Writing, reading, and cooking

A surprising and gratifying round-up of how different chefs have been affected by the work of their favorite food writers. Michael Ruhlman, Michael Pollan, and Edna Lewis are singled out for particular praise.


A Handbook for the Travel Writer

A good novelist can sweep readers away on a journey, carrying them to new lands to meet new people and experience new things. Travel writing does much the same thing, but the locations, peoples, and encounters are all real. The travel writer fashions her travel experiences into a narrative that illuminates both her own experiences and the places she was traveling though. Along the way, the travel writer will have to contend with all of the hassles that any normal traveler might face. When she returns, she must also go through a set of potentially overwhelming practical challenges: writing, editing, submitting, and publishing the resulting piece.

This is why we’re pleased to be publishing the seventh edition of the bestselling The Travel Writer’s Handbook, by Jacqueline Harmon Butler and Louise Purwin Zobel (click for a link to Amazon). This handy guide walks readers through the travel writer’s process. From how to pitch a story to planning and researching a trip to conducting on-the-road interviews, The Travel Writer’s Handbook provides a road map for finding success as a travel writer. This new seventh edition contains all the most essential and up-to-date information on how travel writers can tap into mobile and online resources to find new ways to publish and publicize their work, as well as to help with planning and preparation.

We hope you find The Travel Writer’s Handbook helpful. Happy traveling!


Q & A with Soup & Bread Cookbook's Martha Bayne

Martha Bayne is the author of Agate Surrey's new Soup & Bread Cookbook: Building Community One Pot At A Time. In 2009, Martha began the free weekly soup potlucks that became the Soup & Bread series at The Hideout in Chicago. Now in its fourth year, each week Soup & Bread features soups contributed by  various well-known Chicago area chefs (Paul Kahan, the James Beard-bedecked maestro behind Blackbird and Avec, and Stephanie Izard, winner of Bravo’s Top Chef, have stopped by) as well as a range of nonprofessional soup enthusiasts. Guests are encouraged to leave a donation, and all proceeds benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository and other neighborhood food pantries. The recipes from these weekly dinners formed the basis of the Soup & Bread Cookbook. We asked Martha about soup, the community-building focus of soup exchanges, and what some of her favorite recipes have been.

Why soup, as opposed to another type of meal?

Soup just seemed the right fit, both practically and conceptually. For one, it’s generally easy and inexpensive to prepare, so we aren’t asking too much of the contributors in terms of their time and money. Unless, of course, you’re Paul Kahan and you decide to throw truffles in your split pea soup. But that’s your business! Soup is easy to serve—all you need are some soup warmers, ladles, and bowls—which is important in a nontraditional setting like a tavern, where there might not be a full-on kitchen. (Side note: At one point we considered buying some toasters and throwing toast parties, but that never really caught on. I wonder why?) And, of course, soup is a hallmark of help in hard times, from the soup lines of the Depression to the classic soup kitchen model to mom bringing you chicken soup when you’re sick. When we started doing Soup & Bread in 2009 the recession had really just hit in a big way, and people in my world—as everywhere—were losing their jobs left and right. Soup seemed a way to connect the dots between the Hideout’s relatively small community of artists and weirdos and the larger cultural moment.

What do you think makes soup a particularly communal meal?

It’s a very forgiving dish, but from a creative perspective the culinary possibilities are endless, so you’re able to please even very picky eaters. And there’s something just so metaphorically satisfying about a community sharing a meal out of one big pot. When I started working on the book, over and over again people would say, “Oh, well of course you know the stone soup story, right?” The fable about the little village that is starving until everyone contributes a potato or a carrot or an ounce of beans to create a pot of soup? I swear I first heard it in preschool. But, it’s such a great story! It really epitomizes the ability of cooking, and cooking soup in particular, to create community, and of the ability of a community to sustain itself by harnessing the collective power of even its humblest, most raggedy parts.

The Soup & Bread series has become a noisy, communal, well-attended affair that many Chicagoans look forward to every winter. When you began back in 2009, did you ever consider that the event would resonate with so many people?

Not a clue. When this started I thought it would be a fun, casual way to get people out of the house in the depths of winter and raise a little money for a good cause at the same time. I had no idea it would take off the way it did—with hundreds of participants and more than $25,000 raised to date—and it’s been personally very gratifying to see this project grow and evolve. I’ve been particularly heartened by how many people have volunteered not just to make soup (or come eat it) but also to show up early to set up tables and slice bread, to take on boring behind-the-scenes work like helping post recipes to the website, and to jump in to set up events in other cities.

