Can Europe Make It?

Seasons Greetings from Can Europe Make it?

Alex Sakalis
4 January 2015

It's been quite a year for Europe.

As well as the continuing drama in Ukraine and the tragedy of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean, we've had two independence referenda (or one referendum and one consultation if you prefer), radical left parties topping the polls in Greece and Spain (and a radical right one topping the poll in France). We've had huge protests over water in Ireland, over mining in Romania, and over everything in Bulgaria, UKIP entering the Houses of Commons and making Brexit more and more of an issue, and, oh, Jean-Claude Juncker apparently fixed up some tax avoidance schemes for Amazon and Google in Luxembourg.

Not since those dreamlike days in 1989 has it been so exciting to be alive and be European. Here at Can Europe Make it? we have been proudly covering these events, publishing more articles and continuing to expand our readership as we provide a platform for the discussion, debate and dissemination of our perseverant continent.

Our editors past and present, as well as our young Euro bloggers, offer their highlights from this year.

Rosemary Bechler is the Editor of openDemocracy. She lives in London, UK:

There is a lovely story told by Stafford Beer in his Fanfare for effective freedom (1973), about the extraordinary days he had just spent in Salvador Allende’s Chile, incorporating his revolutionary theory of cybernetics into the newly nationalized sector of Chile’s economy. One of his main objectives was to devolve decision-making power within industrial enterprises to the workforce, to develop the self-regulation of factories. As Beer says himself, “if participation has any meaning, no one must be disbarred because of an inadequate grasp of jargon, of figure-work, of high-level rituals.” This included working people, and it also included President Allende himself, for whom Stafford set out to expound the cybernetic model of a viable system for the first time on a piece of paper lying on the table between them:


“I drew for him the entire apparatus of interlocking homeostats in terms of a neurophysiological version of the model - since he is by profession a medical man. It consists of a five-tier hierarchy of systems. I worked up through the first, second, third and fourth levels. When I got to the fifth I drew an histrionic breath - all ready to say “And this, companero presidente, is you”. He forestalled me. “Ah” he said with a broad smile as I drew the topmost box: “at last - the people”.

I am frequently reminded of this story, and was reminded of it again when I was reading and wondering about what I found missing from Paolo Gerbaudo’s vivid account of how people all over Europe who had frustratedly given up on their respective political classes were once again beginning to discover the use value of leaders. Gerbaudo cites Tsipras, Iglesias and even Russell Brand as evidence and argues:


In chanting slogans such as  - “they do not represent us” - protestors were not subscribing to the ultra-leftist belief that representative democracy is inherently evil. Rather, they were asserting that the present system of representation, the one that was available at the time, was not representative of popular demands."

But is it just a change of leadership that Europeans require? I can see many reasons why the old type of representation doesn’t work: they don’t represent us; they often represent something else that has less and less to offer us; ‘we’ don’t come neatly packaged any more, so being ‘represented’ once every four years in such diverse societies doesn’t do much for anybody. Moreover, I suspect quite a lot of us think we could do a better job at self-determination than they are doing on our behalf. We are beginning to sense that no mode of representation is going to work without people being differently organised for change in our societies. Isn’t it ‘the people’, once again, that are somehow being left out of his account?  


Of course, one can’t take this for granted. You only have to look at Tamas Dezso Ziegler’s comprehensive overview of a society where an autocratic regime has been unstinting in its introduction of anti-democratic measures with the support of over 70% of Hungary’s suffering citizens, to realise that there are many more Europeans who devoutly hope that this is not the case and that a strong leader will do it for them, precisely on their behalf. Their entirely passive pact with the devil is the ultimate if you like in specious ‘representation’. And will surely be betrayed like all false hopes.


Nevertheless, this year I think it is true that more and more of us are becoming interested in what happens when our political leaders have to listen to people who are willing to do something different at last. And for that reason, I must pick Patrice de Beer’s elegant and unflinching account of the predicament of those who preside over the clash of the two nationalisms of Spain and Catalonia, as my favourite CEMI read in 2014.

Alex Sakalis is Associate Editor of openDemocracy and edits the Can Europe Make it? section. He lives in London, UK:

In the midst of the ongoing austerity crisis and the radical polarisation of politics in Europe, it's easy to forget that there were two independence referenda inside EU states this year (or one referendum and one consultation if you prefer). 

The concept of independence and autonomy movements occurring in the supposedly post-nation-state European Union seemed unthinkable only a few years ago, but has now become another reality in Europe's ever changing socio-political landscape.

Ranging from the cutesy (South Tyrol) to the ferocious (eastern Ukraine), each movement has its own reasons for wishing to secede, but they generally boil down to the dissatisfaction with the current political, economic and social climate.

This makes them a curious reaction to the economic crises and austerity consensus pervading the continent. My fascination has led to me to curate a section joining the dots on independence movements in Europe. My pick for article of the year is Eve Hepburn's analysis of these movements, showing that they are not going away and may become one of the unexpectedly defining features of Europe 2015.

Fil Lekkas is a contributing editor of the Can Europe Make it? section. He currently lives in Berlin, Germany:

With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas fast approaching, its hard not to see in EU high politics echoes of the holiday dinner table's familiar squabbling and pea-not-passing. This year’s most egregious breacher of the familial peace is the UK, whose confused and haughty ramblings have alienated most of its erstwhile Continental partners.


