Sunday, December 27, 2015

Long-festering problems in the EU

The unsolved major problems of the EU and the eurozone continue to snowball in a way that makes the survival of the former and even more so of the latter more problematic all the time. Cooperation within the EU has broken down over the refugee problem and the influx of refugees is providing a newly growing target for far-right parties. Germany has joined its very junior EU/eurozone partner France in participating directly in the Syrian civil war, the prolongation of which will worsen the refugee problem. France may use its war costs to demand loosening of its requirements under the stone-conservative Fiscal (Suicide) Pact of 2012, which could lead to further conflict with Merkel and the stone-conservative Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning economic policies to which she is committed. Not to mention the incredibly complex and risky politics of the Syrian civil war itself.

The devastating extent of the post-2008 depression in the eurozone "peripheral" countries like Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain is largely due to the effects of the Hoover/Brüning policies Merkel imposed on them. Especially Greece. Merkel's insistence on the Hoover/Brüning policies led to various "regime change" operations in pursuit of them, including actual regime changes in Greece in 2011, Italy in 2011, even in Greece of 2015. The Merkel-bot President of Portugal in 2015 tried to block a majority left coalition from taking power after they won a majority in the elections. We'll see what happens in Spain as the new left majority there seeks to form an anti-austerity government. Such high-handed efforts to dominate and impose on other "partners" a highly destructive and massively discredited economic policy has naturally given reason for them to suspect the value of German domination of the EU and the eurozone.

Now Merkel needs other countries in the EU to support her refugee policy, which is a genuinely European problem. In particular, the Germans want Greece to do a better job in retaining refugees from outside the Schengen Area there so they won't come to Germany. But they are getting the best cooperation from their partners! Who could have foreseen such a thing?

All these problems are the culmination so far of Merkel's nationalist approach to EU affairs, by which she insisted on retaining maximum influence and advantage for Germany at the expense of the "partners." And which led to her characteristic approach to EU and eurozone problems, "extend and pretend." Postpone reaching a substantive and permanent solution to the problem, whether it is bank regulation, refugees or the unending euro crisis. Just to mention a few.

The euro crisis is still likely to be the one that provokes formal splits. Wolfgang Münchau continues in his weekly columns to point out the various reasons for his. (Daran wird der Euro zerbrechen Spiegel Online 25.12.2015

But it can't be seen in isolation to the other problems. The crass xenophobia against Greece and other "periphery" countries encouraged and in a real way propagated by the German government, including Merkel's junior coalition partner the SPD, was picked up not just by the Stammtisch (good ole boy opinion) but by both the boulevard and the "quality" press. The Austrian government was as extreme in promoting nationalist hostility as Merkel's has been. But a very similar process took place in Austria.

That nationalist sentiment carried over to the refugee crisis, which in turn reinforced it. It has led to new border controls, which partially removes one of the most concrete benefits most people have seen from the EU. Münchau puts it even more strongly: "The influx of refugees into Germany and the terrorist attacks in France have put a de facto end to Schengen. National border controls have been reinstated in many places." (Fighting Brexit with fear will backfire Financial Times 12/20/2015) Even new walls along national borders, like in the good old days of the Berlin Wall, though so far with less lethal enforcement. And the increased nationalism presents a problem for security cooperation among EU members against terrorism, while terrorist attacks increase xenophobia against immigrants, which in turn strengthen nationalism and xenophobic fear.

You're doing a heckuva job as EU leader, Angie, a heckuva job!!

Jürgen Habermas has been a sympathetic critic of the EU for a long time. In the conventional political vocabulary, "Eurocritic" has referred to supporters of the Union who argued for urgent reforms to integrate the members countries more; "Euroskeptic" has referred to usually nationalist/rightwing opponents of EU membership. After Germany's handling of the Greek negotiations in 2015, it is clear that as long as Merkel remains in powers and/or her austerity doctrine in force, any country seeking to put an end to austerity for themselves will need to be prepared to leave the eurozone if they don't get agreement. Because without a thoroughly credible threat to exit, they have to expect to be crushed like Greece was.