What do you hope the guests at a typical Soup & Bread event would take away from the evening?

I hope they take away the idea that a benefit doesn’t have to be a stuffy, rubber-chicken affair for rich people. That it’s possible to do good and have a good time to boot. That hospitality can be a radical act, and that it’s within their power to take an idea like Soup & Bread or any of the other grassroots community-building ideas in the book and run with them, in whatever direction strikes their fancy.

Can you talk about any particularly inspiring soup-related stories that you’ve learned through the Soup & Bread series?

This isn’t so much a story as an experience, but this summer we did a one-off event as an emergency benefit for the Garfield Park Conservatory, a beautiful 100-plus-year-old structure on the west side of Chicago that was severely damaged in a hailstorm. It’s a wonderful community resource and I’ve spent a lot of time there in the past as a volunteer. After the storm shattered something like 13,000 panes of glass in its greenhouses I threw together a Soup & Bread, for which a dozen restaurants and cooks donated soup and hundreds of people came out to attend. Given that it was organized in just a few days, it was thrilling to raise almost $3,000 in just a few hours, and the staff members who showed up were so happy both for the outpouring of appreciation and for the chance to kick back a bit and have fun after what had been a truly horrible week for them. That was inspiring.

What were the most popular soups you’ve seen over the years? The most unusual?

Squash soups seem to be very popular, year after year, as well as black bean and lentil soups. But it’s been fun to track some culinary trends through soup as well. In 2010, for example, an inordinate number of tortilla soups turned up at Soup & Bread. That was shortly after Rick Bayless won Top Chef Masters, and seemed to coincide with a general surge in interest in regional Mexican cooking. I think Mike Sula’s Asian Carp soup takes the prize as the most unusual thing ever to pass through our Crock-Pots (sweet-and-sour, challengingly bony) but there have been some other extreme efforts as well, like a turkey soup made with stout beer and chocolate chips, or my friend Vera Videnovich’s chicken and nettle soup, made from the weeds running wild on her farm. Then there was the genius night when, in a moment of random soup synchronicity, seven out of eight soups were all the same shade of taupe/tan. We dubbed it “The Night of Beige Soups.” A pot of chili was the lone outlier.

 What’s next for Soup & Bread?

The whole point the book is to show that these kinds of projects are just the tip of the iceberg—that soup is really an open-source idea—so I’d love to see other people take it up and launch their own Soup & Bread-style events, and I’d like to see Soup & Bread become a resource for them.


Agate and Chicago Tribune ebooks

An announcement: Agate has entered into a partnership with the Chicago Tribune to produce ebooks created from Chicago Tribune-owned content. The ebooks will appear as part of Agate’s new imprint, Agate Digital, which is devoted solely to publishing stand-alone ebook titles. The first ebooks from Agate’s partnership with the Tribune will begin appearing this spring.

The Tribune and Agate Digital will work together to identify potential ebooks that can be derived from Tribune content, and Agate Digital will then create and distribute the ebook editions via its distribution relationship with Publishers Group West. The ebooks will be available for purchase at every ebook retailer, as well as through the Tribune’s and Agate’s own websites, in all major ebook formats.

Agate has produced ebook editions simultaneously with all its printed books since 2009. The Agate Digital venture represents a new foray into purely digital publishing. The imprint is also working directly with writers and editors to develop original brief ebooks and collections, and reissue out-of-print works in new ebook editions.


Ruth Franklin on Daisey and D'Agata

This piece from the New Republic site by the always-worth-reading Ruth Franklin is especially noteworthy for some sharp, to-the-point comments, especially regarding the salutary example set by the great W.G. Sebald. I for one do not understand why writers working from life feel uncomfortable, once they diverge from life, characterizing their work as fiction, as Sebald did and as generations of writers before him did. There's certainly a long enough tradition of roman a clef and other related techniques. To my mind, a big part of the problem here is writers' desire to claim everything that comes with characterizing their work as true, or nonfiction. This is partly a question of the meaning of genre, but also, as I see it, a question of whether writers wish to (unfairly) score the cultural lift associated with nonfiction and memoir these days, as fiction's star has faded in comparison. Part of this lift is, unfortunately, commercial.


