Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The European Spring

It's not often I read an article in The Guardian with such zeal, especially not an opinion piece.

But today's column by Costa Douzinas, a professor at Birkbeck University in London who has authored and co-authored texts examining the philosophical underpinnings of law making such as human rights, was interesting indeed.

He talks about the possibility of a European Spring of revolution with forthcoming elections in France and Greece. We also have the English local elections tomorrow while Germany will see whether Merkel's leadership amidst ongoing crisis in the Eurozone retains kudos among the voterate. There is also the matter of a collapsed government in the Netherlands and forthcoming local elections in Italy.

The juxtaposition of polls in France, Greece, Germany and the UK alongside ongoing battles to save the single currency couldn't be sweeter for a political theoretician. It would appear in France that Nicholas Sarkozy may become a one-term president and yet another victim of the financial crisis as the public turns towards socialist Hollande's rhetoric against austerity rather than keeping faith in the Merkozy strategem that has so far dominated Eurozone fiscal policy.

Meanwhile, the general election in Greece will be the public's first opportunity to show through the ballot their verdict on their country's financial collapse, and it is likely we will see a surprising result that will prevent either of the two main parties from the past four decades gain an outright majority.

In Italy, local elections will act as litmus for the parachuted-in technocrat Mario Monti who replaced the disgraced Berlusconi last year, while a key regional election in northern Germany in Schleswif-Holstein will determine whether Merkel's popularity and reputation are finally beginning to falter despite relatively secure German faith in her competence to date.

Regarding the run offs for Presidency in France, many newspapers have reported Merkel's open opposition to her old ally's contender. The German Premier has criticised Hollande's posturing against the ongoing austerity programme that has largely been coordinated by Merkel and Sarkozy, threatening to rip up the deal and demand a re-write, a move that many believe could topple the powerful axis of Franco-German driven leadership of the Eurozone and potentially lead to a free-for-all across single currency members at a time when the leadership for a number of countries is set to change. Euroscepticism has crept into manifestos from left to right. What, or more to the point, who, results from elections in Greece is therefore potentially the first dramatic change of power and sentiment that will have been observed in a European country since the outbreak of the Euro crisis.

This is essentially what Mr Douzinas is warning, although unlike a number of other commentators, leaping to the defence of current ruling centre-right governments, he suggests it is the far left, and not the far right, who would become the decision makers in this keystone member state. However he does betray his concern that

"Part of this picture – its most worrying aspect – is the rush to the right by mainstream politicians who, imitating Sarkozy, compete to display their nationalist credentials. Coalition ministers Michalis Chrysochoidis and Andreas Loverdos have spread panic about immigrants as criminals and carriers of infectious diseases, and have set up detention camps in order to contain this "threat"...Meanwhile Athens' Mayor Kaminis has, with Chrysochoidis, organised campaigns to "cleanse" the city of migrants, while the coalition plans an anti-immigration wall on the Greco-Turkish border."

It's a highly interesting observation and one that we have seen mainstream media across Europe discuss with regards to elections in all of the member states.

What we need to address is the unspoken reality of both the creation of fiscal crisis and the subsequent way through the mess.

The majority of countries struggling under alarming debt have reached this stage due to high structural deficits; that is, essentially, the mathematical problem that the cost of running public services afforded by government borrowing far outweighs the income potential of the country in question.

Many theorists have come up with simple studies that support various ideas relating to financial crisis, many of which newspapers are not shy to publish.

I have read articles that muse over the fall in birthrate during depression times, the increase of marriage and reduction in divorce, and many other variations relating to consumer trends, from holidays to hoummous, to abandoned pets and soaring university entrance in countries with high youth unemployment.

Over all, a general picture being painted is that humans, on a collective subconscious level, realise the need to club together resources and reduce financial burden in periods of economic decline.

It surely makes sense. Animals living in the most extreme environments containing minimal resources often betray similar characteristics. Penguins for instance have only one mate, forge a large community and give birth to just one baby each. In boom times, certain species will see propogation exponentially increase as both survival rates soar and reduced competiton factors in its influence, thus the converse is likely to be true when the situation is reversed.

Something else that is true however, is that in times of scarcity, a natural social collective in the animal kingdom is ever more likely to fight off the threat from co-existing groups of the same species. When everyone is competing for the same resources, the tendency to share is greatly reduced and competition over what is available intensifies.

It is hardly surprising then, that in the midst of a financial crisis, anti-immigrant rhetoric also intensifies, yet rather than acknowledging the evident reasoning for this and working to satiate public concern before it topples over into xenophobia, governments continue to fail to address the problem.

