What's Europe about to look like

por GEES, 1 de abril de 2017

"The times they are a'changing". Bob Dylan, Literature Nobel prize winner.
In the Spring of the year 2005 all Europe was in a state of expectation. More precisely official Europe was. The reason was the likely advent of its new Constitution, recently drafted under the watchful eyes of former French President Giscard d'Estaing. Official Europe thought its own excitement was mora than enough to galvanize just about everybody else in the continent. Most countries did not call for referenda and approved the text through their legislative bodies. Some did: Spain and Luxembourg valiantly showed the way in accepting the terms of the new covenant (Spain by a big a margin but with low participation). France and the Netherlands were to come next. They didn't.
Referenda or not, the main message coming out of officialdom was simple: the European Union had been good for their citizens and, despite some democratic imperfections, the new alliance was to bring about a united continent under an anthem and a banner. A bright future would ensue where nationalism would not ever again dare speak its name and would not be allowed to revive the ghosts of the past. The results left official Europe in shock and despair. France put it definitely to rest (May 29th), rejecting a unification that was too much to bear for the heirs of the country of Napoleon and de Gaulle. The Netherlands, which voted next (June 1st), confirmed the rejection by a large margin.
The Constitution died but was nevertheless mainly reintroduced later (signed 2007, in force 2009) through the backdoor of the Lisbon Treaty.
Today's situation is similar except the Netherlands are voting first. Official Europe is holding its breath awaiting elections this Spring in the very same countries that killed the dream of a constitution for Europe. On the other hand, voting Europe is shaken and upbeat by the confluence of three magic words: Brexit, Trump and nation. Anyhow, to make a prophecy over what will happen is beyond man`s powers but providing the Europeans with the options at hand is not. Strangely - apart from the Commission's White Paper on the future of Europe[1] - almost all the talking is being done by the partisans of an outright dissolution of the EU.
Let's sort out what the paths to this new Europe - 12 years after official Europe launched the failed Constitution project - are.
We shall begin by an overview of the current situation. Last year[2] the British decided in referendum to leave the EU throwing official Europe in a state of unbelief and rejection. It was shocking to see what a popular vote and a sovereign decision could do to the institutional expectation of an ever closer union. This result in turn fed the revolting national forces as the battle is summed up as a confrontation between those who govern and know better against those who vote and pay but yet know less. The fact that the battle has emerged in these terms makes it clearly a losing proposition for official Europe. That is, unless Europe is too far gone to remember it invented the concepts of sovereignty and popular representation.
Amid this new despotism came the victory of Donald Trump in the US election. As the winner carried the day on a platform of economic nationalism, patriotism and rejection of globalism, the reaction in official Europe has been appalling. Instead of acknowledging a relevant trend - as far as democracy goes the US should be upheld as relevant - in the West, the insults have succeeded the shock and have in turn been succeeded by threats, some veiled, some less[3].
Official Europe has therefore refused to adapt or compromise. It has intstead declared a war of sorts againts what it calls – conflating different political movements, sometimes even opposed to each other – populisms. In other words – because of panic or because official Europe is really what the alt-right says it is - it has badly misread the situation and prevented itself from reacting in a way that could preserve what remains good in the project. Now, the other side is pretty annoyed.
Official Europe knew – or with the means at their disposal was definitely in a position to know - that in the present situation, even if they save the two match balls of the Dutch and French elections, they are bound to a total revision of the European project. Is it really possible for these people to ignore altogether the impact of Brexit, the program of the President of the US and the plight of most countries East of the Alps? As the vested interests and the entrenched bureaurocratic and business elite are extremely strong and well positioned they thing they can pull off some lampedusan[4] trick and make some changes guaranteeing the continuation of life as we've known it.
We will go over the facts warranting a substantial change in the European Union if it wishes to survive, but let’s first address the arguments making up the attempt to defend the continuation of the EU as it stands.
They are two. They refer to peace and prosperity. The first one is presented as an achievement of Europeans, wheareas it is actually the fruit of Americans. The second reflects with equal simpathy on the success of the Marshall Plan and the benefits of a capitalist economy on the one side and the current private and public debt crisis, de-industrialization of the West and “German-size fits all” economics of the EU, on the other.
Peace, its is said rightly, is the greatest achievement of a united Europe. The two world wars, especially the tragic horrors of the Second World War, having their origin in the rivalry between France and Germany, required a lasting solution that could only come from a genuine union between the countries of Europe. This had to be crowned with a prosperous economy made of common interests.
