The Deep Structure of the European Crisis

Europe is in a deep crisis which is recognized by an increasing number of analysts, experts and observers. A lot has been said and written during the past year or two about the impact of the global economic and financial crisis on the EU. The crisis of the Euro-zone has been on front page of leading newspapers for a long time. But ironically, the recognition that the crisis is actually far more complex and also a deepening political and social crisis for the European Union as such, has grasped the attention of analysts only recently. Although there were reasons enough, after 2004 Big Bang, eastern enlargement and the 2005 double ‘no’ votes to the constitution, to pay some attention to emerging symptoms of crisis, lingering questions were swept under carpet. Against all promises, European integration remained an elite-driven and non-democratic process, Eurocrats, experts and national politicians alike, remained supremely uninterested in identifying or understanding the deeper structural causes of any failures and negative tendencies. The lack of a proper diagnosis left no chance at all for effective therapy. Self-congratulatory official EU and national propaganda about the success of new accessions possibly led to this self-deception: ‘Unity in Diversity’ thus remained a main slogan while increasing diversity actually further undermined transnational solidarity, silently turning core European societies against greater enlargement. Before and surrounding eastern enlargement the proclaimed self-image of the EU was elevated to great heights. Books were published under title The European Dream, (Jeremy Rifkin) and indeed for a while many believed that the fading away of the American dream would open new horizons, not only for new visions of Europe but also for the realization of those visions. It seemed that the European construct had gained new momentum and that Europe would gain a political purchase on the global level and become a model for further regional integrations and as such a shaper of a new world order. Thus Mark Leonard wrote in 2005: “…far from being the problem, European Union is the remedy: giving countries control over policies that had become global” (Why Europe will run the 21st century?); “By giving national governments a voice in the world, EU has saved national democracy from becoming a mere talking shop that comments on global events while the real decisions are taken elsewhere.…EU is only way that small countries can have a measure of control over global markets.” The buoyantly optimistic title of the book speaks for itself. This overwhelmingly self-congratulating optimism did not last too long. Opinion polls clearly showed that old core Europe had lost its enthusiasm regarding eastern enlargement (if it had any) rightly seen and interpreted as an elite decision made above the heads of European citizens. The accession of former Soviet bloc countries had unforeseen and rather frightening consequences and European citizens soon understood that in the lack of democratic decision making on the transnational level, decision makers would remain unaccountable. The double ‘no’ votes in 2005 were expression of dissent about previously successful and celebrated European construction method and procedure. European politicians, Eurocrats as well as their expert groups and think tanks had a bubble around their heads, a self-image underpinned by an idealized image of a desirable Europe (…..)



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2 Responses to The Deep Structure of the European Crisis

  1. Global Civil Society: the three words mark out a field and an aspiration. Global rather than national, civil not the state and corporation, society not the individualism of the late consumer market. It names a civil challenge to unrestrained globalisation. In this sense, the Global Civil Society yearbooks have shown the extent to which global civil society has developed. Part of it evokes on a world scale the civil response to a previous period dominated by market utopian policies that Polanyi ↑ described, in his account of early industrialising Britain in the 1830s. Then it was the Chartists, now it is the occupy movement, and the innumerable campaigns that have multiplied since globalisation took hold in the 1980s. Like the Chartists, they are contesting the new order politically. Alongside the Chartists, there was also a movement to develop a civil economic challenge. It gained traction in the 1840s when Owenite and Chartist weavers launched their co-operative shop in Rochdale. They intended it to be the first step in creating an alternative economy in which, in their words, labour would employ capital rather than capital labour. Within fifty years the movement they inspired had grown from a sapling to a forest. There were over a thousand independent retail societies, as well as a wholesale society with dozens of factories, farms, a bank, shipping lines, and even tea plantations in what was then Ceylon. Together they had become one of the largest corporations in the world. The co-operative movement was part of a much wider civil economy – part mutual, part charitable – that grew as a counter to the effects of industrial capitalism in nineteenth century Britain. This civil economy was sidelined in the twentieth century, as the state took over many of its functions. But the last thirty years has seen its re-emergence side by side with the advance of globalisation and as a distinct strand in the development of global civil society. In some eyes it remains peripheral to the main drama of states and corporations, reflecting if anything a fragmentation of social power and the hollowing out of the state. This is to greatly underestimate its long term significance in the glacial shifts now taking place in the world economy (…..)

  2. The first Global Civil Society yearbook was due to launch in New York at the United Nations on September 17 2001. The events of 9/11 did not only mean the cancellation of our event – they blew off course the whole project of ‘civilising’ globalisation. Just before 9/11 we felt that our ideas were entering the mainstream; both Newsweek and the New York Times expressed interest in attending the launch. Instead, the newly proclaimed ‘War on Terror’ betokened a return to sovereignty and geopolitics and to the marginalisation and sidelining of values, perspectives, movements, groups and tendencies that comprise what we call global civil society. This series in openDemocracy marks the publication of the tenth edition of the Global Civil Society ↑ yearbook. For us, the tenth anniversary offers an opportunity to look back over a decade of trying to explain, interpret, conceptualise, describe and measure the phenomenon that we framed as global civil society, and to reflect critically on what we have learned as a result of the research that was undertaken to produce the yearbooks. This anniversary edition ↑ was written during 2011 in the midst of a new wave of global civil society mobilisation – the Arab Spring, the occupation of squares all over the world, and, at the same time, the rise of the xenophobic right, accompanied by numerous riots and uprisings. The question we ask is whether our project is back on course: whether today’s generation of protestors represent the harbingers of a new emancipatory agenda, or whether the opposite is the case, that social fragmentation and polarisation from above as well as from below could usher in an even more dangerous and divided world. Or both? (…..)


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