We all know –whether we do notrealize it or not … – that this year’s European elections will be a real crossroads for the Europe of tomorrow; Europe’s character, its very nature, therefore its prospects.
Certainly, what gris going to happen/how the balances will be crystallized at Europeanism-Euroscepticism level, absolutely constitutesthe top priority, as already established (and convenient) habits, such as the divided but de facto consensual management of things by the EPP/European Socialists,are being disrupted. Next to this priority, there are elements such as the debate on institutional balance in the EU – as well as the tomorrow’s institutional profile of the Eurozone (which in a smugly way is described as the “hard core” of the EU).
Beyond that, however, by decomposing the European elections – and the way in which the election campaign is being conducted, i.e. like a series of parallel national elections, with priority over national political stakes –one can notice many and different issues that are coming to the forefront of interest. In any case, the Refugee/Immigration crisis is almost everywhere on the surface, not only in the countries of first entry but also in the countries that we would call the “first refusal” such as the VisegrádGroup countries. The issues of regional disparities are not far away; but also, the environmental issues, as the rise of the European Greens is the latest phenomenon parallel to the final straight towards the EU elections.
However, no matter how farsomeone maylookat lower levels of interest, one issue will still be missing: that of public debt and its importance in the EU affairs and especially the Eurozone affairs. Still, the debt crisis was the root – the real source – of all the crucial questioning of the Union construction. (Why do we refer to the EU, while the debt crisis was considered to concern the stability or the status of the Eurozone, especially? Because as demonstrated in the Greek case – where the situation reached, in the summer of 2015, on the brink of the -exit – the prevailing opinion was that the exit from the Eurozone was automatically /Ipso jure implied the exit from the European Union, an opinion expressed as a legal/institutional, but there was no doubt that it was more profoundly political.
From the Macroninitiative to the legacy issues
In the run-up to the European elections of May 2019, initiatives like that of Emmanuel Macron – after his speeches at Pnyka and Sorbonne in the autumn of 2017, along with their elaborate direction, and with his new, more “moderated” opinions in the autumn of 2018 – had included fiscal consolidation elements that one might think they involved the debt problem in the background. Indeed, both Macron’s initial opinion that the Eurozone budget would be required to act in a counter-cyclical way and provide some convergence of the economies rather than establish a deviation automation proved thatis carried by the Eurozone, and his later (more moderate) common position with Merkel for a budget ‘stitch-up’incorporated in the EU’s joint/existing budget to support counter-cyclical stabilization operations, we can view a management of the budgetary which is not limited to the one-dimensional logic of the Stability and (only in name) GrowthPact. What would have been an innovation according to Macron, it would be the assumption that Growth does not arise/ cannot only arise from Stability, i.e. in an environment of unremitting austerity, but it also requires a fiscal support – even selective regarding the actions, albeit very targeted.
Of course, the horizon of creating this “babushka budget” – presented by the Finance Ministers of France and Germany on 19 November 2019 – focusing on investment, but incorporated in the EU’s general budget (which is no more than EUR 1,135 billion, a little more than 1.1% of the Union’s GDP), is the year 2021. Its focus on investment in innovation, research and human resource development, as well as the guidelines issued by the European Council on 14 December 2019, which “push” particularly that aspect after the European elections in May, does not allow us to expect significant macroeconomic figures.
That was what Yannis Varoufakis rushed tomake use of- by his article in the Guardian – also taking advantage of Brexit’s frustration/re-thinking to ask for/suggest a Green New Deal that would go much further: issuing bonds by the European Investment Bank, worth 500 billion euros a year for a “green transition” in Europe. The ECB would be called upon to support this type of issue in the secondary market, making it clearly sought-after on the markets.