A 2006 article by Habermas, "Die Bewährung Europas" Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 12/2006, serves to illustrate the long-standing and chronic nature of the EU's current problems. The euro crisis hadn't yet broken out, and it is not on Habermas' 2006 list. A number of economists had warned that the construction of the eurozone was flawed from the start in a way that made it particularly unsuited to deal with a depression crisis like the one that struck in 2008. But Habermas pointed to real problems that today are intertwining with the euro crisis. In a perceptive observation, he described there nine years ago how neoliberal economic assumptions were already promoting a nationalism among EU nations that has now become toxic to the point of threatening the entire "European project," as it is called:

Die Rückwendung zum Nationalstaat hat in vielen Ländern eine introvertierte Stimmung gefördert: Das Europa-Thema ist entwertet, man beschäftigt sich lieber mit der nationalen Agenda. Bei uns umarmen sich in den Talkshows Großväter und Enkel in der Rührung über den neuen Wohlfühlpatriotismus. Die Gewissheit heiler nationaler Wurzeln soll eine wohlfahrtsstaatlich verweichlichte Bevölkerung für den globalen Wettkampf „zukunftsfähig“ machen. Diese Rhetorik passt zum gegenwärtigen Zustand einer sozialdarwinistisch enthemmten Weltpolitik.

[The return to the national state has promoted an introverted mood in many countries: The theme of Europe is devalued. One prefers to concerns themselves with the national agenda. With us [Germans], grandfathers and grandsons hug each other with emotion over the new feel-good patriotism. The certainly of healthy {heiler} national roots is expected to make an welfare-state-produced effeminate population "ready for the future" of the global competition. This rhetoric belongs to the present situation of an unleashed Social Darwinist world politics.]
Habermas nine years ago pointed to the following visible, major problems in the construction of the European Union:

  1. The "democratic deficit," the phrase Habermas uses here. More and more decisions were being take at the EU level that were obligatory on the members without the same kind of meaningful electoral input the citizens have at the national level being in effect at the EU level.
  2. The failure to achieve a cohesive foreign policy. Only a united Europe could successfully lead the pressure on the United States for "die Fortentwicklung des klassischen Völkerrechts zu einer politisch verfassten Weltgesellschaft" ("further development of the classical international law to a politically secured world community.")
  3. The ongoing "Unterminierung menschenwürdiger sozialer Standards" ("undermining of humane social standards.")
  4. The culturally fundamentalist divisions within Europe and within EU members states. This is a reminder that integration of national, ethnic and religious minorities as well as the handling of new immigrants certainly didn't first become evident in 2015: "Es geht darum, die Angehörigen fremder Kulturen und fremder Religionsgemeinschaften gleichzeitig in ihrem Anderssein zu respektieren und in die staatsbürgerliche Solidarität einzubeziehen." ("It has to do with respecting the members of unfamiliar cultures and unfamiliar religious communities in their difference and bring them into the solidarity of citizens.") And he makes the important point that the success of social integration of minorities within member countries also contributes to the success of international integration within the EU.
  5. Habermas doesn't make the following a separate point, though in my mind it needs to rank with the others as (5): "Wir sollten George W. Bush nicht auch noch in der Militarisierung des westlichen Geistes folgen." ("We [Europeans] should also not follow George W. Bush in the militarizing of the Western spirit.")

Habermas' comment on the intersection of the second and third problems is revealing:

"Erst eine Europäische Union, die außenpolitisch handlungsfähig würde, könnte auf den Kurs der Weltwirtschaftspolitik Einfluss nehmen. Sie könnte die globale Umweltpolitik vorantreiben und erste Schritte auf dem Wege zu einer Weltinnenpolitik machen. Damit könnte sie anderen Kontinenten für den Zusammenschluss von Nationalstaaten zu supranationalen Mächten ein Beispiel geben. Denn ohne Global Players dieser neuen Art kann ein Gleichgewicht zwischen Subjekten eines gerechteren Weltwirtschaftsregimes nicht entstehen."

Here the failure of the one-time center left parties, the Social Democrats, is a central component of this interweaving of problems. With reference to Germany, Albert Scharenberg wrote in 2007 ("Dem Morgenrot entgegen?" Blätter 5/2007):

Die regierende Sozialdemokratie brachte durch ihre den Sozialstaat deformierenden „Reformen“, insbesondere durch Hartz IV, ihre ureigenste Klientel gegen sich auf – Gewerkschafter und Arbeitslose.

[The ruling Social Democracy through their "reforms" that deformed the welfare state, especially with Hartz IV {that allowed for lower-paid and less secure jobs than before in Germany}, turned their most basic supporters against them - unions and the unemployed.]
This is not just true of the German SPD, but also of the social democrats in France and other countries, including Spain. The latter party, the PSOE, has the chance to form a government in Spain after this month's elections. But their ability to do so and their ability to successful press an anti-austerity program in office has been significantly compromised by their previous embrace of Merkelnomics. (Antoio Avendaño, Un muerto viviente llamado Pedro Sánchez 27.12.2015)

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