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As the political economic history of the world witnessed, there is no better ingredient other than the economic recession for the emergence of nationalism and nationalist governments in any part of the world.
Europe is a living example of this time tested fact. The economic stagnation and subsequent recession of the 1930s played its prominent role for the emergence of strong nationalist movement in western Europe and the coming in to power of such nationalist governments led by the likes of Adolf Hitler of Germany and Benito Mussolini of Italy, the very few among the many.
Nationalism is like a cancer. It slowly eats the very fabrics of society. It also casts a shadow over the society’s sacred political, economic and social values. Above all, it can create ample ground for inter as well as intra-state conflict with devastating effects.
After the debilitating blows of the last two world wars, and with the hope not to have a third one; six West European countries established a union sixty years ago.
Since then, they evolutionary strengthened their union currently having twenty seven countries representing 480 million people.
To achieve their founding vision, member countries created common political, economic and social policies and a number of institutions with in the union to implement them. The creation of the common currency, the Euro and a visa free border to facilitate their common trade, money and labor flow were the most advanced moves taken by the members of the European Union countries.
Nonetheless, the current global economic crisis which hit particularly the Euro Zone area the hardest posed series challenges on their economy and common currency.
As mentioned above, the current economic crisis not only affects millions of Europeans at the maximum, but also paved the way for the re-emergence of nationalism and nationalist governments which has a strong effect on the country’s politics, economy and social life.
It is nation states that have emasculated European institutions. What is often branded as the ‘national interest’ is nothing but a justification for the pursuit of internal politics.
Day after day the financial markets have punished Europe for chronic indecision and cried out for a big bazooka to end the uncertainty. Taking Greek as a case study, economists have warned against rigid austerity measures that would make recovery impossible, and pictured a global depression in case of a euro break-up. Reports of riots, protests and the rise of fascist parties in many European countries have sought to remind them of the dangers they face if the situation is not resolved.
Overwhelmed by the ruthless pace of the stream of news on the impending financial and political collapse, Europeans felt utterly powerless. So they petitioned to the European Parliament. They were fully aware that their pathetic petition for Eurobonds and growth would be left at the bottom of the pile. The effect of the policies pursued by German and France will have an impact on my family and me, not to mention every other citizen of Europe.
Yet, the media have presented the battle of the euro as a matter of ‘national sovereignty’, where Germany has hits way, France cosies up to its not to be downgraded, Britain watches from outside and the rest submit to mighty Germany. This picture misses three aspects: the politics, the economy and democracy. It also exaggerates the very thing that is creating the problem: national sovereignty.
With regard to politics, under the banner of national sovereignty, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and France President Nicolas Sarkozy have been pursuing their own private interests to secure their re-election and a politics that dictates fiscal rigidity at the expense of growth. Merkel has been waging a financial warfare against the Eurozone ‘peripheral countries’ as a show of strength that plays well with her electorate, and to get countries into line. She refused to bail out the rather modest Greek debt to ensure that reforms are put in place.
She let banks and traders shed Italian bonds, which resulted in the toppling of its government. Angela Merkel’s ideological attachment to fiscal probity has drained the markets of confidence and liquidity. It has left Italy, notwithstanding its primary surplus, as a most illustrious victim. As expressed by many, Angela Merkel’s policies are far from neutral and are not what economists prescribe. They are also shrouded by the pernicious ‘tale’ of fiscally virtuous and industrious northern Europeans and profligate and indolent Southern Europeans.
This rampant petty nationalism that has been tearing Europe asunder plays on the fallacious notion that the success of the rich is imputed to virtue and hard-work, whilst the ruin of the poor is due to their laziness. This is not to absolve Southern European states of the mismanagement of their finances, their populism and their systems of patronage. However, culture and society do not drive the economy and, above all, are far from static.
On the economic spectrum, this age old economic notion of ‘the strong is right’ is often supported by the misinterpretation of the very famous Weber’s Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism. Accordingly, prudent Protestants of northern Europe are better at business than Catholic southerners. Weber would shudder at such a claim. To put very simply, he saw an ‘affinity’ between Calvinist ethics and capitalist ethos. Capitalism requires ‘rational work’ of accumulating instead of spending to create capital.
Protestants, believing in predestined salvation, are moved by a ‘salvation anxiety’ to work in a systematic fashion. The ensuing economic success becomes a sign of salvation. The misappropriation of Weber which paints a Europe of virtuous north and sinful south obscures the political color of Angela Merkel’s action. She might have popular support for not giving money to southern states, but she is not protecting the interests of her own citizens. A euro break-up would be more disastrous for Germany than southern Europe.
The ‘tale’ also obscures the fact that a capitalist economy functions through uneven development, where those with capital and leverage exploit their position to advance over others. Inequalities might be inevitable, but the point of a fiscal and political union should be to rectify structural imbalances so that the ‘weak’ have more opportunities to compete.
The lack of competitiveness of Italy and Spain, for example, is partly the result of excessive German surplus and the not-so-fair competition where original goods are effectively plagiarized. In deed the Euro Zone is currently facing their probable doom. Germany’s Angela Merkel might distrust the financial markets, but they have done more to push for a Union than the successive dead-end deals to save the euro. Even the threat of downgrading France and Germany was yet another call for concerted action. In front of a globalised economy, Europe needs to unite to remain competitive, but also to transform their institutions and politics to build a strong and fairer Europe.
The third point worth discussing is the issue of democracy. Europe has applied a social model of capitalism that seeks to wed fairness with prosperity. It is far from perfect, but should not be the victim of narrow-minded politics. As long as they hold tight onto the myth of ‘national sovereignty’, their rights, like their petition, will be at the bottom of the pile. Sovereignty should be of the people of Europe. European institutions are in their infancy and cannot, as they stand, protect the interests of European citizens. But it is nation states that have emasculated European institutions.
What is often branded as the ‘national interest’ is nothing but a justification for the pursuit of internal politics. The conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron’s concern with his own party’s ‘Westphalian’ world-view has pushed him to wield the veto and resulted in Britain not taking any of the decisions but suffering all the consequences. Angela Merkel’s ‘nein, nein, nein’ has asserted old-fashioned national sovereignty over and above the rights and interests of all European citizens, Germans included.
The narrow game of politics precludes a democratic Europe. If nationalism wins over, Europe and Europeans are condemned to political and economic chaos. The economic solutions to rescue of the Eurozone are not lacking: what is missing is the vision for a fair and prosperous Europe. In other words, to create a productive and frugal society rather than the consumer one .The crisis is an opportunity to build a more equal and prosperous Europe.
The odds are against Europe, but they have a moral imperative to protect their rights and freedoms. Europe and Europeans cannot wait for the institutions to be reformed, or for politicians to be statesmen. As the ages old conventional wisdom of politics asserted, democracy is not something people wait for to be served on a plate, but it’s something each one of them has to fight for.