Europe – Yesterday we stood at the abyss

but now we are moving forward.

Europe is coming to an end …

… at least with the ideas of the new President of the Commisszion.

Now, the summer break is surely ended by now and it is time to look at the awaking world. By now the president of the European Commission is in office. But when looking back, seeing his statement to the European Parliament, then still being candidate for President of the Commission and listening to it is both discouraging. A somewhat boring statement, showing only in few passages some colour, meaning engagement – but this had been not least on occasions where a clear analytical perspective would have been most needed.

Though late, a brief statement on the statement may still be appropriate:

It is amazing in which way, to which extent such candidate, talking to the parliament, i.e. to (the representatives of) the people, can approach burning questions, not least the loss of legitimacy, can argue highly reflexive. Reflexive here is just a nice way, avoiding the use of the term inward looking. Even if he rightly addresses the question of legitimacy (and the lack of it), and in particular the role of the parliament, but also the character of the Commission etc., he overlooked that all this: the institutions and the relationship between them is only about “instruments” to pursue the will of the people or the general will. At least it should be so.

The will of the people or the general will are then in some way addressed later. Leaving the show-off effect out of consideration (Oui, M. Junker, qui est une grande performance: auch ich spreche ein wenig Deutsch, ma la questione è uno dei contenuti; en dit is niet een kwestie van lippendienst, sinó d’abordar realment les qüestions pertinents – sure, limited correctedness and I ask the native speaeker for apologies), it is interesting to see the change to the German language at exactly that point, and even saying it is about changing to the language of the champion. Primus inter pares? Or what is a champion in a Europe of equals.

It is then somewhat worrying – though not surprising – that all this is exactly about those issues as the “Olympic team” (this alludes to the term that had been used a more or less ling time ago when in Germany employability had been closely inked to exactly this point: the orientation on employees as “teams, ready to take part in Olympic games” (“olympiareife Mannschaften”).

Yes, there are without any doubt some valuable points mentioned – the importance of welfare policies that are guaranteeing some minimum standards …

But the overall gist remains sad and saddening. Einstein once stated

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

In clearer language: it is foolish to address the problems we have by making what caused them to instruments to overcome them. However, looking from a point of true political economy at Juncker’s proposals they are just such instruments of foolishness: growth, growth, growth — the outline given for justifying that it will be green viz. sustainable growth, is highly questionable. It had been the orientation on growth as development that sees other than GDP-development only as adjunct, as quasi-automatic, subsequent moves. Growth, even if green, will not stop its destructive force if it is seen as structurally disjoined from sound societal policies.

By the way, Mr Juncker, this had been a major problem standing for a long time always at all those laudable attempts: from Adam Smith’s Moral Sentiments (written before he thought about the Wealth of the Nations) to the surely honest (though in many respect naïve) debates in the circle around Walter Eucken, Franz Böhm, Alexander Rüstow und Wilhelm Röpke etc. (yes, Erhard and Mueller-Armack had been somewhat populist followers of much greater thinkers).

I am not sure if I succeeded, but at least I tried on different occasions to point out that we need an integrated approach, recently for instance in the opening speech, addressing the conference Justice and Solidarity: The European Utopia in a Globalising Era (organised by the European Academy of Sciences and Arts & University of Eastern Finland, in Kuopio – 2./3. September)) and also in a contribution on the “Vatican Spring”, which will soon be published in a book titled “El Papa – ¿Cuántas divisiones tiene?”Sondeo global del catolicismo mundial según el “World Values Survey” y el “European Social Survey” [(Ed. Arno Tausch); The Centro Argentino de Estudios Internacionales, CAEI, Buenos Aires, Study on Global Roman Catholicism].

There is also something that had been discussed recently in Lindau – on the occasion of a meeting of laureates of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (the so-called Nobel Prize for Economics) – there attac (Association pour la taxation des transactions financières et pour l’action citoyenne) organised a symposium, urging for a move to a different approach. But even some of the laureates had not been too happy with how things work in the growth economy, being especially critical about the austerity policy. James Mirrleess contended that the German chancellor has the wrong advisors. So, yes, may the future president of the Commission then join them.

Well, then to a metaphor that is really pointing on the dramatic dimension of the current situation: the “29th member state”. Yes, there is a major problem: what we discussed (we, i.e. in the political debates in the institutionalised Europe) in the 1970s ff. as poverty and social inclusion reached a level and even more so a quality that deserves some more reflection. And the metaphor of a 29th member state is usefully highlighting the dramatic character. But there remains a … but …

I am not switching to Greek, Irish, Italian, Portuguese or Spanish language, the language of “the losers”. And even if it is indeed laudable that Greece had been rescued, as pointed out in the statement, it had not been really about repairing a plane while in the air. It had been more about crashing the plane, then collecting the valuable parts from the ground while leaving the corpses there, may be giving them a friendly blessing.

The fundamental question is if we should simply look for ways to “enlarge” the Union by including this “29th member state”, or if we have to look more closely into building a new Union – one which does not allow for such exclusion at first instance.

These will also be issues that will be discussed on the 17th ff. of September in Moscow (http://www.vcug.ru/conference/conference_eng/) (see also the debate in the recent publication: Herrmann, Peter/Bobkov, Viacheslav/Csoba, Judit: Labour Market and Precarity of Employment: Theoretical Reflections and Empirical Data from Hungary and Russia; Vienna: WVFS; 2014.

It may be worthwhile to look at the end of these brief reflections at a short contribution of the Social Platform, European NGOs gathered to lobby the European institutions, being quite optimist, contending the tension:

I can already hear some of you saying “that does not answer the immediate challenges” or “this is not what the President Elect of the Commission put on the table in July”. And I would say “actually its does”

In the following we read then

The social shield we are calling for includes The President Elect’s proposal to “put in place a minimum wage, and a guaranteed minimum income.” But it brings much more into debate with the financing of social services and the availability of unemployment benefits. The access to quality services we promote could be challenged by the negotiations on the transatlantic trade agreement (TTIP) that the new commission will finalise. The directive blocked by the EU countries to remove discrimination in access to service is another instrument to reach our broader objective. There are bigger challenges in the EU that need broader instruments.

But at the end, al these points are still very much about rebuilding the existing state, actually enforcing it by providing a shield, however forgetting that it is about the need of a real vision, and such real vision has to be one that is seriously taking up the challenge of a fundamental change. In other words:

Looking at the bigger picture will help us with a new EU route

is one way of seeing it.

The other is about the old questions we know from Alice and the Cat.

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where–’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

‘–so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.

‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’

In other words: there is the danger of looking for better ways of dealing with the existing faulty systems instead of looking for better systems. May be the cat was right:

‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.

‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’

‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.

‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’

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