Can Europe Make It?

Euro elections 2014: You Tell Us (31/01/14) Part One

Young bloggers from across the EU tell us what's on their minds - policing terrorism, extreme inequality, war-mongering for democracy, and which is worse for Europe, fiscal prudence or the euro? Leading theme of the week: events in Ukraine.

Alex Sakalis
31 January 2014
  • I'm a 'war generation kid' who would like to know how a united Europe should act and behave towards its citizens
  • Let's row in the same direction
  • Working to save the euro brings Europe to its knees
  • After twenty centuries of wars caused by European nations, shouldn't they know better?
  • There is something very protestant and self-flagellating about this strange obsession with fiscal prudence in Europe
  • Public safety is a non-negotiable value, alongside the protection of health and human rights
  • I'm a 'war generation kid' who would like to know how a united Europe should act and behave towards its citizens

    by Marko Boko

    My name is Marko and I am a 23 year old political science student, born on the third largest island in Croatia, Brač, where I lived until I turned 19. I come from a large family and I have two more sisters and brothers, but my family moved from the island to the mainland next to city of Split when I started my studies in Zagreb back in 2009.

    Political science was the first and only choice for me as I have considered myself 'political' since primary school. I still see politics and the game of ideologies in everything surrounding me, especially as I am a ''war generation kid'' and unfortunately, this war discourse is still deeply inoculated through every pore of Croatian society. But, besides being deeply interested in national and Balkans everyday political/cultural life, I am also pretty committed to Europe, not just the matter of sticking to the EU, but rather - Europe as a political, cultural and economic space.

    When I started my studies in Zagreb I became active in student/citizens initiatives working on social and worker rights, responsible behaviour towards our commons, defense of public interest etc. However, youth work, youth rights and youth policy are my biggest interest and passion and this is where the European level of things most effects the work of me and my colleagues. This is a perfect opportunity to meet many young Europeans and shape up the vision about the Europe I would like to see and live in one day.

    I consider myself as a European, therefore pro-European (or pro-EUropean) when it comes to EU politics and policy, but definitely not an EU cheerleader, blind to what is happening. I still believe in the European idea, but what I see today is not the Europe that was dreamed of 70 years ago. Nowadays, Europe propounds values of social responsibility, solidarity among its citizens, rule of law and human rights, but on the other hand with its wrong moves, ideas and ignorance it boosts extreme right wing movements and political parties, which strongly oppose and obstruct the development of a united basis for a solidaristic Europe. These negative trends have inspired me to work on our common Europe, starting from the local and national level and trying to merge it succesfully with the European one, as the principle of subsidiarity should be a core tool of all initiatives.

    You probably guess that I voted ''Yes'' on the referendum on Croatia's accession to the EU. There are a myriad of questions regarding whether or not Croatia's accession was made at the right moment. Has anything really changed for the better since the July 1st 2013?

    Still I cannot see Croatia working hard (or at all) on EU affairs, therefore I still do not expect anything spectacular to happen overnight. It is up to every European citizen to work on the creation of the environment we would like to live in, but that is the point where it comes to the clash with completely different interests and ignorance of those with the real power (without underestimating citizens power) and using it to promote extreme austerity measures, inequality, social exclusion and other negative trends. It is not all about ignorance, of course, it is also about the lack of knowledge and understanding of how a united Europe should act and how behave towards its citizens.

    Therefore, supporting the European idea does not necessarily mean supporting the existing political and economic establishment, but supporting the core values Europe was built on. On the other hand, it is absolutelly legitimate for everyone to propose their own vision of Europe in the European democratic arena. I am sure that I will keep working on the one that is based on trust, solidarity, social responsibility and unity, which will hopefully become strong enough and able to hear out many voices equally and create a common interest out of them.

    Let's row in the same direction

    by Jacopo Barbati

    Hi everybody!

    My name is Jacopo Barbati, and I’m a 25-year old student from Italy, born and raised in Montesilvano, a mid-sized (55,000 inhabitants) city by the Adriatic sea in the Abruzzo region in the middle of Italy.

    I recently came back here after 5 years spent in Bologna, where I studied at the local university, getting a Bachelor of Science in Astrophysics (I’ve nearly completed a Master of Science in Geophysics), after having interrupted my Political Sciences studies. So I’m into technical and scientific education, but I’ve not abandoned my interest in the etymological ancient Greek meaning of “affairs of the cities” – that is, in politics: I think that it is a citizens’ duty to be interested in the dynamics of the management of the world we all live in.

    I’ve never been enrolled in a political party, but am an active member of the Young European Federalists (JEF-Europe) since 2007: I believe that Europe can make it only by becoming a federation, the United States of Europe.