The VIDA Count and Female Representation in Media

From Agate's Jali Becker, publishing assistant: Last year, women’s advocacy group VIDA caused quite a stir with its count of how few women are writing for major magazines and literary outlets, and of how many female authors receive review coverage compared to their male counterparts. Now VIDA’s back with the count for 2011, and the numbers hover, on average, around a 75%/25% split. This is not much better than in 2010, but as the VIDA website notes, significant cultural change takes time.

Agate president Doug Seibold blogged nearly a year ago about Agate’s own numbers, and I’m here to update them. In 2011, Agate Bolden (African-American fiction and nonfiction) published one man, Agate B2 (business and economic titles) published five men, and Agate Surrey (cooking, entertaining, and lifestyle) published seven women and three men. Looking ahead to our 2012 list, we will be publishing six women and four men across our imprints.

Emily Gould at The Awl had an interesting take on the VIDA count and the subsequent debate. She argued that all this hand-wringing denied female writers and editors their own agency: perhaps women writers and editors were simply choosing to work at and submit to places other than this select group of “Top American Magazines.” She writes, “It's not difficult to imagine why some women (and men) might not want to write for these magazines: They do not, on the whole, pay well or assign articles with reliable frequency to, pretty much, anyone….That's my issue with this tally, anyway: it doesn't allow for the idea that women have agency, and they might be choosing to avoid having bad (albeit prestigious) jobs.”

One solution Gould mentions is for women to stop waiting to be accepted by these literary magazines and start their own, which brings to mind a message Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has been promoting for a while now. Sandberg argues that women have the capacity to enact the change they want to see within the business world; they just have to “lean in” and take opportunities that come by, rather than waiting passively. While critics have argued that this is an oversimplification of the challenges women face in the workplace, Sandberg’s efforts to create and nurture female networking organizations in the male-dominated Silicon Valley are to be commended and emulated.

Last year, Doug linked to a great interview with Gina Frangello about the irony at the sheer number of women who work in publishing and the fact that females buy and consume books at a far greater rate than males do. She’s right to point out that men are reluctant to buy books relating or even simply marketed to anything female whereas women will read books ostensibly about “male issues” or featuring more traditionally masculine themes (think the stories of Hemingway or Cormac McCarthy). This leads to a lopsided overvaluation of “masculine” stories at the expense of “feminine” stories, and a skewed sense of what is “literature” versus what is so often dismissively referred to as “women’s fiction” or “chick lit”. But, as Frangello says, women “need to take the [reins] regarding and really shape what the future will look like—we are not powerless, but thus far we have not always been our own best advocates in publishing.”

I agree with Frangello and with Sandberg that women need to be better self-advocates, and I’d argue that this is a skill that needs to be taught, just like any other skill. We need to learn how to network effectively, how to ask for what we want, how to go after that job or that assignment. We can’t assume that the people in power are going to realize our own value, because there will most likely be a (male) colleague or competitor who has, without a second thought, put himself forward as the best available candidate, regardless of how his qualifications stack up beside our own.

Just as importantly, we need to be seen doing this, and we need to teach our younger compatriots how to do so as well. Doug also linked to another great article last year about a female radio producer’s difficulties getting women to call in to her show or be guests. She wrote that more women were likely to call in after a female guest had been on the air or another woman had called in first—as though hearing another female voice was necessary to convince them that their viewpoints were important. People learn through example, and featuring female writers and books with female viewpoints helps set that example. Visible representation matters. And for that reason, the VIDA count should stir people up. It should be a call to action.


Scott Turow and Laura Miller on Amazon as Monopoly

A very lucid give-and-take between a prominent critic and a very prominent author (whose longtime day job is as a lawyer, and who now serves as president of the Authors Guild professional association), outlining the challenges raised by Amazon's aggressive pricing strategies and contentious relations with publishers. This gives as a clear a picture as I've yet read of the ways in which some Amazon practices appear designed to discourage competition--and the very real prospect of Amazon's opportunity to become a monopoly in book publishing and retailing.

I appreciate the way Turow takes pains here to talk about the many wonderful things he appreciates about Amazon. I've always liked dealing with Amazon, both as a consumer and as a publisher. But I've always gone out of my way to patronize traditional bookstores (the good ones, at least)--I always saw Amazon as a great complement to those stores, not as a desirable replacement. And I think the prospect of Amazon as a publisher is very dismaying, on many levels. If Amazon's business conduct truly does become monopolistic, I think the U.S. Department of Justice's focus on book industry practices might better be aimed at Amazon than at its various competitors.


