From EURO Back to Europe

Europe’s redemption lies in the re-affirmation of the Lisbon Strategy of 2000 (and of Göteborg 2001), a ten-year development plan that focused on innovation, mobility and education, social, economic and environmental renewal. Otherwise a generational warfare will join class and ethnic conflicts as a major dividing line of the EU society in decline.

Back in the good old days of the Lisbon Strategy (when the Union was proclaimed to be the most competitive, knowledge-based economy of the world), the Prodi and Barroso Commissions have been both repeatedly stressing that: “at present, some of our world trading partners compete with primary resources, which we in the EU/Europe do not have. Some compete with cheap labor, which we do not want. Some compete on the back of their environment, which we cannot accept…”

What has happened in the meantime?

The over-financialization and hyper-deregulations of the global(-ized) markets has brought the low-waged Chinese (peasant converted into a) worker into the spotlight of European considerations. Thus, in the last two decades, the EU economic edifice has gradually but steadily departed from its traditional labor-centered base, to the overseas investment-centered construct. This mega event, as we see now with the eurozone dithyramb, has multiple consequences on both the inner-European cultural, socio-economic and political balance as well as on China’s (overheated) growth. That sparse, rarefied and compressed labor, which still resides in the aging Union is either bitterly competing with or is heavily leaning on the guest workers who are by definition underrepresented or silenced by the “rightist” movements and otherwise disadvantaged and hindered in their elementary socio-political rights. That is how the world’s last cosmopolitan—Europe departed from the world of work, and that’s why the Continent today cannot orient itself (both critically needed to identify a challenge, as well as to calibrate and jointly redefine the EU path). To orient, one needs to center itself: Without left and right, there is no center, right?!

Contemporary Union has helplessly lost its political “left.” The grand historical achievement of Europe—after the centuries–long and bloody class struggle—was the final, lasting reconciliatory compromise between capital and labor (e.g. tightening the “financial screws” while unemployment kept its sharp rise, was a big mantra of the French, British, German and Italian political center-right in late 1920s and early 1930s). It resulted in a consolidation of economically entrepreneurial and vibrant but at the same time socially just and beneficial state. This colossal civilizational accomplishment is what brought about the international recognition, admiration, model attraction and its competitiveness as well as inner continuity, prosperity and stability to the post WWII Europe.

In the country of origin of the very word demokratía, the President of the Socialist International (and the Nation‘s PM) has recently introduced to his own citizenry the most drastic cuts that any European social welfare system had experienced in the last 80 years. The rest of official Europe (and the rest of “unofficial us”) still chews the so-called Greek debt tirade as if it is not about the very life of 12 million souls, but a mare technical item studied at secondary schools’ crash-course on macro economy.

The present-day Union, aged but not restaged, is (in) a shadow of the grand taboo that the EU can produce everything but its own life. The Old Continent is demographically sinking, while economically contracting, yet only keeps afloat. Even the EU Commission, back in 2005, fairly diagnosed in its Green Paper Confronting Demographic Change—a New Solidarity between Generations that: “…Never in history has there been economic growth without population growth.”

The numbers of unemployed, underemployed or underpaid/working–poor are constantly growing. The average age of the first labor market entry is already over 30 in many MS—not only of Europe’s south. The middle-class is pauperized and a cross-generational social contract is silently abandoned, as one of its main operative instruments—the Lisbon strategy—has been eroded, and finally lost its coherence.

To worsen the hardship, nearly all European states have responded wrongly to the crisis by hammering down their respective education and science/R&D budgets. It is not a policy move, but an anti-visionary panicking that delivers only cuts on the future (generations). No wonder that our cities at present—instead of blossoming with the new technologies—are full of pauperized urban farmers: a middle class citizenry, which desperately turns to mini agriculture as the only way to meet their nutritional needs.

Currently, the end game of the so-called euro-crises seems to reveal that the financial institutions are neither under democratic control nor within the national sovereignty domain (e.g. 20 years ago, the value of overall global financial transactions was 12 times the entire world’s gross annual product. By the end of 2012, it was nearly 70 times the size). How else to explain that the EU—so far—prefers the unselective punitive action of collective punishment on the entire population’s (e.g. of Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, etc.). So far, Iceland remains the only country that indicted and sentenced its Prime Minister in relation to the financial crisis.

From the democratic, transparent, just, visionary and all-participatory, a holiday from history—model of the European Community, the EU should not downgrade itself to a lame copy of the Federation of Theocracies—the late Ottoman Empire.

This authoritarian monarchy is remembered as a highly oppressive and undemocratic although to a degree liberal and minority-right tolerant feudal state. The Ottoman Federation of Theocracies was a simple functioning system: with the Sultan’s handpicked Grand Porta (verticalized/ homogeneous monetary space of the EMU and ECB, moderately restrained by the Council of the EU) that was unquestionably serviced by the religious communities from all over the vast Oriental Empire (horizontalized/ heterogeneous fiscal space of the EMU, in which every state freely exercises its sovereignty in collecting taxes and spending), unless otherwise prescribed off-hand by the Sultan and his Porta (ECB and IMF).

Ergo, negotiating on the coined “eurozone debt crisis” (debt bound economies) without restaging the forgotten Lisbon strategy (knowledge-based Community), while keeping a heavy tax on labor but constantly pardoning financial capital, is simply a lame talk about form without any substance. Clearly, it is a grand bargain of a tight circle behind the closed doors about control via austerity, not a cross- generationally wide-open debate about vision of prosperity.

Despite a constant media bombardment with cataclysmic headlines, the issue is not what will happen with the EURO or any other socio-economic and political instrument. The right question is what will happen with us—as means are always changeable and many, but the aim remains only one: the self-realization of society at large.

Anis H. Bajrektarevic

Professor and Chairperson Intl. Law & Global Political Studies, Vienna. Author of the book Is There Life After Facebook?—Geopolitics of Energy and other Foreign Policy Essays (Addleton Academic Publishers, New York, 2013), and the forthcoming book No Asian Century

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Current issue - 01/2020

Heart of Europe on the Periphery

Illiberal backsliding is getting stronger in Visegrad countries recently. Central Europe suffers from a complex of inferiority, they say. Is it a legitimate feeling? Discover the heart of Europe and its pounding chambers on the periphery.

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