    My commitment in JEF-Europe led to my offering some articles to its webzine, thenewfederalist.eu (for its Italian version, mainly, eurobull.it), giving me the opportunity to be become a bit of a “journalist” (even if this is not the most appropriate definition), a profession that I think highly important nowadays, as information is in general.

    Hitherto, I have worked in library and museum management (in Italy and in Austria) and, have developed a keen interest in languages: beside Italian and English, I’ve studied French, German, Arabic, Finnish, Hungarian and Serbian (plus a minimal knowledge of Bulgarian and Latvian).

    Being from Abruzzo, the “Greenest Region of Europe”, I like to think I have an innate sensitivity towards environmental and sustainable development issues and also about the problems of transport and of knowledge exchange: my region is quite isolated from the rest of Europe (even if the Balkans are just 200 km away) and it was only thanks to my personal motivation that I was able to find out more about our beautiful Europe and its cultures and languages, all the things in short that have contributed to making me feel like a real European citizen.

    For all these reasons, I’d would like to see the next European Parliament able, first of all, to give the final boost towards the creation of a European federation, respecting the principle of subsidiarity and all the wonderful diversity that characterises the people who live in our beloved continent, in order to make Europe one of the strongest political interlocutors in the world, able to speak with only one voice equally with the USA, China, Russia, India; able to guarantee high social security standards for all of its citizens; able to be a solid and credible financial actor on the world stage; able to become the most attractive magnet for researchers, putting R&D at the base of the development of a future of wellbeing for all its citizens.

    This process of political union cannot forget a process of creation of a European citizenship, if Europe is to be accepted: nobody, within the EU, should feel “abroad” or a “foreigner”. This can be obtained only by promoting connections between the peripheral parts of the Union and its people, alongside promoting mutual understanding and knowledge.

    We all are in the same boat, and if we all row in the same direction it will not sink.

    Working to save the euro brings Europe to its knees

    by Karl Littlejohn

    The recent citizenship scheme proposed by the Maltese government managed to reach one of the debates in the European parliament earlier this month. I must confess that I do not agree with the proposed scheme, since to me, naturalization should be stricter and given more value rather than simply being a mercantile or financial consideration.

    An agreement between the Maltese government and the EU commission has only just now been reached. However, I cannot help but be dismayed by how things were initially handled in the European parliament and the clear vote against Malta’s scheme. I find it hard to digest that such a scheme was in any way in breach of EU values. I honestly ask, what values? Following European policy in the last few years, it can be concluded that these values are quite bizarre.

    Are these European values, the same values that were adopted in the referendum for the Lisbon treaty in Ireland? The story goes that when the Irish said a clear ‘No’ for the Lisbon treaty ratification, someone from the EU administration suggested that the vote should be re-taken, as the Irish made a ‘mistake.’ Eventually, a second referendum was held and the Irish voters now said ‘Yes’. This time they were not ‘mistaken'.

    Or, are these ‘European values’ related to imposing unelected prime ministers to save the euro currency, just like what happened in Greece and Italy some years ago? These events were an indirect way of saying ‘We want the bankers to be saved at the expense of European peoples’ sacrifices.’

    The Euro currency was originally set up to make European countries collaborate and work together for one European market. This concept today is totally reversed. From my viewpoint, working to save the Euro currency is linked to bringing Europe further to its knees. The Euro currency was introduced with haste without making the accurate plans for its functionality. At present, the solution could be more drastic measures, and more powers taken away from the people. I find it no surprise that radicalism is gaining ground in nationwide elections. It’s not something to celebrate, but at least I understand what the people are trying to tell to the current political class.

    The European parliament, and now the EU commission were quick to discuss, take votes and seek legal advice on Malta’s passport scheme. If they had been so quick, let’s say, on an efficient immigration policy, the mass immigration debate would have been extinguished in Europe. But of course actions and deeds on such a policy are not an emergency for most of the appointed elites in Brussels.

    EU officials are now putting bad priorities in place instead of the real genuine ones. It is not about saving the economy anymore, but about saving the non- elected factions. I may sound harsh, but this is not the Europe I want. This is why in my first article I wrote, that everything stems from collective consciousness of our people. Our people must realize what is really happening.

    Yes, I am in for a united regional Europe. Yes, I want a Europe build on cooperation, a Europe of values, peace and freedom. But I am not in for a Europe that separates its own people. Nor do I want a Europe for the very few under the hallmark of ‘Europe’s rescue team for federalism’.

