Category Archives: European Union

How Democracy Can Save Europe

"… the solution must be a new Constitutional Convention, whose members are invested with the authority to begin again from the foundations and produce a lapidary statement of basic institutions and rights—rather than the ponderous EU treaties Europeans tend to vote down when given the chance in national referendums."  

Absolute must-read article by Timothy Snyder in The New York Review of Books on the need for Europe to re-invent EU democracy if it is to prevent further meltdown of the European project.

Some of the ideas developed in this article seem to go in the same direction as ideas I have developed earlier on this blog about the need for a Phoenix Europe project.

A few quotes worth highlighting from this amazing essay:

“… the European financial crisis is but a symptom of a deeper malaise of European political culture. Europe is troubled, he says, by insecure majorities, the national populations of EU member-states who believe themselves to be threatened both by globalization in the streets (immigration) and globalization in the law (Brussels). As Krastev puts it, national governments have politics but no policy, since important decisions are made by the EU; the EU has policy but no politics, since decisions are not made by elected representatives.”

European integration has always depended upon a certain kind of historical brinksmanship. Each major step forward has contained the seeds of a future problem, which can only be solved at some future point by another step. Krastev likens this gradualist approach to crossing a wild river by jumping from rock to rock, with the next rock only becoming visible after each jump. But what, he asks, if the rocks only go halfway across the river?”

“At the moment Greek voters can change the parties who rule them, but cannot change fiscal policies. These are decided in Berlin. Thus we have the emergence of pantomime republics.”

“Since it would be a new beginning rather than just another treaty, however, it would have to start with Berlin. The German lead would have to be followed by other countries that are fiscally sound and growing, which at this moment means a new core around the Baltic Sea. Countries that vote it down would simply be left out, with the option of revoting later, rather than being allowed to torpedo the entire project.”

The facts are clear: Report finds EU can deliver more jobs in a green budget

Greening the EU’s long-term budget can create more jobs than following the traditional spending paths according to a new report published by an alliance of environmental NGOs.

Very interesting jobs cost/benefit analysis of the European Union’s next multi-annual financial framework.

Read the summary and the full report.

Oettinger calls for ‘Europeanisation’ of energy powers

“Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger has called for a pooling of national powers to set energy policy in Brussels after 2014, in an unscripted speech to European policymakers yesterday (31 January).”   (Source: EurActiv)

"Europeanisation" is clearly needed but what is even more needed is a radical transformation blueprint for the post-carbon age and that is unfortunately still not available. The current EU roadmaps – although valuable exercises – are not a realistic vision for Europe’s energy future.

Sustainability rules over future EU regional funds

“The EU’s next budget is likely to include the first-ever binding document setting “stronger” and “clearer” objectives for regional funds to support sustainable development.” (Source: EurActiv)  

This would be a big step forward in strengthening the EU’s sustainable development policy if the Commission can get these ideas accepted by member states.

Energy efficiency: EU member states refuse to “walk the talk”

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".  

Read this EurActiv coverage of the obstructions of EU governments to the Commission’s modest Energy Efficiency Directive.

From “solidarity Europe” to “sustainability Europe”: an answer to Jo Leinen

On EurActiv, German social-democrat MEP Jo Leinen makes the case for a new “solidarity Europe”. Leinen who was recently elected president of the European Movement International (EMI) sees the current Eurocrisis and the institutional debate about more fiscal integration (the “fiscal compact”) as a great opportunity for his movement to reconnect citizens with the European project.

I agree with Jo Leinen that there is now a clear chance for genuine progressive pro-Europeans to win back citizens’ confidence in the European dream but unfortunately his Federalist analysis suffers from some major weaknesses.

First, if you want to win a political battle, you need to occupy the language of those in power. As progressive Europeans we need to reclaim and redefine the word "austerity" instead of outright rejecting it as Leinen seems to be doing. There is no denying that we have been living above our means economically as well as ecologically and as a result we have built our European way of life on serious financial and ecological debt. There is no escaping “austerity” programmes but this austerity has to be very different from the neo-liberal austerity programmes now prescribed by the elected (UK) or technocratic (Italy, Greece) marionettes of the 1%.

Therefore it is very unhelpful that Leinen continues to defend ideas such as the Eurobonds (which just shift the debts around) and the role for the European Central Bank as a lender of last resort. If we want a solidarity Europe for the citizens instead of for the banks and big industry, we will have to come up with much better and more fundamental medicines.

More importantly, Leinen (as most centre-left parties and organisations) remains in denial about the deeper “post-growth” causes of the current crisis. To “come out of the economic recession” Leinen wants the Commission to be “more dynamic in legislative proposals for economic growth”. Unfortunately, what we are experiencing is much more than just another recession which we can escape by politically stimulating economic growth.

In his brilliant new book “The End of Growth”, American author Richard Heinberg explains very convincingly how we have entered a new phase of history where economic growth is being blocked by three factors: resource depletion, environmental impacts (e.g. climate change), and “crushing” levels of debt. These “converging limits”, says Heinberg, “will force us to re-evaluate cherished economic theories and to reinvent money and commerce”. In Heinberg’s framing of the global financial crisis, we have started the transition to “a new economy that operates within Earth’s budget of energy and resources”.

If you look at the European crisis from this “resource and sustainability” perspective, what Europe needs is much more than the Treaty or intergovernmental agreement “quick fix” currently on the table. What is needed is no more and no less than a fundamental re-birth after a new democratic dialogue about the future vision for Europe. The main question to be answered in such a Project Phoenix is how Europe can be re-engineered in such a way that it can protect the prosperity and well-being of its citizens in a challenging time of new limits and resource constraints. For more on my Project Phoenix ideas read my previous blog posts: “Sorry Mr.Monti but Europe will need a Project Phoenix”, “Phoenix Europe: How the EU Can Emerge from the Ashes” and “New fiscal compact does not solve European Union’s existential crisis

That the “shrinking pie” will also raise hard questions about who gets how much of the pie (the traditional battle ground of the Left) is pretty obvious. Sustainability, just austerity will and a new Europe will not be “sold” to European citizens without a fierce new struggle for equality and wealth distribution (also beyond Europe BTW).

I really hope Leinen and the European Movement will not fall into the trap of this “quick fix” internal market and growth-obsessed Europe but will be ready to take up the challenge of re-building Europe for the Planet and People.

Why Oil Prices Are Killing the Economy

On the ChrisMartenson blog, Gregor Macdonald writes another convincing piece on the direct causal relationship between high oil prices and economic depression in the West.  

Why are none of our European leaders and their economic advisers getting it? Because it contradicts their fundamentalist belief in eternal economic growth. Better to remain in denial and hope that a miracle will save the Euro.

Danish environment and energy priorities for EU Presidency

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.

New fiscal compact does not solve European Union’s existential crisis

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:

Durban talks: how Connie Hedegaard got countries to agree on climate deal

"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.

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