|This is not my Europe
In the current crisis our European Union shows its good and bad aspects again. In balance: this is not my Europe. Our political leaders still don’t understand what ‘democracy’ means. We are set on a path of resentment that is rather uncomfortable itself and that can easily deteriorate further when we do not fix those misunderstandings about democracy.
Remember the United States of America in the Declaration of Independence of 1776, claiming freedom and the pursuit of happiness for all, but keeping slavery for those who did not count. Kanzler Merkel calls for a European spirit and union but apparently the Greek people are less important for her. Everyone can wonder what kind of common spirit she means or whether she is out of touch with her deeper feelings. Greece must accept the austerity package or has to leave the eurozone, she holds, which in both cases means misery for the common Greek people already subjected to unemployment and distress, and which neglects the democratic option of a parliament to check its executive. The Kanzler is in a state of cognitive and emotional dissonance, and it is true democracy that we need, that puts a check on rulers in that mental state.
Politicians elbow economic science out of the room. Economists over the board regard the EU rescue package as unwise. Professor Richard Baldwin at the Vox EU website is very clear on this. The rescue plan is rather a poison pill. It consists not only of the 17 members Eurozone debt deal but also of the 27 members EU growth agenda, of which the first draws most attention while the latter is just as important and just as inadequate. As a scientist I advise the parliaments in the EU to first consider alternatives before voting on this package. As a civilian and voter I would listen to my own advice and vote against it since there is a much better alternative that our leaders in Brussels did not look at yet.
The idea of representative democracy is that parliaments check on the executive branch. This check now hardly takes place. The national parliaments are likely to neglect scientific advice. The economically weaker Southern European member states are bullied by seemingly stronger Northern European member states. When there is only one option on the table, in a ‘take it or leave it’ fashion without alternatives, we get tunnel vision. For the weaker nations it takes strong nerves to stand up to the rest of Europe. This is not democracy anymore. Northern Europe claims to help Southern Europe but in fact it enhances the imbalance of power and it neglects to look at its own errors, such as the aggressive export surplusses.
How can democratic Europe actually corrupt democracy ? The EU has tunnel vision on many aspects, also on governance. In EU / Eurozone council meetings we have national heads of state or government – HoSG in EU parlance – whose joint deals are checked not by a joint parliament but only at the national level. A national leader is generally backed by a national majority coalition. When each national leader defends the EU deal he or she has made and keeps the backing, the EU deal will pass all parliaments. It seems fine and neat but the problem with this model is that parliamentary control can be replaced by the more basic mechanisms of saving face, maintaining credibility in the EU sphere, keeping the coalition together, and such. Especially the weaker nations who are being ‘helped’ tend to swallow criticism, for fear of seeming ungrateful and missing out on the short term relief whatever the longer term consequences.
We see the strains in exceptional cases. The EU draft constitution was rejected and rightly so only because of referenda with a clear ‘no’ in France and Holland. Brussels avoided referenda for the revised version, with a rather ugly process to get Ireland on board. The earlier euro rescue package caused the government in Slovakia to fall and have a new coalition with a former communist and overall opportunist, who didn’t mind that poorer Slovakia helps richer Greece and greedy bankers.
Currently in Holland there is a minority government that is on stepping stones with an anti-euro xenophobic supporter and an euroblind opposition. A key figure is a highly respected professor in biology. He does not understand economics and finance but has taken the role of opposition spokesman in this area, either out of folly or with the ambition to become a prime minister at some time. It remains curious that we train professors to maintain integrity at universities and that they can drop it on the spot with respect to other subjects or when political ambition sets in. This key figure will not be very welcome in Berlin and Paris, and he knows that, if he maintains scientific integrity and helps Europe, and blocks the deal and starts reducing the Dutch export surplus so that also the German export surplus comes under fire. If he is consistent in his folly he will join the tunnel vision but fortunately he is also rather unpredictable.
Our nations must be managed and that means politics. If we want democracy then this is too important to leave to, indeed, opportunists. We want people of integrity to take politically important positions. My Europe has more consistency but also respect for true democracy. Government by the people and for the people. Our executives and parliaments should link up with the very source for their existence.
The discussions about the
crisis and the euro tend to focus on what is in the news and this tends
to be politics and financial plans. It is urgently needed to look at jobs.
National investment banks can be set up and be running within three months
but the effects take much longer. The unemployment in Southern Europe is
disastrous and cannot wait for that. The technological frontier continues
to move and people out of jobs lose their skills so that the gap widens.
It is thus more important to keep people in jobs. When unemployment is
about 20%, then reduce working hours by 20% and reduce VAT to 1% so that
net incomes will not suffer. This cannot be done for all professions, like
doctors or prime ministers, but it can be done for sufficiently many cases.
Naturally income tax will have to be increased to make up the difference.
The nice aspect of this solution approach is that it is also the long term
optimal solution. In a democracy the rich pay more, it tends to be a sign
of non-democracy when they pay less.
Thomas Cool (1954) is an econometrician in Scheveningen,
Holland. He is candidate for President of the
European Union for the Dutch Sociaal Liberaal Forum. His uses the name
Colignatus for his scientific work. A book of him is Voting
Theory for Democracy. He also presented an economic
plan for Europe, September 2011.