The crisis is not just economic, even though the harmful effects of neoliberal politics are based on this.
Juan Diego García
Since neoliberal politics prevailed in Europe, all agreements have inevitably led to the dismantling of various parts of the welfare state that, especially after World War Two, allowed social majorities from these countries to have a level of life and civil rights that they had never known before.
It ended up being predominantly called “Europe of the bankers” as opposed to “Europe of the people”.
The drastic cuts in all aspects of daily life, the so-called “austericide”, have gained ground in all the countries of the Old Continent, as a result of the resounding abandonment of their respective ideals based on the two biggest political currents: social democracy and social Christianity.
Both have fallen, each in its own way, before the neoliberals’ plans or, what amounts to the same thing, the demands for great financial and speculative capital.
It comes as no surprise that, bearing in mind the necessary differences given the level of development of each country, they have made similarly drastic cuts to social spending, a significant decrease in a share of the wealth amongst the workers, corresponding with an excessive increase to state benefits), increase in unemployment and a dangerous trend towards the generalisation of precarious employment, and the pension system left at risk of failing (with a growing ageing population in some countries).
In general, it is the dismantling of traditional systems of protection, basic security, which are the modern mechanisms that allow social balance, confidence in the future and conviction in the benefits of solidarity as a general social practice.
In many ways, neoliberal politics applied in previous decades are “Americanising” Europe, at least in those countries that enthusiastically support capitalism subject to moderation and controls after the painful experience of fascism and war (at the same time an antidote to neutralise the influence of a rising communist movement).
In this context, it should not then be surprising that the removal of the welfare state by its economic foundations can also produce harmful effects on the political and social life of the continent.
It should not be surprising that the supposed neoliberal paradise, finally turned into hell for important sectors of the population and threatening the rest, will, in many ways, condition daily political life and a good part of the citizens believe that the highest authorities of the EU are as responsible as their national politicians (if not much more responsible).
If the model on which the European Union was originally driven is abandoned and in its place a different one is imposed that produces equally disastrous results for wide sectors of the population, it is normal that rejection of the Union will increase, as much from the Left as from the extreme Right, who make the most of the situation to push their most aggressive nationalism, accompanied by xenophobia and even racism that in many respects is reminiscent of the sinister flags of other eras.
The attempts to introduce some nuances to the neoliberal project by conservatives and social democrats (both were the political majorities, until now) do not seem to have changed the general trend of exhaustion of these parties that control the local governments and institutions of the European Union.
There have been failed attempts to push to the extreme Right in France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Greece, Austria, the United Kingdom (to cite only the most relevant cases) and in a resounding way until bizarrely in such countries of the old socialist bloc in the east of the continent, with special protests in Hungary and Poland and a Ukrainian candidate to be a member of the Union who is governed right now by an openly Nazi party.
The majority parties (social democrats, conservatives and liberals) appear worn out and in decline; the extreme Right forces are on the rise and, even though tendencies towards renewing social democracy and other reformist forces are increasing, they are still minorities. This would then be a political panorama characterised above all by uncertainty.
In such conditions, anything can happen and the future is not rosy for the European Union. Nationalist movements are being reborn with exuberance; they are suspicious of any form of ceding sovereignty to central powers and appear clearly identified with the Right.
On the Left, traditionally much less adhered to national prejudices, opposition is equally growing against the prevailing model although for very different reasons. Some groups consider that it would be impossible to reform the current EU and as a consequence they propose leaving; others do want to remain but they want to return to the original ideal of the project, to return to the Europe of the people, interregional solidarity, peace and international cooperation.
Extreme right-wing nationalism openly supports the dissolution of the EU, exploiting discontent in many sectors (popular ones, most of all) and the concrete results that the European Union has had for “merchants and bankers”.
As in classical fascism, they poison daily life and weaken the spirits of a population hit by crisis, encouraging racism and xenophobia and using the old mechanism of scapegoating to make them responsible for everything that is wrong.
The Jews and Communists of yesterday are now the Arabs, Africans and immigrants in general, of course those that are poor.
The social and cultural atmosphere that the Old Continent breathes is well linked to the economic and political crisis. Cases of corruption are no longer an exception – the alleged “rotten apple in the unspoilt basket of the institutions” – but are commonplace even in countries in which the phenomenon seemed to have been fully overcome.
In reality, only the Nordic societies seem more or less immune to this evil that deteriorates the system so much and that, above all, subtracts so much legitimacy from the rule of law. Scandals are daily and they are everywhere: candidates in the highest state positions, sitting politicians, top level officials, judges and police officers, subjected to corruption and malpractice processes that no longer surprise anyone.
An institution like the IMF has had one scandal after another. It is no longer only that it has been identified as the most responsible for driving the most damaging economic politics for the world economy (largely the causes of the current crisis or at least the very dramatic way that it happened) but its current president and its two previous presidents are associated with murky dealings, and openly illegal behaviour.
It is not surprising then that with such parties and such politicians, the system loses legitimacy and only an enormous naivety would allow the thought that such protagonists have the capacity (and willingness) to remove their countries from the current mess, and still less to save the project of European unity, now in such deep crisis. The United Kingdom’s exit is only the beginning.
Separatist processes in Spain, (Catalonia and probably also the Basque country) or possible victory of the extreme Right in France darken the view even further. The warning given by Greece in the recent past is already an enormous risk that could reduce the EU to a few rich countries on whose outskirts would remain some “associations” (Is this the real goal of the proposed “two-speed Europe”?). (…)
To all this must be added the war effort of the main members of the European Union marching besides (or rather “behind”) the United States in its military adventures; its active engagement in existing wars; distancing Europe from Russia which is not in anyone’s interests and, in practice, converting the Old Continent into a possible second order, just when the all-encompassing power of the United States is hopelessly declining and the international view would advise exploring other routes of cooperation according to their own interests. (…)
(Text: edited version) – Photos: Pixabay – (Translated by Donna Davison – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)