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.