Category Archives: Uncategorized

Asymmetry and Stability

Some of you know I’m keen on the topic of Monetary Union. I find it interesting in the same way that some people find cars interesting or some people find Lord of the Rings interesting. I just wanted to note this idea as I think there is a bit of pessimism regarding the stability of monetary unions as well as the definition. This is by no means an academic essay but here so I can remember my thoughts.

The fact is that the term ‘Monetary Union’ relates to the type of regime. Is, for example, Switzerland a currency union? Well it sort of is and isn’t. It is insofar as there are territorial and economic areas of a defined area which are united under a single monetary area but at the same time it isn’t because it is one entity. There is a highly political element to the definition of what these unions actually are and the difference between the standard state centred currency and a shared currency. This relationship refers to the political nature of its governance.

What the specific difficulty though is not the asymmetry. This is a fairly nationalistic way of looking at it as we are often looking at the boundaries between states. The economies which constitute the union are going to have smaller variation within their boundaries than between due to the long term direction of the economic policies, but there will be a degree of asymmetry within any territory, region, state or even city. That is because economies are not uniformally structured. They all have a degree of asymmetry whether we are looking at Switzerland or the European Union. There will be more opportunity for there to be greater policy divergence between states but we have to recognise that no currency is immune to asymmetry.

Asymmetry for me is the important aspect of any currency union as it has been the source of many a failed currency union. The failure of unions is not based on the asymmetry but the ability of whatever form of governance there is to correct the fault. For example, in a unitary state the regions are all subject to one government and so responsibility over policy and fund transfer goes back to one point. While in a confederal system there is less central direction and the responsibility lies below the point of union. That means that there is more difficulty regarding areas such as moral hazard in the transfer of funds between regions, more difficulty in creating unified policies and difficulty in deciding upon the best type of monetary policy.

Therefore what I tend to think is that the credibility of any currency area or monetary union relies on the ability of the political body at the centre, or the political bodies negotiating, to redistribute funds and create common policies instead of creating some sort of symmetric economic area. Essentially policy makers have to be able to adjust the use of government funds in order to correct asymmetric shocks in the short and long term. This basically means that in order to share a currency; you need to have quite a strong degree of political union. If there is a great deal of policy divergence or even asymmetry then there is a requirement for the governing body to have more tools to deal with the shocks which can occur. If this is not the case then the union will not look credible.

Advertisements

A Question of Labelling and Identification

I apologise for my style of writing in advance. I have been writing many an essay recently.

One is generally told not to engage in semantic discussions unless any prospective listeners require some sort of aid to help them sleep. The use of terms and words though can carry much meaning and allow us to have more insight into what someone’s motive or viewpoint actually is. For example; if I had a friend who suggested that we should bake a cake out of sand then I might regard this as an ‘interesting’ idea. ‘Interesting’ on the face of it would show that the idea is one which provokes some thoughts but hides the fact that these thoughts are of the variety which makes me want to abandon my friend. In the context of the language surrounding a party’s stance on Europe there are lots of labels which parties fix to themselves such as; Euroskeptic, Pro-Europe and more recently ‘Euro Realist’. In this short article I want to make the point that these labels are actually pretty devoid of meaning and instead are a reflection of the underlying viewpoints towards Europe.

Let us begin with the terms ‘Euroskeptic’ and ‘Pro-Europe’. The general assumption is that Euroskeptics want to withdraw from Europe and Pro-Europeans want to stay in. These terms suggest little of great substance as they merely reflect whether we should be in or out rather than what type of Europe or what relationship with Europe one wants beyond simply the question of membership. Indeed, everyone could be considered a ‘skeptic’ as it is the duty of any good citizen to be naturally skeptical about anything which happens before we are supportive of it. Naturally the term Pro-Europe is a bit empty too as all the person wants to convey is their support of the continuation of our membership rather than any precise viewpoint of what that should look like. When parties discuss domestic politics they will assign themselves to an ideology be that ‘Social Democratic’ or whatever. The point here is that these reflect visions for what the country should be like and suggest that the debate surrounds a genuine vision whereas the terms Pro-Europe and Euroskeptic suggest that the debate has failed to move beyond membership.

