Thursday, July 5, 2012

The future of Euroland. Berlin, June 30th 2012.

Last Saturday the 30th of June, I had the honor to be invited in a workshop organized by the Euro-land-Citizens movement of the Newropeans magazine, in Berlin. The topic of this public debate was the future of the Euro-land (or euro-zone as most of us call it) and its democratization: "From the fiscal compact towards a Euro-land citizens pact!"

The initiative of such forum was taken to deal and discuss the European paradox; 300 million European citizens have no say in the decisions taken by our governments on the future of the euro-zone. The "Euro-land," is devoid of the least democratic institutions and processes to allow its citizens to influence decisions taken on their behalf. Lobbies of all kinds and external bodies, beyond any democratic control have more say in shaping the policies that define the euro-zone, than the citizens that live in it.

This adds to the socioeconomic current crisis  that engulfs the EU and Europe in a "undemocratic black hole." Under these conditions, it is urgent and essential to find alternatives to the current EU institutional procedures, because without the support of the people there is no democracy. Condemning democracy in Europe is also condemning its future.

The debate was performed in three languages, English, French and German, as the debaters and the attendees were from a variant background. People from Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Holland and Greece, from different European organizations, media, student groups, political parties and lobbies. 

The opening was officially launched by Mrs Marianne Ranke-Cormier, editor in Newropeans and its President, Mrs Margit Reiser-Schober. After a short introduction to the cause and purpose of the debate we quickly proceeded in the first panel that was moderated by Mrs Reiser-Schober and comprised by David Nadasi from the French Pirate Party and Mr Massimiliano Gambardella, from the Friends of Beppe Grillo. The topic was the rise of the far right and far left parties in Europe and the search for new political ways of expression.

Mr Nadasi described his party's initiatives for democracy, mainly on the web. To be honest I never really thought much of any Pirate Party in Europe, until their campaign against ACTA. To me it was something unnecessary, as we have far more important issues to solve in Europe than freedom on the internet and  exchange of data. But after listening to Mr Nadasi and what his party is aiming for, I am not as skeptical anymore. Their party also stands for freedom of information on the internet, which is going hand in hand with the pluralism of the media and offers an alternative voice on political and social issues.

I only wish parties like these presented themselves differently to the voters, otherwise I do not see them flourishing anytime soon in countries like Greece or Ireland. But as Mr Nadasi explained to me in one of our discussions during the breaks, more and more people are showing interest in his party and that will bring more voices and ideas into their ranks. Perhaps then they will become more successful with the knowledge and support of those people.

Mr Gambardella offered a real eye opener point of view, from his country Italy. The MoVimento Cinque Stelle (or the Five Star Movement), is a new political group in Italy trying to fight corruption and the old established political elite. Its leader is Mr Beppe Grillo, a popular comedian and blogger. They support the idea that politicians should not be re-elected for more than one term, and that to be a politician should not be a profession, there should not be "career politicians." Its members are getting paid a minimum wage for politicians and they are trying to incorporate this into the country's laws. They also refuse to take a single euro as reimbursement of election campaign costs. 

Another populist party, or something that could give food for thought? All mainstream political parties loath or are afraid of what Mr. Grillo and what his party are promoting or standing for. Young Italians, fed up with their country's chronic corruption are turning to parties like the above for new genuine ideas. And how can you not agree with them. Perhaps the Five Star Movement has a real point, when they want to scrap "career politics." 

Even though I personally detest populist parties as they are only offering false hopes to the citizens (if they ever get into power, their policies won't be as break through as they promised before the elections), I totally embrace any suggestion that wants to end the reign of career politicians. In Greece we are suffering from the same plague for decades no, and personally I would love to get rid of our political elite. It is one of the main reasons why Greece and most of Europe is engulfed by this crisis. The nepotism and corruption of people who practice politics as a career choice, brought our countries to the brink of destruction.

The second panel of discussions was comprised by me, Christos Mouzeviris-a Greek blogger living in Ireland, Mr David Nadasi and Thijs de Wolff a Newropeans and a former AEGEE (Association des Etats Généraux des Etudiants de l’Europe / European Students’ Forum) member. It was moderated by another Newropeans member, Mrs Veronique Swinkels.

Our discussions evolved around solidarity in Europe, what it means and how it should be expressed or implemented. We quickly came to the conclusion that solidarity does not mean charity. Solidarity means to share and assist when needed, but not in the form that it is done today. Share resources, knowledge, experience to create an equal, democratic, stable and prosperous Europe for all its states. Assist countries that are in trouble but without the stigma, the slander and the sometimes unfair demands in order to offer this help. It must be offered unconditionally, provided of course the country in need shows responsibility and takes action to deal with the problems that it faces.  

It was very heartening to hear from my fellow debaters that people in Germany and Holland, are starting to understand now that it is not the fault of some countries like Greece the problems we face in the Euro-land. People in Holland in particular are now aware that the major fault is this capitalist "Anglo-Saxon" banking system and economic style.

And they want to change that, or they believe that something better and fairer must be created and implemented. The citizens of these countries do not support their leaders' views or actions and they are aware of the heart of the problem. Why their national media are keep bombarding them with inflammatory propaganda, it can be only explained as their need to cover their country's weak spots and the real root of the problem: the corruption and failures of the capitalist system.