    Real solidarity does not work in this way. Solidarity is all about discussing and doing the best for your community and not imposing in a really unfair and rude manner. Let’s admit that reaching a European ideal, without being conscious of what European-ness is all about, can be really damaging indeed, as we are all experiencing.

    After twenty centuries of war caused by European nations, shouldn't they know better?

    by Christoph Heuermann

    An oft-deployed argument in favour of further centralization and integration of Europe is based on international relations. Only Europe as a whole can compete with Great Powers like the USA, Russia or China. If not speaking and fighting with one voice, it even threatens to pale in comparison to emerging countries like Brazil or India. For this reason, Europe needs an army and to follow a Common Foreign and Security Policy.

    However, is this true? For sure, France, Great Britain or Germany alone cannot compete any more with their military, let alone other European countries. Nevertheless, there always has been the possibility of alliances. With the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, most European countries are militarily united in a highly successful way. People arguing against the dependency on the US should not forget history. Although European countries certainly have their own, sometimes different interests, the US has proven, and will further prove, a valuable partner, regardless of minor differences.

    Countries however, are free to choose with whom they ally themselves. In this period of peace in the western world, military issues should not play a big role. Economic interdependece, through things like free trade agreements, will secure peace much more efficiently than a spiral of armament. Europe's troops are its merchants, not its soldiers.

    With regards to a Common Foreign and Security Policy, this only makes sense if all European countries have common interests. This is not the case for historic and cultural reasons. Countries with former colonies will always have different interests than countries with none. France, for example, still conceives itself as the protecting power for Mali, because French companies exploit resources there. In contrast, Germany or a lot of small European countries have no connection at all to this country, but even now get roped into it more and more. Although one might not forget the terrible humanitarian situation in this country plagued by civil war, France's onesided interventions create - like every intervention does - more problems than it solves.

    Regarding Europe, as a Great Power in military issues, it would have to intervene in other countries to embrace its role. Does the world really need another policeman fighting for democracy, civil rights and freedom? Especially considering Europe's own deficits in this regard. The answer is negative. The military budget of a common army already devours enormous amounts of money. Humanitarian interventions, regardless of their purpose, will cost much much more. Not to forget the higher cost for any 'European' army members involved in these interventions.

    Furthermore, a Common Foreign and Security Policy would shift further competences into the European decision-making arena. National parliaments probably would be disentitled from deciding their own foreign policy. Although democratic decisions are far from perfect in national parliaments, they are probably still better settled there than by European technocrats. Even if the European Parliament does decide these issues, there will still be problems. Due to diverging interests, a consensus will be highly implausible. Is a majority decision then justified to legislate about the fate of a people? What about the minority countries – will they support the decision in action?

    This, last but not least, is a practical reason. Can you build a highly efficient army lacking a common language, culture and mentality? Even though diversity is usually a benefit, this mix might be controversial.

    In conclusion, a Common Foreign and Security Policy for Europe has its problems. The fantasies of being a new Great Power, on a level with the US and China, could cause much evil. Europe's destiny should rather lie with peace than war. Economic interdependence and decentralized alliances will serve peace far better than playing world policeman. After twenty centuries of war caused by European nations, they should know better by now.

    There is something very protestant and self-flagellating about this strange obsession with fiscal prudence in Europe

    by Marcus How

    The big news in the Eurozone in the past two weeks has been Francois Hollande’s announcement that the French government will cut spending by €50bn between 2015 and 2017. The tasty carrot in exchange for the stick will be cuts to taxes worth €30bn. So far, the only concrete measure to have fallen out of this is the abolition of the requirement that businesses finance family welfare. Elsewhere, individuals are supposed to benefit but no specific measures have been outlined – yet.

    This ‘shift to the right’ has been greeted with warm applause in Germany and by the commentariat. Hollande has realised that he doesn’t need to increase taxes to make an omelette. It could mark the beginning of the French giving up their pre-noon red wine and dragging themselves from the sandpit of failing competitiveness and inevitable decline.

    There’s nothing wrong with fiscal consolidation and tax cuts in themselves. The efficient management of resources is surely paramount to societal cohesion in the long-term. No doubt, there is low-hanging fruit to be pruned in France.

    My 21-year-old self – fresh from university, unemployed, middle class – head brimming with Marxist (or Marxian, as I'd rather have it) ideas would have sneezed at such a statement. But I am no walking editorial personification ofThe Economist or The Socialist Worker. My philosophical orientation is to the left, but in practice I accept there is a time and a place for everything: no measure that could create sustainable economic growth should be off the table. I am a cantankerous man persuaded by evidence rather than vision. Dogmatism irritates me, regardless of its origins on the political spectrum. 