 A new term has arisen even more devoid of meaning than its predecessors. The term ‘Euro-Realist’ is of laughably poor quality as it suggests that those wearing the label are simply being ‘realistic’. The obvious question is; what does an opponent of this view think? Are they ‘Euro-unrealistic’? It reminds me of the view that in the debate surrounding abortion one is ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life’ but nobody is ‘anti-choice’ or ‘anti-life’ as they are either pro or anti abortion.

At least these views suggest that the wearer of this label has an actual stance on the issue that one could disagree with. The term ‘Euro-Realist’, however, reeks of a fear of being called out for being mildly controversial. It suggests that one is neither ‘Europhile’ or ‘Europhobes’ yet nobody really wears those labels without a hint of irony as they are terms assigned to people by their antagonists. What the term ‘Euro-Realist’ suggests is a desire not to seem idealistic on the matter when really anyone with a view on Europe will think that their view is at least anchored to a modicum of reality.

Really what this suggests is that people are trying to get away from the old pro or anti EU stances and instead try and talk about having some sort of vision for it. Those who have decided to take this view however are those who are generally more inclined to be fierce critics of things. For example; it is political judgement whether Britain will be realistically able to negotiate a different form of membership of the European Union and thus detractors of the Conservative stance would rightly label it unrealistic.

The general fear of standing up for anything fairly controversial shows that parties are still cautious to genuinely discuss some general vision of what they want to see Europe looking like because it is so hard to move beyond the discussion of whether we should be in it or not. What is noticeable as well as these are labels which are apparent when people discuss the EU with the general public. No serious politician identifies themselves as ‘Neo-Functionalist’ or ‘Intergovernmentalist’ but at least these carry a stance which could be criticised and contribute to some sort of debate. An alternative realistic term could be people who aspire to a ‘Social Europe’ suggesting they desire Europe to be more focussed on the people of Europe. Ultimately these terms carry their own issues and points, but it is important to keep in mind that the language one uses to describe oneself can say a lot more than simply the face value.

Health and Safety Measures: Ignore the haters

I appear to prefer to blog about issues which are fairly controversial and take the unpopular side of the argument, but populism is no fun! Health and Safety is one of the areas which are easy to attack and particularly are attacked in a European Context from newspapers such as the Daily Mail. They talk about how the EU is taking away “freedom” when really what is happening is they are giving workers a right to work in a place without being threatened from dying there.

I decided to have a look into the number of fatalities at work and found a freedom of information request which was made to the Health and Safety Executive surrounding the issue. I took the numbers and made a couple of graphs to show the figures. I’ve also marked on the point which the EU directive on Health and Safety at work was passed.

UK fatalities by industry

From what you can see in these, if there is any freedom that the EU appears to “hate”: it’s the freedom of your employer to kill you at work! For those who want to see the original directive it’s here.

UK work related fatalities on the whole 

 In these graphs you can definitely see a long term effect on the numbers of deaths at work, which as a trend is still decreasing. Health and Safety legislation is there to protect lives and I refuse to accept that it’s unnecessary. Reform of legislation should be directed as a consequence of the faults in the legislation (due to its failure to protect workers) and not to make life easier for employers. There is, and should be, a clear responsibility for employers to look after employees properly and clearly this approach has worked.
Importantly I’m not arguing that only this directive has meant that the number of deaths has decreased, but I am arguing that it certainly has saved lives and the modern approach to health and safety at work is a good thing.
So when the Conservatives start moaning about how the “EU red tape” on Health and Safety is a pain for employers; just mention the fact that this “red tape” has saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. I’d rather Health and Safety be a pain for employers than bad working conditions be a cause of death for employees.

On Britain’s Role in the EU

Britain has influence over the EU, we need to use it.

The argument over a referendum on Britain’s involvement in the European Union has come up once more. The argument about how it is run has come up once more. The Tories are being pulled apart by the issue of Europe… once more.

For someone who spends time reading about and studying the EU, these debates are repeated ad nauseum. I hardly ever see a televised discussion about the European Union without being subjected to hearing Nigel Farage blurt out the same old cringe-worthy exaggerated rhetoric. I rarely get the chance to read an article about the EU which isn’t about electoral reform, referenda or “red tape”. The one dimensional discussion on Europe in the public domain is incomparable to the varied discussion in the academic domain, which is more inclined towards the direction of EU policies. It is the responsibility of those who care strongly about the EU to engage with public debate around the future of Britain’s role in the EU and influence it.

