EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso held his State of the Union 2012 Address in the European Parliament today.
His call for a "decisive deal for Europe" is nothing more than the usual lithany of neoliberal (growth and competitiveness first) and old-school EU Integration platitudes (more economic and political union, European parties) with a few words added to placate those in Europe who want real "new thinking" and a really convincing new European project: a socially just and green new EU.
O yes and we need a new European public space now that anti-EU sentiment in lots of EU member states is running high. Where have we heard this before? Margot Wallström, please come back!
European Union member states are all very big on rhetoric about energy efficiency but when it comes to binding targets and financing energy-saving measures they are far from "walking the talk".
Council of the EU webcast on the presentation by two Danish ministers of their priorities for climate, energy and environment.
Positive: minister Auken mentions the interconnectedness between the financial crisis and the sustainability crisis. Negative: the usual fairytale answers of "green growth" and "decoupling". Worth viewing anyway.
Is this it? Have the Euro and the European Union been saved? In all the media noise about the splendid isolation of Britain, one might forget that the EU is facing not one but several crises and that the “fiscal compact “summit might well have postponed or even killed the more essential debate on its political future. This could have been the crisis which the EU should never have wasted.
As a convinced European (not necessarily a European federalist), I believe what was achieved during last week’s summit will help in no way to revive the European project. Yes we might have more fiscal integration (to do what? Impose more socially unfair austerity?), but EU-lovers who believe a new step towards political integration has been taken are seriously mistaken.
Let’s have a look at what the “fiscal compact” will not solve.
It does not solve Europe’s “sovereign debt” crisis. It will do little to convince the markets that politics is on top again. The financial cowboys will in no time start further speculative raids against the weakest links in the Eurozone. These attacks could become even heavier as it has become clear from the pre-negotiations on this deal that our leaders have no intention of taking the real culprits of the crisis to account. There is still no intention let alone a blueprint for a fundamental reform of the unhealthy (perverse?) relationship between the financial elites and the political elites. The ideology of the neo-liberal free-market dominance still reigns supreme.
It does not solve Europe’s “democratic deficit” crisis. Citizens in Europe have lost trust in European leaders and the EU institutions. For all the energy spent in the last 10 years of bringing Europe closer to its citizens, the gap has opened up considerably increasing fears for populists and new dangerous nationalist movements. The problem is not so much failing communication (the usual “culprit” in EU circles) as failing policy delivery. Citizens have the impression that in the last 15-20 years the EU has failed to represent their interests and protect their prosperity. The fact that national governments are constantly using the EU (and especially the Commission) as an easy scapegoat does not take away from the reality that the EU that was built on the Europe1992 vision with its priorities of internal market, liberalisation, deregulation and globalisation has not delivered for the common man.
What Europe needs is not a “big bazooka” (the fact that EU leaders are now using military metaphors is amazing) but a “big debate” on its future in a world of global geo-political power shifts and increasing resource constraints. What Europe do we need to defend our European model of solidarity and prosperity in times of the “Long Descent”? This urgently needed debate should not be about small institutional changes but should be a thoughtful and effective dialogue with society (not just with the European “chattering classes”) for a radically different vision for Europe by 2030 (a “Social Compact”). The question whether our current EU institutions need to be reformed, modified, abolished or rebuilt starts only after having defined this new vision.
It does not solve Europe’s “ecological debt” crisis.
It is now a well-accepted truth that we have been living above our means, not only financially but also ecologically. The strong metaphor of the ecological footprint has made policy makers and citizens aware that business as usual is not an option as we would need at least 2 to 3 planets to give all 7 billion Earth citizens the same lifestyles as the one we do not want to have questioned in our developed societies. This insight plus the climate crisis, the growing awareness of new energy constraints (“the end of cheap oil”) and the “paradigm shift” in commodity prices has put the sustainability crisis on the political agenda and re-opened the debate on the nature and future of economic growth. Next year’s Rio+20 UN Summit will surely be one of the culmination point of this growing sustainability debate.
That said, it is tragic that the strong direct connection between the world’s economic, financial and debt crises and these sustainability crises is still completely neglected by our political, economic, media and intellectual leaders. Even the most critical analysts (Stiglitz, Krugman and others) of the current muddling- through approaches to the economic crisis do not understand this interdependence of both crises’ constellations and keep reverting to “solutions” which might have worked in the past but which are unsuited for the age of the “Great Disruption”.
As long as we keep trying to solve the Eurozone crisis in isolation without understanding the nexus with the sustainability crisis and its implications for the future of Europe, the EU will sink deeper into a trust crisis and might end up as a footnote in the history books of the 22nd century.
Read also my previous posts on this need for a new vision for Europe:
"The EU climate chief held her nerve to make US, China and India accept a legally binding agreement to cut carbon emissions…" (Source: the Guardian)
Although Conny Hedegaard has clearly taken her revenge on her performance in Copenhagen, let’s wait with calling her a climate hero until 2015 when we should have a REAL climate deal between developing and developed countries with REAL binding power. What she has achieved now – and once again thumbs up – is no more and no less than 4 years of new diplomatic struggles and that in an ever-worsening economic environment.
