Chiara Tamburini cancelled her contribution to this blog on the 16th of January.
Europe is heading for disintegration unless we start moving now and direct all our efforts towards a strong, democratic Europe that is able to act. For that purpose, we need to set aside our party political interests and join forces in an Alliance for Europe.
Europe is in a deep crisis. A financial, economic, but most of all political crisis of an unprecedented scale. While panic is growing, trust in Europe is declining, and investors are turning their backs on Europe, political decision making has ground to a halt. Politicians are paralysed, dazed, unable to move. They are going around in circles, focusing on each other, shunning the difficult issues while they are losing themselves in diversions and irrelevant details.
The world is changing fundamentally. Technological progress brings about revolutionary societal change. At the same time we witness tectonic movements in geopolitical relations. The hegemony of Europe and the United States is no longer a given. The share of Europe in the world population is shrinking and ageing. The world as we knew it has gone, for good.
In order to safeguard what we have achieved – prosperity, freedom, security – for the future, we need a strong, united Europe. Only a strong Europe offers us opportunities and protection in this new 21st century world. Mere cooperation between states will not do any longer. Only a Europe of citizens, forged together into a political union, on the basis of a shared future and shared values, can work in this globalised world. Only a united Europe can compete with the big world powers. Only a united Europe can protect and promote our social, democratic and environmental values in the world.
But a political union cannot function without democratic structures or legitimacy. The current governance structures of the EU do not allow for such legitimacy. Only a federal Europe, in which citizens have a direct say, and in which decision making is transparent, offers the prospect of democratic legitimacy.
In the current political climate this is not an easy message. But it is an urgent one. For that reason I would appeal to politicians to all rally behind the common goal of a strong, democratic Europe. I call for an Alliance for Europe, where politicians of any party affiliation can unite, together with all others who want to stand up for Europe.
Europe needs us. Now.
Like in any crisis, one of the first victims is always the truth. For those who would really like to know the correct data on “lazy” Southern European workers versus “hardworking” Northern European workers, here is an excelent explanation by the Real-World Economics Review:
Reallistically or unreallistically, everybody hopes for good results from the EU summit today. Nevertheless, it is good to keep in mind what could be the worst case scenario:
One of the notable things about the debate in the countries that are most crisis-afflicted – and here I speak mainly from my experience in Portugal – is that immigration-bashing has disappeared from the public discourse. It may return, of course, but take into account these two correlated aspects:
- Portugal’s finally has a real immigration problem: we are losing immigrants, who – as they can’t find jobs in Portugal – go back to Brazil, etc. Sadly, reversal of migration trends suggests that the economy will be in real trouble for a long time to come.
- as Portugal is in a deep crisis, people have more stuff to worry about – their salaries, their pensions – than rant about foreigners.
These two assumptions are admittedly very impressionistic. What I would really like to do is point out this Matthew Yglesias post on immigration and economic recovery, namely the part where he elaborates on the complementary dynamics of high-skilled and regular migration. That’s a debate that often crops up in Europe, and that people often get wrong (“we only want high skilled migrants!”), so it’s worth emphasizing that low-skilled migration can create high-skilled jobs, and high-skilled migration does not exist in a vacuum. Main quote follows:
There’s a very encouraging AP story out from Dan Sewell about how Dayton, Ohio welcomes immigrants as an economic revitalization strategy.
Several points to make about this. One is that some immigrants have high levels of skills. Hence the reference to “Indian doctors in hospitals.” But another is that skills are to some extent a relative concept. (…) Bringing people with new skills into your town creates employment opportunities for people with complementary skills. A new taqueria not only offers local consumers a place to eat, but it’s also going to need an accountant to do its taxes. It’s going to need kitchen equipment and sign installation. But for all that to get off the ground, you need the people who make the tacos. (…) If a lot of people move to Dayton, that means investment in renewing Dayton’s housing stock. It means more customers for Dayton’s supermarkets and convenience stores. It means a broader tax base to support cops and teachers.
Read the whole thing here.
Since I’m working in the European Parliament, the economic crises have always been around. First, there was the Lehman crisis, now there is the debt crisis (or is it rather a credibility crisis? or an imbalance crisis?) I’m no expert on finances and macro or microeconomics, I have other crises to deal with (it’s not like climate change, hunger, war, etc. are simply stopping because we have other things to do). What I find striking is that every crisis needs somebody to be the bad guy who’s responsible for the mess. In 2008, it was the bankers; everybody wanted them to be punished, people where suddenly hiding their profession and their good suits. Nowadays, it’s the Greek, or all the south Europeans together. They also need to be punished, ideally with austerity programmes, until they lay on the ground begging for help. And then we send a troika who says “Well, let’s see if we help you…”. That might be humane, but it’s not very logical. If we kill off the last traces of economy in Greece, as we do with austerity, Greece will go even more into bankruptcy and we’ll have to put even more money into it. Plus we’ll be very unpopular. It is especially amazing that even people, who usually advocate for a progressive social policy in their home countries (be it politicians, trade unionists, workers) seem to have no problem with cutting the tiny wages and pensions of their Greek comrades. Sure, not all Greeks are poor but many are. Where’s the international solidarity? But I’m not even trying to rally one emotion against another. All I’m asking for is a bit more of rationality and less blaming. We shouldn’t check how we can harm the others most but rather look for what helps all of us most. It’s not like we have a shortage of other crises waiting to be tackled.