Kristy Hughes' masterful account of Britain’s diplomatic involution takes the UK's leadership to task over its self-imposed isolation. And yet, as continental impatience with British wavering slowly ossifies into terminal doubt about the UK’s European future, it seems that this dysfunction goes deeper than one inept leader. Symptoms suggest that British europhobia is congenital, with a disdain for Europe in general and deep seated anxieties towards Germany in particular coded deep into the nation’s cultural DNA.


The scene across the channel is no less disheartening. With France paralytically transfixed on self-fulfilling prophecies of its own decline--beautifully illustrated here by longtime contributor Patrice de Beer--Germany is a hegemon bereft of partners. A hegemon--and an enigma. In this new year oD plans to turn its keen eyes on our dinner table’s discreet and austere father-figure, sharing with you clear thinking about Europe’s now-dominant power.

Tristan Sechrest is a contributing editor of the Can Europe Make it? section. He currently lives in Seattle, USA:

This year, we have spilled much ink over the political developments of Europe: the European elections in May and their aftermath, the Scottish and Catalan referenda, and the ever present worrying over populist and far right political parties.


What these all have in common, however, is their focus on liberal democratic expression. These are all stories where the central questions are ones of democratic participation, accountability, and, above all, openness. If democratic principles are held to be at the heart of the European project, as commonly agreed, these are important questions to address and to discuss.

Yet Europe also contains forces that reject these questions outright, represented most prominently by Viktor Orbán, the current President of Hungary. Rudolf Ungváry’s analysis of Hungarian politics today (published in coöperation with Eutopia magazine) is extensive, showing the silent and steady rise of what some have called an “illiberal democracy” and its main supporter. This analysis prompts us to consider the urgency of addressing democratic questions within Europe. If Europe is to stand strong against Russian aggression, prevent the disillusionment of expectant eastern partners, and craft a sustainable Atlantic relationship, it must work to buttress and refine its first principles in 2015 and beyond.


Happy Holidays from these rainy Pacific shores,



David Krivanek is a contributing editor of the Can Europe Make it? section. He currently lives in Beirut, Lebanon.

For my best read of the year, I’d like to nominate the work of our ‘You tell us’ bloggers, a young and talented ensemble cast who took us through otherwise tedious European elections. In the run-up to the vote, they offered us a glimpse of the debates – social, economic, political– the May elections campaign stirred in their corner of Europe. Their astute commentary covered a wide range of topics, from Eurosceptic populism, TTIP, European integration to the nature of European democracy. I loved exploring the 2014 intellectual map of Europe in their company.


My second highlight of the year was the ‘Europe from the ground up’ debate, in which high-profile European thinkers replied to French philosopher Etienne Balibar’s call to re-build the EU based on to the actual needs of its citizens. The debate was overall excellent, but Anya Topolski’s suggestion that we need a Europe of ideas, rather than a consensual ‘idea of Europe’ stuck with me since. She made this argument just as Eurosceptic parties triumphed in the Euro elections - while commentators were suggesting this meant the end of Europe, she, instead, argued the surge could only be beneficial to European democracy. We can surely thank these parties for finally igniting competition between visions for our shared future – or, in other words, for giving birth to the much-awaited European politics.


The idea of closer Europe is powerful, shining most when it is opposed to the alternatives, ugly and backward-looking political ideas that prey on those who feel disenfranchised. Maybe you think this is a hopelessly optimist view – but the point is that we now have a European polity to debate it. 

Ioanna Karamitrousi contributed to the Can Europe Make it? eurobloggers project. She currently lives in Thessaloniki, Greece.

If elections were held today, Podemos in Spain would get 27%. As Greek citizen, I am understandably interested in the left political movements around Europe, especially in the case of Spain, where Podemos is the brother party of the Greek Syriza.


For that reason, I think that the article Podemos: The machine is under construction by Lotta Tenhunen and Adria Rodriguez is a very informative, as it shows exactly what kind of formation the new left political party in Spain is taking.


The party, led by the academic Pablo Iglesias, has a radical left program but avoids describing itself as ‘left’ because according to it ‘left is a term that the majority of the people do not understand’. Instead, they insist on saying that Podemos is a ‘horizontal, transparent and democratic movement’.


According to the Spanish professor Luis Gathirano at the London School of Economics, Podemos is a revolutionary party with a solid leadership of smart and realist intellectuals. Podemos claims that the universal access to public services is the basis of democracy but at the same time it supports the idea that the socialist alternative for the twenty first century is not equivalent to the management of everything from the state or the public sector.


Events may soon confirm the reality. I wish a positive and auspicious 2015 throughout Europe!

Jacopo Barbati contributed to the Can Europe Make it? eurobloggers project. He currently lives in Pescara, Italy.

As a European federalist, I'll remember 2014 for a long time - the outcomes of the elections for the European Parliament, the Scottish referendum, the rise of EU-skeptics and the British debate about quitting the EU.

But, as an Italian, I'll also remember 2014 for the continuos flow of migrants from Africa and Asia to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea and the human catastrophe that has resulted, with the deaths of thousands during such travels.

I said "to Europe" even if almost everyone of them actually disembarked in Italy because many of them were searching for a better life in Europe and not just in Italy. This is one of the most concrete examples of transnational issues affecting the whole EU which are eventually left to national control due to a lack of EU-based laws. Transnational issues (migrations, pollution, labour and financial markets) have to be solved at transnational level. In order to do this, European countries should go further toward a deeper political integration of the EU.

For these reasons, my favourite article of 2014 is Migrants in the Mediterranean: Europe's new disappeared by Nick MacWilliam. It shows how decisions taken in Great Britain can influence the life of people living elsewhere in Europe (Italy, coping more or less alone with this overwhelming problem) or beyond (the migrants).

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