Free Ebook Giveaway: Creatures Here Below (Part 2)

Loyal blog readers will recall our giveaway last month of the ebook version of O.H. Bennett's powerful new novel, Creatures Here Below. They may also recall our little hiccup regarding the availability of the ebook on Amazon. We felt so bad about this inconvenience that we wanted to offer everyone a second chance to download this terrific and very moving book. You can get the ebook for free on Amazon, or if you prefer the EPUB format, you can download it here.

This giveaway serves as a fitting end to our Black History Month celebration (you can still see our discounted titles here). We really appreciate the insights of everyone who participated in the discussion on this promotion of our Bolden titles, which is our imprint dedicated to the best in African-American fiction, nonfiction, and memoir. But we can't stress enough, as our friend Troy at the AALBC commented on our blog post (linked above): Black history month is not a panacea for all the ills heaped upon Black Americans -- far from it. But every little bit helps. Even though February is ending, we hope that readers will continue to recognize the contributions of African-American writers as well as continue the dialogue about race and representation in this country. These aren't ideals reserved for a single month, but rather necessary topics to keep in mind year-round.

As always, we promise to keep delivering intelligent and accessible work throughout the year by some of America's best African-American authors. We hope you enjoy this free ebook of O.H. Bennett's "moving and poignant coming of age novel" and find it as vivid, rewarding, and bold as critics have. In the meantime, we'll keep fulfilling the request of our friend Tayari Jones by bringing you more books by talented brothers (and sisters).


Get The Point

Issue 5 of The Point, the Chicago-based journal of ideas co-edited by Jon Baskin, Jonny Thakkar, and Etay Zwick, is now available. As readers of this blog may remember, Agate distributes The Point through its own distributor, PGW. Take note--The New Yorker has.


"I need more books by brothers in my life."

Why Tayari Jones wants to read Creatures Here Below. Plus, her recommendations for lots of other worthwhile new books. Plus, another great picture of Tayari, because she takes such a great picture.


Writing, fact-checking, and truth

In which Slate's Dan Kois helps illuminate (perhaps without fully realizing it) how "creative nonfiction" has gotten ridiculously out of hand. I first learned of this D'Agata-Fingal square-off in Harper's. The bad faith and short-sightedness of D'Agata and his ilk are pretty dreadful, I think, and the conceptual value to be gained through pursuing their agenda of "aesthetic truth" is pretty thin stuff. But reading how D'Agata bullies, insults, and abuses his fact-checker in these pieces is appalling. Of course, this presumes that the whole exchange isn't just made up, and thus a complete waste of time.


On getting paid

A remarkable article from the estimable web journal The Millions on the economics of literary magazines. Some of these online literary journals are among the few places online where the comments sections don't run to hateful screed, and there is some very earnest and thoughtful reaction here to the issues raised by the article's writer, regarding how more literary magazines might be able to pay their contributors. What there isn't here (except in a few instances) is much insight into the actual economic considerations at work in a field where the demand to consume the product is so much less than the impetus to produce the product. Relatively simple forces are at work here.


Ebooks and why we celebrate Black History Month

From Agate’s Zach Rudin, sales and marketing coordinator: We have another special offer for you. For the entire month of February, we’ll be offering discounted prices on ebooks from our Bolden imprint, which is dedicated to African-American fiction and nonfiction. This week, Denise Nicholas’s Freshwater Road is $2.99 and Leonard Pitts, Jr.’s Becoming Dad is only $0.99. In the coming weeks, different titles will be offered at steep discounts on our site, as well as on the sites of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and more.

We work hard to promote awareness of great African-American writers all the time, and we appreciate the support of our readers and friends. People enjoy reading and finding new authors, and one of the benefits of being an independent press is that we get to play an important role in that process. We’re proud of the books we publish and feel they contribute to our culture. However, companies like Heineken are also proud of their product, enough so to slap a Black History Month-focused ad for the Dutch brew on a bus and unabashedly parade it around major urban markets.


The gap between the negatives caused by brazen ad displays and the positives produced by increased focus on African-American culture causes tension every February. In the wake of 2009’s presidential inauguration, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Cynthia Tucker put forward the idea that “Black History Month has come to seem quaint, jarring, anachronistic…suffice it to say that the nation of Tiger Woods, Oprah and Barack Obama no longer needs a Black History Month.” In 2005, Morgan Freeman told Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes, “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black History is American History.”


