When at 1989 the Eastern European countries started progressively to break ranks with Communism and recover their freedoms, one of the ideas which seemed to triumph in that seminal hour was the European idea. The idea that Europe, as a whole, must and could bring itself to a space of freedom, democracy, peace and economic stability. At the same time, the crumbling of the communist-statist-oriented economical block worldwide seemed to definitely guide the world to a open-market free-trade sphere, speeding the already advanced process of dismantling of political frontiers in the economic world, financial and trade-wise.
More than twenty years later, the consequences of this second process are obvious. Without a global or even regional strong political restraint, capitalism has adquired a steady heading towards its usual behaviour of short-term thinking exclusively that degenerates in cyclical crisis, speculative trading bubbles, disregard for the ecological and social consequences of their acts and a tendency to increase inequalities (political, economical, social) everywhere. We are, right know, in the middle of one of these crisis. And History show us that this one, as bad as it seems right now, will be only one of successive crisis, which will have a strong impact in the lives of people everywhere in the world, and will haunt regularly every wish of definitive improvement of the global conditions of democracy, freedom and equality.
This behaviour is ideologically supported by the now dominant economic paradigm, which supports that markets, left on their own, don’t fail, and all the meltdowns which seem to occur unavoidably are responsability, not of the system itself, but of “wicked” individuals, irrational behaviours and (the favourite enemy) unacceptable political meddling. These ideas are supported by “economic laws” that are stubbornly debunked by real economic behaviours, but the grip of these ideas keeps on, pervasive in our current world, based in the appropiation by their proponents of popular and emotionally-charged concepts, like personal freedom and democracy.
Against this situation, the European social democratic parties have reacted bad and slowly, confident in the success of the welfare nation-state project, pillar of the European rebuilding and – they believed – legitimated at the eyes of the European citizenry by its victory against totalitary Communism. Instead, they have found themselves against a powerfully charged enemy, which is attacking with reactionary fury the mainstays of the welfare state, steadily transforming old established rights in privileges, making life worst for millions of Europeans, all in the name of freedom, the new politically correct name for what was always called greed.
It’s now impossible to deny the fact that this current economic crisis is undermining the survival of the European idea. In Western Europe, the crumbling of the social rights which were taken for granted for decades is reinstating a climate of incertainty; in Southern Europe, the incapacity of their nation-states to cope with both the pressures of a citizenry, which requires the benefits of their Northern neighbours, and ideologically-bound economic guidelines which force downsizing, is crumbling the confidence of the people in the system; and in Eastern Europe, years go by and the economic prosperity for all which was promised in millions of TV screens, from Tallinn to Tsarevo, is not arriving for a well-sized chunk of the citizenry.
Throughout Europe, citizens are feeling duped by the European project, and for their own motivations, from both the extreme right and the extreme left a message, a dangerous message, a growingly popular message, is being hammered in the mind of citizens everywhere: Europe has failed to deliver.
And as a reaction against this failure, old and already failed solutions are starting to grow again, in absence of better solutions: more nationalism, more populism, and, in some cases, barely-concealed racism.
We have seem this before. During a global economic crisis, as devastating and far-abrangent as the current one is, Europe reacted – or, worse, did not react – against a similar statement: Democracy had failed to deliver. We had to suffer a mind-bogglingly terrible war, a painful reconstruction process, an unprecedented loss of economical and political weight, and tyrannical regimes which extended themselves for decades, to recognize that the problem wasn’t with democracy itself – but with a political ideology which was too much reticent to use the powers of the state to guide decisively the economic system and orient its results to guarantee welfare for all the population.
That was the greatest failure of humanity of all the twentieth century. We let the rational ideas to slip away, not defended strongly enough against simpler and more emotionally-charged ideas – which drove Europe to war, tyranny and exaustion. All the European integration process was created with this ultimate objective in mind: never, ever, let it happen again.
If the failure of the democratic nation-states in the 30′s was the unability – or the unwillness – to use the power of the democratic nation-states to regulate the economic system for the welfare of the citizenry, the failure of Europe now is the unability – or the unwillness – to use the power of Europe itself to do exactly the same. Europe must strongly intervene in the economic system, using the power given by its sheer size, to orient their policies to guarantee a basic set of welfare rights for all.
And that means that European integration must be political as much as it is economic. We have let this idea slip away almost since the beginning, in sake of expediency, choosing not to react against those which understood that a strong political Europe meant the possibility of denial of their own greed-friendly policies – and reacted shielded in strongly-worded and emotionally-charged nationalism.
So, our objective must be twofold: to use Europe as a bigger actor to better intervene in a global market in where even the larger nation-states struggle to keep economic welfare programs; and to create an ideological and emotionally-charged set of symbols which can confront the symbols of organized greed.
To achieve this objective, we propose:
· To add a new set of criteria for defining economic growth and convergence: The current set of criteria which measure the economic standing of the Union and its member states is incomplete. The macroeconomic emphasis ignores social developments and pressure governments to adopt stern measures notwithstanding their social consequences. The unemployment rate, the inequality rates and the poverty indexes must be as important – if not more – to measure the standing of an economy inside the Union as GDP and inflation rates are now.
· Harmonization of tax and welfare policies Union-wide must point exclusively to the betterment of these policies: We can not accept a policy of competition for lower taxes and lower worker protection between member states, regions and even cities inside the Union. The Union must enforce a tax policy which, keeping Europe competitive, guarantee funding for social policies and services, infrastructure improvements and harmonization of the quality of life of all Union citizens and residents.
· Europe must have a strong commitment for a humane and socially responsible globalization: Only guaranteeing good jobs abroad we can keep good jobs here. Europe must support organizations which incentivate worker organization and unionization everywhere. Help must be given to countries which have a strong commitment for guaranteeing the social welfare of their workers. Products of countries which tolerate and incentivate maquilas, sweatshops and other kinds of social dumping must be banned from the Union.
· To promote the values of the social democratic welfare state as the most complete set of values for an harmonical economic development. Individual liberties, left unchecked, are just a politically correct name for greed. The social democratic welfare state has contributed to create a democratic, peaceful, just and united Europe, historically the most violent and divided region in the world. The long-term success of this system must be its better introduction card, and we must insist that our system is better, more equal and more stable.