And those failures were discussed during the lunch break that followed and I was more than happy to see how other open minded Europeans realize that we are all in trouble. Some more, some less. But sharing ideas and views with a lovely German lady, I was amazed to hear her telling me not to be envious of the "pristine" German system.

 "There is a lot of hidden unemployment in Germany," she said "and our society has become deeply divided and unfair." She went on to explain the failures of the German system and how it creates two kinds of citizens, how the often perceived German punctuality and perfectionism sometimes hides tragic stories of unemployment. "For all this efficiency you see around you, people have been fired and forced to freelance at their profession. And we all know how hard is to make a living from freelancing," she said.

Similar stories came from a Dutch attendee of the forum, that made similar comments for his country and how its economy resembles that of Spain in many aspects. A bubble economy, with the property and banking market in deep trouble. The only difference is that Holland found ways to cover the problems with "hidden" measures and for the moment is not as hard hit. If the crisis continues though, the cracks will most certainly come to the surface. 

Another example of "hidden" unemployment came from this Dutch man, but this time it was focused on Britain. A neighbor of his is a pilot and travels often to the UK. There he said, "they have three employees doing the job of one!" Meaning that in British airports, there are more employees that needed to do the same job as one employee in Holland and other mainland European countries. In that way Britain brings down the unemployment figures. How long can they afford to pay such expenses?

He also mentioned the fact that the Brits concealed totally the near catastrophic collapse they had in their banking system recently (mentioning the Barclays incident). Instead they focused on the troubles of the Euro-land to divert the public's attention and reinforce the belief to them that they are better out of the euro. With all the above examples it is clear the feeling that this corrupt system can no longer be supported and the frustration of the public exists in all European countries. It was wonderful to see that the European citizens have far more in common than they believe and if they sit down and discuss about the issues, they can find potential solutions and new ideas. I wonder why our leaders can't.

We returned to the forum and this time we had Pedro Simoes, a Portuguese graduate of the LEAP Academy speaking to us about the future of the Euro-land in the world stage. He focused on the idea of a Euro-BRICS closer cooperation, on the eve of an upcoming summit next year. The idea is supported by many in Europe, as a way to deal with the current economic crisis. 

The BRICS countries, comprised by Brazil, Russia, India, China and the recently added South Africa are a group of countries that will play a major role in the future global economy. They are forming a global lobby themselves with ever closer cooperation, in ambition to influence the world trade and economy. Many of us in Europe believe that we should form a closer partnership with all those countries and promote trade, but also form closer cooperation in other spheres like education. 

With student exchange programs between all the above countries and regions, we could enhance our knowledge and experience and learn new ways of doing things or dealing with problems. Most of us in the room agreed that Europe should look beyond its relationship with USA and seek to form new partnerships with the emerging countries, though we also agreed that this should not mean that we must end our traditionally close cooperation with America. 

Breaking the Washington consensus that was formed after WW2 and gave USA full monopoly and power in this world is essential, so that we can have a multi-polar and fairer global community. Some monopolies that were formed must be altered and it is in Europe's interests to encourage, exploit and explore those new relationships that could offer the continent new resources, trade, education and technology partners, so that we can better our economies. You may want to find out more about this initiative on Newropeans webpage (http://www.newropeans-magazine.org/content/view/13253/439/lang,english/).

The last panel of the debate was attended by Anna-Maria Hetze from Newropeans magazine, Mr Bruno Paul from Democratie Agile organization in France and Jose Ferro, a Spanish living in Berlin. It was moderated by Mr Ralph Pichler of Newropeans. The focus of this debate was the future of the Euro-land Democracy. In this panel we discussed the roles of the European Parliament, Commission and Council, the roles of our national media and the need to create pan-European media. 

Our national media are often owned by the ones who are trying desperately to protect their interests and monopolies, promoting protectionism in Europe and securing the current unsustainable status quo. We need to have an independent pan-European selection of media, TV channels, newspapers, magazines, blogs, on-line magazines and so on, to provide the European citizens with a more spherical, independent point of view, while promoting a less nationalist one sided and often biased source of information.

The failure to watch what is being discussed in the European Parliament or in the summits of the Council of the European Union was also mentioned. Especially in the case of the Council it was noted that our governments are promoting intergovernmental-ism, alas taking decisions behind closed doors and making deals or compromises without our knowledge or agreement. 

That leads to competition among member states that are striving to be more independent or have more power and influence on one another. The effect is a new wave of neo-liberalism, with the markets and banks playing one nation against each other to achieve what they want. And of course promote their interests and  of those elites whose interests are serving, ignoring the citizen's needs and interests.

For me forums and open public discussions like the above are what we need to solve many problems in Europe, but unfortunately they are not encouraged by our governments or being reported by our national media. Of course that is done on purpose. Because they offer a chance to the citizens to share information, discuss solutions, ideas, express their frustration and learn real facts about the situation that affects them.

It broadens their horizons and it is the essence of real direct democracy, encouraging the citizens' participation in their country's and Europe's political life. If only debates like the above were broadcasted in our national media and a much larger number of people had access to what has been discussed, I truly believe change in European politics would come faster. 

But Europe is being ruled by a conservative elite that dreads any change in the current status quo; that is why civilized and creative debates like these, featuring ordinary citizens with interest in their country's and Europe's politics, are replaced by chaotic, patronizing debates featuring only established politicians and journalists. Definitely a time for change!

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