Back to good old days of the Lisbon Strategy (when the Union was proclaimed to be the most competitive, knowledge-based economy of the world), the Prodi and Barroso Commissions have been both repeatedly stressing that: “at present, some of our world trading partners compete with primary resources, which we in the EU/Europe do not have. Some compete with cheap labor, which we do not want. Some compete on the back of their environment, which we cannot accept.”
What has happened in the meantime?
The over-financialization and hyper-deregulations of the global(-ized) markets has brought the low-waged Chinese (peasant converted into a) worker to the spotlight of European considerations. Thus, in the last two decades, the EU economic edifice has gradually but steadily departed from its traditional labor-centered, to the overseas investment-centered construct. This mega event, as we see now with the Euro-zone dithyramb, has multiple consequences on both the European inner cultural, socio-economic and political balances as well as on China’s (overheated) growth. That little, rarefied and compressed, labor which still resides in aging Union is either bitterly competing with or is heavily leaning on the guest workers who are per definition underrepresented or silenced by the ‘rightist’ movements and otherwise disadvantaged and hindered in their elementary socio-political rights. That’s how Europe departed from the world of work, and that’s why the Continent today cannot orient itself (both critically needed to identify a challenge, as well as to calibrate and jointly redefine the European path). To orient, one need to center itself: Without left and right, there is no center, right?!
Contemporary Europe has helplessly lost its political ‘left’. The grand historical achievement of Europe – after the centuries’ long bloody class struggle – was the final, lasting reconciliatory compromise between capital and labor. It resulted in a consolidation of economically entrepreneurial and vibrant but at the same time socially just and beneficial state. This colossal civilizational accomplishment is what brought about the international recognition, admiration, model attraction and its competitiveness as well as inner continuity, prosperity and stability to Europe… In the country of origin of the very word dēmokratía, President of the Socialist International has recently introduced to his own citizenry the most drastic cuts that any European social welfare system has ever experienced in last 80 years. The rest of official Europe (and the rest of unofficial us, spectators) still chews the so-called Greek debt tirade as if it is not about the very life of 12 million souls, but a mare technical item studied at the secondary schools’ crash-course on macro economy. As if by trivializing what we (want to) see, we are not ourselves brutalizing what will (later) happen to us. (A non-elected government is silently pervading the EU, in ever more states.)
The present-day Union, aged but not restaged, is (in) a shadow of the grand taboo that the EU can produce everything but its own life. The ‘Old Continent’ is demographically sinking, while economically just keeping afloat. The middle-class is pauperized and a cross-generational social contract is silently abandoned, as one of its main operative instruments – the Lisbon strategy – has been eroded, and finally lost its coherence.
To worsen a hardship, nearly all European states have responded wrongly to the crisis by hammering down their respective education and science/R&D budgets. It is not a policy move, but an anti-visionary panicking that cuts on future (generations). (E.g. the EU investments in renewables is decreasing ever since 2008. Still today, the EU budget allocation to agriculture subsides is 10 times bigger than to R&D.)
What is the additional pervasive effect of (any) crisis on democracy? 9/11 is just one in a series of confirmations (e.g. from the ‘Nixon shock’ to the ongoing Greek/Euro debt saga) that any particular crisis converts beneficial to those seeking the nontransparent power concentration. Once a real democracy starts compromising its vital contents, it corrodes degenerates and turns formal. Many contemporary examples show us that for a formal democracy, it is not far from ending up as an oppressive autocratic dictatorship with either police or military or both residing outside a strict civil and democratic control. A real democracy will keep its financial establishment (as much as its armed organs, and other alienation-potent segments) under a strict popular democratic scrutiny and civil control through the clearly defined mechanisms of checks and balances. That is the quintessence of democracy.
“There has been little willingness to strengthen civic watchdogs of international financial institutions, which might provide a more accurate service than the commercially driven credit-rating agencies that performed so disastrously in the financial crisis…” – laments the FRIDE Institute Director, Richard Youngs in his luminary book: Europe’s Decline and Fall. Indeed, is there any rating agency for the ethical bankruptcy, for a deep moral crisis affecting all societal segments around us?
Currently, the end game of the so-called Euro-crises seems to reveal that the financial institutions are neither under democratic control nor within the national sovereignty domain. (E.g. 20 years ago, the value of overall global financial transactions was 12 times the entire world’s gross annual product. By the end of 2011, it was nearly 70 times as big.) So far, Island remains the only country that indicted and sentenced its Prime Minister in relation to financial crisis.
Ergo, negotiating on the coined “Euro-zone debt crisis” (debt bound economies) without restaging the forgotten Lisbon strategy (knowledge-based societies) is simply a lame talk about form without any substance – it is a grand bargain about control via austerity, not a vision of prosperity.1
Indeed, the difference between a dialectic and cyclical history is a distance between success and fall: the later Lisbon (Treaty) should not replace but complement the previous Lisbon (Strategy). Restaging the Lisbon Strategy and reintroducing all of its contents is the Europe’s only strategic opportunity as well as its grand generational/historic responsibility.
Anis H. Bajrektarevic, Geopolitics of Energy Editorial Member, Chairperson for Intl. Law & Global Pol. Studies. Contact: [email protected]
1. From the democratic, transparent, just, visionary and all-participatory, a holiday from history- model of the European Community, the EU should not downgrade itself to a lame copy of the Federation of Theocracies – the late Ottoman Empire. This authoritarian monarchy was remembered as the highly oppressive and undemocratic although to a degree liberal and minority-right tolerant feudal state. The Ottoman Federation of Theocracies was of a simple functioning system: with the Sultan’s handpicked Grand Porta (verticalized/homogeneous monetary space of the EMU and ECB, moderately restrained by the Council of the EU) that was unquestionably serviced by the religious communities from all over the waste Oriental Empire (horizontalized/heterogeneous fiscal space of the EMU, in which every state freely exercises its sovereignty in collecting taxes and spending), unless otherwise prescribed off-hand by the Sultan and his Porta (ECB and IMF).