Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

Considering the fact that most of us do not even know who the candidates are, this is a tough question even for those who follow Eurpoean current affairs closely. Nevertheless, this does not detract from the question’s importance. In 2009 it was included in the Lisbon Treaty that the next Presidency of the Commission shall be linked to the EU parliamentary elections, giving Europeans, for the first time, the power to elect our president. The idea is to reverse a worrying trend that has seen voter apathy steadily increase in parallel to the EUs influence in our lives; a development as apparently paradoxical as it is worrying.

Unfortunately, if one endeavours to find out who exactly are the candidates vying for our votes, it doesn’t get much easier. One is presented with a list of nondescript politicians who we can indirectly vote for, and a selection of slightly better known individuals who may be selected by the EU Commission regardless of the outcome of this vote.

Let us begin with the former group. Jean-Claude Juncker (for the centre-right European People’s party), Martin Schulz (for the centre-left Party of European Socialists) and Guy Verhofstadt (for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) are the representatives of the EU Commission’s three biggest political parties. If their party achieves the most votes in the next European Parliamentary elections they will (maybe) become president of the commission. This (maybe) refers to the actual wording of the Lisbon Treaty which simply states that the Commission must “take into account” the results of the EU Parliamentary elections in selecting a new president. This means that successful and well known national politicians are not willing to put themselves forward for an election decided by unpredictable and occasionally arbitrary EU politics. This problem is further compounded by many at the EU level, Angela Merkel being among them, openly citing their opposition to a partisan EU president.

Consequently, all that is remarkable about the current candidates is their unoriginality, despite the exceptional circumstances that will define their presidency. All from the franco-germanic heart of Europe, all committed to further transfer of powers to the EU, and all relatively unknown outside of Brussels; with the EU deep in one of its most serious crisis to date, can we really imagine a little known traditionalist EU politician to pull a fragmenting and sceptical Europe out of this mess? In Brussels, they are even calling them the “spitzenkandidaten” (lead candidate) as if they were completely unaware of any centralist authoritarian connotations this may have for ordinary EU citizens.

Adding insult to injury, the spitzenkandidaten have spent most of their campaign canvassing fellow party members and playing internal party politics rather than reaching out to voters. Perhaps tellingly, the only party to hold primaries were the Greens who, although realistically not in the running, have at least made an excellently nuanced point about the EU democratic deficit.

It seems that certain parts of the EU simply have their heads buried in the sand, so maybe strong leadership will be what is required to pull them out. Many commentators are predicting that the European Commission will simply ignore the vague wording of the 2009 treaty and put forward a high profile figure that will be able to both rise above EU party politics and have the name recognition to appeal to EU citizens. The Economist has floated Christine Lagarde as a potential candidate with the capability to drive Europe forward with a more liberal approach that could win over a sceptical UK. However, in many parts of Southern Europe she is seen as symbolic of EU hypocrisy and hierarchy for her remarks about Greece being in crisis due to Greeks not paying their taxes. At the time Lagarde, as head of the IMF, paid no tax at all; along with her “yachters tan” and diamonds, she may as well have claimed that taxes are just for the little people. Furthermore, in light of her current implication in the Tapie Affaire (a controversial €400 million state payout to a convicted criminal in 2008) any legitimacy that Lagarde may have enjoyed for the being “high profile” will have taken a serious beating, even in her native France.

And so we come to the best of rest, and honestly (like many of my fellow EU citizens), the author has lost all interest in the question. In the end, whether the candidate is picked from the winning party, or directly by the Commission, the next president should simply be one who maintains stability within the Euro zone, and any of the main candidates should be able to handle that. What is important is that the democratic charades that only further damage the EU’s legitimacy be left behind, EU citizens already feel patronized enough. Meanwhile, democratic legitimacy must be built from the bottom up and that is why my vote will be with one of the Green party candidates. In fact, being the only party to hold primaries, they are the only ones I really can vote for.


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Every time I sit down to write this post, I check the news and everything has changed. With Merkel and Sarkozy now sitting down to discuss the looming breakup of the Euro, events seem to be spiralling out of control and I simply don’t have time to go into the economics of the crisis so I’ll sum it up in one sentence; the EU has consisted of economic cooperation without the necessary parallel political integration.