Thus the three first treaties united the industries of the steel and coal, the atomic energy and finally instituted a common market of goods and services. However what the Europeans see and so they tell, as an European achievement is indeed a Treaty of Versailles in reverse. As that Treaty had put Germany in a corner after the First World War, the victors of the Second - and who can doubt those were the US - insisted in order to avoid further trouble coming from Europe that they get their act together by linking their economic interests so they could all be open to prosperity. In return, they would provide security from foreign threats - read Soviet Union - and impose on Germany a constitution - the Fundamental Law of Bonn - dividing the powerful Reich into a federation with serious constraints. Protection from foreign aggression and from internal unbalance. The two organizations the Marshall Plan encouraged were NATO and what is now called the OECD, to promote security on the one hand and cooperation in the economy on the other. Both were intended as firewalls against new wars. Peace brought undeniable prosperity - much more in the first thirty years than now, but still - and a measure of stability to Europe.
What can be termed the Peace Treaty of World War II as an institutional structure worked, but to call it a European achievement is an understatement. It was mainly the Americans that framed it.
The other argument regards the economic evolution of Europe. The West after around 1968 has not ceased to become more and more materialistic. The demise of the Soviet Union - the materialistic marxist empire by excellence - left the Europeans without a challenge to respond. According to the interpretation of history by Arnold Toynbee, the only way to achieve progress. Since then, 1991, the economy is left alone as the only worry for Western minds and bodies.
It is a paradox then that the economy, in the largest terms, has comparatively slowed in relation to the last years of last century. Even worse have been the trends of employment rates[5] and the debt that is piling on in the prívate and public sectors. However, after the recession, the economy is getting better measured in terms of GDP progress.
The economy – some statistics used to reflect it - is seen more and more as an end in itself, as a self-sustaining system rather than as a meand to achieve the goal of prosperity or affluence, still less the pursuit of happiness if one were to use the expression of the Declaration of Independence.
Be that as it may, as the second argument goes, the economy is picking up steam and the German oriented mix of quasi-sound public expenditures, money printing and liberalization of labor laws (the Schröder mix[6]) should work for everyone everywhere, especially if you are in the Euro area.
These are the only two arguments that proponents of official Europe can make in their favor. The first is a non-European achievement; the second is particularly frail, as we shall see.
Against this background the proponents of a sobering return to nation states are making astonishing progress among the populations. Despite political correctness reaching unmeasurable levels in Europe a sheer discontent with the public sphere – in a large sense -  is shaping up. It cannot be exclusively economic and it cannot be exclsuively civilizational. It has a little bit of both. But whatever its causes, it’s real.
The EU scenario(s)
As the word goes, White Papers propose three solutions. Throwing one self into the abyss is the first one, doing nothing is the third one, and some sort of in between measure precooked, and favored, by the civil service is the second one. Wonder which one politicians will follow? Therefore, for the sake of time we’ll skip the brouhaha and state right away what the White Paper for the future of Europe promotes. If there had been any doubt, clarification came in the form, a couple of days after the presentation of the White Paper, of a reunion between four EU members in - of all places - Versailles, seat of the Ancien Régime.
The idea is simple: multi-speed Europe. Multi speed Europe is a terribly complicated and confusing technical term invented over the years to define what Europe could do as policy when member states grew in number and not all the countries agreed. Barring technicalities it is a point of fact that the two most known and successful multi speed policies of the EU are the Schengen treaties and the Euro. Imagine the rest.
The Euro has suffered a considerable transformation over the recent recession. Things have changed so much in this regard that there is almost no point in going over the legal doucments shaping the Euro. They have been superseded by politics and events to an extent that the texts are barely worth the paper they're not any longer written in. In short, the Euro is today a German currency where Germany has, genuinely, limited its inner instincts to monetary policy in Exchange for an, also genuine, attempt to accommodate the other members. Germany, however, not only retains but has overwhelmingly strengthened the position of unrivaled power in the EU.
The result is indeed a Europe that walks together in an environment of semi-sound fiscal policies (some limitation of public spending), progressive liberalization of labor laws, large money printing and high taxation with a huge standing debt. To this we shall add a sizable competitivel advantage for Germany as the currency is actually devalued for Germany as a result of its much better economic situation in relation with the other members. Everybody knows this is hardly sustainable – both economically and politically - in the long run but then considers the state of the rest of the world and concludes we're better off than most. Add to that the current interpretation of Keynes that only the short term matters, and the end result is a proposal for multi-speed Europe, that equals pretending to do something.
