It's time to think big.
Let’s be honest: the eurozone crisis is not all that is wrong with Europe, but the final straw that did the damage, bringing to the surface pretty much every grievance and complaint people have about the European Union and the process of European integration. And guess what? A lot of it is true. It has been a top down process, and whilst the union is not the EUSSR that the headbangers describe, the truth is, it is not a democracy by any standard that any member state would recognise. Many eurosceptics raise legitimate points of criticism. Having said that, the inability of European leaders to act courageously has been caused primarily by the failure of those same leaders to explain the need for European integration to their own people.
Yet it has worked, and even the most ardent of British eurosceptics still want to preserve many of the aspects of the union, in particular the single market. Here are a few things that I think we should consider to save Europe.
1. Eurobonds. We need to deal with the massive debt. At the same time, Germans, Finns and others can’t be expected to just carry the burden. They fear, not unreasonably, that in the middle of their apple strudel in the great European restaurant every other country is going to suddenly leg it for the door stiffing them with the bill. Supposing we agree to create eurobonds, issued centrally by the European Council, with the contributory nations like Germany having a veto over the amount raised, and with the specific spending of those bonds controlled directly by the Commission. This is not Daddy writing another cheque to be spent on beer, but Daddy paying for your college fees directly in the hope it gets you a paying job. Those member states that require them must sign up for the Fiscal Compact, and cede their right to issue national bonds. A EU-wide tax on a common commodity (Petrol?) could be levied in the countries using bonds to create a revenue to pay down the bonds, and possibly pay compensation to those countries who have higher borrowing costs having ceded national bonds. Consideration could also be given to the temporary transfer of public revenue raising assets like airports or toll roads as collateral against the bonds. An act, incidentally, that would create a powerful EU-owned multinational corporation to manage those assets on behalf of the union.
2. Such a radical proposal should be put to the electorate of each country wishing to have access to eurobonds, to seek a democratic mandate for the tough fiscal discipline required.Those countries that vote No do not get access to eurobonds.
3. We also need to recognise that the union must offer different things to different countries. Some countries see the benefit of a closer union, perhaps even a federation. Others want access to the single market. It’s time that we negotiate those two different types of membership, and the option of complete withdrawal, and let every member state vote, on the same day, on a new variable geometry settlement, letting their people choose which form of membership they sign up for. In short, for Europe to survive as a project, it must receive a mandate from the people of Europe.
4. For the inner core, the Democratic Disconnect has to be resolved once and for all. The people of Europe should elect directly a combined Commission/Council president of the eurozone. Throughout this European crisis, it has become very apparent that no one speaks with a mandate for Europe as a whole, despite the fact that this problem cannot be solved by any single country. It’s like a soccer team without a manager, no one is in charge of the big picture. The phrase “faceless unelected bureaucrats” has got to be destroyed, and only the people can do that with their ballots.
Also, member states should commit, over a ten year period, to holding national elections within the same 12 month period. The constant cycle of elections in Europe is contributing to paralysis, and needs to be addressed in a way that does not damage the democratic legitimacy of national politics.
5. Europe needs to create a European Defence Force. This may sound like a strange issue to bring up in the middle of a financial crisis, but it matters. EU countries spend nearly 70% of what the US spends on defence, yet were nearly beaten by Libya. By creating a small but well resourced EDF (alongside, not replacing national armies) Europe could free up national forces (and money) from combined operations like Somalia, Libya and Afganistan whilst allowing member states to get better military capabilities for less money by reducing duplication. After all, the EU has more soldiers than the US.
These are just ideas, flaws and all, that I’m throwing into the pot for discussion. Will they work? I don’t know. But I do know that Europe has failed throughout this crisis to get ahead of it and come up with a solution bigger than the problem. Maybe it’s time to think big, because the potential for failure, and its cost, will almost certainly be bigger.
Additional: my apologies with regard to US/EU defence spending. Read the data wrong. EU defence spending is closer to one third of the US.
Mary Lou puts her voters where her mouth is.
So, what actually happens if we vote No? The Yes campaign say we’ll have no access to funds, less influence, send a bad signal to investors in Ireland, etc. But what’s more interesting is what the No side are saying. What are they claiming a No vote will deliver?
1. It will allow a renegotiation of fiscal severity. Hmm. See, the problem with that is the fact that even Francois Hollande accepts that we have to have a curb on spending. Curbing unaffordable spending is not an ideological thing, it’s the reality of matching resources to demands. It ain’t going away.
2. A vote against the “austerity treaty” will presumably mean no extra austerity, right? After all, they say the treaty will force extra austerity, so therefore a No vote will either reduce the need for extra cutbacks or even reduce the current need? I don’t actually believe this, but this is what they are essentially promising. Just look at Paul Murphy’s posters. Remember how the Yes campaign got (rightly) hammered for “Vote Yes for Jobs”? A No vote is a vote to reverse austerity apparently, through positive energy, angel power, prayer, pretty much anything except actual money.
