Monday, September 22, 2014
7

A New Chance for European Politics

MADRID – Most political leaders in Europe want the European Union to emerge from its current crisis stronger and more united. But the economic policies that have been implemented in most EU countries since the crisis began have given rise to an unprecedented threat to deeper integration – and, indeed, to what already has been achieved.

After five years of financial and economic crisis, anti-European politics has come resoundingly to the fore in many EU countries – France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Austria, Holland, Finland, Greece, Portugal, and even Germany. Growing institutional disaffection has become a corrosive reality almost everywhere in Europe. The only way to overcome Europe’s existential crisis, and to respond to citizens’ demands for change, is to confront Europe’s domestic opponents head-on: politics without palliatives.

Europe needs, first and foremost, to break the vicious circle of recession, unemployment, and austerity that now has it in its grip. That means, first of all, refocusing economic policy on growth, employment, and institutional innovation. It is impossible to advance toward political union while seeming to abandon Europe’s citizens along the way, which is the impression that unremitting austerity has created. Sacrifice, too many Europeans believe, is not laying the groundwork for a better, more prosperous Europe, but is dragging them into a fatal tailspin.

European leaders cannot remain passive in the face of the dangerous populist tsunami now crossing the continent, and they know it. There is still time to react – by demonstrating strong leadership and prioritizing growth over short-sighted policies – but that time is limited and the clock is ticking.

Next year will be crucial, for it will mark the end of the current political cycle and the beginning of a new one. There will be a new German government, European Parliament elections, and, at the end of the year, a new European Commission. It is here that political leaders should devote their efforts.

No one wants the EU to fail because of its citizens’ disaffection. To take advantage of the political opportunity offered in 2014 requires launching an open, pedagogical effort now. European citizens have already shown a sense of responsibility and capacity for sacrifice, but they should know why hope – in the form of higher employment and living standards – is not futile.

If that does not happen, next year’s European elections may give rise to an unfortunate paradox. Just when, as a result of the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament gains more power than it has ever had, the risk of it being condemned to irrelevance is greatest. If, reflecting the mood in the member states, the elections result in a fragmented Parliament – possibly rendered less representative by low voter turnout – paralysis, disaffection, and ineffectiveness are guaranteed.

That is why Europe’s leaders should take advantage of the coming political cycle to correct Europe’s institutional design and strengthen its democratic legitimacy, thereby enabling them to respond to Euro-skepticism and ad hoc bilateral deals with more integration. If Europeans are to overcome their fear of giving up sovereignty in order to achieve political union, a civic sense of attachment to Europe and its institutions must be regained and nurtured.

Achieving this requires, among other things, the recovery of the Franco-German axis as Europe’s driving force. It also presupposes a European budget that is sufficient to meet expectations and equal to the challenges that await. Resolving these issues is as important as resolving individual countries’ economic problems. Indeed, they are in large part the same problem.

Institutions are legitimized in part by their effectiveness, and the EU must recover its authority to defend common interests and harmonize them with national concerns. The European Parliament can exercise its power only if citizens feel represented there. As Kemal Derviş, a vice president of the Brookings Institution, recently put it: “If independent technocrats are allowed to determine long-term policy and set objectives that cannot be influenced by democratic majorities, democracy itself is in serious jeopardy.”

Next year will also mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. From that moment until the present, Europe has both endured the worst and enjoyed the best of its history. We should bear in mind the enormous symbolism of this date in order to understand how much Europe has changed – and, at the same time, to recognize the need to defend those changes.

The EU is one of the great political milestones of mankind. For this reason, and in order to emerge stronger from the difficult situation in which Europeans now find themselves, Europe’s leaders must work with the conviction that the future is inexorably linked to a more integrated and more capable Union.

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  1. CommentedWim Roffel

    This looks like a propaganda piece for the Brussels dictatorship. People who object against the EU continuing power grabs are discarded as "populists" while it is deemed that the rest of the population needs to be educated with a "pedagogical effort".

    The Europeans care about their democracies and they are frightened by the continuing efforts of Brussels to make their national governments powerless. Nobody wants to give more power to the European parliament. Everybody who has ever met an Europarliamentarian - it doesn't matter which party - knows that they see it as their primary job to sell Europe to the public, not to defend the people's interest in Brussels.

  2. CommentedMargaret Bowker

    I agree that there is considerable opportunity for reform on the horizon in Europe, including implementing in full, the move to balanced reduction and growth. Interesting to see William Hague's 'red card' system which has been around for some time in general terms, now firming up into a workable proposal.

  3. CommentedEdward Ponderer

    I fear that the continuing ping pong game of opinion between growth and austerity is like being on a Island of starving people whose leaders insist on food being defined as the nearly depleted oranges and grapefruits. This, while totally ignoring the virtually unlimited supply of banana plants are just ready for the picking. Whether because they don't know or don't want to know, I will leave open for debate at present.

    "Growth" will not grow jobs but grow more automation and money (for those who already have plenty), while causing continued havoc to our environment which cannot keep up. And the article is right that starving large sections of society will not bring peace anymore than it will prosperity. What needs to be eliminated are purposely self-destructing products, and product and services that serve no real value save to the producers and and in the fantasy world of the hype surrounding there advertisement. At this lower rate of production, the planet could keep up and heal, and people could be employed in working to properly match the global infrastructure with mutual responsibility and appropriate job placement of a universal part-time work that would pay sufficient wage for a decent living.

    And yes, we know that this is well within reality once intentional obsolescence, useless production, and plain waste are objectively analysed and addressed. While there are interests or ignorance preventing this, the pain and disconnect will continue to grow until those who can do something about this finally find their own backs up against the wall. -- Then they will act -- only now it would be with a lot less pain for all parties.

  4. CommentedTomas Kurian

    The European politics - are they really European ?