What multi speed meant in regard with the Euro is that in fact some countries, notably the UK, stayed out. The irony is that seeing how Euro countries dealt with the crisis was certainly one element pushing Britain out of the comprehensive compact altogether. So, if this is multi speed example number one and that’s how it is faring today, wait to hear about the second.
Multi speed example number two is Schengen. In 2015-2016 in the span of a year, more than 200[7] people were killed in terrorist attacks in France. Recently, as a humanitarian response to the war that was ravaging Syria, Europe basically opened its doors to hundreds of thousands of refugees in record time. The Schengen agreement means that internal borders have mainly been abolished in the Schengen area, so that once an individual has entered its gates, there is no control needed between one country and another. ISIS and other terrorists took advantage of this situation and coming in and out of Schengen area countries after having entered with the flow of migrants killed scores of Europeans in France, Belgium[8] and, yes, Germany[9]. Faced with such a situation France has established a state of emergency since then - and has not budged from it in more than one year - which basically means it has suspended Schengen and reestablished control in its borders. However, even before all the terror, the number of exceptions to the treaty applied by several countries was and remains literally astonishing making it hard to keep track of them[10].
So there you have it.
Multi speed Europe is evidently a joke from the part of official Europe, and a tasteless one at that.
What the White paper shows is the utter panic and end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it impression at the quarters of the European Union. They get it more than you think.
The real scenarios
Hence, the need to define the real scenarios over what Europe will be looking like in the near future.
The Netherlands is a small country, relevant for it is a founding member and has been at the forefront of European integration for decades, with real interests in the continuation of the European Union. It is not, however, decisive. Others are.
Still, Wilders coming in second, rather than first as some polls predicted months ago, has been widely interpreted as a stop to nationalistic movements. This is a wrong interpretation. The fact is that never in the Parliamentary History of the Netherlands had a coalition government lost so many seats. Wilders has improved and lifted his party to second place. Even in a country famous for government by coalition, the political landscape makes the Netherlands hardly governable. When in a Parliament of 150 seats the winner takes 33 (down from 41), the criticism of assambleary power of the liberal democracies of the 1930's may be warranted. And that spells trouble. The foremost example of such impotent parliaments was the parliament of the German Republic of Weimar. Hitler is of course nowhere in sight right now, but what we mean is that governments that do not govern, and representative parliaments that cannot make laws are a recipe for disaster.
Now next stop is France. France counts.
In face similar parliamentarian troubles, that were then common to all Europe, the French general de Gaulle invented the Vth Republic, with a strong mandate for the President akin to that of a King. The Vth Republic had institutions and a Parliament with a two stages voting that encouraged manageable rule for the time of the legislature. The counterpart to a stable Government with parliamentarian support was, as was the case in all European countries, utmost respect for human rights: life, property and freedom. The realm of policy would not infringe upon those. Otherwise tragedy ensued and the memory of the gas chambers was in everyone's minds. Thanks to all this, Marine Le Pen could very well become the only elected chief of State of Europe with actually some relevant political power.
One of the dramas of international organizations and especially the EU is that since they are to legally consider countries co-equals they have lost sight that they aren't. Countries have their history, their culture, their population their customs, their own genius - just like human beings - and some indeed as in Animal Farm are more equal than others, especially when great events are in the making.
France is arguably the most important country of the EU. It is geographically the biggest, it's situated so that everyone has to cross it and it has politically and culturally shaped the continent since 1789. What happens there matters. Incomparably more than if it happens anywhere else. That's why, again, irrespective of the specific result of an election, what's going on there is actually going to be critical for the EU.
Let's go over the superficial runoff to the election first and let's contemplate the undercurrents shaping it afterwards.
Macron is said to be, by the media and the chancelleries, the favorite. He is of course a young good looking fellow educated as the best and brightest are in France, and that's not nothing. He also has for him the establishment although no party no past and for all that matters neither achievements nor concrete proposals. His policies are pure marketing ads. The French will supposedly prefer him to anyone else would he to make it to the second round. If this sounds like total nonsense to you it's because it is.
Fillon is a sesoned politician, companion to Sarkozy as a trusted and effective prime minister. Happier with the first six reformist months of Sarkozy's presidency than with all the rest but companion to his deeds, or lack thereof, until the bitter end. Apart from a complicated judicial affair shaped up by the establishment against him, his most difficult task is to convince the French that he can do what he was not able to do last time he was around.