An example of the schism between academic and public debate could be the argument over the democratic deficit. Many of the EU’s detractors often rant about “unelected bureaucrats” in their rhetoric but unquestionably support Britain’s role in NATO, the UN and the WTO (all unelected). They also fail to engage with the actual process of how commissioners get their jobs.

The EU is probably one of the most democratic of the international organisations which Britain is a member of. As well as this the fact is often neglected that most people who support the EU want to see it become more democratic and often don’t support the status quo. Historically it has been “Euroskeptic” governments who have blocked reforms of the EU, fearing that power being given to the parliament (the body to which we directly elect MEPs) would take power away from the Council (a body made up of the governments of members states). Those who want to pull out of the EU but keep trading with the single market, in a way that Norway or Switzerland does, don’t offer a democratic alternative but instead offer the opposite. They offer people no voice at all over matters affecting both Britain and her largest trading partner with no MEPs, no council seat and no commissioner.

Even the term “Eurosckeptic” is rhetorical. Skepticism doesn’t mean opposing something, it means being critical of it. Those who support the EU are critical of it, as they must be if they want it to work well. What better describes parties such as UKIP is “Europhobic”. They ideologically oppose the EU and aim to abandon it instead of reforming it.

Here is what we face today. The EU is our largest trading partner and also the largest single market in the world. In modern times the decisions which Governments make affect citizens outside their countries. Examples include the economic crisis, where in the past it would be incredibly difficult to collectively solve problems in Spain, Italy or Greece which threaten the UK’s economy. When member states work together in a community then Governments of that community act according to common practice. It means that Governments whose decisions can affect the whole market are held accountable to the community as a whole, including to us here in the UK. This accountability allows for more responsibility between governments and in turn helps give people a say on matters which affect them. If we leave the EU; we as citizens cannot elect people to argue for our interests when what happens in the community is being discussed, our Government will not have a seat at the top table to discuss the best way to solve issues we share with other countries and we will not have any British policy makers in the Commission helping create solutions to crises such as the ones we face today. Britain’s influence over matters which affect Britain would be minute.

Look at ACTA, legislation affecting civil liberties and the internet, to which he rapporteur is the British MEP David Martin. Look at the monumental sanctions which are placed on Iran to halt development of nuclear weapons, or the action on the Government in Syria which are formulated by the High Representative for Foriegn Affairs and Security Policy Baroness Ashton, also British. We would not have any influence over these if we were outside the EU. British people would have little influence over these hugely important issues which affect citizens here in Britain. Do Europhobes seriously expect us to have as much of a say if we decide to give up this representation?

In the current climate; putting forward arguments for greater collective decision making over issues which affect all of our lives is hugely important.  If we don’t fight for our membership then we allow for the same rehashed nonsensical arguments to dominate public debate and we fail to highlight the good work the EU does for British families, workers, farmers, businesses and communities.

A referendum at this point is also a danger to global economic stability. Those who are gung-ho about leaving the EU seem to forget we are in possibly the biggest financial crisis in living memory and that we should concentrate fully on working with our partners in the EU to solve the crisis which is affecting lives here in the UK, right now.

The debate about Europe’s future, and Britain’s role in that future, is on now. It’s the responsibility of those who feel strongly about the important work the EU does with regard to improving worker’s conditions, increasing consumer rights and growing our economies together to speak up. All we have to lose is our say in how largest single market in the world is governed, a say in the direction it goes and access to the standards it guarantees.

I don’t apologise to anyone who is sick of hearing me talk about the EU. The EU is of huge importance to our families, consumers, workers, farmers, travelers, businesses, communities and so much more. The campaign to support our membership of it should not only happen when that membership is under threat, it should continue so we make sure that public debate, not simply academic debate, is always well informed and balanced.

Decreasing trend of Two party systems

This topic was covered in the course on European Politics I took at University. I wanted to do a piece and take in the ideas of community activism which have been walked about recently and wrote this.

The stable situation of two party systems which were all too common in Europe is under threat. Increasingly over the past 50 years, people have stopped voting for the two establishment parties as staunchly as before and instead are more inclined to becoming “floating voters”. These voters not only switch between the two parties at election time, but also are voting for smaller parties too. This essay will argue that if parties want to protect their established roles in their countries then they must know why this trend is occurring and learn how to cope with this by utilising an approach of artificial cleavage reinforcement as an alternative to seeking “center-ground” and “presidential” politics.

