European leaders influenced by 'fantasy of fusion'

Posted by ap507 at Dec 12, 2017 10:21 AM |
University of Leicester School of Business Professor proposes new theory to account for political and economic decisions made in wake of WW2

Issued by University of Leicester on 12 December 2017

  • Research explains why people – even political leaders – are drawn to what they might fear
  • ‘Fantasy of Fusion’ seeks to annul impact of trauma – or subsequent trauma occurring
  • Research looks at how traumatic pasts of European political leaders might have impacted their political decision making
  • Creation of Eurozone was attempt to ‘obliterate the continent’s bloody and turbulent history’
  • Origins of Eurozone crisis date to WW2 or earlier

A business professor at the University of Leicester has been telling Europeans that many of their leaders have been labouring under a ‘fantasy of fusion’.

Professor Mark Stein, who is Chair in Leadership and Management at the University’s School of Business, has given keynote papers on this subject at conferences in Limerick and Oxford, and also given talks on the topic in Milan, Fontainebleau and London, and at other venues around Europe and the UK.

He has proposed a new theory in his academic paper, ‘Fantasy of Fusion’ as a Response to Trauma: European Leaders and the Origins of the Eurozone Crisis’, which was published in the journal Organization Studies.

In it, Professor Stein explores how trauma impacts the body politic – and comes up with a counter-narrative to received wisdom on the subject.

He says there is a widely held assumption that trauma tends to engender feelings of dejection, lethargy and helplessness.  Instead, Professor Stein argues, “it can lead to a quite different, active and over-optimistic response that involves an attempt at fusion with those who have inflicted, or might yet inflict, trauma.”

Trauma has been widely understood to have a profound impact on the lives of those who suffer it, says Stein. Research has revealed the impact it can have on individuals and their decision-making.

Stein says: “In my paper I question the widely held assumption that trauma is accompanied by feelings of weakness, dejection and paralysis. I argue that on other occasions the opposite reaction may occur. In such cases individuals deal with their trauma with an over-active and over-optimistic response by developing a fantasized solution in which they become united with those who have inflicted – or who may yet inflict – trauma on them.

“Drawing on psychoanalytic theory, I introduce the term ‘fantasy of fusion’ to depict this phenomenon. I illustrate this conceptual innovation by examining the important events surrounding the European leaders who took the decision to launch the single currency.

“I argue that, in a deep and enduring way, these leaders had been traumatized by the Second World War, and go on to suggest that – sensitized to the possible repetition of the trauma – they subsequently became highly anxious following the uncertainty brought about by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the events after it.

“I argue that this led them to develop a ‘fantasy of fusion’, manifest in the idea of a shared currency, that implied the idea that such a currency would neutralize the problem. I go on to argue that the fantasy nature of this thinking led these leaders to ignore the clear, stark and widespread warnings of experts concerning the viability of the single currency project, and that there have been profound and highly problematic consequences for Europe.”

Stein looks at the personal histories of key leaders involved in the euro launch decision, describing traumas they suffered in their lives.  He writes: “In conclusion, the ‘rubble heap … charnel house … [and] … breeding ground for pestilence and hate’ (Churchill, quoted in McMahon, 2003, p. 2) that constituted Europe during and after the war took its toll on the continent and its leaders. The majority of these leaders were directly involved in the war; others were witness to it; while still others were born into families that had been directly affected. In sum, I would argue, Europe’s ‘unspeakable past’ (Judt, 2010, p. 3) and the horror of war were seared into the minds of its leaders, leaving them traumatized.”

Stein argues that the fall of the Berlin Wall reignited the traumatic memory.

German reunification had direct political ramifications for Europe as a whole: “Once these European leaders began to realize that the ‘impossible’ German re-unification was not only probable but unavoidable, they decided that Europe could allow it to happen with one, crucial, safeguard: reunification could only occur with the clear proviso that Germany join a monetary union that would restrict its power and bind it permanently with other European countries. The idea of a single currency therefore moved quickly to the centre of the political agenda.”

Stein cites this as a reason why political leaders chose not to heed stark warnings from experts who argued that, while earlier and other forms of European integration have been helpful for citizens of the continent, the single currency was a dangerous and ‘unprecedented experiment of enormous magnitude.’

Stein states: “In proposing the single currency, Mitterrand, Kohl and other European leaders thus built up a fantasy that Europe could become a benign and cohesive group of nations sharing a long-standing and profound sense of unity that made the return to conflict and war impossible. This fantasy of fusion left out any mention of the continent’s bloody and turbulent history that the currency was intended to obliterate.”

Stein goes on to argue that the fracturing within Europe in recent years is evidence of this fantasy, and of the illusory and flawed nature of this thinking. In particular, the disturbing rise of European far-Right and fascist groups, Stein proposes, can be understood as a reaction against the excessive integration – ‘ever greater union’ – necessitated by the single currency. This worrying development of extreme right-wing and avowedly anti-European parties, he argues, threatens the future of the continent and the entire European project.

Stein says his research contributes to discussions on the impact of trauma and leadership – as well as on the emotional intelligence of leaders. It also provides new insights into the origins of the Eurozone crisis, arguing the underlying cause of the crisis long precedes the events that began unfolding in 2009.

“Those who see the root of the current problems as lying with the actions of individual countries such as Greece or Germany have, according to this reading, misunderstood the fundamental issues, because the underlying problems – involving a highly problematic and flawed attempt to solve Europe’s long-standing animosities – are considerably deeper and broader, and of much longer standing,” Stein states.

  • DOI: 10.1177/0170840615622070



For interviews contact Professor Stein on

The paper is also mentioned in a Financial Times article  – see: – that features Professor Stein’s work on trauma.


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