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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The European future

Venturing north now on the last stage of this trip - to see how the mountain house is coping with the weather. I fear some frozen pipes since I proably lost some anti-gel in last year's tap split and leak.

I referred a couple of weeks ago to the debate about the future of Europe in the Eurozine network. Ywo more interesting pieces by Swedish authors are now available - Per Wirten’s Where were you when Europe fell apart?
In his book, Ill Fares the Land, Tony Judt predicted that neoliberal agitation for a "minimal state" would cease after the crash in 2008 and be replaced by the return of the state and a battle about its characteristics: should it be democratic or authoritarian, kindly or malevolent, based on surveillance or trust? He turned out to be right. That battle is being fought already.
The longstanding, wishful call for "more Europe" has been converted into a meaningless platitude. Sharper, more focused opinions are now necessary: the parliament must be the engine of politics, the Commission must submit to the will of the parliament, social responsibility and a redistributive policy from wealthy to poor regions must become a reality – otherwise there is no future either for the euro or the European idea .
and Bjoern Elmbrant’s Whose Europe are we living in?
The euro crisis has shown that this is the Europe of the big nations at the small nations' expense, the Europe of banks rather than of citizens. Instead of demanding that their own banks take responsibility, imposing debt rescheduling and a higher equity, Merkel and Sarkozy have rigged what critics call a "fake debate". What was in fact the consequences of the financial crisis of 2008 has instead been described as the result of budgetary indiscipline. Although this might be true for Greece and possibly Portugal, countries such as Ireland and Spain had a large budget surplus and low national debt when Lehman Brothers crashed in 2008......


It is a Europe characterized by increasing nationalism. Just like during the Weimar republic in Germany in the 1920s, today's nationalism is kindled by political ineffectiveness and an economically strapped petit bourgeoisie. The issue concerns not only the new poverty in indebted countries in the south. In northern Europe, the margins of the middle class are gradually getting smaller – deep in debt, they no longer think that solidarity is something they can afford.
Nationalism is the next-door neighbour of selfishness and self-interest. We see rightwing populism at work also when popular and intelligible EU reforms are made void, for example when the Danish People's Party reintroduced controls at the borders to Germany and Sweden. Border controls can now also be "temporarily" reinforced in other parts of the union "in extreme situations". If countries are allowed to decide for themselves what an extreme situation might be, Schengen belongs to the past.
Migration issues are a Pandora's box, if you open it just a little, hatred and dirt emerge. We are now seeing that box opening

Is Europe democratic, then? Less and less. Swedish political scientist Sverker Gustavsson has described three conditions for democracy to work: democracy must "deliver", i.e. be able to solve problems; democracy must admit that there are various routes and that opposition is legitimate; and democracy must be predictable, not arbitrary.
If we use these criteria to test the way the euro crisis has been handled, the result is discouraging. The ability to solve problems is weak. Mistakes have been made and decisions have been wrong and ill-timed. Fear of a free debate about the financial markets has resulted in politicians lying – this has been admitted. But how do you make citizens interested in an imminent crisis when there are no clear alternatives and when politicians don't dare to tell the truth? Finally, there has been a lack of predictability, as the EU keeps changing its stand, adopting ideas it rejected one month earlier. Paragraph 125 of the Lisbon treaty stipulated that no rescue packages were to be allowed, but then rescue packages were issued. It is forbidden for the ECB to buy government bonds from countries in crisis, yet this has been done through the back door.

The fact that indebted countries are now governed by "guardians" is also harmful to democracy. These countries lose their sovereignty as austerity measures are forced onto them from above and devaluation is not an option. Schools are shut down. Hospitals reduce the number of operations. Salaries are cut. Pensions are cut. State property is sold off. In Greece there is talk of selling off "cultural goods". Are we talking about the Parthenon here? Where is the respect?
The question why the citizens should bow down to decree is legitimate. Especially when they have hardly been able to influence these measures, for which there is no majority within the population. The sense of powerlessness is a breeding ground for large-scale rightwing populism. The design of the euro not only threatens the EU but democracy in general.......
And so we have been left with a European Union dominated by the German obsession with budget discipline. There is nothing wrong with having your budget in order, but in turn it has paved the way for a neoliberal agenda and the argument that we have too much welfare

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