The Rise of Two Party States

In Europe we tend to find that well established two party systems are dominated by a Democratic Socialist/Social Democratic Party and a Conservative/Christian Democratic party. This is true for The UK, Germany, Austria, France and many other countries. These two parties represent the conflicting interests of workers against business owners, and conservative christians against the secularisation and radical change of society or also in modern cases being supportive of a greater role for business instead of the state.

Traditionally these parties would have strong support bases who would be likely to vote for these parties at every election. For example, in 1957, 61% of SPD voters in Germany identified as working class [1]. It is theorised by Lipset and Rokkan that these parties formed along “electoral cleavages”, with the left forming along a cleavage between workers and business owners and the Christian Democratic parties along a split between secularism and Christianity. Obviously however, there is often more to the story of these splits in partisanship. What is notable is that people would continually vote for parties whom they felt represented them, and would be more likely to attend Church or be active in trade unionism where these political ties were reinforced.

 The trend of voter de-alignment

 In many countries however, a trend has been occurring. People are less inclined to vote for the main two parties in their countries, and even if they do they are less likely to vote for the same party at every election.

Image

For example, in the United Kingdom there has been a trend from elections in the 50s where almost everyone voted for Labour or Conservative to only 60-70% of people voting for them. Although it would appear that Labour and the Conservatives are the two dominant party still, the trend is clearly downwards with landslides such as 1997 (number 12) accounting for less of the vote than Labour achieved in when struggling electorally in the 50s and 60s. When Harold Wilson lost the 1970 election he did so with 43% of the vote, whereas when Tony Blair won in 97 he did so with the same percentage.

This trend is occurring outside of the UK. In Germany, which notably has a more visible effect due to its proportional system, this trend has been occurring to the traditionally working class SPD and Catholic CDU/CSU.

 Image

Although it’s notable that there are differences, such as a significant break in party politics after the 1930s, the proportional Additional Member System and the existence of the third party (the FDP) there is a similar trend where people are voting in smaller numbers for the two Volksparteien. In recent years the German party system has changed from a three party system, to a five party system partially as a result of the rise of post-material and environmental issues and the reunification of Germany leading to the election of the Die Gruenen and Die Linke respectively.

Another example of what is on the face a different party system following the same trend is Austria’s. This is where the SPO has for a long time won elections at federal level, but still over time lost support at the same time of their rival, the OVP.

 Image

Even though the SPO appears to win election after election, the downwards trend of people voting for the main two parties mirrors that of Germany and the United Kingdom where in the times of high church attendance and high involvement in trade unions the two parties were achieving over 90% of the vote. This however drops quite dramatically as voters begin to vote for other parties instead of the establishment until it reaches the point of below 60%.

Some party systems in Europe don’t follow these trends because they have experienced a totally different experience of parties than we find in long established Western European democracies. In countries of the former Warsaw Pact it is common for there to be more parties with smaller activist bases and a public who lacks traditional ties to these parties like in Western Europe. This was notable for example during the reunification of Germany where the trend in the party system appears to be affected less than would be expected under the circumstances.

The last example is that of Greece, who has been included as an example of a more radical alteration in party systems and partly due to the situation occurring in their elections at present.

Image

Greece is an interesting country for many reasons, such as its geopolitical situation as a culturally Western European state in the East of Europe, next to Turkey and which has experienced a military coup after problems occurring with the political stability of the state following the post war years. The graph shows all free and fair elections occurring after the fall of the colonels and shows the rise of a fairly stable two party system and a sudden collapse in the latest two elections (including the May 2012 election). This will be explained due to a different phenomena occurring in this country as a result of the Eurozone Crisis.

 Why are two party systems decreasing?

 The simplest answer to the fall in the number of people voting for the two main parties is that people are less likely to be involved with churches or unions to the extent that they used to. Whereas your party affiliation was closely linked to the communities in which you were raised and exposed to, people are less likely to remain in these communities and voting is more likely to be an activity which people take part in personally rather than collectively. This is why we tend to find older people as being more partisan.

