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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"Crisis Management," European Style

There is a true crisis in Europe--and it has been going on for five hundred years. The five-centuries-old story has to do, of course, with the inability of west European societies to create and sustain units of public authority that would be able to compete successfully in a world controlled by non-European competitors. Today, this longue-durée condition is foregrounded by the inability of the west European supra-state (created for the very purpose of giving western Europe geopolitical power in the world) to maintain its global economic weight. In fact, the EU is losing its economic sway in the world, and has been for most years during its existence. This is an argument I explore in the book to which this blog has been devoted.

The crisis is particularly biting today for two main reasons. One is that, no matter how the EU and its member states twist or turn their economic policy, their regulations and their global strategies, growth is just not happening, even in relative terms (forget shares in the world economy, growth is not noticeable even when we compare the EU to itself over time). The other is that the United States, which has, for the period since the beginning of the Cold War until very recently, played a dynamic cooperative strategy with western Europe, is not only in trouble itself, but it is also betting on other players as well, not just western Europe any more. If these factors together do not give jitters to the decision makers in Brussels, then they are really losing it.

There are many possible alternative scenarios that the EU could pursue. It could open up new, and radical, avenues for innovative, long-term projects creating multilateral cooperation strategies with multiplicities of actors worldwide, including not just the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan and BRICs, but also those states that are--for some reason incomprehensible to me--not looked at as rapidly growing, such as Indonesia or Vietnam. My emphasis is on the long-term, meaning longer-than-a-human-lifespan.

There is absolutely no reason why there are no, generously supported R&D facilities working on the toughest issues for humankind (not just the concerns of white middle-class west-European / north American men), from health to international security, from climate change to malaria eradication, the new Great Transformation to replenishable energy, etc., utilizing world-wide talent. Where are the new, intellectually sound, creative and progressive multiversities for the medical, physical and social sciences as well as the humanities, with Chinese, Indian, South African and EU monies, faculties and students, with generous provisions for the circulation of professors and students, located everywhere? Why not build new multiversities in places that have suffered? Former-Soviet central Asia? Sub-Saharan Africa?

What exactly is the "European" vision for the future?

Instead of innovating in bold and creative ways, the EU has somehow chosen to focus inward. It is nowadays engaged in a complex rhetorical offensive against "misbehavior" on part of its poorer member states. So what if the fiscal balance of the poorer member states is in peril? Weren't such disequilibria among the unspoken expectations at the time of the creation of the common currency? (If nobody had actually expected such problems, that suggests that incompetence was gaining epidemic proportions among the planners of the Euro. If such problems were foreseen, why are we suddenly acting as if we were surprised?) So what if Greece has a budget deficit in excess of 300 bn USD? How much exactly has the EU spent on subsidizing its banking sector? What exactly is the magnitude of the hidden, implicit transfers from the poorer to the wealthier states, especially to Germany, through the vehicle called foreign direct investment or, in a language sprinkled with more righteousness, "the freedom of movement for capital"? Who will ever draw the balance sheet for such accounts?

The two recent scandals--occasioned by the collapse of the Greek government budget and the near-random, passive-aggressive behavior of the Hungarian government (a curious, somewhat raw combination of neoliberal sadism and neocon self-admiration, ingredients that are, btw, plentiful in Brussels)--have given a set of splendid opportunities for Brussels to talk about these phenomena that are, from the perspective of the future of the world, essentially non-issues. This also has allowed the EU to direct its moral attention, again, more toward the inside, and fall back on a default strategy of selective, arbitrary and morose kind of xenophobia and exclusion vis-a-vis the rest of the world. The world is watching the senseless destruction of Greek society, listens to the revived, neo-colonial stereotype of an "eastern totalitarian personality" with respect to Hungarian society. That seems to be the European model of crisis "management."

Meanwhile, EU public funds are appropriated for drones to patrol the southern and southeastern perimeters of the EU.

Wow. How sad.

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cover page of the book

cover page of the book
image used for the cover design by Anannya Dasgupta