This year, PBS will be airing a documentary during Black History Month titled More Than a Month by filmmaker Shukree Tilghman, as a part of the Independent Lens series. The documentary, as the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Merlene Davis explains it, follows Tilghman as he “crisscrossed the country for a year exploring the good and bad aspects of having a month dedicated to the history of black Americans.” Tom Jacobs of Miller-McCune writes that Tilghman “finds the commercialization -- not to mention the shift of focus away from actual history -- simultaneously amusing, puzzling, and disturbing.” Jeff McWhorter of The New Republic, in a New York Times video interview with Glenn Loury of Brown University, proposes that the month has outlived its usefulness.


So for us here at Agate, the question “Why have this sale?” begins to blend together with the ongoing debate “Why have this month?” Naturally, there are counterpoints to the above arguments against Black History Month, as eloquently expressed in an NPR interview by Dawn Turner Trice of the Chicago Tribune, and even as a direct retort to Tucker by Pamela Reed in the Daily Voice.

Black History Month is unique in that it is both a celebration and commemoration. Observing Veterans Day, a commemorative holiday, doesn’t preclude us from honoring those who served our country during the other 364 days of the year. Likewise, the ideals of Christmas ask that we spread good will to all mankind throughout the year, not just in anticipation of getting more presents underneath the tree.

While Black History Month is clearly a holiday of greater complexity in terms of how it is observed, it’s similar in that it is a specified point on the calendar that reminds people of its message. It is difficult to constantly feel the same front-of-the-mind reverence for service-people day in and day out that we do on Veterans Day. We attempt to give thanks for our blessings every day, but having a holiday to appreciate all that we have serves to emphasize rather than replace.

Holidays exist to deliver a message; they’re a reminder for us to learn about and to observe the day’s significance. Whether the message is ideological, spiritual, or memorial in nature, we insatiably consume information regarding the holiday’s subject matter before and during its observance. Today, in America at least, nearly every holiday acts as a vehicle for, yes, consumption.

As a publisher, this reminds us of another debate, namely the question of how people want to consume their media. There is an emerging rivalry between physical and electronic books, and the cultural conversation about ebooks is contentious. From authors like Jonathan Franzen, Maurice Sendak, and more who staunchly oppose the medium, to retail juggernauts like Amazon that want to be your one-stop shop for all types of books, the debate is not getting any less heated.


In our view, how people choose to consume media or information should be up to them. We love being able to offer print and ebooks, as they both have their virtues. Similarly, having a month that celebrates black history (even if it also raises many troubling issues) is a welcome complement to the understandable if undesirable pattern that sees great expressions of black thought and writing too often occurring in response to insensitive, widely panned hypotheticals.

We hope that you enjoy this offering of discounted Agate Bolden ebooks for Black History Month. We hope this might, in some small way, get more people engaging with African-American literature and culture. We hope that you continue to read and enjoy our newest releases, our forthcoming releases, and our many other print and ebook titles by exceptional black authors. We hope that Black History Month can be a time (not the only time) when we pay extra attention to the uniqueness of black history and culture. If you need an example of the month's value, ask Nikky Finney why she’s celebrating the bare arms of black women. Or ask Jesmyn Ward, another National Book Award winner, whose first novel we proudly publish, why she thinks Black History Month feels like a miracle, an act of defiance, like hope every February.



Reasons to be vegan

This academic and food writer says the best evidence is anecdotal--look at healthy vegans, look at what they eat, and put two and two together. Conversely, look at unhealthy and failed vegans and what they eat to get a better sense of how some vegan diets are as unhealthy as diets get:

Someone can live on potato chips, pot, and cherry soda and call himself a vegan. Many recidivists have evidently tried to do just that.

We want to help you be one of those healthy vegans! Consider these great resources to aid your efforts. And we've got more such coming soon.


What's your cocktail?

This is a question Jeff Ruby, of Chicago magazine, was never able to answer. So he went in search of a go-to beverage, and this is what he learned.


Amazon glitch with Creatures Here Below

We're sorry, but it appears the Creatures Here Below ebook won't be available free on Amazon today, though it has been free on Nook, iBooks, and here on Agate's own site. We apologize for the inconvenience. More as we learn it--we hope to make this ebook free on Amazon in the near future.


Free Creatures Here Below ebook

Last February, Agate offered readers a free download of the ebook edition of Wading Home by Rosalyn Story, partly as an experiment to see if we could raise greater awareness of this title. That experiment was a success, and we're now going to try it again this year with O.H. Bennett's terrific Creatures Here Below. The ebook will be available as a free download from our website in both PDF and EPUB formats, and from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. We are making this free download available for one day only: this coming Friday, January 13.  (Actually, it will be available on Agate's site from Thursday night through late Friday--we're not exactly sure how long it will be free on the retailer sites.)

