If there were an official anthem for the European debt crisis, it would be Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” and not just because the pop star croons a few lines in French and chants the name of a continental European capital. The once slow, now increasingly fast-moving economic disaster unfolding across the Atlantic is best understood as a really, really dysfunctional relationship.
As Harvard economist Ken Rogoff puts it, “Europe is like a couple that wasn’t sure they wanted to get married, so instead they decided to just open a joint checking account and see how things went.” They went badly. Germany, the thrifty partner, is wringing its hands about how to handle the fact that its Mediterranean lover has drained the account and doesn’t want to go on a budget. The southern European attitude is pretty well summed up in Gaga’s lyric “I want your everything as long as it’s free.”
This bad romance will reach a turning point this summer as Europe finally decides whether it wants to break up or get married. But it’s already having a big effect on the U.S., and the rest of the world. To find out how things are likely to end, read my full examination in this week’s TIME magazine.