Politically you can ignore some of the people some of the time but you can’t ignore all of the people all of the time. Sadly this message hasn’t been listened to at the top of the EU. For many years Europeans have intuitively opposed unaccountability, a lack of political transparency, corporate welfarism and an economically punishing globalist agenda.
With the refusal by EU leaders to address the underlying economic problems, founder of the website, Brave New Europe, Dr Mathew D Rose, joined Renegade Inc. to discuss the falsehoods and power imbalances that continue to hobble Europe.
According to Rose, there is a tendency among Europeans to think along nationalistic lines:
“The British still see themselves as citizens of Britain. The Spanish see themselves as citizens of Spain. The Catalans even see themselves as citizens of Catalonia”, he argues. Self-identification both nationally and as part of a bloc, are for Rose, abstractions. Rather the academic whose ethos is centred on supporting the creation of an egalitarian, just, sustainable and social Europe and who has provided a platform for critical thinking as an alternative to neo-liberalism, in order to achieve these ends, questions what it is to be European. For Rose citizenship is an objective category rooted in a sense of being able to actively participate locally in the democratic process in order to affect tangible changes:
“I’m a citizen of Berlin. This is the place where I politically actually can participate, I can go to a demonstration, I can join a movement….But I don’t go to Catalonia and protest, I don’t go to Poland and protest”, he says.
During the height of the anti-globalisation movement twenty years ago, the term ‘glocalisation’ became popular as a way to define the complex interplay between local and international politics and economics. The notion of the personal as international and the international as personal was a concept intended to rein in the forces of globalisation associated with the increasing internationalization and commodification of capital and culture. Facilitated by the European Union, this process is what commentators critical of a neoliberal Europe refer to as the ‘European Project’.
According to Rose, there has been a tendency among European citizens to retreat from this form of neoliberal globalisation because:
“People have noticed the EU has led them to disaster – at least the majority – and the effects that it’s having. It’s ruined their economies – many nations. It’s ruined their living standards – even in Germany which everyone thinks is a very wealthy country. You have to remember 50% of Germans are worse off now than they were 15 years ago.”
“…The EU has been more concerned with the interests of corporations, with the interests of finance and not with the people in Europe. We’ve seen it in things like the constitution which was for them a real setback because people participated in the political process in the EU [only for the EU to reject]..the…constitution..”
With Britain’s departure from the EU imminent, Rose argues that there a strategy to scare the country into submission using threats in order to discourage others from leaving? Rose points to the example of Greece where Germany used financialisation as a weapon of choice:
“I think Greece is one of the great modern crimes. The difference is 80 years ago the Germans just sent their army to conquer Greece but we’ve learned….money is just as effective a weapon as armies are,” he says, adding “I am so ashamed of what we have done to the Greek people. I’m really ashamed….We’ve ruined their lives [and have forced]….a lot of young people to emigrate. There’s no excuse for this. It’s an absolute scandal…This is purely the product of financialization… and… is what the EU stands for.”
The backdrop to the scandal centred on Germany’s unwillingness to retreat on the EU’s implementation of a strict economic dogma in which far too much political capital had been invested. The benchmark had been laid. The Greek people bore the brunt of the EU’s policy, that had it been rescinded, would have acted as the likely catalyst for others to challenge the existing neoliberal economic orthodoxy.
The realization that it’s Germany who calls the shots within the EU is no longer regarded by many as a controversial point. According to Rose, economist and former Greek minister of finance, Yanis Varoufakis and the EU had come to an agreement with regards to EU finances. But then:
“Angela Merkel came into the room and said, ‘You aren’t doing that.’ And everyone said, ‘All right.’…This is the way it’s run…Germany has only one goal which is Germany prospering within Europe. Yet the Germans talk about [how they are] Europeans. [But] they’re nationalists…interested in their own nationalist goals. That means of course they’re going to work with international corporations. Germany is, at the moment, the EU – at least the political part of it”, says Rose.
Germany’s dominance of the EU began to take hold, according to Rose, during the 2008 financial crisis. “They had the money…and power… I think they were just given the opportunity and they certainly did use it…Things have got completely out of hand.” he argues, adding that it has only been the ultra right wing parties on the fringes of Europe who have confronted them by insisting that their sovereign, fiscal and monetary integrity’s be maintained. The left, on the other hand, have been conspicuous by their silence. “This is just embarrassing. Why is it the right that is doing this and not the left?”, inquires Rose.
