My first thought is that if the euro is really in such danger from bailing out PIGS, then why is it still so strong against the dollar? We potential tourists would really appreciate it if you all could waste a little more money so that we could afford to cross the pond. (-;
No, but more seriously: My impression as an outsider is that, as annoying as the spendthrift countries are, they're not actually as great a long-term threat to the EU's viability as other problems. And by that I don't mean immigrants -- those Turkish, African and Eastern European immigrants and their children are going to be your future work force in agriculture, service industries, and health care, the people who take care of you all in the nursing home, just as our Hispanic immigrants are for us, only we're too shortsighted to welcome them.
What concerns me more is what might happen if the EU can't persuade countries not only to join it, but to stay in it and fulfill not only fiscal standards, but standards of democracy and human rights.
For instance, there's already a lot of dismaying pushback from Eastern Europe, where Russia has been working hard to bring small countries back under the authoritarian, one-party, censored-media system, and some of them are willingly returning. Several of those countries that have been fragile proto-democracies since the fall of the Iron Curtain, whether in the EU or in process of joining or just outside it, now seem to be in increasing danger of backsliding, and the more authoritarian their rulers become, the less willing they may be to share things like mineral resources with Western Europe, and the more prone to export undesirable things like terrorism.
Indeed, I'm also concerned about what will happen in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and what that will mean for western democracies, if more EU countries don't step up and take a more active role in NATO defense -- including the very messy war still being fought there, with too much European attrition, too lukewarm commitment. It seems to me that Germany has excess money to spend on other things like playing banker to the EU in part precisely because it hasn't really taken as big a role as it ought to in defense. That's in part due to its history and its constitution; I understand that and could even wish that such pacifism was possible for more countries in the long term, in an ideal world. But in the shorter term and the world we actually have to deal with, I'm not sure the radical Islamists will allow us the luxury of being pacifists, so it may be time to rethink some of those priorities now, even if that means added expense.
Another country that concerns me is Italy, which you might think was an Eastern European state given its fragile justice system, its levels of official corruption, and its one-party media empire. North African immigrants are the least of its problems (indeed, a convenient excuse not to mention them); surely if it's going to continue to be part of the EU, it has to get rid of Berlusconi and his cronies. I don't see how a crook like that has lasted this long, and why the EU can't put more pressure on him.
And I'm not sure what to think about Turkey. I think it would be really good if it could be persuaded to remain secular, improve its standards of justice and human rights, and eventually join the EU -- but I'm worried that religious conservatism is pushing it in exactly the other direction. I think it's probably the most important country in the region that's still hanging in the balance, and its future may still be up in the air for the next decade or two.
But since those 'problem' countries are still, fortunately, in a minority in and around Europe, just as the ultra-rightist parties are still in a minority in European parliaments, none of that seems as worrying for the long term as, for example, the moves toward authoritarianism in certain countries in South America, or the uncertainty about what will happen in the Arab countries and the Middle East. Or, indeed, the political deadlock in the US, and the threat here of religious and political regression, even repression.
Which is probably why the euro is still strong, despite everything. So I think on the whole, you all are pretty lucky. (-: