There are, broadly speaking, three potential scenarios as far as the future of Europe is concerned. Only the very brave will predict at this time which one will be chosen by the Europeans—or to which they will sleepwalk. The European Union may break up, wholly or in part within a few years. The stronger economies will stick together, renegotiating a new framework. The weaker ones will be excluded. They will find it very difficult to face the future with its increasing imbalances and the danger of protectionism on their own. Perhaps they will be loosely united in a second union, hoping that after a while they will be promoted again to the championship league—to borrow a concept from the world of European soccer. The future of the Euro is uncertain; it may survive the present crisis, but what about the next? There is no willingness for now proceed towards political unity, but it is even more difficult to imagine a return to the fragmented Europe of pre-EU days.
The second scenario: A recovery from the present crisis, quickly, or more likely, over time. Such recoveries have occurred in the past. Thirty years after its defeat by the Germans in 1870–1, France had recovered its confidence. It took Germany less than twenty years after its defeat in World War I to emerge as the strongest power (and greatest threat) in Europe; it took the Russians even less time to resurface after the demise of the Soviet Union.
But what could provide the impetus for such a miraculous recovery? A major, existential crisis generating a feeling of urgency and the conviction that basic changes are needed. Yet at present there are few indications that a new dynamism will prevail over European exhaustion and listlessness (aboulia in the language of an earlier period of psychiatry). Given its demographic weakness, Europe will need immigrants. But its experience of late in this respect in has not been a happy one. It is unlikely to produce the push needed to shift the Continent in a new direction. A profound change, surprising even the confirmed skeptics, is, I suppose, possible—but it involves a tremendous deal of hope.
Lastly the scenario most likely to happen and least likely to succeed: a bit of reform and a bit of business as usual. The richer countries will help the poorer ones to muddle through. It may work this time, but it is unlikely to be sufficient to deal with the next crisis. Even if it will be ready to act decisively, northern Europe may not be strong enough.
To opt out of Europe would be very costly, even more costly than staying in. For this reason the present uneasy situation is likely to continue for a long time: a big-but-not-very-happy family, constantly bickering and complaining that their national interests are not taken into account, incapable of coordinating their domestic policies, let alone having a common defense and foreign policy. Kicking, screaming and threatening, individual countries will in the end not leave the fold. This allows for survival, but certainly not for a civil and moral superpower, the great model for all mankind in the twenty-first century.
The outlook is bleak. But it is also true that nil desperandum, never say die, is a better guide to action than the violent changes in mood about the future of Europe that we have witnessed over the years resembling the convulsions on the stock markets.