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The European Crisis and Its Challenges for the Greens

Before looking into a few of the challenges that European Greens are faced with and the solutions that they may be able to offer, it is important to outline a few characteristics of the historic moment in which we find ourselves.

The End of an Historical Chapter

In 2005 and 2006, debates during the ratification of the Constitutional Treaty had already shown that European integration had become less prominent for generations born after the war. The idea of a peaceful, democratic and prosperousEuropeis no longer enough to sell neoliberal inspired policies. The promise of a social Europe that was to take over the role of the national welfare state has not been kept. As a result, Europeanisation has become confused with globalisation from which it was supposed to protect all Europeans. The 2011 crisis shows that intra-European unity has also become less prominent: debtors and creditors of European solidarity are have increasingly felt that they were being made fools of without having been consulted. The belief that European integration is a historical necessity, strengthened by the following crisis, is now being threatened. The unifying theme of the European project; that we must share sovereignty in order to strengthen sovereignty, itself seems to be weakened.

The End of a Europe of Elites

The Eurozone crisis reveals the limitations of the method that has prevailed for the European construction. What we call institutional ‘incrementalism’[1] was the result of the action of European elites convinced of the necessity to build Europe according to the opportunities of cooperation that history offered them. As long as the repercussions with Nation States were not too visible, it was implicitly agreed upon. It is probable that the Maastricht Treaty contributed to changing the tide, by imposing economic and budgetary convergence criteria that had adherence to which was to have a direct influence on national policies. Historians of the future will undoubtedly see there the origin of the parties playing the opposition between an elitist Europe and the European people, as populist parties. In reality, populism and technocracy are the two sides of the same coin that strengthen one another[2]. The Eurozone crisis has revealed governments that take action at the last minute under the pressure of the markets, paralyzed by the fear of populism, simultaneously convinced of the need to strengthen economic integration and incapable of persuading their own nations.

The Lack of European Democracy Is an Economic Problem

Regardless of what policies need to be pursued in Europe, there is no longer any doubt over the need for a genuine Eurozone economic government. However, as is the case at the European level, its democratic base seems to be missing in most countries. The structural deficit of economic union with real policy and economic governance without sufficient democratic legitimisation appears in the open.

The contest against the multiple internal imbalances in the Eurozone (imbalance of trade balances, private and public over-indebtedness, not to mention the environmental and social imbalances that are hardly taken into account) is taking place without a common analysis of the responsibilities and causes of the crisis at the European level really emerging. Due to a lack of imagination and courage, austerity policies were then imposed as a ‘small common denominator’ in the endlessly deceiving hope to regain the trust of the markets.

Absence of a Shared Reading of the Crisis

Yet the start of the 2008 crisis indicated the prospect of a shift. With the 2008 sub-prime mortgage collapse, the failure of excessive deregulation became obvious. Neo-liberalism seemed to lose momentum but the banking crisis then contaminated the Member States. The sovereign debt crisis has put the ball back in their court. The lack of consensus over the source of public over-indebtedness is dividing Europe: is it financial deregulation, rising inequalities, the lack of competitiveness, bad governance? The answers vary depending on the countries, their economic situations, their competitiveness and respective political landscapes. In any case, the Greens are struggling to communicate their radical analyses (at the root). When markets impose their extremely short dictatorship, it is difficult to make clear that macro-economic imbalances find their origin in an unsustainable model: unjust to both current generations and future generations.

The Paris Declaration

On 13th November 2011, whilst assembled in congress in Paris, the European Green Party (EGP) adopted a declaration that goes against the trend currently dominating European politics: the crisis is not mainly caused by the lack of rigour or competitiveness, but by the increase in inequality and by the explosion of the financial sector that it fuelled during the decades before it. In 2008, like in 2011, the European Greens’ solution remained the promotion of a pan-European Green New Deal combining the reduction of inequalities, financial regulation and environmental reconversion of the economy. The declaration outlines short-term measures to put out the fire that is spreading across the Eurozone with long-term proposals to essentially redirect the path of the European economy. A number of the measures recommended by the Greens involve a strengthening of political integration and include changes to the existing treaties. Also the EGP is in favour of a second convention on the future of Europe being held as soon as possible.

Green Debates

The Greens are historically well equipped to structure such a debate. But this debate must first take place internally. Throughout, their commitment to a European integration process has been multiple. Within the green family, different positions on the European project have co-existed. For some, this project has an intrinsic value, for others, Europe is just a means (an instrument) to apply an efficient level of the green project and for others still, European integration has no obvious value and may even be slowing down green projects from being achieved.