It is not "racist" to determine that your nation's services and resources can only stretch so far, particularly during a time of struggle. This attitude does not betray latent opposition to other cultures or nationalities, nor should it suggest xenophobia. What it does do however is reinforce the concept of nationhood, but what is one to expect when the perceived borders of democratic control are divvied up along national frontiers? If those lines were  instead drawn macro-regionally, between counties for instance, loyalty would be emboldened on a smaller socio-geographic scale.

Perhaps the commentators, and Mr Douzinas, is right, and what is happening is a creeping empassioned attack based upon ethnicity and ethnography rather than on more level handed demography.

If the rhetoric from the two Greek coaltion ministers is true and is not based upon any conceivable proven fact, then the problem is severe when competing parties are reduced to conflating race with liability for being a vector of disease. Indeed such a supposition is the thin end of a wedge, and something I oppose from the bottom of my heart. However, and I would tentatively observe rather than ordain here, the notion that it is not uncommon for anybody coming from outside of a community, be it a returning native or a newly arrived foreigner, to bring with them the threat of an infection that is perhaps uncommon in a particular society, and thus potentially poses a greater threat.

I find myself torturously re-reading this to ensure that what I have written comes across as evidently objective and reasonable, lest to avoid any sort of ill intentioned criticism. But the point is, I shouldn't. This is afterall why we have jabs before holidaying in foreign countries, or have to present a yellow fever certificate for entry into others.Nobody would call such policy making racist or xenophobic. It is common sense. Yet the very fact that it has become so difficult to even word certain topics, being careful of references and examples one uses, so as to avoid any possible misinterpretation of offense, has become the root of a very real social and political problem.

Because it has become politically incorrect to talk candidly  about issues such as population size, limited resources, birthrates, immigration, migration and citizenship, voters who are not finding moderate concerns accommodated by the government or the main opposition party are seeking solace in marginal organisations who opportunisticly address such taboos and converet them  into valence issues.

I want to point out here however that the present climate is not just fertile ground for distasteful extremists.

More importantly smaller viable parties who have not had the opportunity to rise due to media control or hereditary voting habits are now finding an arena in which such issues often avoided by ruling parties but addressed on the sidelines are coming to a fore, and it is allowing the public to finally, democratically represent their misgivings in the political fora.

It is not always just a protest vote, but a genuine realisation that there are other political groups out their with sound policy making, fair judgement and very good ideas.

Voting is not like supporting a football team. Certainly when your sports team have a bad season you don't suddenly ditch them and start cheering for the premiership victors. But politics should not be like that. You do not have to vote Conservative or Labour simply because you have done so all your life. You have the opportunity, and dare I say it, the responsibility as an adult with a right to vote, to read through all the available manifestos and make a decision based upon honest and considered calculation.

UKIP are one such party who are on the rise. In all recent polls we are level pegging with the Liberal Democrats if not ahead, but still we won't get the same amount of coverage.

That is because the partisan press in the UK are backing one of the three main parties, and UKIP is a threat to them all. For that reason we are easy to throw stones at. But it is the very misguided critics out there who are quick to raise unsubstantiated and alarmist claims in order to defend the major parties that are actually creating a far right movement by not giving decent and responsible smaller parties like UKIP the platform for debate.

In my view, UKIP are not even on the right hand side of an assumed political spectrum, yet so often we are labelled as "far right" as an excuse to defend the parties that we threaten because they are failing to address voter sympathies. It has therefore become all too easy for issues such as immigration to be conflated with xenophobia, and yet nobody out there knows why.

Why can't we talk about this frankly without feeling worried that we are going to be judged?

Well a political scientist might just flag up similar reasoning to what I have just described. The combination of the mistakes of history and a public sense of guilt becomes easy fodder for political communicators to use to drum up a culture of fear over smaller parties in order to marginalise any party that is a threat to a ruling group. As a result, key electoral issues become matters of dangerous taboo.

If collectively across Europe, smaller, responsible and well-intentioned parties, whether they reside on a fictitious left or a fictitious right, grow in prominence and enable the formation of a European Spring, then I will be happy if it topples the hegemonic might of Brussels - with minimal fall-out.

However if they are not allowed to do this, what we will see is the creation of a blackmarket of political thought where less than savoury ideologies are allowed to prosper.

And so I implore voters across the European Union. Vote wisely, vote sensibly, but vote with your heart and mind. If that means breaking with convention, then have the conviction to do so. For that is the real measure of democracy.

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