Papademos: the first of the banktators

Ok fine, one sentence plus a supporting paragraph. Upon its original conception there were certain rules in place that governed the amount of budget deficit a Eurozone member state could run. Budget deficit is closely linked to government debt but not exactly and furthermore, these rules were contested, watered down and never fully implemented. No real control over government debts meant that Eurozone governments could run up a high debt with the safe knowledge that other members of the Eurozone would support them, or even provide a bailout if need be. In fact, such rules were impossible to implement as it is well known that different countries in different economic situations require different amounts of debt; a blanket rule was never going to work. Europhiles pointed to countries across the world in which different regions are more or less developed, so why can’t it work within the Eurozone? Well, within a nation state it is possible to carry out fiscal transfers in order to, in the long term, bring less developed parts of the country up to par with the rest and no longer need support. However, this always entails concurrent political integration; something painfully absent throughout the Eurozone.

Now not all debt is bad debt; if one can borrow money and put it to productive use then this is beneficial for both parties. However, the problem with the EU was that countries such as Italy were borrowing with the rest of the Eurozone as an effective guarantor while not being held accountable for their spending. Hence, rather than being invested effectively, the money poured into Italy that has not been lost to corruption has gone towards propping up an archaic system of monopolies, mafia and crony capitalism in which the rich pay almost no tax. This is no conspiracy, Italian politicians have openly turned a blind eye to tax evasion and in many cases encouraged it for years. Stagnant GDP growth and little tax income coming into the state coffers equals a government having to borrow to simply pay off debts.

In fact, in a country where 90% of the media is in the hands of one man and the political class consist of convicted felons, topless models and the fascist (or ethnoregionalist for a more tempered tone) Liga Norde, the extent to which politicians are accountable to their voters is questionable at best. Ask your average young Italian whether they have seen a hint of the money supposedly borrowed to invest in the growth and future of their country and the answer will be no. True, money has been thrown at education, but as the fundamental weaknesses of the economy have not been dealt with, we are simply left with millions of unemployed graduates; back to square one but a few billion euros further in debt.

The original and classic crisis response has been austerity, but it is becoming quite clear that this is not only morally wrong but, furthermore, impractical. Firstly, at the root of any recession lies a slump in aggregate demand; taking money out of people’s’ pockets is only going to worsen this. Secondly, offering the people “no alternative” than to austerity, as well as imposing this upon Eurozone countries such as Greece and Italy when they do not comply is far from democratic and goes against a cornerstone of what it is to be European. Italy and Greece are quite literally seeing technocrats, imposed upon them by the bonds markets, replacing politicians; All hail Papademos, the first of the “Banktaters”!

Even our supposedly democratically elected politicians have been having a hard time pushing through austerity measures so can we really expect the people to accept them from unelected technocrats? Well, we wont have much choice unless we come up with an alternative;

  1. Spend our way out: in theory, putting money into the hands of the people and boosting aggregate demand could pull us out of recession. However, it has proven harder than expected to actually get money into the hands of the people… a lot seems to get lost on the way down.
  2. The ECB: the European Central Bank could buy up Italy’s bonds and, effectively, bail them out. However, this is currently being blocked by the Germans due to their historically ingrained fear of hyper inflation. Furthermore, inflation disproportionately effecting the poor and middle classes, this would feel like a further kick in the teeth to those who already feel they are unfairly bearing the brunt of austerity.
  3. Federalism: many are finding it difficult to imagine any kind of future europe which doesn’t resemble a federal state, but for people to join a federal state they must be democratically involved. The EU boasts a shameful democratic deficit which many are rightful to be wary of. A proposed federalism will drive out all but Germany, France and the Low Countries. Furthermore, do European leaders even want to question each others policies? Why has accountability in the Eurozone only been put on the table now? After all, everyone knew that Italy and Greece for pretty corrupt countries. However, Merkel and Sarkozy also know very well that those living in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Even the most ardent Eurosceptics will recognise that European cooperation has provided us all with great benefits as well as the obvious “inconveniences” we are experiencing today. If economic integration requires parallel political integration then this quite clearly must be done democratically. However, a democratic EU must be built upon the foundations of strong democratic states which are few and far between in Europe. Any reform of the EU will only be palliative if we do not confront the weaknesses inherent throughout its very architecture. People of Greece and Italy; demand your democratic rights, do not accept these measures thrust upon you! And for the rest of us, Greece was just the canary in the mine; throughout Europe we are experiencing a worrying slide away from our once cherished democratic values which must be stopped. Confronting capital, in the banks, the government and ourselves, may be the only way forward.

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