In this sense, it’s the far right who have essentially controlled the narrative, thereby being in a stronger position than their counterparts on the left to make greater political demands of the mainstream establishment.
Rose, however, believes:
“It’s more poignant than that. I think it’s a question of courage and the left has not shown much courage. Look what happened to Syriza after their population gave them a mandate to say, ‘We aren’t going to accept this.. What did they do? They said, ‘We’ll accept whatever you tell us and you know bugger our democracy.’ And this is sad. It’s sad for me as someone who identifies as a leftist to say look at us. No backbone. No nothing.”
Rose offers no explanation as to the left’s impotence other than to put it down to corruption:
“The left was corrupted, at least in Germany… I think the French left tried but they also… failed. Mitterrand made his U-turn. Hollande was the epitome of… the social democrat. In Germany all the social democrats they just sold out… Leftist [communist].. parties were totally disorganized after the fall of the Eastern bloc. Either they adapted or they died. But their adapting meant they too became social democrats as we’ve seen in Italy or in France. Although France there is a revival”, claims Rose.
Rose asserts, more broadly, that the Social Democrat movement across Europe is “dead”, with nothing currently to take its place.” He notes that “a lot of their votes went to the [ultra right, AFD party] in Germany. “
But there have also been some positive outcomes with regards to growing support for the Greens approach on global warming and their opposition to the ‘refugees are bad’ narrative. “In the meantime”, says Rose, “the Social Democrats are about to become the fourth or fifth party in Berlin which used to be a Democrat… SPD stronghold.”
Thus, this explains the four year decline in the popularity of Merkel indicative of the move towards ‘sentimental symbolism’. Rose emphasizes the need for the left to shift the political discourse back to its materialist base:
“It’s about materialism, it’s about money, it’s about social relations in a society and [the need]…to get back to… the bread and butter of politics”, says Rose, who adds:
“We’re seeing movements in this direction throughout Europe but the question is, are they going to succeed? You also have to remember you still have this anti-left bias of the political [capitalist] establishment…[who]…would much rather see a far right government than a left, even a central left… government. And they’ll do anything to stop it”, says Rose.
Historically, the far right have been able to exploit the confusion people have during the kinds of political turmoil currently enveloping much of the ‘developed’ capitalist world. “People don’t have the answers. If the left isn’t presenting them then they’re going to go for the right”, posits Rose.
Within the media and public discourse, nationalism and its symbols, customs and traditions tend to dominate the political sphere. Thus, there is a tendency for people informed by an uncritical media to focus on the politics of identity which the establishment, through its utilization of divide and rule, is able to use to its advantage. Rarely are economic ideologies that underpin the political decisions of the establishment examined by the public. Four decades of neoliberalism is an example of how damaging this economic ideology has been to the well-being of European societies.
“I think it’s been [socially] catastrophic. I think it’s destroyed so much”, says Rose, who points to the issue of depopulation, not just in cities but in the countryside:
“There’s ….a joke about the supermarkets where they used to have … loads of baby goods. They don’t anymore”, posits Rose, adding, “In many nations the parents have to leave for work – emigrate – and the children are left… with their grandparents. Their relationship to their families is via….Skype. All these social elements.”
Neoliberalism, as Rose notes, has also impacted on mental health:
“The mental health [of citizens]…is one of the worst medical afflictions of Europe right now and it’s on the increase and you see it. It’s the environment, it’s everything and you just see how… whenever there’s a question of what people want, [it’s] what corporations want.
Rose argues that the EU is not immune from neoliberalism’s impacts – both they and the corporations are the beneficiaries of a system indicative of inherent corruption:
“We know who’s going to win. And that’s especially true of the EU”, claims Rose. I mean they make a slight compromise but they’ll push it through whatever it is. I know this is frowned upon as populist or as fascist. A lot of it comes down to simple corruption. I will dare to say I don’t think there’s any major law, any major contract given by the government of Germany where corruption is not involved. I think much of this is true of the EU. We keep seeing moments of..corruption. A lot of it’s legal corruption.”
Rose cites the example of the link between politicians and the fossil fuel corporations to illustrate his point:
“If you are one of the leading politicians in the area of fossil fuels and you pass all the laws and whatever and then when you retire you are then given a job paying half a million/two million euros as a member of the board of a fossil fuel company. This is legal corruption. We’ve even had cases in Germany where parliamentarians have written a law and handed it in – and it’s done by computer. Then someone who’s a bit clever….discovers that the source of it is actually a company who had written it for a parliamentarian. I think they’ve learned now, this doesn’t happen much anymore but this happened a few times in Germany and I’m sure it happens in most countries [where] you have this close cooperation.”