 Voter turnout at elections has been falling for a long time too, with turnout in UK elections following a slow decreasing trend. [2]

Image

Voter turnout as well as establishment party voting appears to be occurring as a result of voter de-alignment. This presents a major problem for parties of the left such as the United Kingdom as turnout appears to be lower in areas which are less financially affluent then they are in areas which are more affluent. A result of this is the phrase “centre ground” which becomes skewed in its definition as what is really being referred to here as the most electable ground as opposed to a media point for politics existent in the views of the entire population.

 Different issues have also come on the agenda, which previously lobby groups would represent and now smaller political parties represent. Notable examples include the rise of Green Parties in Europe who economically may have more in common with left wing parties but place the post material issue of the environment on the table, and more recently the rise of Pirate Parties across Europe which appear to be more liberal, less well economically defined and centred around legislation regarding copy right laws and the internet.

 Put simply, political parties are less involved with the everyday lives of the people they seek to represent as the manner in which they used to interact with the public has decreased as the public has become less inclined to attend community events. What has occurred as a result of this is that voting behaviour is more affected by people’s individual decisions at election time and people are more likely to change party at election time.

 In Greece there is the interesting effect of a new voter cleavage in the elections in 2012. As in other countries more cleavages have occurred, the issue of austerity has allowed both PASOK and ND to be on the same side of a political cleavage. The other anti-austerity side of the cleavage has capitalised on the opportunity to pick up the votes of disenfranchised PASOK and ND voters and the two parties have allowed themselves to be defined by the political environment of the time rather than their fundamental values of Social Democracy and Conservatism.

 Ways parties have tried to cope with these trends

 Parties have tried to cope with the change in voter behaviour by trying to appeal to the changed voter habits. The method of doing this is that they try to appeal to floating voters at election time by offering them more moderate and “centrist” policies. The classic example would be the Third Way project which Social Democratic parties adopted in the late 90s which led to Blair becoming Prime Minister and Schroder becoming Chancellor. Parties on the right have attempted to change their message to appeal to the wider electorate, with David Cameron discussing his “Big Society” and Merkel trying to take votes from SPD voters by offering policies such as a minimum wage. Even parties not aligned to cleavages along economic matters have tried to moderate their messages, with the SNP playing down the issue of secession at election time and instead trying to look like a more competent governing party.

 The other method which is noticeable is the presidentialisation of party politics too. Parties are less likely to be defined by an overall mantra and instead be represented in the media by their leader. This is by no means a new phenomenon but has played a more important role in parties’ election strategies by trying to look competent through their leader’s personality (even though someone’s personality may play a smaller role in doing the business of running a country).

 The issue with these approaches is that parties have exploited the move to the centre ground and risen due to the disenfranchisment of traditional supporters of these parties. In Germany, the WASG (which merged into Die Linke) attacked the SPD vote from the left leaving the party vulnerable to losing voters from both the right and the left. In France, Nicholas Sarkozy was troubled by the fact that he had to take votes from both Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party and Marine Le-Pen’s Front Nationale. The political alignment of parties therefore has suffered in the long term as a result of populist election strategies as people feel that the parties represent the interests of their voters less and less. Populism is not a sustainable election or political strategy, and evidently has not managed to change the tide of voter disenfranchisement in European Political Parties.

 Artificial Cleavage Reinforcement

 There is often talk in parties of community activism and involvement in local politics as a bass. But there is often no analysis of why this is a more sustainable trend in parties gaining sustainable support networks in communities.

 As traditional methods of involving people in community politics have decreased, it is easy for parties to appear distant from individual voters and politics to appear irrelevant to the needs of everyday working people. Community activism and involvement in issues surrounding their everyday lives whether that be in the workplace or in their local areas is a method of parties to reinforce the values and political cleavages directly and so make people more inclined to feel a personal link to these parties. The term Artificial Cleavage Reinforcement is used because parties instead of being fed into from community groups are going out of their way to create the political networks for empowering members of the community along issues pertaining to these parties. This reinforces the issues which the parties are based on and thus moves away from populist and presidential politics as a method of political engagement.

 This method of voter realignment however has its faults. Firstly, there is a tendency for parties to centrally dictate party strategy from the centre and therefore it may make the exercise of involving people in the process of party activism look opportunistic and fake. If people are being asked to get involved with issues in their communities which contradict a party line then people are likely to become angered by the party and look for alternative methods of changing their communities and expressing their viewpoints.

