily reassured.

EU is powerful and powerless

The rise of Eurosceptic parties in the European Parliament, on both the left and right, does not threaten the numerical balance of power in Brussels, but it does bring about political upheavals. Britain is closer to the exit; France closer to the abyss. More and more power goes to the EU, while the EU is in trouble, and is increasingly powerless. The European elections have made divergent forces ​​stronger.

The greatest source of uncertainty is France. Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National, dealt the Parisian elite a slap in the face. Her next goal is the French presidential election of 2017. President Hollande is no longer taken seriously; for the French, he is a buffoon. The economy is stagnating and the centre-right opposition is fighting an internal power struggle. Marine Le Pen is now in a strong position for 2017. French political leaders in the second economy of the euro-zone are uncertain, unpredictable and scared. Le Pen puts the political class under pressure, and in Strasbourg, she'll get an influential forum as ringleader of a nationalist group.

Le Pen will do what Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, has been doing for years: use the European parliament as a platform for the home crowd. Ukip won the European elections, not only at the expense of the Conservatives. Labour saw its voters defect to Ukip, even in the North of England and Scotland where Ukip was considered hopeless. Ukip is driving Britain to the exit and Prime Minister Cameron has promised a referendum in 2017, with the question: 'in or out of the EU'. The British Liberal Democrats of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg tried to put themselves on the map as resolutely pro-European. They were wiped off the map. Britain and France are two large countries with a rebellious home. They will bring the storm to Brussels.

The Putin Doctrine

Last month I was in the U.S. Congress to give a briefing on the situation in Ukraine. The audience consisted of Republican congressmen and their staffers. Suddenly, Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher, former employee of President Reagan, took the floor: "Why all this criticism of Putin?" he asked. "Putin is our ally in the fight against political Islam." Then he took off, leaving behind him a heated discussion. The confusion in conservative America has grown after columnist Pat Buchanan (former employee of Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan) wrote last year: "In the cultural battle for the future of humanity, Putin might be one of us."

Also in Europe there is a remarkable understanding for Putin. Earlier this month, a group of 200 German intellectuals sent a public endorsement to Putin. They lay all the blame for tensions in Ukraine on the U.S., led by President Obama, once so applauded in Berlin. Three former German chancellors (Schröder , Schmidt and Kohl) expressed their understanding for the annexation of Crimea. A majority of the German population thinks Germany shouldn't stand on the side of the West, but in between the West and Russia. British eurosceptic Nigel Farage expressed his admiration for Putin and Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, visited the President of the Russian Parliament in Moscow. Other of the PVV's far-right allies in Europe, such as the Austrian FPÖ and the Italian Lega Nord, admire Putin.

The source of these endorsements is the Putin doctrine that aims to restore Russia's status as a great power, flanked by political, social and cultural themes that are also present in the public debate in Europe and the U.S. What does the Putin-doctrine consist of?

The French Problem

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, visited the French city of Bordeaux last year and treated his counterpart Alain Juppé to some British humour: "Did you know I have more Frenchmen in London than you do in Bordeaux?" There are around 350,000 Frenchmen in London. French people who want to run a business can't do that in a stagnant France. If the current trend continues, the volume of Dutch exports next year will be higher than the French. The popularity of President Hollande has fallen to 18%. The French political elite fears a beating in the European elections of 25 May by a triumphant Marine Le Pen, the standard-bearer of the Front National.

The political weight of France, the second largest economy in the Eurozone, has fallen dramatically in a short time. France and Germany used to be at the same level politically, though the French economy could never match the German. The EU could not take decisions against France. Paris always knew how to form a blocking coalition and, if necessary, they could morally blackmail the Germans. The French decline is worrying. The Dutch might be tempted to gloat, but that attitude is wrong because in the end, the French Thalys was the only company that managed to link Amsterdam and Brussels by train last year. It is also unwise. A weak and insecure France is a greater threat to Europe than the confident display of flags of 'la grande nation' which, like French women, contains a lot of charm. Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy were a European political couple; President Hollande seems pathetic.

'Energy NATO' could rein in Putin

John Kerry , the U.S. Secretary of State , recently said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using 19th century methods in the 21st century. Kerry is behaving as if Putin was impolite during a state banquet and burped at the table. But Putin's mind-set is largely rooted in the 19th century. Politics is about power, not about law. The West, accustomed to diplomatic conferences on noble UN objectives, has trouble with cynical realpolitik.

Modern political leaders know more about public relations than about history, let alone the 19th century. Kerry is no Kissinger. The former US foreign minister obtained a PHD with the thesis 'A World Restored', on the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815). Henry Kissinger wrote in the Washington Post: "Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them."

What can we expect from Putin with his 19th Century methods? He used the chaos in Ukraine to annex Crimea, home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet and where 60% of the population is Russian. He received massive support from the Russian people for whom Crimea has always been part of the Russian demos. Ukraine cannot do anything, and the West is both shocked and helpless. For Putin, there was little risk.

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