In an old Jewish story, famously recounted by Freud, two neighbours stand before the village rabbi because of a broken pot. The first man accuses the second of having borrowed the clay pot and returned it broken. The second man defends himself:
“first of all, I never borrowed your pot; second, I gave it back to you a long time ago; and third, the pot was already broken”
This story illustrates perfectly the approach that Commissioner Oettinger has taken to the repercussion created by his “half-mast” statements. In an interview to a German tabloid, Mr. Oettinger has said that the EU should consider some “unconventional” ideas, and then went on to exemplifying with the appropriately Old Testament proposal that the flags of “debt sinners” should be flown at half-mast. This, he added, would be “only a symbol” but with a “strong deterrent effect”. Now, after 151 MEPs from all political groups and all Member-States have signed this letter asking him to retract his comments or resign, what does he say, directly or through his spokespersons?
One could be tempted to say that none of the justifications is very convincing, but that’s not the point of this post. The point is that, as in the broken pot story, they can’t all be true at the same time, and in fact, they cancel each other. My impression is that Mr. Oettinger is trying to say different things to different people, adapting his justifications to his audiences: the EP in point 1, the German tabloid sphere in point 3, and everyone in between in point 2.
Note what he has not done, however:
1. He has not withdrawn his comments.
2. He has not even apologised for them.
3. And, by adopting this meandering approach, he has not made himself fitter to be a European Commissioner.
Unlike in the broken pot story, these three points are all sadly compatible. While we wait for the explanations that EP president Buzek will ask from the Commission, let’s keep them in mind.
The European Parliament is going back to Strasbourg, discussing the Eurozone as of next Monday, and The Lisboners are also back at blogging. [For newcomers, a reminder: this is a cross-party, pan-european, parliamentarian blog. Authors are solely responsible for what they write, and are not always in agreement.]
Hélas, I do not start with a serious proposal to save the euro, but a preposterously unserious proposal which is, nevertheless, a very serious, almost tragic, symbol of how some people who should know better are truly losing their compass over this crisis. Guenther Oettinger, EU’s commissioner on energy, has given an interview to the Bild newspaper last Friday where he decided on nothing better than suggesting that the flags of “deficit sinners” should fly at half-mast in front of EU buildings. Rather than ridiculing this proposal, he endorsed it, adding that “it would just be a symbol” but that it would still carry “a big deterrent effect” (link to an English summary of the interview, by Der Spiegel, here).
Where to start? This ridiculous proposal reeks of the medieval treatment of indebted people. And where will this display of ignorant lack of tact end? Should MEPs of indebted countries have less speaking time or only half a vote? I dread giving ideas to commissioner Oettinger. As Protesilaous Stavrou says in his excellent blog, had this idea been voiced by a Bild columnist one would not even bother commenting. But Mr. Oettinger is an European Commissioner and should have a least a grasp of what the European Ideal is about.
I decided to draft the following letter to be signed by MEPs and sent to President Barroso next Tuesday by the end of the day. As you will see, it suggests to commissioner Oettinger to either recant or resign.
Dear president, Continue reading
In a month we may come under pressure to quit the euro. By then turbulence will overcome Spain and Italy. (And what about Belgium? What will happen to a state with a debt equivalent to one hundred percent of GDP, which has no government for over a year and whose parties have been courting the purpose end of the country?)
Leaving the euro may be less intolerable than to stay in it. But treaties do not allow to abandon it without abandoning the European Union, and a Union that failed in the euro will be a shadow of dreams past. What will happen then?
The Pushmi-pullyu is a two-headed creature. Each half tries to move in the opposite direction and the other set goes nowhere. It can live well for years if it’s grazing in a green meadow. But imagine that times have changed and that the Pushmi-pullyu finds itself in a pool of quicksand: half pull, half pushing, both parts of the creature sink.
The Pushmi-pullyu is an invention from the “Dr. Dolittle” children books, but I found it in a serious book about the European Union (The End of the West – The Once and Future Europe, by David Marquand). In this book the pushmi-pullyu is used to describe the process of negotiations in Brussels – France pulls, Germany pushes, Spain pushes money to farmers, the UK pulls the “British rebate”, the Commission pulls the community method, the Council pulls the intergovernmental method. Once the pushmi-pullyu result was much touted by its commitments.