 As well as this, it requires a lot of time and investment from party machines in hiring and funding the organisers who will be responsible for creating, maintaining and liaising between these networks and the wider party. For example, a well functioning student movement requires people with adequate time to check on student political networks in universities across the state which they find themselves in. This may require the funding of a full or part time member of staff to do so which requires a student to give up their degree for a year and a party to employ a member of staff on a reasonable wage for a year. This is opposed to the more traditional method of people being employed by the subsidiary organisations who took the role of feeding into party machines when elected members or party staff would liaise with trade unions or influential members of the church directly in order to maintain good relations with these declining bases of power.

 Regardless of these issues, the method of ACR is much more sustainable due to the fact that people see and experience parties in a similar manner as they previously did during the 50s, 60s and 70s. As a long term strategy it may give parties the extra ability to trump smaller parties with smaller access to funds and activist bases and thus reinforce the dominance of larger parties. The inclusion and improved communication with pressure groups can also make sure that issues which interest the public are being noted and policy is being developed before parties exploit new cleavages being created along the lines of the internet and the environment.

 For situations such as that of Greece, PASOK may want to look at trying to keep the vision for Greece’s future based on that of Social Democracy and should not let itself be defined by Austerity. That means that as a long term strategy, ACR could be a method for rebuilding social democracy in Greece following the election defeat in May 2012. PASOK has access already to a more moderate and stable vision for Greece than its more radical competitors which means that ideologically it has the potential to appeal to a greater number of voters and offer a fairer and more sustainable future, legitimised by its efforts to utilise grass roots democracy, something which it has not often been traditionally linked with.

Bibliography

 [1] Dalton R. J (2003), “Voter Choice and Electoral Politics”, in Smith G., Paterson W. E and Padgett S (2003) Developments in German Politics 3, Macmillan Press, Basingstoke

 [2] http://www.ukpolitical.info/Turnout45.htm

 On church attendance in the UK http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/03_04_07_tearfundchurch.pdf

 On trade union membership decline in the UK http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3526917.stm

 On the leftwards shift of Merkel http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/german-political-analysis-of-leftward-shift-by-chancellor-angela-merkel-a-826387.html

The Fragmentation of a team; Greece and the Eurozone

Working together or against eachother?

I am normally only ever driven to write something when feeling frustrated at the overarching arguments present during a political debate. One such is the prevailing tone of discussion to do with Greece. In this article I want to cover three main things. I want to discuss the anti-greek sentiment which has emerged in the media and argue that it is neither constructive, mature nor welcome in a political crisis in which the welfare of hundreds of millions of people across Europe is on the line. I will then argue that Greece’s situation must be treated with respect and that the welfare of the Greek people must be placed higher on the political agenda through talking briefly about the political landscape of Greece. Lastly I will argue that if the crisis is to be solved, both the Greek people and the leaders of European countries must cease to treat each other as adversaries and instead look at working together for a solution which has the consent of the Greek people and the interests of working people across Europe at its heart.

There has been a notion that Greece must be “punished” for what it has done. Indeed, in the discourse associated with the country there are often fingers pointed at the “laziness” of the Greek people or massive problems with the country’s institutions. As with any political crisis, the most dramatic of events is the one which often gains the most coverage as in this one most commentators in the media flirt with the notion that a Greek exist is somewhat desirable and inevitable. It is not. A Greek exist from the Eurozone is still one of many option on the table and even if it were to occur there would still be a mountain to climb in terms of solving the crisis at hand as well as solving the fundamental issues surrounding the crisis.

There has been a debate which has existed since the inception of the European Community not over whether or not there should be a more united Europe, but over what the future of our continent should look like. Although in the UK we are seen as either “Euro-sceptic” or “Europhilic” these are huge over simplifications of the visions for what Europe should be. One such is where the power over common policies is held mostly at state level (commonly referred to as the inter-governmentalist approach) and the other is where decision bodies have power over issues which are most efficiently solved at European level (often referred to as the community method). Throughout Europe’s history there have been numerous failings of the intergovernmentalist method due to the fact that the political interests of member governments (trying to please their own electorates) all too often conflict with the interests of the citizens as a whole and the development of common solutions to common problems. This is one of the reasons why Qualified Majority Voting has been introduced for an increasing number of areas, as the intergovernmental method has proved too inefficient to provide a fast reacting, strong and united response to crises affecting the whole of Europe.

