From European crisis to European democracy

European politicians are seeking to follow the moods of the public rather than to shape them. Europeans do not want Europe to fail, but Europe cannot rest solely on the actions of the German Chancellor, the French President, or the President of the European Central Bank.

Following the eurozone crisis on twitter is depressing. Journalists and market analysts take you on their rollercoaster ride, which has few peaks and many plunges. Any news is an opportunity to predict the worst case scenario: from #grexit (Greece’s exit from the euro) to #eurogeddon (you can guess that one). Journalists report the story making sure the full flavour of catastrophe gets to your stomach. They write compelling stories, but too often they mistake likelihood for inevitability. Nothing is inevitable because there are many players and quickly changing conditions. Inevitability speaks of ‘destiny’, not of people, but it is people who act. The solution is within reach, but requires action.

The solution to the crisis is more Europe, not less. Even David Cameron acknowledged this. No doubt this creates a dilemma for British eurosceptics: if Europe fails, the UK will suffer an enormous economic depression; if Europe succeeds, the UK will need to make a decision whether to be in or out of the euro. If the UK chooses to stay outside, it will lose influence and will be affected by decisions taken elsewhere. However, the main political parties have been carefully avoiding any debate on Europe. After all, politicians struggle to see beyond their constituency’s borders, never mind seeing beyond national borders. It is comforting to treat Europe as ‘foreign’ and blame the euro for the eurozone crisis. However, the crisis, set in motion by the banking meltdown in the US, has merely uncovered the weaknesses of the banking sector, the lack of dynamic work environment and the abyss of government deficits across Europe.

The recession, or depression, brought unemployment and cuts to services opening the door to a resurgence of petty nationalism. “Why should we pay for the Greeks?” thunder newspapers. They fiddled the figures, mismanaged European funds, and spent way beyond their means. Are they deserving of a bailout? The technicalities of how the system of cheap credit worked and how ‘strong economies’ effectively exploited ‘weak economies’ by acting as a closed economy within a common currency don’t impress anyone. ‘Simple’ truths of ‘strong’ and ‘weak’, ‘sinful profligacy’ and ‘fiscal probity’, or of ‘culturally/technologically advanced’ and ‘cultural/economic backwardness’ are easier to understand.

A recent BBC documentary by Michael Portillo, former Conservative Minister and diehard eurosceptic, framed the eurozone crisis in such terms. He focused on Germany and Greece and argued that a common currency could not work with partners so diverse economically and culturally. Time and time again, he asked people whether they wanted to keep the euro or return to their old currency. All interviewees chose the euro. Portillo failed to hear what people were saying. One German interviewee spoke against further bailouts to Greece, but he expressly said that he was against unless Greece made changes. German interviewees were not opposed to bailout as long as Greece implemented reforms; the Greeks were not blaming Germany, but their own politicians.

Politicians across Europe have so far failed to communicate a vision for Europe. They have sought to follow the moods of the public rather than to shape them. Europeans do not want Europe to fail, but Europe cannot rest solely on the actions of the German Chancellor, the French President, or the President of the European Central Bank. The eurozone alone counts 17 governments. It is for European citizens to take responsibility of European democracy. When the UN Agenda 21 for sustainable development was launched, many groups were organized at the local as well as international level to find practical ways to live with respect for our natural environment. It is in those groups, those relationships, that we can practice democracy.

Democracy is more than a constitution, more than a carefully designed parliamentary system, more than elections. Democracy is the day to day work of living in communities, through family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, of discussing but also of taking responsibility for our communities. Living democratically requires from us commitment and the openness to learn that things are more complex than what they seem, that we need to compromise between different interests and ideas, and that decisions affect people differently. It calls us to create a common future. It is incumbent on us all to work towards a Europe that reflects our visions. The time has come for a European Agenda to build the Europe of the future.

About the author

Francesca E.S. Montemaggi has been working in politics and public affairs in the UK and Europe. She holds a PhD in sociology of religion from Cardiff University. She tweets @FESMontemaggi.