The last few months have been very turbulent in Europe. Everyone has been focused on the fiscal crisis, the bailouts, the survival of the Euro and the Eurozone. Countries have been forced to take a new hard look at their spending and cuts are being prescribed everywhere.
Greece, of course, is in a tailspin. The government can’t seem to move forward. It keeps talking about reforms and passing laws yet it seems to still hope for some miracle to take the pain off the difficult cuts and reforms necessary to receive further assistance in order to pay for salaries, pensions, healthcare, education. The opposition parties especially New Democracy’s populist positions on all the issues just adds to the stalemate. In a crisis like this politics cannot go on as usual and a creative collaboration and synthesis should be mandatory for all elected officials. It is a pity that the ruling political class is not only timid but has been sucked into each interested party’s positions because the country is facing the abyss.
Greece has run out of time and run out of miracles. The troika walked out, the strong European countries are flexing their muscles and warn that they will not continue paying if the reforms are not immediately underway. Most importantly, however, the overall fiscal crisis is putting the European experiment in jeopardy. After half a century of successes the institution is teeter tottering. It’s hard to believe that even disintegration is now being discussed, and there are populist voices who talk about retrenching into the old nation state limitations.
This is the worst time to go back in history because all the challenges of the 21st century are global. The economy is global, the climate crisis is global. Nothing is small anymore and Europe as a whole together with the United States are the two biggest world democracies and must preserve their values.
Yesterday (September 12), I attended an excellent talk given by EU Commissioner of Maritimes Affairs and Fisheries at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute in SIPA. She spoke very frankly about the challenges ahead, about the critical juncture that Europe now faces with three options: continue to muddle through with hesitation, disintegration or move to the next level of European integration which is more Europe not less. She spoke about the work of the Commission addressing the immediate problems facing European Allies and the key theme of Solidarity among members. She spoke about what more integration would mean for national governments and she addressed the issue of the strained relationship between markets and political power.
Maria Damanaki spoke about the questions that European citizens are raising: Who is managing the crisis, they ask. Are the politicians still in charge? Why has the equilibrium between markets and political power been disrupted? Should governments become as quick to react as markets? What will happen with accountability, transparency and democratic values then? She said all too clearly that the European spirit of solidarity is under pressure and that the citizens wonder: has the European project run out of steam?
This is not only a critical moment but a historic moment. It is the moment to take a giant leap of faith. Because even though solidarity in the face of economic insecurity is under pressure, I do not believe that Europeans want to go back to the years of splendid isolation and small size. They have experienced too much of the world and they understand better than politicians or the markets that much more is at stake long term. They want to work together, they want to be together but they are afraid that solidarity means that they lose it all to save others who may not want to be saved.
The fiscal crisis is distracting. Nobody seems to be able to plan ahead or think about other things. Nobody is making new plans. Even the next EU budget looks like it won’t be ambitious in the scope of what it would like to accomplish. We are all waiting with bated breath to see how this story develops. It is inconceivable that Europe will disintegrate. But many inconceivable things have happened in the past.
I just wish that the Commission would add two more key words to the plan and vision they have submitted to the European Parliament and the Heads of State. I wish they would talk about Sustainability and Size. Sustainability has European wide approval and is well understood to be the vital new step to a brewing global crisis. It gives Europeans a positive vision for the future, not just crisis management over country finances. As for Size, 500 million people have more clout than 10 or 5 or 40 million. Their voices can be heard. They are democrats, they are consumers, they are investors, they are families, they are the future. In the 21st century, the future means more World, more international cooperation, more people seeing eye to eye on critical issues and that will be best served by a Europe that is more integrated, and united than before.
We need a new wave of European politicians to unite the Peoples of Europe. Not some small town, populist voices who have never experienced or embraced the greater vision. So wherever you are out there, it’s time to speak and remind citizens what is at stake at this critical time.