3. If we need extra money, it will be found. This is the one. Mary Lou McDonald has pledged that the money will be made available. She has given us her word. In fact, you have to admire her integrity in putting the very day to day existence of her core voters on the line, because if we have to cut, it’ll be social spending that bears the brunt. Like a big pile of casino chips, Mary Lou has pushed her own voters into the middle of the green baize, such is her belief that she has the winning hand. You have to admire the courage.
Angela's Ashes? Merkel decides the future of Europe.
We can dress the whole Europe debate up in a ballerina’s dress and call it Mary if we like, but the reality is that the future of the European Union hinges on two things: 1) Will Germany save it, and 2) How will Germany come to its decision?
Somewhere in the Federal Chancellery there is a team working on two sets of numbers. The first is the cost to the German taxpayer of leapfrogging this crisis by supporting Eurobonds, quantative easing, and the political unification of the eurozone. The second number is the cost to Germany of a collapse of the eurozone, the baling out of German banks, and with it a rush to “temporary” tariffs and protectionism within the single market.
There are other factors too, but this is really the heart of the matter. Talk of war in Europe is a bit silly, if only for the fact that the one thing Europeans hate more than cutting social spending is increasing defence spending. But a new Europe with a very powerful new Deutschmark pricing out German exports, coupled with populist politicians trying to keep out “unfair” competition from southern countries (and maybe Ireland) is not in Germany’s interest either.
Finally, and this is something that British and Irish audiences don’t quite understand, there is the political factor. Support for European unity runs far deeper in the political structures of most continental countries than we grasp. British eurosceptics constantly remark that the euro was a political project, as if that is a killer argument. It was. It was supposed to be, and whilst it is malfunctioning from bad design, the fact with European integration is that it has been the great success story of post-war Europe. Every week, ministers from powerful Germany to tiny Malta meet to discuss how we solve common European challenges. We don’t pretend that all are equal, but there is an equal respect and an equal right to be at the table where decisions are made. Without the EU, Germany could make decisions on her own, and we would be dragged along in her huge economic gravity field. But here’s the funny thing: Modern Germany does not like being put in that position. That’s the other factor we don’t get: Germany, whilst defending its own interests like every other country, would still rather be part of an agreed gang. That’s how German politics works (the Bundesrat nearly always ends up controlled by the opposition) and that’s how they’re most comfortable.
With Spain too big to save, we’re now in the endgame, and Chancellor Merkel has to make a decision which will shape Europe for the next fifty years. Effectively, she is going to be the mother of a European Federation, or she is going to let the post-war European settlement break up. Churchill or Chamberlain, FDR or Hoover. This is the league she is now in, and the decisions she makes will shape how children learn of her in 2062, either from her portrait on the wall, as a founder of the United States of Europe, or as a footnote explaining how Europe became a Chinese-owned economic backwater. It really is that important.
How would she vote on May 31st?
You don’t see him much in the media, because it doesn’t really suit. It’s much easier to have on one side the voices of economic orthodoxy, paying our debts, etc, and on the other side the Anti-Austerity Why Can’t Every Thing Be Nice left. Everybody knows where they stand, and to have a Ron Paul style slash big government by proxy type complicating the issue just doesn’t fit. The idea that there are Irish people who actually think that ever growing public spending might be a bad idea just does not compute in a political system that tries to pretend that there is no left or right in Irish politics. In fact, the idea that such an opinion could be voiced in Ireland is so offensive to some that they try to pretend that it is a fabrication of the Yes side.
But ask yourself this: if they could, how would the British Tories vote in this referendum? He is voting No because he is afraid that there could indeed be another bailout, funding the Croke Park Agreement and civil service increments. In his mind, a No vote will starve the public sector of funds from wherever, and throttle it down to size. The fact that he has Mary Lou, Joe Higgins and Richard Boyd Barrett to actually help him deliver that goal, well, that’s just delicious.
It’s like when Al Qaeda and Mitt Romney both agree that the gays should not have the same rights as, you know, real people. In politics, the strangest people can find themselves in bed together.
Hitler: Proved himself to be full of shit.
Imagine if the July 1944 plot had been successful, and Hitler had been killed, and the coup had succeeded. The war could possibly have ended earlier. But imagine Hitler’s reputation today, as the guy who could have won the war for Nazi Germany had he not been stabbed in the back by “traitors”. A similar situation exists in Greece, where the Greek people have pretty much turned their back on conventional centrist politics and voted for the extremes of left and right. Well, you know what? This is good.
We need one country to be run by the pain-free populist priests of anti-austerity, so that we can all clearly see what happens when easy answers are applied. We need to kill the Hitler Martyr Myth, that these guys have the answer if only they’d been given a chance. Let’s see how Greece does under Stavros Higgins and Richard Boyd Theodopolopolos.
And, by the way, the EU (and NATO) needs to make it very clear to the Greek military that on no account will any sort of military action against an elected Greek government, even of the far left, be tolerated. The Greek people must be given the right to confront reality themselves, even if that reality is to flush their own country down the toilet.