It sounded too good to be true, and it probably was.

Twenty-seven countries in Europe all brought together in a common market with, in most cases, the same currency was a United States of Europe dream.

For a continent traumatized by two world wars, the notion of old enemies settling down and working side by side was indeed alluring and welcome.

The attraction for a country like Ireland was evident -- access to European markets that would provide huge new export opportunities.

For decades it seemed to be working, and the general view in Ireland was that membership in the European Union was among the best developments since the foundation of the state.
European money flooded the country, allowing massive new highway and reconstruction projects that greatly aided the infrastructure.

In addition Ireland enjoyed European low interest rates fueled by a German economy that continued to power ahead.

The European project had been hailed as a massive success for years in Ireland before the first cracks began to appear.  But appear they did.

The sad reality, though, has become evident over the past few years that there are really two European projects -- the mighty economies dominated by Germany and France, and a series of much smaller economies, including Ireland, which would inevitably struggle to keep pace.


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Push has now come to shove of course, with Ireland among many other countries floundering in deep debt, unable to devalue their currency and forced to pay massive bills owed to bondholders and German banks.

Their massive debts were caused in the main by easy money pumped into the country and the massive property bubble that created.

Now the European project is in deep difficulty with a domino impact as countries like Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and even France begin to buckle as the tide of debt washes across Europe.

The extraordinary sight of elected governments in Greece and Italy giving way to unelected technocrats gives some sense of the scale of the crisis.

There are reverberations here in the U.S. also, with many banks on the hook for the debts that countries are having huge problems repaying.

The endgame will either be a U.S. of Europe which is the German model with far closer integration between the states and a common policy on issues such as taxation, or a Europe that will inevitably spin apart with many countries reverting to their own currency and a failed experiment in monetary union left in ruins.

Looking at the fractious nature of the dialogue at present, with France and Germany clearly at odds and Britain souring on the entire experiment, it seems the latter course rather than the former may be the eventual outcome.

That raises a massive level of uncertainty which has damaged markets all over the globe and will continue to do until there is some clarity.

At stake is the future of the European project and whether the western world will enter a second and even deeper economic slump than we have at present. The answer to that question is needed urgently.