“That’s not democracy anymore. I think that’s what people are noticing and that’s why they’re so very very upset.”
In response to the claim that corruption in Germany is systemic, Rose is emphatic:
“Yes. Always has been… They make the laws so they can do this. But…then of course in Germany what most people don’t know is public prosecutors are not independent. They follow the orders they receive from the justice minister so no one’s ever really prosecuted. Same with businessmen…[They]… won’t go to jail…It’s like in the US after the financial crisis. They don’t go to jail. The people who [do]…are the little people, you know the little civil servant who’s caught taking the envelope full of cash.”
For Rose, the apparent willingness of the mass of European populations to stick with the EU despite the associated chaos, is premised on the public’s fear of an alternative paradigm.
The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time for monsters
The current system is not sustainable. With capitalism reaching its maturation stage embodied in neoliberalism, society is in a state of flux. At some point in the relative near future, something will have to give.
With European societies at the point of tumultuous and, possibly cataclysmic, changes as the result of environmental climate chaos and the destabilizing socioeconomic impacts of neoliberal globalisation upon them, it feels as though Rosa Luxemburg’s stark invocation – ‘Socialism or Barbarism’ – has never been more apt.
Rose believes we are currently at that point and sees hope for Europe in the form of Jeremy Corbyn:
“We need a narrative and I think Jeremy Corbyn could be that narrative for Europe..just like Syriza was for a while”, he says.
However, Rose does offer a few words of caution by suggesting that if Labour under Corbyn were to gain power, his project could “just collapse into the old sort of, old Social democracy”.
In terms of the possibility that Britain would buck the neoliberal orthodoxy, he remains less than sanguine:
“I keep saying to British economists who are on the left, ‘you’re going to have to introduce financial controls immediately. [But they respond by saying] ‘I don’t know if they can do that., he says.
“I don’t know how the British would react to the fact when you know someone says, ‘Well you just can’t take as much money as you want to out of the country, you can’t invest anymore out of the country. In Iceland they did it after the financial crisis and they saved their economy and they’re doing really really well right now. But no one’s saying, ‘Look at Iceland. Here’s a paradigm that we should be adopting… Do you hear that anywhere?
The happiest societies – the Scandinavia countries – are the most equal and egalitarian which is the antithesis of the neoliberal model.
“In Germany, Scandinavia doesn’t even exist. All the polls that are made [claim] they are the happiest [and]…the most content. It’s always the Scandinavians. Who has the best school marks? The Scandinavians. It’s always the Scandinavians but they do not exist here in the political discussion….because it doesn’t fit the neoliberal model.”
For Rose, it’s the corporate owned media who are responsible for this state of affairs by failing to inform the public of the alternative models. It’s a form of censorship in what are formally free and democratic countries, that is the most unconscionable aspect to all this.
The censorship is unwritten as Noam Chomsky highlighted in an interview with the BBCs Andrew Marr.
“I’m not saying you’re self censoring”, said Chomsky. “I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying but what I’m saying is if you believe something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.”
Rose emphasizes the need for the transformation of the media – a renaissance across Europe – that’s
“going to have to start locally. That’s what I think we are all learning from momentum in Britain. I think this is what we’re learning from the Catalans. It has to start locally. I think… we saw a lot of it in Greece…who started organizing themselves against austerity…They have neighbourhood groups and… groups within other organizations but it was all on a very local level….The next problem is how to get that into a movement all going in one direction…I think that’s probably the most difficult step because if you’re doing all this local work you want to see some sort of progress not only in your little community but on a broader level. You have to break this whole isolation which has come with neoliberalism of the individual.”
Rose views the opposing features of neoliberalism – human interaction, community, sharing etc – as being antithetical to the principles of the European Union: “It is not a community, it’s anything but”, says Rose, whose advice to the divided people of the UK is to “rediscover being British which means being a society of solidarity again.”
In conclusion Rose, references the importance of acknowledging the past:
“You can’t turn back the clock but you don’t have to throw out the baby with the bathwater either”, he says, adding:
“Neoliberalism or globalism can have some positive aspects. Let’s look for the positive ones and sort out the negative… I think it’s great to be able to travel through Europe without visas. I think programs like the Erasmus are excellent opportunities… I think we know what the negative aspects are, I think they’ve been defined, they’ve been named. I think people just don’t understand. And again, that’s due to the politicians and media who have done everything to disguise the true problems of this continent.”