And then there is Marine Le Pen. According to everyone in the know, there is no way she can win the second round. And yet, if she faces Macron, the people who voted gaullist are going to have a hard time swallowing Macron. In fact much harder than swallowing Le Pen. And if she faces Fillon she will turn the election into a referendum on the EU, and in that case, all bets are off. For Fillon cannot reject in that position the EU altogether. Or can he?
Under the surface what is going on in France is quite impressive. We are witnessing a silent revolution, so far, where an alliance is shaping up between the intellectuals and the people against the elites. Since a couple of years ago, the enfant terrible of the French literature, the less than sane Michel Houellebecq published his book Soumission, any observer of the French society can definitely confirm that something big is about to happen. Houellebecq is certainly a peculiar figure but a clever man highly cherished by the French intellectual elite in a country were books are almost a religious observance. Mr Houellebecq wrote indeed a book where he stated, in weird terms one must admit, what everyone thought in the street. Namely: that France had lost its soul and was ready to give it out to anyone with strength to request it from her, Islam, in the novel. That this was identical to the thesis of an obscure man, Renaud Camus, read only by Front National adherents whereby France was about to suffer the Great Replacement: the replacement of its culture by that of Islam, was beyond shocking. That is why the French elite continued to enjoy and like the whims of Houellebecq, by praising his "fiction". I.e.: rejecting him as factual. The fact that Houellebecq repeatedly stated he was not kidding, elicited no further response.
Talking of bookish people and intellectuals siding with the people, France being what it is, we stumble upon the Jews. And here the trends are no less astonishing. For years they have been leaving France for Israel in troves, in stark contrast with the time when French Jews had in their prayer books a special prayer for the Republic that did so much to emancipate them. Those who have stayed are incomparably present in political commentariat of late. The most spectacular is Éric Zemmour, who wrote a book called the French suicide depicting the sad decline in Frenchness of the Vth Republic since de Gaulle's death. He is present at every radio, tv or newspaper debate worth having, defending thesis close to the FN but insisting, we think genuinely, that's not a party platform he is advocating for: he is advocating for France. Somewhere in between the low brow culture (a way of speaking, all my excuses to Mr Zemmour) and the high brow, we have Alain Finkielkraut, a French Academy member worried about education and the culture at large, who appears mainly with Elizabeth Lévy - no relation with Bernard Henry on whom more later - at the review Causeur. An outlet on the moderate right but actually a publication dedicated to reinvigorating French free thought in the terrible fight against political correctness. Finkielkraut despises what passes for political thought in the party life and points out that the people are actually on another line. Finally we have the self described highbrow culture of Bernard Henry Lévy who has been writing the same article against the FN as basically Vichy nazis, since 1990 or earlier, with only minor accommodations. Not that people pay much attention to him any longer.
Also middle brow, trending to high brow, but on the non-Jewish intelectual side (a few are resisting) we actually have the Catholic side. Not all of them are catholic, in fact not of all of them are even religious but they certainly think that France is Joan of Arc, the cathedrals and Saint Louis, and Notre Dame at least as much and probably much more than the Revolution. This is a novelty in contemporary France. They gather around a TV channel called Histoire owned by Jean Patrick Buisson, former advisor to French president Sarkozy famous for stealing the votes from the FN. By the way of reviewing French History through countless books - again the books - they very subtly make their point. For they have one. On the middle brow, trending low brow, other movements are emerging inflaming the catholic base. How not to mention Ludovine de la Rochère and her “Manif pour tous”, a movement born in reaction to Hollande's “marriage pour tous” which was the catchphrase for the legalization of the homosexual marriage in France. Part of a larger movement of catholic traditionalists who take to the streets and become immensely popular, to the point of shifting the primaries of the Republicans and moving François Fillon to the top when he was expected to be third behind Juppé and Sarkozy.
And then the lowest of the low brows, include several web sites and townhall movements of people living in difficult neighborhoods or knowing the life of the banlieues. They have the sense they are not living in their country and they state it. One of such outlets is Français de souche which translates natural born French.
Of course, probably nobody in official Europe has been paying any attention to any of that, but perhaps the French will bring it to their attention. So the EU can be excused for not having a clue of what happens really in one of its 27 societies in detail for they have bigger fish to fish (they do?) but it certainly cannot be excused of acting in the manner of Marie Antoinette who when asked to provide for bread to the people and after being told they had bread no longer, advised her courtesans to throw brioches to the poor. And if her fate is familiar, let it be said in her defense she was a much better person than most holding the reins of official Europe today. Or at least she had less perks.