It therefore appears to me that the path which Merkel has chosen for Europe is one of intergovernmentalism. Rather than look at strengthening EU institutions to govern the Eurozone collectively by introducing Eurobonds and greater powers for community-level institutions, it left the burden of deficit reduction in the hands of individual Governments. This has meant that when it has come to the “problem” of Greece, the decisions have not been heavily influenced by heads of state and not people accountable to the governments of all. Greece has therefore become a salient issue for state level governments across Europe, with populist discourse about the “lazy Greeks” coming from creditor states. But the question must be asked: how legitimate is Merkel’s role in Greek politics? Surely if the issue spans beyond Greece’s borders, then collective institutions are more legitimate as they represent both the concerns of the community and of the people of Greece? What right does Merkel in particular have to punish Greece when her own inaction and mistakes are partly to blame for the current situation? It must be remembered that Merkel’s re-election relies on the mood of the German people, not of Europe as a whole. The future of Greece must involve the input of the people of Greece. They must be treated as we would all expect to be treated if we were in their situation and should feel included in negotiations.

Many people are surprised that PASOK, the main social democratic party in Greece, has used the slogan “Αυτοδύναμη Ελλάδα” or “self Greece” as their election slogan. This seemingly nationalistic slogan isn’t new to the character of PASOK at all. The left in Greece has always carried a semi-nationalistic tone dating back as far as Eleftherios Venizelos (a hugely influential liberal republican) and to the founder of PASOK, Andreas Papandreou. To me this isn’t a nationalist populism so much as a desire for Greece and its people to be treated as equals much like any other state. The country is geopolitically in an interesting location, finding itself next to Turkey and during the cold war next to both Yugoslavia and Bulgaria (then a member of the Warsaw Pact). This has meant that throughout their history they have been of strategic interest to Italy, the Ottoman Empire, the United Kingdom and the United States. It is therefore understandable that parties have formed along this line of politics a country so vital to the interests of others and why, during a time of forced Austerity, even the moderate parties carry such a seemingly nationalistic tone. This has been somewhat amplified by the fact that politicians who are totally unaccountable to them, such as Merkel and Sarkozy, have created such public anger when talking in a populist manner to their voters about “solving the problem of Greece”. It is this anger which allows parties like SYRIZA, a radical socialist anti-austerity party, to do so well by tapping into public anger instead of offering a stable alternative which suits both the Greek people and the wider Eurozone.

It is partly the responsibility of PASOK to try and argue for the stable future which the Greek people undoubtedly desire, geared more towards growth and stability and not a deficit reduction plan which appears to endlessly create a higher deficit. The people must also have trust within the wider institutions that if they do elect a PASOK or New Democracy government, that it will be listened to and their views will be taken on board. The people of Greece in opinion polls seem to overwhelmingly support staying in the Euro, and for me it is doubtful that a SYRIZA government would manage to do so considering they can’t rise above party politics to form a coalition with other parties at a time when the Greek people need one. Other leaders must understand this desire and work with and not against the wishes of the Greek people. If the austerity plan fails it will not be the fault of the Greek parties or people, but of the leaders of other countries within the Eurozone to deal with the crisis in a responsible manner. If this all doesn’t suggest that massive reform of the way Europe works is needed, and that it goes beyond the borders of Greece, then I have no idea what will.

If Greece and their European partners wish to come to a solution to this crisis, they must treat each other as allies in a struggle to solve this crisis for the half a billion people resident in the European Union. They must also share responsibility for the crisis. There are undoubtedly problems which existed in Greece following the mismanagement of the country under the last New Democracy government and problems regarding the reform and strengthening of Greece’s financial and governing institutions. But these must be performed with the consent of the people whom will be governed by these new institutions, and if they feel they are not being listened to then they will elect louder and more unreasonable governments such as SYRIZA in order to be heard. The rest of Europe must also share responsibility for the mismanagement of the crisis, the inability to accept vital reforms such as the introduction of Eurobonds and the strengthening of community level institutions. The ridiculous treaty must be scrapped which essentially limits the tools available for Governments for making long term growth and which constitutionally enforces an ideologically pro-austerity approach to the problem of public debt. Instead there must be co-operation between governments on regaining the trust of the Greek people, on finding an urgent alternate solution to Greek debt and on finding an adequate solution to the wider problems in the Eurozone in Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and beyond.