At the European Energy Review, Sonja van Renssen provides a great overview of stakeholder views on the upcoming EU Energy Roadmap 2050.
Her conclusion: "Despite all the modelling, it is the decisions taken by policymakers that will determine what our energy future will look like."
In Die Zeit former German Green and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer makes the case for a smaller Europe led by the Member States and with a strong real Euro-Parliament consisting of national parliamentarians.
His analysis has interesting institutional points such as the demise of the European Commission but lacks any insight into the ecological and energy roots of the current Europe crisis. For someone who was once the leading figure of the Green parties in Europe this is inexcusable. Have the Greens become too much part of the capitalist-growth establishment?
The thought that we can have human progress without constant economic growth is absolute nonsense for most political and business decision-makers. And their scepticism is understandable. Look at what negative growth has brought about over the last 18 months in terms of people losing their jobs or houses and governments blowing up their financial deficits.
That said, the debate about limits to economic growth and the “post-growth” economy for the developed world is re-igniting. There was a similar debate in the 1970s but it had very little impact on the traditional narrative of societal progress. Now, with the climate crisis, new resource scarcity and other unsustainable trends (biodiversity, water, soil, food), the issue is back on the table, although not yet seriously on the political agenda. Only a “narrower” debate about the measuring of economic growth has reached some policy-makers (the EU’s “GDP and beyond”, the Stiglitz-Sen report for French President Sarkozy and the OECD project “Measuring the progress of societies”).
There are some new developments though which indicate that the subject might become a political hot potato in the next years, especially if the current economic crisis might go into a second round and our developed economies find it hard to get back to 3% GDP growth figures and more.
- In France, there is a strong movement of “décroissance” (de-growth) which gets regular attention even in established media like Le Monde.
- In the UK, the Sustainable Development Commission last year published an excellent study “Prosperity without growth?”, questioning the traditional “green economy” narrative of “decoupling economic growth from its resource use and environmental impacts”.
- Last week, the British New Economic Foundation came out with another, even more radical report which asserts that “Growth isn’t possible” .
- And, last but not least, in an interview with The Ecologist, Deutsche Bank senior economist Pavan Sukhdev says: “I do believe society can get better, people can get happier and economies can get more robust whilst not actually increasing GDP, production or growing in the classical way”.
Unfortunately, at EU-level, these new stories about future prosperity and the REAL transformative agenda are seriously absent from the EU-2020 Post-Lisbon strategy debate.
The EU is without any doubt one of the biggest losers of the Copenhagen debacle. Not only did its future climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard make a pretty bad impression leading the debates but in the geopolitical Earthquake of shifting global power relations the EU was dramatically absent. Apparently it was not even invited around the table when the final Accord was being discussed between Obama, Wen, Zuma, Lula and Singh.
So how should the EU redefine its climate-energy policy after Copenhagen?
I think it should first of all stop bragging about its so-called climate/energy leadership. It has been a leader more on rhetoric than on real action, even if some of its actions and instruments might have been well-meant. But a genuine European long-term low-resources strategy towards a resilient and sustainable society is still a long way off and the recent EU-2020 document of the commission (the post-Lisbon strategy) is again heavier on hollow phrases than on practical workable solutions. This is, of course, not only the Commission’s fault. The EU-27 are so divided in their understanding of the need and urgency for a green economy that it will always be hard to find a common strategy. But until it is able to redefine its own political project, its influence will keep on waning. This means it should not focus on rhetorical climate and energy targets à la 20-20-20 (or have a big debate now whether it should move to 30%) but it should start to take thought and vision leadership and help its member states to redesign their economic policies from short-term GDP-growth obsessions to a “new prosperity”-based on a “people and planet first” paradigm.
The EU institutions should become the think-tank and avant-garde for Thomas Friedman’s “Earth race”. It should focus on all the amazing pockets of sustainability (in terms of business and governance practices and ideas) which exist within its borders and take real leadership in this quest for new prosperity in an age of declining natural resources.
That said, it will have to resist the recommendations from some “old-economy“ business circles to downgrade its green policies. Now more than ever, it is time to take real leadership, whatever the climate and EU sceptics will say.
After the European elections, most eyes are now on the nomination of the next Commission President and his team. Although José Manuel Barroso seems to have a majority of governmental supporters, some people in the newly elected European Parliament would like to prevent the big favorite from getting his second mandate. I think this is a losing strategy.
Instead of trying to find enough MEPs to block a second mandate for the Lisbon Agenda President, Greens and progressive members in the parliament should try and help redefine Mr Barroso’s next five-year programme. After five years of focus on deregulation and liberalisation of the internal market, the next Commission should lay the foundations for the Transition to a Sustainable Europe. It should recapture global leadership on climate change, biodiversity, sustainable energy and transport and it should commence the design of a new Europe of Prosperity without Growth. With a Commission President who will no longer have to worry about his next mandate, Mr Barroso could surprise us by telling Europeans how dire the current eco-crisis is and what Europe can do to turn things around in the next ten years. By doing that, Mr Barroso could go down in history as the man who put Europe on track to the new Age of Eco-Prosperity. Think about it, what a legacy that would be