European Union: Basic political context and prospects (?)

The victory of SYRIZA in the recent national elections of 25 January 2015 was the first time a – at least in name – left party won the national elections in Greece (there was the precedent of the party’s victory in the European Parliament elections last year but with a lower percentage and difference in votes from ND, which came second). In extent, the formation of a government with SYRIZA at its core (and the participation of ANEL) is actually a bet as to whether the application of leftist politics is viable within the EU context. The purpose of this article is neither to defend the government nor to degrade it; it is merely to examine, from a sober viewpoint, certain important components of the European know-how that define, to a large degree, the boundaries of politics which may be exercised on a national level. We retain all due respect to the ideology and opinion of all readers and friends; we are merely seeking to contribute to a rationalistic approach to the problem at hand, away from bias and slogans.

The context of EU financial policy was initially determined by the Maastricht Treaty (1992); later on, the treaties of Amsterdam (1997) and Lisbon (2005) elaborated on it. Specifically, the financial policy of countries that belong to the Euro zone is ruled by the provisions of the so-called “Euro Plus Pact” (2010), which constitutes the continuation of these treaties. In a rough outline, the basic direction of these policies are painted in deeply neo-liberal colors: they speak of fiscal stability (balanced budgets without deficits), keeping the debt of member-states under control, stability in prices (low official inflation), competitive market of goods and services.

In the circumstances of high unemployment in EU countries (10% on average in 2014, with significant deviations ranging from the 26% in Greece and the 24% in Spain to the 5% of Germany and Austria) – a historic heritage of the great petrol crises of the 70s, which were never truly overcome, merely “hid” behind flexicurity (a new term that derives from the combination of flexibility and security) statistics – fiscal discipline as a Europe-wide strategy (as analyzed above) is a guarantee for the maintenance of occupation level to the same (more or less) numbers. This is not subjectivism; it is taught in the first year of Financial Studies, in the Macro-Economy Course. As pleasant as it sounds that deficits, debts and prices are under control it certainly means that unemployment can just be transformed into part time jobs or mini jobs that are all the rage in Northern Europe (unemployed people are forced to take any job under the threat of their benefits being cut and are working without pay – their only income is still their unemployment allowance). “Pleasant” competitiveness is defined, according to the “Euro Plus Pact”, in relation to the labor and non-wage cost of its most important commercial partners (call me China). Therefore, the acceptance, even merely in principle, of this European context of financial policy refutes, in action, any possibility to exercise an entirely different and more social financial policy.

Let’s move on to a second, underestimated in public discourse, component of European policy: the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Everyone knows about the subsidies and how they became 4×4 jeeps and country houses. Yet, very few are aware that, in the 80s, the EU provided the money for the modernization of mechanical equipment (tractors, harvester machines, etc.) with commissions from the European North; while, in the 90s, it financed the hectare output – without checking (why is that, really?) the fact that Crete alone was declared as an agricultural area 20 times; and, in the 00s, it brought prices down in relation to the most important commercial competitors (ergo the oranges from Argentina), leaving the agricultural production of the European South derelict in the face of Chinese wages competition. Combined with the so-called quotas (e.g., you will produce 1 million tons of oranges and when you exceed this number you will be fined on grounds of “joint responsibility”!), it becomes apparent to all, without further tiresome details, why traditional Greek crops that have withstood centuries and that the climate is appropriate for (tobacco, cotton, olives, sugar, citrus trees, etc.) have been abandoned, why the Greek countryside is desolate, why the onion from Egypt is cheaper at the super market than the one from Laconia and why the fact that some subsidies were converted into 4×4 jeeps (and let’s stop blaming an entire category of the population – the farmers) is not an adequate explanation for our current situation. And of course it’s nice to support Greek products but this sounds a bit ironic to the unemployed or the people who work for 500 euros and count their last cent to get through the month.

Finally, if we talk about immigration policy, as we have previously analyzed in the article “Immigration: Myopic inhumanity verified”, the treaties of Schengen and Dublin I and II essentially tie the hands of countries that serve as entries to the EU (Greece, Spain, Italy) and force them to either cooperate with non-cooperative – for various reasons – countries where immigrants come from (Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey) or to keep extremely strict in prerequisites measures for the movement of immigrants to the rest of the EU.

In conclusion, then, since it takes for granted the context set by financial, agricultural and immigration policies of the EU, a quasi modo leftist and well-meaning government of a country that belongs to the EU – of the European South, no less – has meager objective margins for deviation from the inescapable consequences this context maintains. These meager margins relate only to the following:

  • Negotiating the manner of repaying the (otherwise fully accepted) debt.
  • Providing guarantees for the minimum protection only of our extremely vulnerable fellow citizens (“combating the humanitarian crisis”).
  • Promising to avoid the worsening temporarily – of workplace and insurance rights (improvement is excluded).

Since, from all the above, the question that naturally comes to mind is the usual political-rhetorical one (“you mean the same all over again?”), we deem appropriate to say that the change of policy towards a more populist stance may be extremely difficult – yet not impossible; and, in any case it requires a change in the context that has been agreed on by the whole of the EU instead of a change of government in one country. Toward this direction, it is de facto necessary to increase social pressure towards both governments and “institutions”, and to elect governments with a clear populist intent that, constantly pressured by truly demanding societies, will shift the weight center of (Europe-wide) financial policies from fiscal to social stability.

Up to now, the new coalition government is judged merely for its good intentions – as a premature negative critique would be unjust. Yet, as it is certain that, when negotiating, you do not only take but you give as well, it is also certain that the intensity of social inequality in Greece is quickly lessening the time limit of tolerance and endurance until solutions for the relief of our vulnerable fellow citizens are found. All (people and actions) will be judged by the outcome.

 

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