Without wishing to look into Varoufakis’ thought in its entirety, it is interesting to note that (a) it seeks to “bypass” the hesitation of the EU/Eurozone fiscal expansion by attempting substitutionwith the issue of bonds (which is, of course, is incontrary to other taboos), (b) of course, itrefers to a size greater than +/- 1 billion a year, but “only”by 50%, and (c) it”links” the use of new resources trying to create with something less “noble” than investing in research/innovation/ human resources upgrade: the “green transition” of Europe, which is a priority for the northern countries as well as their political debate, and their voters. So, why not going beyond the source of such a proposal – the GreekYanis Varoufakis who is going to run for the European elections on a German listin the future- one may find something useful that brings us back to the debt problem. This problem, which we have noted from the outset, is absent from the whole debate in the European elections. Ιn fact, what is the main feature of debt? It is a legacy issue, a problem accumulated/ coming from the past. What is the green transition management? It is another legacy case, an attempt to get out of an energy reality and switch to another, which costs hundreds of billions a year if we are to be serious.
From legacy issues to social reality
At this point, it is worthwhile/ we mustmake another effort to illuminate aspects of European reality that usually left in the shade. If one thing was missing from the “European” debate, as it has been codified and desiccated in recent decades –for example the 1980s, when there were also considerable controversies, by way of illustration about regional disparities, or about a “left”/ social challenge of the then EEC/EC: the difference is that at “Delors” timeinstruments such as the Regional Fund/Mediterranean Programs, or the Social Fund /Erasmus training and/or student exchanges appeared and mitigated tensions –it had to do with the awareness of social reality, the address to the social aspect.
If one now observes what causes the devaluation of the discourse on “Europe”, from turning to find solutions at a European level (and even with the European elections in the immediate horizon), and instead turns to national, non-nationalist orientations in countries as diverse as the countries experienced memoranda and the Nordic countries (largely opposed to them), differentiated as France of Gilets Jaunes or Italy of LegaNord and the Five Star Movement and AfD Germany or the Visegrad countries, the answer is par neglecting the cost/human cost brought along with the difficulty of adapting to a changing world. In a world that changes quickly, faster and faster; in a world that leaves behind those who cannot/do not have time to adapt;in a world with laissés pour compte, with more and more marginalized/outsiders; to all those who feel that their own life is in danger of being considered a legacy issue, that is, a remnant of a past that has left, leaving themselves uncovered: it is worthwhile to focus on the contrast between the political/European Macron’sdiscourse – “L ‘Europe qui protège” – and the reality of Gilets Jaunes who, with the fuel tax (product of green logic), were losing from their income “la fin du mois“.
The transfer of this backdrop to the Memoranda countries, to those countries that needed to accept a sharp adjustment of living standards, and to acquaint themselves with guiltiness of not following a financial correction/adjustment, has heavy consequences. There, debt also functions as a continuous symbolic reminder of failure/overexposure/burden and as a means of endless braking of any attempt to improve/mitigate austerity policies.
Besides, according to the current Greek Foreign Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, in an interview with “AVGI”, the European elections are important as “the policy of Europe in the coming years is played out on them[…] whether austerity will continue to be the answer to all questions “.
This is not a purely political/symbolic formula – without functional content. It is enough to observe for a moment a twin phenomenon in progress in early 2019, in Greece. On the one hand, it was decided to increase the minimum wage after a 6 year freeze (followed by a violent cut in 2013, by law). On the other hand, the issue of “red loans” – mortgages of households and business, which are non-performing, is coming to the surface on a disruptive effect basis. For both, there was opposition/reaction by the post-Memorial Troika of the follow-up machine. But where does the budgetary dimension/ the non-performing debt dimension is involved in depth?
In the absence of a rise in the minimum wage, the denial starts with the burden on (particularly small and medium-sized) enterprises – which could have been offset, as in France, for example) – by reducing their tax or by reducing insurance contributions. However … something like this is contrary to the budget costs. In the radical treatment of “red loans”, the provision of support or even a guarantee from public funds (or funds from the special cash buffer set up for the Greek economy) also impinges on a financial interdictum.
In the immediate background, there is the burden of debt … So if this issue does not begin to be debated with political honesty, the “European” issue will never obtain a social background.