    The EU was meant to be a club of countries in Europe, supporting each other, buying from each other and helping each other to grow, maintaining Euroepan social standards

    Then, somehow, China got into the equation and some nations are buying instead from their neighbors from China and forcing their former partners to increase their competitiveness ( understand lower their wages) to the level of China.

    This is exactly like being married to one wife and going for sex to another, plus add regular beating of the former one. That kind of marriage rarely last long.

    If EU is to survive, it must come back to the basic rule of supporting its members first, even if it means paying a bit extra. And that is something cold hearted current"leaders" are not able to understand, therefore EU is dissolving. If a CLUB is not supporting its memebers, that it loses its sense, and there is no point remaining in it.

  5. CommentedManuel Gomes Samuel

    Having lived for some years in Germany, a country of ingenious, civilized and disciplined people, I have always sensed that a bit more could be done by its political authorities to promote the ideals of European solidarity. But having also lived in other EU countries I came to the conclusion that elsewhere in the EU the situation is more or less the same and that the feeling of being a citizen of a rather big Union of 27 countries (28 now) is not really that relevant. I believe it is fair to say that there is almost no sense of Europeanism in Europe. There is probably very scant individual believe of belonging to a Union of Nations defined by a common heritage of values, history and geography. An undeniable reflection of this assumption is the constant low turnover for the European Parliament elections in each Member State. Europeans care mostly about their own Nation States. The European Parliament, the Commission, the Court of Justice and all other EU bodies are mostly ignored by the common EU citizen. The current long cycle of recession makes things even worse. Hordes of young people across the spectrum of the EU feel naturally disenchanted with the European ideals because they often tend to believe that recession and unemployment are most likely current byproducts of the European project. The lack of full democratic credentials for the EU Institutions (e.g. the selection of the President of the Commission behind closed doors) does not help either. But one needs to remember that first and foremost the European project is primarily about peace. Emanuel Kant once said that the quest for peace amongst Nations implies that what is morally obligatory always takes precedence over mere prudence. More than ever, the EU needs political leaders that fully grasp that besides the sense of togetherness, the reaping of fruits of a fully economic and financial union, and further to the need to face together the emergence of a new scale of world powers, they have to motivate their electorates to honor the spirit of peace and communion that Europe has enjoyed since the onset of the integration process.

      CommentedZsolt Hermann

      I fully agree with you.
      At the moment the whole idea of European integration is "sold" in a very amateurish, shallow way.
      "Common Europe" does not mean that the people should be similar, that they should feel cultural, or national similarities, it does not even mean they need to like, or fully accept each other.
      Such notions are impossible.
      We are all different, even with nations the individuals are different, they have their unique, personal character, talent, speciality which needs to remain intact, even promoted.
      Instead what wise politicians, public opinion formers should be promoting is a union where these unique individuals, nations connect together on a mutual platform, uniting around a common goal.
      They need to identify and promote a goal that is beneficial for all, moreover a goal that makes it possible for each individual and nation to contribute using 100% of their own speciality, talent making this common goal achievable.
      Such a mutually responsible and complementing mosaic would propel the union to unprecedented dimension, to a level of existence we haven't even dreamed of before.
      And if we can achieve the same all around the globe, the possibilities are infinite.
      Instead of ruthless, damaging competition, mutually complementing each other.
      How is all this possible?
      Through global education, helping people understand the nature of our modern, globally interconnected and integral world, where each individual and nation fully depends on all the others, like cells and organs in a single body.
      In such a system only the above mentioned global, mutual responsibility and cooperation can provide health, safety, prosperity for all, since the individual is fully dependent of the state of the whole.
      People do not follow moral, ethical reasoning any more, they had enough disappointment fro those. But people follow necessity, understanding that is in the favor to do so, people only react to positive motivation that is honest, based on scientific and transparent facts.
      We have all the data, facts supporting this, we only need the willingness, and the bravery and vision of the leaders to start.
      And the public can wake up the leaders to act in multiple ways let us hope they wake up while this wake up call comes in a pleasant, benevolent manner.

      CommentedZsolt Hermann

      I fully agree with you.
      At the moment the whole idea of European integration is "sold" in a very amateurish, shallow way.
      "Common Europe" does not mean that the people should be similar, that they should feel cultural, or national similarities, it does not even mean they need to like, or fully accept each other.
      Such notions are impossible.
      We are all different, even with nations the individuals are different, they have their unique, personal character, talent, speciality which needs to remain intact, even promoted.
      Instead what wise politicians, public opinion formers should be promoting is a union where these unique individuals, nations connect together on a mutual platform, uniting around a common goal.
      They need to identify and promote a goal that is beneficial for all, moreover a goal that makes it possible for each individual and nation to contribute using 100% of their own speciality, talent making this common goal achievable.
      Such a mutually responsible and complementing mosaic would propel the union to unprecedented dimension, to a level of existence we haven't even dreamed of before.
      And if we can achieve the same all around the globe, the possibilities are infinite.
      Instead of ruthless, damaging competition, mutually complementing each other.
      How is all this possible?
      Through global education, helping people understand the nature of our modern, globally interconnected and integral world, where each individual and nation fully depends on all the others, like cells and organs in a single body.
      In such a system only the above mentioned global, mutual responsibility and cooperation can provide health, safety, prosperity for all, since the individual is fully dependent of the state of the whole.
      People do not follow moral, ethical reasoning any more, they had enough disappointment fro those. But people follow necessity, understanding that is in the favor to do so, people only react to positive motivation that is honest, based on scientific and transparent facts.
      We have all the data, facts supporting this, we only need the willingness, and the bravery and vision of the leaders to start.
      And the public can wake up the leaders to act in multiple ways let us hope they wake up while this wake up call comes in a pleasant, benevolent manner.

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