Sunday, May 26, 2013

Democracy and the prolonged crises in Europe

Jürgen Habermas is one prominent left thinker, one of a rapidly diminishing number with living memories of the Second World War, who has been and is seriously committed to the "European project," the European Union. But he also recognizes that the future of the EU depends on how Europe handles the current especially precarious moment. And he knows the performance of the EU leadership makes the prospect of their handling it well a downright desperate one.

In an interview last year (Jürgen Habermas: "Wollen europäische Bürger Suizid begehen?" Der Standard 23.05.2012), he says:

Alle Regierungen und alle verantworten Politiker wissen, dass Kerneuropa die Grenze zu einer Haftungsgemeinschaft längst überschritten hat. Aber alle stützen den nationalen Egoismus mit ihrem Schweigen, mit unvollständigen Informationen oder gar mit falschen Parolen. Ich fürchte, dass dieser Mangel an Leadership einen sehr hohen Preis kosten wird.

[All governments and all responsible politicians know that core Europe has long since past the borders of being a joint-liability community. But all of them support national egoism with their silence, with incomplete information or even with false slogans. I fear that this lack of leadership with have a very high price.]
This is a German-language reports from 2011 talking about the concept of a community of joing liability (Haftungsgemeinschaft), Die EU-Haftungsgemeinschaft - 29.09.2011:

The video was posted by Self Denker TV, which at first glance seems to have some kind of "libertarian" orientation. But this video seems to be a report from mainstream German channel ZDF and is reasonable so far as it goes. Its numbers of course are from 2011.

Habermas is known for his advocacy of a Verfassungspatriotismus for Germany, a patriotism for the democratic constitution rather than on "the country" as such. That, I might add, is a very Jacksonian idea; a very similar idea lay behind Jackson's famous Address to the People of South Carolina (1832). These days he's focused on the urgent need for a pro-European democratic movement to try to save the European project from the leaders who are bringing it to ruin. "Es hat bisher keine europäische Wahl gegeben, die diesen Namen verdient hätte" (There has so far been no European election that would have deserved the name"), he says in the interview.

Habermas holds both the major parties who support the EU but nevertheless stick to nationalistic perspectives and the major media in Europe for their failure to take European perspectives:

Vor allem müsste der enge ökonomische Fokus erweitert und die politische Dimension dieses großen historischen Projektes in die öffentliche Meinungsbildung einbezogen werden. Unsere Nationalstaaten, nicht nur Österreich, sondern auch Deutschland und Frankreich, sind längst zu klein geworden, um erstens mit der überfälligen Regulierung der Finanzmärkte voranzugehen und zweitens auf die Gestaltung der internationalen Ordnung und die Lösung der drängendsten Probleme noch Einfluss zu nehmen.

Wollen die europäischen Bürger wirklich Suizid begehen? Der nationalstaatliche Rahmen reicht nicht einmal mehr aus, um den kulturellen Reichtum und die sozialstaatliche Substanz ihrer Lebensform ins Museum zu stellen, geschweige denn am Leben zu erhalten.

[Above all, the narrow economic focus must be broadened and the political dimension of this great historical project must be brought into the public shaping of opinion. Our national states, not only Austria but also Germany and France, have since a long time become too small, first of all, to handle the overdue regulations of the financial markets and, second, to still have influence on the shaping of the international order and the solution of the most pressing problems.

Do the citizens of Europe really want to commit suicide? The national-state frameworks no longer suffice to install the cultural richness and the social-state substance of our form of life in the museum, not to speak of keeping them alive.]
Habermas sees the current neoliberal version of the EU as threatening to make the national democracies degernate into "façade democracies." He says that he would particularly address that question to French President François Hollande.

Speaking of the Merkel-loyal Socialist President of France, it's ridiculous for him to pretend he's addressing the need for growth and jobs while toadying to Angela "Frau Fritz" Merkel right down the line, even to the point of discouraging criticism of her! (Hollande findet Kritik an Merkel "ungeschickt" Der Standard 03.05.2012). The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month (David Gauthier-Villars and Gabrielle Parussini, French Leader François Hollande's Woes Fan European Fears 05/03/2013):

Mr. Hollande's ruling Socialist Party is in revolt. Party heavyweights are urging him to turn up the heat on Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and defy her prescription of austerity for resolving the euro-zone crisis. The French press last week splashed a Socialist Party draft paper that described Ms. Merkel as "selfish." ...

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Hollande said he has "passed on messages to reassure Ms. Merkel" that he "firmly believes in Franco-German friendship." But he also signaled that he needs her to meet him halfway on key policies such as creating a "banking union" that would use Europe's collective financial muscle to help weaker countries fix their banks.

"The risk is that Germany may want to wait until after its [September] elections to move ahead on the banking union," Mr. Hollande said. Germany has indicated it opposes some key aspects of banking union for now.

Ms. Merkel, for her part, is worried that Paris is moving too slowly to repair its economy and could face deepening economic trouble, people familiar with her thinking say.
In the neoliberal discourse that current dominates in European affairs, words like "reform" and "repairs" are synonyms for cutting wages and salaries, weakening unions, deregulation, privatization, weakening unions, and rolling back public services.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International is warning of that minimal social standards of housing, food and healthcare are in danger in some EU countries, Greece in particular. "The European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize but was unable to guarantee basic shelter and security for refugees in all its member states, nor equal rights for its six million Roma citizens," says AI in their Annual Report 2013: Europe and Central Asia:

Asylum-seekers in Greece continued to face severe obstacles in applying for asylum and increasingly risked detention in inhuman conditions – or violence at the hands of xenophobic vigilante groups.

Hungary allowed uniformed far-right groups to march through Roma neighbourhoods, chanting racist abuse and throwing rocks at the inhabitants. Across the region, Roma continued to face harassment and discrimination.
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