Making these trends – which are obviously not structured as such  – co-exist inside the European Greens in a democratic and effective way is not easy. It is even more difficult when the divide is worsened by other closely overlapping debates.

The debate on growth

Since the end of 2008, the Greens have made the Green New Deal their flagship project. Environmental reconversion of the economy offered a way out of the crisis. Employment and environment were finally reconciled. The Green New Deal was a key part of the green success during the 2009 European elections but at the same time, the debate on compatibility between growth – even green growth – and sustainable development was re-launched by the publication of ‘Prosperity without growth’ by Tim Jackson and printed in several European languages (often with the support of green foundations such as Etopia, Oikos or the Heinrich Boell Foundation): the practicality of a decoupling between economic growth and the increase of greenhouse gas emissions was radically brought into question. From then on, several green parties began to reintegrate the idea of redefining prosperity in to their discussion in a non-productivist [3] way. This debate is all but obvious, particularly for parties that are serving government.

The debate over power and austerity

The Greens who are in the driving seat at the national level such as is the case in Finland or at the regional level as in Germany and in Belgium, France or Austria are well placed to know that economic growth is crucial for funding the collective function of indebted states. At the international level, the ability to influence large global aspects is also measured by economic power. It is even truer when we consider that Europeans only represent 7% of the global population. To believe that they could continue to have a global influence – and particularly in terms of being able to redirect the global economy – whilst reducing their economic leverage and remaining trapped in the debt crisis is a misconception. In a short time-frame the French (in 2012) and German (in 2013) Greens who could be part of national coalitions should implement policies to control public debt. Their challenge will be to convince their potential socialist and social-democratic partners not to give in to the temptation of using traditional liberal-productivist formulas.

The debate on the democratisation of Europe

In the current state, it is not established that there will be majorities in Europe to successfully carry out reforms enabling the deficit of democratic legitimacy highlighted by the debt crisis to be reduced. The solutions recommended by governments do not reinforce the support for European democratic reforms. But fear of a reduction of national sovereignty also plays a role. The specificity of the European democracy that resides in the permanent interaction between the Member State level and the European level is far from being fully integrated. Politicians that attempt to persuade us that they control the economy at the national level are more than partly responsible for this.

In order to respond to these apprehensions which are also present within the Greens, the strengthening of the weight of the European parliament (election of a part of the parliament members in one single constituency[4], right of initiative, control of the Commission and the Council…) should be accompanied with the strengthening of the power of control of national parliaments on European policies. At the very least, all new reforms of the Treaties should be ratified, as the Greens have constantly supported, by simultaneous national referendums, the result being that a ‘no’ would not be without its consequences, as is the case today, on the pursuit of participation in the EU.

Europeanising debates, pursuing their ‘trans-nationalisation’

Progressing with difficulty, European integration seems to be arriving at a point where it would have to start again from scratch. However, this impression is mostly an illusion, not only in virtue of European ‘incrementalism’, sometimes fairly denounced, but also and most of all because in more than fifty years, a “quasi-European society” has begun to see the light of day.  It is difficult to measure its progress, but it is palpable, even indirectly by the way in which countries interacted in the current European crisis. But beyond the clichés, European democracy needs to strengthen the European public space in which it is developing. Building common understandings of the current situation, proposing new approaches, involves us further interconnecting national public spaces so that, for example, the French are better informed about what is being debated in Germany and vice-versa[5].

This interconnection also needs to be done by European Greens, the Green European Foundation in collaboration with national green foundations, such as Etopia or the Heinrich Boell Foundation.

The Heinrich Boell Foundation has just published an important study dedicated to the future of Europe[6] which will form part of debates in several countries whilst the European Green European Foundation launches a ‘Green European Journal’ whose ambition is to disseminate translations of articles likely to stimulate debate between European greens and mainly articles published in different green foundation reviews.

 

[1] An English language term denoting a process of irreversible, unplanned or ‘adhoc’ steps – a ratchet effect.

[2] LEONARD M., Four scenarios for the reinvention of Europe; European Council on Foreign Relations (EFCR) www.efcr.eu

[3] The Paris declaration refers to this in the second paragraph. The last Green Congress began to incorporate it in its economic positioning (see English translation of the resolution which will soon be published by the ‘Green European Journal’.

[4] www.greenyourope.net/2011/07/28/why-european-lists-are-a-must/

[5] HABERMAS J, ENDERLEIN H., FISCHER J., GUEROT U., Europe and the “new German question”, www.eurozine.com  « There can only be a process of pan-European opinion-formation and majority building if the national media cover relevant opinions and attitudes on common interests in other, foreign, national media ».

[6] ‘Unity and strength : the future of the European Union’ www.gef.eu

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