A new Europe can only come from the bottom up

May 7th, 2013

Published on openDemocracy, by Etienne Balibar, May 6, 2013.

Simply put, ‘another Europe’ must be able to suggest alternatives that make sense to the majority of the citizens across the continent … //

… It is important to understand the root causes of this situation if one wishes to discover an exit route. I will underline two crucial causes. The first can be boiled down to a single word: rampant inequalities.  

First and foremost social inequalities, affecting every country (even Germany) but spread in equally unequal fashion between countries and regions – inequality within inequality, one could say, this being further, and dramatically, worsened by the crisis subjecting certain Mediterranean countries to a brutality that isn’t so very different from war. This fragmentation of society is the opposite of the proclaimed aims of the Union. It is unlikely that the representative systems will hold out against this much longer, and absurd to think one can restructure the community’s policy without tackling the issue through some means of recovery of public welfare.

Which brings us to the second cause: the resurgence of nationalisms which afflict both Europe’s ‘dominant’ and the ‘dominated’ powers. It may well be that the European project had underestimated the resilience of nationalism, not only on account of cultural factors or of the trace left by the great tragedies of the twentieth century, but due to the fact that social securities and solidarities were built first and foremost around the notion of national cohesion. Yet, it is certain that a drift towards a monetary union in the service of a purely competitive economic order has unleashed within Europe a ‘dog eat dog’ war in which the stronger will crush the weaker before being exposed to the shock of a globalization in which everyone is reduced to the status of a mere pawn.

Confronted by such developments, there is no simple solution since what is needed is the coming together of opinions that are currently hostile together with the overthrow of tendencies that have become sacrosanct. All the more reason to immediately contemplate a restructuring of the Union for the purpose of building another Europe.

The latter – as Ulrich Beck correctly underlines in his latest book – can only come ‘from the bottom up’, or from an unhampered evolution of citizens’ initiatives ranging from debates to protests and even sustained revolt, in the face of the fall-out from this crisis. But this is on one condition – that this protest won’t itself drift into a state of majoritarian nationalist victimhood and that it proves able to suggest alternatives that make sense to the majority of the citizens across the continent.

To be sure, the emergence of a historical leadership would be necessary – together with a political proposal audible for each and every one in their respective idioms. Some have mentioned a European New Deal. Obviously, it won’t be coming from Ms Merkel. I would however argue that it ought to come from Germany, or find itself relayed thereby, not because Germany is ‘the centre of all things’ but because the first task is to persuade the German populace to exchange the (relative) benefits they accrue from their imagined economic superiority for a common interest in the longer term. That raises a whole series of ‘ifs’, each one of which is difficult, and overall success highly improbable. And that is why I want to insist on their necessity.
(full text).


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