There is a growing anti-European sentiment which takes the form of massive protests and demonstrations almost everywhere. Unemployment and poverty are spreading everywhere and create a favourable terrain for self defence reaction, giving rise to a rethoric of scapegoats against banks, immigrants or the euro as the cause of our problems. Nationalism and localism are becoming more evident from France to Catalonia. Beyond their diversity, they are all the expression of the rise of 'ethnic' identity.
A political scientist of Yale university, N.Sambanis wrote (NyTimes, August 26) : "As Europe’s status declines, the already shaky European identity will weaken further and the citizens of the richer European nations will be more likely to identify nationally — as Germans or French — rather than as Europeans. This will increase their reluctance to use their taxes for bailouts of the ethnically different Southern Europeans, especially the culturally distant Greeks; and it will diminish any prospect of fiscal integration that could help save the euro, The result is a vicious circle: as ethnic identities return, ethnic differences become more pronounced, and all sides fall back on stereotypes and the stigmatization of the adversary through language or actions intended to dehumanize, thereby justifying hostile actions. This is a common pattern in ethnic conflicts around the world, and it is also evident in Europe today".
Our politicians use the term 'populism' to qualify the rise of anti-European parties. This is a far too simple argument. We need a much deeper analysis of the causes of the rejection of Europe. It is not the European idea which is put in question. It is about what Europe proposes to tackle European citizens problems. The first cause of rejection stems from austerity policies which have produced poverty and recession. Instead of preserving the welfare State, the crisis becomes an opportunity to dismantle Beveridge's system, which is , despite its geographic differences ( in particular between the 'Scandinavian' model and the 'southern' one) a model for the whole world. Let us be clear, this model has to be efficient, equitable and sustainable. We should not defend waste and inefficiency neither corruption or fraud.
Second, Europe is not business as usual. The financial crisis has been dealt with essentially with existing rules. The only innovation was the set up of financial instruments to act as firewalls against market speculation but they did not allow to stabilise financial markets. Spain and Italy are still on the frontline, although the 'unconventional' intervention of the European Central Bank has brought temporary relief to these countries. But how does this translate in permanent improvements in workers living conditions? We did not see any substantial change in labour market situation in Spain and Italy despite reforms.
Third, European leaders have failed to explain the reality of the crisis as if their people were not concerned. Poltical competition in a democracy has always been a matter of education of the voters and their maturity is the best defence against populism. Before it is too late, we must stop the tempest of the populist rethoric by putting in honour pragmatic, realistic checks. There are supra-national ideas for which it is worth fighting and they can prevail if the European interest prevails over narrow, selfish politics. European leaders should propend to what A.Hirschmann called 'self-subversion' meaning in this case a radical change of paradigm. Policies and doctrines have failed since they have created in Europe a divide between creditors and debtors and produced inequality and poverty.
The struggle for a political Europe is not an abstract goal. It means giving to Europe a true Constitution drafted by the representatives of European people, not by the States. We need urgently large scale investment programmes to foster sustainable growth which cannly be promoted by a European government- with a consistent budget approved by the European Parliament, given national budget constraints. There would be substantial economies of scale and savings if resources and efforts are put in common.In doing so, citizens could understand that those who command are not oligarchs, and that policies adopted can be subject to confutation as any policy in a democracy. The European Central bank, despite their unconventional weapons, remains a technocratic apparatus, with no political legitimacy because there is no common Treasury and no common government. Political leaders are wrong if they think that it is the solution to the crisis; they just abdicate their power, which is to seek alternatives, not the consensus of markets. Populism is the product of this abdication.
We should ask citizens what kind of Europe they want. Let's put it in three basic questions: Do they want a new Europe which could help building global partnerships and solidarity? Do they want a Europe governed by economic liberalism or a kind of 'liberal' socialism uniting the market economy with social equity and fight against inequality? Do they want a Europe where the general interest prevails over particular interests of groups and lobbies which prepend the present to the construction of the future?