What to expect when you are not expecting
It is undeniable that the power of the establishment in Europe is much more than in the US. The strength and breadth of the strings they can pull is large. It is also the case that the arguments they can wield in their favor provide many people with sufficient contentment and that the present situation in Europe is not one of extreme deprivation in economic terms nor of total disregard for liberal institutions. It's much worse than people think in both aspects which would elicit another analysis, but the perception is not one of total disaster.Certainly we are not in the age of the II World War nor in the thralls of the German inflation of the thirties.
That is why what will happen will have nothing to do with what happened then. Enough with that!
The third argument of the establishment – after peace and propserity - is precisely that what they call the "populisms", conflating movements and trends awkwardly but indecently, may follow the path of the thirties.
Here is what, in fact, they are going to do.
First let's state a very relevant element. The West is experiencing the same zeitgeist. Hence the words that introduce this paper: the times are changing. Irving Kristol, now so undeservedly démodé, once said that America and Europe are very similar except America is a bit less in trouble. In other words, it's a matter of degree not of substance. If Trump could win in the US similar movements can make it here. That is why it so relevant that the example of Trump and his policies are successful. The non formulated assumption however is this: if the EU overcomes the two match balls of the elections in Netherlands and France, nothing will shatter it in the near future. That would be if the social undercurrents were not so strong, but they are. If neither Wilders nor Le Pen, nor a hard line version of Fillon make to the top - and those are very many ifs - the setback will be tough and the reaction of the establishment merciless, which does not say much in its favor. However, they are not going away. Lest the establishment turns into Nero, and even then we know how that ended.
The reason for such resilience is that the establishment has no answer to the qualms of the people and they will still be trying to find solutions to their problems. It's (European) nature. Under a façade of apparent solidity official Europe hides a structural weakness: its power is perceived as less and less legitimate for it has not kept the promises of the covenant made 60 years ago. Far from defending the standing liberal order, they are defending its transformation into a pre-democratic despotism. Ironically, the aim of the movements challenging the status quo is to reestablish the liberal order in more modest but more genuine and legitimate terms.
How long can the EU provide economic progress for the future generations according to current trends? Not very long. The economic situation is barely sustainable in Germany. Nowhere else.
How long can the EU provide security to external and internal threats based on their actual actions? Who knows, but are we to expect that the end of the war in Syria will halt a civilizational war of Islam against the West? We shouldn't.
How long can a soulless society be forced to sustain false enthusiasms for a polity whose achievements are diminishing and whose legitimacy is hardly felt? Probably in Sudan for ever, but in Europe?
How can official Europe think that the continent that invented sovereign nations and the sovereignty of the people will not revolt against an entrenched despotism?
One way or another, official Europe is doomed. "For the loser now/ Will be later to win/ For the times they are a-changin"
[1] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/content/news/white_paper.html
[2] The referendum was held Thursday 23 June, 2016, to decide whether the UK should leave or remain in the European Union. Leave won by 51.9% to 48.1%.
[3] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/30/donald-trump-steve-bannon-threat-european-union-disintegration
[4] Famously, Il Gattopardo, the novel by Giuseppe di Lampedusa, follows the family of a Sicilian nobleman Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, through the events of the Risorgimento. Perhaps the most memorable line in the book is spoken by Don Fabrizio's nephew, Tancredi, urging unsuccessfully that Don Fabrizio abandon his allegiance to the disintegrating Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and ally himself with Giuseppe Garibaldi and the House of Savoy: "Unless we ourselves take a hand now, they'll foist a republic on us. If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”
[5] Check this interesting data from the World Bank shwoing the Little progress, if any, in most of the west in incorporating people to the labour force: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.CACT.ZS
[6] http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21573583-ten-years-how-does-germanys-agenda-2010-package-rate-wunderreform
[7] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-33288542
[8] http://europe.newsweek.com/isis-suicide-bombers-brussels-airport-targeted-us-airline-jews-547371?rm=eu
[9] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/new-terror-attack-thwarted-say-german-police/2016/12/23/7ea61604-c8e7-11e6-85b5-76616a33048d_story.html?utm_term=.a4524da4c03b
[10] https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/borders-and-visas/schengen/reintroduction-border-control_en