Thursday, June 05, 2014

The EU crisis as seen through American conventional wisdom

Bloomberg Businessweek's editorial Why Euroskeptics Have It Wrong 05/29/2014 is pretty superficial in its view of the European project, i.e., the European Union.

"Euroskeptic" is a label that has been widely used to describe nationalistic, rightwing parties like France's National Front and Britain's UK Independence Party (UKIP). In Establishment usage, it has a disapproving implication - with good reason.

But it's not really possible to understand the real political options in the EU without distinguishing between three different position: pro-Europe/austerity (conservatives, social-democrats, liberals), pro-Europe/anti-austerity (the left parties like Greece's SYRIZA) and anti-Europe nationalist parties. "Europe" in that context means the EU.

American reporters with few exceptions are only vaguely aware of what the EU is, what its purposes are, how it functions or what is causing the euro crisis. They understand nationalism. And they understand the neoliberal holy concept of Free Trade. (Well, kinda)

So combine that with what are hard to avoid noticing as at least potentially important, potentially disturbing developments from last week's EU elections, and you get something like this editorial:

The European project, which stitched together a group of nations with no shared language, varying temperaments, and a catalog of historical enmities, has always been more idealistic than practical. It's not surprising that the appetite of the 500 million citizens of the EU for further concentration of power could waver. Advocates need to make the case for how the union will create jobs and prosperity, rather than rules and institutions. So far, that’s missing from the debate.
In American conventional wisdom, this sounds like matter-of-fact description. The assumption here seems to be that since the EU incorporates neoliberal Fair Trade, it has to "create jobs and prosperity." So better PR by the pro-European parties is the order of the day. Also, bitching and moaning about gubment regulations is standard for American conservatives, so it seems logical that such must be a major concern for so-called Eurospketic voters.

The one issue that best explains the elections’ results is immigration. [Anti-Europe rightwing nationalist] Candidates such as Nigel Farage in the U.K. and Marine Le Pen in France won in large part by stoking fear and resentment of immigrants. If the EU is to confront these newly empowered skeptics, it must deal with the issue head-on. Free movement of labor across borders, like the free movement of goods and services, is an economic benefit not only to the EU but to member countries as well.
We see no clue here that xenophobia is rising a specific context of economic distress.

Speaking of which, it's hard to believe the following was not phrased to prettify the reality: "almost 12 percent of the euro region remains without a job." And the average of my financial wealth and that of Bill Gates is in the tens of billions of dollars.

The average unemployment in the eurozone as a whole doesn't tell the whole story, although politicians and economists should consider a 12% unemployment rate as a hair-on-fire emergency to be dealt with through substantial economic stimulus. But the rates in the hardest-hit countries like Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain have been running much higher. Greece's GDP is current around 35% lower than it was in 2009. In those countries, general unemployment is scandalous and youth unemployment is ruinous on a major scale.

Again, sticking to conventional wisdom commonplaces doesn't give American readers much insight into the realities of EU politics and the eurozone crisis.

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