New year, new challenges face the EU

Saluton amikoj! A new year always allows one to try and predict what will happen. It’s a good basis for discussion and so I have written this to get your juices flowing.

As a result of the economic crisis, many pro-EU minded people hoped Santa would bring much needed constitutional and structural reform (Being the exciting bunch they are). Instead the gift was a garish knitted jumper knitted by Sarkozy and Merkel covered in the muck of Cameron’s tantrum. The jumper is too small, and will not cover all the necessary bases required to strengthen the Eurozone’s economy in the long term, and will not cope with the stress of a probable recession. As the European states, excluding Britain, come together to help each-other with structural funds and political concession looking for short and long term stability and growth, a cap on debts is looking less of a solution and more of an appeasement for the markets.

2012 therefore brings us the fallout of these decisions as early as January where Presidents, Chancellors and Prime Ministers will meet once more. Van Rompuy and Barroso face the challenge of trying to facilitate a negotiation which most commentators seem to have come to expect little progress. Indeed part of the agreement is to have more regular meetings, which shows many things. Partly a desire to keep power in the hands of national leaders, rather than delegating power to EU institutions, and partly a necessity to be seeming to make progress. (what a cynic).

Van Rompuy said once that “politics is the art of making the necessary possible”. This lacklustre approach shows how the role of the EU will be to facilitate the demands of Governments and that the prospect of Eurobonds is unlikely to come in the earlier part of the year, but cannot be ruled out if the markets and root causes are to be taken seriously. Both Barroso and Van Rompuy have shown support for them, and as time moves on it is possible that necessity may require them. I am not an owner of a crystal ball however.

The possibility of referenda stands in the way of progress too. It is certain that the leaders will try to avoid them, after the legnth of time which previous treaty change has taken in the past.

Europe cannot avoid public votes. France faces its election in May, germany preparing for theirs in 2013. The Finns, Slovaks, Czechs and Lithuanian can expect some grandstanding as well, with the Euroskeptics likely to try and capitalise on perceived weaknesses and leaders likely to take a more populist approach before their elections. There is a huge amount of work which Pro-EU campaigners have ahead of them, and a struggle to make sure debate does not crumble into banal flag waving Euroskepticism.

These challenges put another pressure on the more neutral European institution, Van Rompuy must focus on finding compromise and leadership, reminding leaders with fast approaching elections that co-operation is in the interest of all member states and their citizens. This is economically one of the most vital times for the EU to be working together, it is the role of the EU institutions to facilitate it and make it happen.

Other challenges arise, which may or may not not come to the fore as I am certain that Economics will be in the limelight. Some of these challenges are of a  constitutional nature. The public has always been detached slightly from Europe, especially in the UK. However, with its importance for finding and end to economic turbulence (as well as Cameron’s dithering performances) has brought it to the limelight. So issues of what legitimacy each state has to dictate another state’s finances comes up, and how to manage closer economic integration in a way that is accountable and fair. Although from the looks from the current approach and past approaches, I wouldn’t expect too much. (Being the terrible cynic I am…)

As well as this, things such as Shengen Enlargement will come to the fore, with some MEPs raising concerns about the new membership of Bulgaria and Romania. This will probably become more of an issue closer to the time of their entry, and the Pro-Europeans must fight against much of the prejudices which parts of the right wing have towards these states.

Even with the resistance and the slow pace of progress, progress is still happening (unless you are British). States in Europe are recognising their responsibility to each other and each others’ citizenry. The Golden Rule, although crap, is a recognition of this increased responsibility and is an outlook on how to achieve long term stability (and hopefully will spark debate). For me, I look forward to seeing more of what the PES will come out with under its new leadership concerning the direction which Europe will head (I’d hope it’d be more radical, and there are signs its approach may be). It will be an interesting year, with a lot on the line and a lot of debate. Of course crystal ball gazing is boring, and lacks analysis, so I hope most of all that this blog will be more of a ground for discussion come 2012.

Note: It is a question which I am asked, why suddenly Europe became my number one topic. When the EU becomes important in the media, there is much spin (or barefaced lies) from many news sources, with others being a little too parochial. There’s no point sitting at the side watching things happen, why not get involved? Also, it’s not the EU itself that should concern the pro-EU community, but what it can bring. It is a great tool for development, rights, social justice and progress and it is those values which we should fight for.