Creatures Here Below is O.H Bennett's third novel. You can learn more about it here, on the book's webpage on our site, from which you'll be able to download it on Friday. Agate's Bolden imprint has gotten a lot of attention lately for publishing the acclaimed Where the Line Bleeds, the first novel by 2011 National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward. We also publish Pulitzer Prize winner Leonard Pitts, Jr., and our novels in particular have earned terrific reviews and award recognition from across the country. Creatures Here Below is another great example of the fiction we publish here--readerly and absorbing, but also treating the realities of African-American life in all its breadth.

One of the great things about ebooks is the ability to do a promotion of this sort and reach people who might not have taken a chance on a book otherwise. Please tell everyone you know about this one-day offer. We hope that if you enjoy Creatures Here Below, you’ll spread the word about it--O.H. Bennett is the kind of writer whose work truly merits the attention.

O.H. Bennett


Reading Resolutions for 2012

One of America's best literary critics, Ruth Franklin of The New Republic, shares her 2012 reading goals.


Johan Van Overtveldt--The French-German ECB Dispute

Since early November, Johan Van Overtveldt, author of the new book, The End of the Euro, has been blogging here about the eurozone crisis.

The discussions about how to solve the structural problems facing the European monetary union have repeatedly been overshadowed by electoral concerns in the member countries. The biggest upcoming electoral event in Europe is the French presidential election to be held in May. Nicolas Sarkozy is facing an uphill fight against his socialist challenger, François Hollande. Hollande is leading Sarkozy in the polls by a comfortable margin.

Hollande has made the euro the center of his campaign. In particular, he is questioning the role the European Central Bank (ECB) has played in the crisis so far. Hollande wants two things. First, he’s calling for a fundamental change in the status of the ECB. He wants its independence reduced, and he wants more political control over monetary policy. Second, Hollande cannot imagine a structural cure for the problems plaguing the eurozone without the ECB intervening on a much larger scale in the bond markets, and buying up massive amounts of the bonds issued by countries facing financing distress—Italy, Spain, Greece….

These ideas of Hollande’s are anathema to Germany. An independent central bank is an essential part of how the Germans approach finance and economics. Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank, have voiced strong opposition to larger bond interventions by the ECB. As documented fully in The End of the Euro, the role of central banks has historically been a constant source of friction between Paris and Berlin. At the moment, it is not clear whether Hollande is advocating these ECB-related ideas as campaign fodder or whether he is genuinely convinced of their merit. If the latter, he’s facing battles with the Germans he’s bound to lose should he defeat Sarkozy in May.


Johan Van Overtveldt--The Euro-summit Disappointment

Since early November, Johan Van Overtveldt, author of the new book, The End of the Euro, has been blogging here about the eurozone crisis.

The European summit of December 8–9 was widely considered the last chance for the leaders of the eurozone to come up with clear answers to the crisis that has plagued Europe’s monetary union for more than two years now. The results were extremely disappointing.

There’s hardly anybody left who does not recognize that the euro needs a full-blown, truly empowered political union to give the currency the institutional framework that is so urgently needed. Since that kind of political union is absolutely impossible to bring about at this moment in time, the political leaders of the euro countries are trying to agree on lesser solutions, e.g. explicit and binding agreements regarding those policy issues that are crucial to stabilizing the monetary union in the long run.

Three policy issues stand out here: first, the evolution of budget deficits and government debt; second, regulation of the banking sector; and third, supervision of the international competitive position of each of the eurozone members. This last issue is too often overlooked. The loss of international competitiveness drives a country’s current account into the red, and makes that dependent on foreign capital, a situation that has proved to be highly unstable in recent years. Neither banking regulation nor competitiveness was really on the agenda of the summit. Budgetary rules were.

On December 8–9, 26 the EU countries (with the UK breaking ranks, a story of its own) agreed to write into their constitution a requirement for each country to balance its budget. If countries don’t follow the rules and reach budget deficits equal to 3 percent of GDP, automatic sanctions (that is, fines) will be imposed. However, a majority of the EU heads of state can decide to eliminate the sanctions again at a later date. It’s hard to conclude that the new rules are truly binding, and that a real transfer of sovereignty from the national to the European level has been agreed upon. Without such an agreement, the eurozone crisis will only continue, and continue to deepen.