    Which is why the reaction to Hollande’s U-turn is bullshit. There is something very protestant and self-flagellating about this strange obsession with fiscal prudence in Europe. Why should France cut back? Granted, its economy is unwieldy and there are plenty of areas in which taxes could be simplified and unnecessary regulations abolished. It is probably in long-term decline compared to emerging economies far away. The power shifts prompted by globalisation are proving to be costly for the old industrial powerhouses. It is an economy that is static and top heavy, dominated by large corporates. 

    But look at the fiscal position of France. There is hardly cause for worry; in fact, given that debt figures are projected to fall on the back of the original, ‘complacent’ policy, it is probably sound. The budget deficit for 2013 was 4.1% of GDP, slightly higher than expected. The Eurozone average is 3.7%. Its current account deficit is 2.2%, against a Eurozone average of 0.9%. The public debt is 90% of GDP; the Eurozone average is 72.7%[i].

    Based on these comparatively excessive but economically sustainable figures, efforts at fiscal consolidation in France (as they are elsewhere in many cases) are little different to a child cutting its own hair, clutching the sheared strands, and staring up at its parents with an expectant delirium that anticipates approval. Except in this case the parents don’t respond with horror. They pat the child on the head and send it on its way, before doing more of the same themselves.

    I repeat: I do not have an inherent problem with reforms tagged as ‘neoliberal’ if they work. The left has done little other than to offer eloquent critiques of current macroeconomic policy in the Eurozone; solutions have been few and far between. Vague talk about the evils of austerity and the merits of renationalisation aren’t persuasive economic arguments. But then neither is the argument that freeing up the economy for the private sector is somehow going to create more supply, which, ergo, will create more demand. So deregulate! Remove those obstacles to supply, there’s a good soldier. Surely, in this day and age, Say’s law is about as convincing as the existence of Santa?

    Can anyone cite cases where pursuit of Say’s law has had measurable benefits? Note: reference to the 1980s is not acceptable. Falling inflation and increasing GDP are not sufficient in themselves.


    [i] These figures are approximations based on CIA and IMF data aggregated at the end of 2012. In many cases, deficits have fallen whilst debt levels have increased (e,g, Spain). Latvia has been excluded from the Eurozone averages since it only adopted the single currency in 2014. 

    Public safety is a non-negotiable value, alongside the protection of health and human rights

    by Ioanna Karamitrousi

    In recent days, the issue of terrorism has hit the headlines again in Greece. Specifically, a member of one of the biggest terrorist organizations in Greece escaped from prison. As a result, the police departments around Greece rushed to present him as a threat to public safety. Terrorism is a very apropos term, given the fact that we live in difficult socio-economic conditions. But let’s define what terrorism means and what purposes it serves, after which we can analyze how it could be treated.

    Terrorism remains a meaningful and multi-faceted phenomenon which unfortunately fulfils the need for a certain fantasy - that of polemic war heroes toppling the established order - explaining some of the empathy for these movements. But the agreement on the need for a definition is not matched by an agreement on what its content should be. Without such an agreement, terrorism will be a feature of daily legal dispute, a phenomenon which is denounced as shameful and reprehensive by all but understood by none.

    According to historical data, there are numerous cases of terrorist acts occurring due to international disputes and conflicts between states. The victims are often innocent people. The events of 7 July 2005, when twenty four men and twenty eight women were so tragically murdered on the trains and buses of London are one example. In recent years Al-Qaida and the groups that they have inspired have attacked over twenty five countries and killed thousands of people, many of them being Muslims.

    Each one of these cases raises the hard questions a vigilant government and a vigilant country have to answer: what more we can do nationally and internationally to protect our national security? What more we can do to isolate terrorist extremists from the moderate mainstream? What more we can do to defeat terrorist violence in all its manifestations?

    The foremost and most important step in this direction is the modernization of police investigations with the protection of human rights at the same time. It’s time for Greece and for the other member-states of the European Union to assume their responsibilities and protect public safety, which is a non-negotiable value. Health, public safety and the protection of human rights are fundamental elements of democracy in contemporary reality. Therefore, the prevention of such crimes is extremely important. Let’s hope for a promising and secure future in all corners of the world.

    Expose the ‘dark money’ bankrolling our politics

    US Christian ‘fundamentalists’, some linked to Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, have poured at least $50m of ‘dark money’ into Europe over the past decade – boosting the far right.

    That's just the tip of the iceberg: we've got many more leads to chase down. Find out more and support our work here.

    Get weekly updates on Europe A thoughtful weekly email of economic, political, social and cultural developments from the storm-tossed continent. Join the conversation: get our weekly email

    Comments

    We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
    Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram