Can progressives still support the European project?

This post was written by Jon on November 19, 2011
Posted Under: Capitalism,Democracy,European Union

The European Union, in pursuit of an austerity agenda supported only by the elite, has now effectively suspended democracy in two European countries. We have now, within the space of a week, entered the age of the Technocrat government (described brilliantly by one writer in The Times as ‘a form of civilian junta’). It is unclear when this new era will be behind us.

Yesterday’s Independent provided an excellent and very worrying analysis of the extent to which Europe’s technocratic elite are almost a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs, providing yet more evidence – as if we needed more – that the austerity project is being carried out for the benefit of financial institutions. (“The [Goldman Sachs] Project is to create such a deep exchange of people and ideas and money that it is impossible to tell the difference between the public interest and the Goldman Sachs interest.” Read the full thing here:

This is not simply an attack on democracy in the form of the suspension of the democratic process, but the destruction of any relationship between public opinion and government policy. The concerns of Europe’s citizenry – mass unemployment, public services, pensions etc. – will not be addressed until Europe’s financial interests start to share these worries, an unlikely contingency.

What I want to ask is: why is support for this institution still considered progressive? It doesn’t matter that many of the arguments against the European project are often cogent, reasonable and progressive; there remains a nagging feeling that its still all a bit too UKIP. The assumption remains that to be pro-Europe is to be a good progressive type with the correct opinions, whereas to oppose the EU makes you a reactionary Little Englander.

This makes little sense when you look at the politics of other European countries in which the assumptions are the exact opposite. Both Sarkozy and Merkel represent the main conservative parties in their respective countries. In Scandinavia, the tradition has always been protecting the institutions of social democracy from encroachment by Brussels. It is almost as if our politics concerning Europe are the wrong way around.

The case used to be made that even before we begin to argue about fishing quotas, butter mountains, sovereignty or the CAP, we had to concede that the European Union has been a bastion of peace and stability for the continent after the horrors of the Second World War. It is an argument with which I had much sympathy. But is it not now perfectly clear that the European elite, by bypassing democracy and condemning millions of European workers to years of austerity, threatens that very stability? The EU may once have protected peace in the continent – it is now its principal threat.

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Reader Comments


You’re really defending the incompetence of right-wing populists under the guise of ‘democracy’, neglecting the criminality of individuals over the precept of a generalisation about distorted incentives for bankers and attacking an austere policy as a matter of political choice without reference to the context in which it was arrived at?

Sorry, but your list of the concerns of Europe’s citizenry is massively incomplete even from my own limited perspective, so I don’t see that your claim to argue a ‘progressive’ case is at all justified.

Please reconsider your facts, your reasons and your conclusions, or reconsider your affiliations.

Written By Oranjepan on November 21st, 2011 @ 12:26 am

Oranjepan: How exactly is he doing that? Please elaborate on the individual points as it’s kind of hard to see how that’s the case…

Defending incompetence of right-wingers as democracy – where? He argued that it was democracy that was being suspended since the replacements in Greece and Italy were unelected, quickly shunted to the front with no democratic legitimacy, not that, say Berlusconi’s goverment wasn’t right-wing and incompetent.

Neglecting criminality of individuals etc – not even sure what you’re saying here. Individuals made decisions that were pretty horrific, but the banking system encourages and rewards those risks, it’s not just a few ‘bad bankers’.

Attacking an austere policy as a matter of political choice – well, wasn’t it? It certainly wasn’t inevitable, not in the slash-and-burn manner it’s being done now.

Please reconsider your points, your arguments and your thought-process, or reconsider your post.

Written By AdamP on November 22nd, 2011 @ 12:02 am

is it progressive to defend democracy and the product of it at all costs? My history books seem to be filled with occasions when authoritarians and autocrats used democratic election to gain power and then subvert it – I don’t think it’s enough to be satisfied with this.

Anyhow it’s pretty difficult to defend the sham democracy of a system which had already suborned most significant decision-making to unaccountable intergovernmental bodies bound by treaty.

re individual criminality: exactly, non-payment of taxes is a pretty basic fraud imbued in many sections of different societies which makes any budget-making an increasingly fraught exercise. Whether it’s dodgy accounting or setting up in a tax haven it goes on everywhere from your local arms dealer to your mechanic or plumber, to Tesco to Richard Branson to the Rolling Stones. Everyone is guilty to some extent – and the same can be said when you ask who profited. If you want to point your finger, point your finger at yourself.

re austerity: I strongly reject your characterisation of ‘slash and burn’. It is highly excessive to make a comparison with, for example, the Eastern Front in 1943.

The choices which lead to this point were as much those of the individuals whose speculation fuelled the bubbles and evaded their taxes as it is those of the bankers whose professional responsibility was distorted by perverse incentives.

Was austerity inevitable? At some point all debt must be repaid or you have already defaulted, so the level of austerity is nothing but a direct reflection of the level of debt incurred and accumulated. There must always be a day of reckoning.

Frankly, if this is austerity you have a very short memory. This is nothing like as bad as the 80s, 90s or earlier, despite the threats being so much greater and on a global scale. Overall spending is still rising, the deficit is being reduced more slowly than projected, unemployment is not rising as fast as feared, protests against policy have not (yet) transferred from political comment to a social movement in this country (which is why the camp at St Paul’s could be a place where the tipping point is reached).

If you’re angry now, just hold your breath because things may easily get so much worse. Simply put there is no confidence that the replaced regimes across Europe could have sustained their expansionary economic policies indefinitely because they were financed by debt across the board and the debt pile was rising too fast to cope. Without a serious adjustment it’d cause collapse, and the longer you wait the bigger it’d be.

There are many valid questions about the nature of the adjustment to be made, but the principle is unavoidable.

Written By Oranjepan on November 22nd, 2011 @ 3:57 pm

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