Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Europeans are shooting themselves in the foot with populism.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has warned that Europe will fall “over the edge” unless the European Union scales back its ambitions and mainstream politicians start listening to the demands of voters flocking to populist parties.

In an attempt to diagnose the populist surge that has dominated European politics in 2016, he stated that Europe cannot push its project over the edge by pushing for "more Europe.”

He was referring of course, to those who wish to shift powers from member states to Brussels. “We are losing the population in the process,” he added. (New Europe).

It is rather disappointing that Europeans chose to turn to so called "populist" parties, either Far Right or Leftist ones. Yet it is totally understandable.

For decades their opinion was being ignored, both by their national elites and governments and the EU itself. Only recently the European institutions really opened up and reached out to the public, in an effort to make themselves approachable and offer the public greater knowledge about their function.

On the other hand, national governments were often scapegoating the EU, using it to appropriate any successful developments and policies. There was rarely any considerable effort in engaging the public with a pan-European movement of civil society.

In addition each of them, in a desperate effort to promote not their country's interests necessarily-rather their own and of those who fund them, they adopted disastrous financial and social policies that brought Europe in economic decline.

The citizens not only were inadequately informed, but even when they were given the option to vote in referendums, their opinion was largely rejected until they voted again for the desirable outcome. That has inevitably created a growing mistrust and suspicion among the European electorate, mainly on the EU's undeniable democratic deficit.

When the economic crisis exposed the euro's weaknesses, another blow to the confidence of Europeans on the continent's most ambitious project has been delivered. A single currency was set for Europe, without a common taxation system or political integration. It was certainly not a functioning monetary union.

The result was a near collapse of the euro, which required massive and painful sacrifices from the voters, to stabilize the continent's banks and save the single currency. Yet, it is becoming obvious that all the measures that have been adopted, haven't decisively solved the problem. Because ultimately, in order the euro to survive it needs further political integration.

As if the economic crisis and the austerity measures that followed were not enough, the prolonged war in Syria and other regions in Europe's neighborhood, resulted in a massive refugee and migrant influx in the continent.

That further challenged the European public's openness and tolerance. Populist groups and figures took advantage of the situation and promoted scaremongering and further confusion, in order to gain more power and influence to satisfy their ambitions.

In some countries they are currently doing very well, threatening the established parties. And while it is great to see the governing elites, finally being punished for their corruption, bad choices and disastrous policies they've adopted, the alternatives are also horrifying.

It is sad to see that we are running out of options in Europe, to really transform our continent. The establishment parties have lost the trust of the voters, yet their challengers give few solutions too.

Apart of course from populism and knee-jerk reactions like abolishing the euro, withdrawing from the EU and restricting immigration and the free movement of people within the EU.

The citizens need to understand that migration, the euro as an idea or the EU with its single market and the free movement of people, are not the real problem. If there were properly dealt with or established, then their impact on our everyday lives would be minimal or even positive.

And it is not that the electorate totally rejects the idea of "more Europe", rather that it lost its faith in it. Yet that is the fault of the national establishment politicians.

They have purposely disconnected communication between the EU and the citizens, with result the ever growing discontent of voters about EU affairs. 

More Europe, aka more transparency, democracy and less inter-governmentalism is the solution to the EU crisis.

But sadly our elites don't want to lose power, by handing power to a fully functioning European democracy. 

So we go in circles and the whole European project and the continent itself is on the brink of collapse. It is disappointing that the people will chose to abandon what we have achieved over the past decades, to go back to what we had before that, while thinking that we will maintain the same benefits.

If the euro goes, then the transition back to national currencies may not be as smooth as we wish it to be. Are Europeans ready to pay the price of further economic depression that a eurozone dissolution could bring?

The free movement of people is one of the few real benefits that we citizens, get with our country's EU membership. Why would anyone want to see it gone, just because our outer borders are under pressure from refugees and migrants? A decisive, comprehensive and unanimously adopted policy to tackle the problem should be preferred, but again our governments are the problem.

They are failing to agree on how to deal with the issue, plus they haven't done anything to establish a closer policing collaboration to safeguard Europe internally. Instead they chose the easy option to suspend the Schengen Agreement.

In addition, they are underlining the issue of migration and the refugee crisis, way too much to distract the European public opinion from other burning issues that we should be focusing on; like the state of our economy and the political deadlock that we find ourselves in.

In other words, for a national politician to draw caution on pushing for "more Europe," as it may harm the EU as a project is really misplaced. If our governments wanted it, "more Europe" would have been a reality already and it would have been successfully established.

All it needs to gain the hearts and minds of the voters, is to be fully functional, beneficial to them, transparent, democratic and offering solutions to their problems. Something that our national governments also want to offer us, to prolong their stay in power and relevance. That is the real reason why it hasn't happened already.

Thus the problem is not that the citizens are afraid of "more Europe," rather that they are unaware of how it will be shaped and how it will affect them. But that is something that our national governments should be responsible of clarifying and working on, yet they are not.

Citizens need solutions to the problems they are facing. Ultimately they do not care where they will come from. Let us not shoot ourselves in the foot by limiting our potential and opportunities, taking away our achievements and benefits, when we really want to punish our national governments.

We may think that anti-establishment political parties will offer us solutions, but these won't come by reversing what we have achieved so far. And are we sure that their policies that include the limitation of rights of minority groups, won't later be applied on us gradually?

Allowing more opinions and voices in Europe's political reality is always beneficial and our continent certainly needed new ideas.

The problem is, these parties in their majority are not placing anything new on the table, rather want to take us backwards to what we had previously, prior the creation of the EU; that is more than 50 years ago.

Change should always bring us forward, to prepare a Europe for the future reality of a multi-polar world. But they have nothing to contribute towards that.

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