The dream of a federal Europe is crumbling. Most contemporary politicians in Europe, EU technocrats and main street media link the crumbling European dream entirely to the poorly performing economy. Undeniably, when an economy shrinks it affects people’s lives through unemployment. According to the EU statistical office, Europe has lost 3,5 million industrial jobs since the global financial crisis of 2008.
In the face of the deepest financial and economic crisis since the Great Depression the response of most national government and international institutions have been reform and austerity, mixed with endless stimulus programmes, zero interest rates and bail-outs. As a direct outcome, consumption is down, the overall tax base is shrinking and debt levels among citizens, corporations and governments are growing even higher. Despite billions of newly pressed money injected by central banks around the world into the financial system, the famous ‘trickle-down’ effect appears not to be reaching further than the stock market.
However, in these tough times, the tough have not got going. Contrary to the song, our approach to the crisis has been selfish, shortsighted and universally uninspiring. Rather than facing up to the truth that our financial system, bent on speculation, deceit, even fraud, has brought misery and poverty to millions of Europeans, our politicians, technocrats and financial elite have given the anecdotal can another massive kick into the future.
Rather than making people’s well-being the policy priority, our plutonomy leadership sided with the banks and financial institutions in 2008 and ever since, the very same institutions that through their recklessness caused the crisis. Our political elite showed solidarity, but not with the majority of the population but with the financial and corporate elite, with the plutonomies of the World. Consecutive bailouts and stimulus packages were designed and launched with the financial and corporate elite in mind. Not much thought was given to the dire situation of the middle-class, let alone the working classes, who have seen their income fall for over 30 years.
As a result of these political decisions and priorities, income and wealth inequalities continue to grow throughout Europe and the US. Quantitative easing boosted the Wall Street speculators and Trans-National Corporations, rather than job creating SMEs, entrepreneurs and employees. Economic growth remains sluggish. But this is the story of cold economic data and graphs.
The other story is about human beings. As such it is a far more important story. Or at least it should be. Since 2008, millions of Europeans have seen their incomes and purchasing power fall sharply, while others have lost their jobs and seen their benefits reduced. Poverty has returned to Europe on a massive scale. According to inequalitywatch.eu, 16.4% of all Europeans now live in poverty. In Greece alone, this means that over 2 million people live below the threshold of relative poverty (60% of the average household income). In the footsteps of poverty we find falling health (mental and physical), crumbling education and social services, and a general sense of hopelessness. Another generation of young people is left idle and deemed lost.
The European dream-building project clearly works only when the wind is in our back. In a slowing economy and growing national debts, nationalism flourishes rather than solidarity, equality and justice within Europe. Why is that? Well, I think many people feel disappointed and let down by the political national and Bruxelles based elite that when the going got tough they sided with the super rich, in which of course they included themselves. The same leaders ignored the plea of the poor and vulnerable in society, and since we still live in some kind of democracy, this deceit is now coming back to bite them, and hard.
Without solidarity, equality and justice among European countries and people there can be no European citizen, and no federal Europe. We must learn to speak openly and truthfully about why Europe and the World crashed in 2008. This means there is no more black and white, but all shades of gray, in which Greece as reckless borrowers are as guilty as the reckless German lenders for Greece’s financial situation today. We must learn to forgive and move on. If we can all start to assume some guilt for our common European mess, we may be more open to listen to others’ potential solutions.
As it stands, the main threat to a federal Europe comes from our inability to deliver solidarity, equality and justice at a time of great financial, economic, political and foremost social and human crisis. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe this crisis has shown us that we are not ready for a federal Europe, but again, let’s then be honest about it. Let national democracy run its cause, even if this means letting Syriza try to satisfy the will of the Greek people. To talk about federalism without adequate public support (democracy is still the favored political system of the EU, right?) is to advocate running before we can even walk.
Europe today is in need of a popular movement of humanism, which puts today’s economic fundamentalism in perspective and allows for other areas in society (health, education, housing, employment, etc) that contribute to our individual and collective well-being some air. And if this means addressing national inequalities through the tax system, well so be it. It has been done before. Rather than the current endless borrowing and money printing, the super rich of this world should be asked to, as Roosevelt once did, finance a comprehensive drive for solidarity, equality and justice in Europe. In the end, it would be in its own best interest, for sure.