The London Observer 
November 20, 2011
As the skies over euroland darken, at least the jokes in Brussels are getting better. At a recent gathering to discuss the crisis that threatens to unravel the euro, one former member of the European parliament observed acidly: “They ought to give this year’s Charlemagne prize [for services to European unity] to the bond markets. Who has done more for the cause?”
The black humour was a way of stating a bald truth: in the de facto capital of the European Union, the ongoing near-death experience of the European single currency is concentrating minds in unprecedented fashion. As governments across southern Europe buckle under the pressure of paying back their debts at ever-higher rates of interest, and even formerly “respectable” economies such as France and the Netherlands feel the chill wind of market scrutiny, the custodians of Europe’s future have belatedly found their voice.
Last week the normally dour and pragmatic German chancellor, Angela Merkel, announced that the EU faces “perhaps the toughest hour since the second world war. If the euro fails, then Europe fails, and we want to prevent and we will prevent this. This is what we are working for, because it is such a huge historic project.”
As the stakes rise higher than anyone thought they could, the British are increasingly seen as an irritation and even an irrelevance. On Friday David Cameron rushed between overseas meetings with three key players in this monetary psychodrama: Angela Merkel, leader of the only country with the economic heft to sort the mess out; José Manuel Barroso, the Portuguese president of the European commission which is charged with giving Brussels a plan for salvation; and Herman Van Rompuy, the hitherto invisible president of the European council of ministers, the inter-governmental body that will adopt that plan.