Europe – between illusion and reality
Tortilla con Sal, TeleSur English, June 9th 2016
The launch and development of the European Union has been probably the most elaborate deception in the whole of history. It was projected to be an integration initiative based on the high ideals of Western humanism, aiming to achieve peace and prosperity within Europe and beyond. But that ideal vision was never consistent with the fundamental reality of its origins and development at the service of the geopolitical interests of the United States élites and as a neocolonial response to decolonization.
After 45 years, the demise in 1991 of the Soviet Union reinforced the loyal collusion of the European elites with their US counterparts, prioritizing their interests over those of the peoples of Europe and the rest of the world. Now, after the collapse of the Western financial system between 2007 and 2009, that reality is much clearer than ever before. The EU has followed a pattern of development cut to the measure of its corporate elites and their US partners.
European institutions are deeply anti-democratic, with a parliament decisively weaker than the unelected executive. The European Parliament shares its legislative function with a Council of the European Union whose members by no means represent the majority of their respective countries electorates. That anti-democratic sleight of hand is repeated in the European Council composed of heads of state and government. In Europe most government leaders win elections with the support of a minority of the electorate, sometimes as low as under 25%, as was the case with Britain's Tony Blair.
EU foreign policy has been characterized by military and economic aggression, unwarranted intervention in the internal affairs of other nations and a fierce defense of its neocolonial power, the rotten fruit of centuries of enslavement and genocide. Just in this 21st Century the EU authorities and member governments have attacked Afghanistan, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Libya and Syria. In both Libya and Syria they have deployed élite forces and have armed, trained and supplied terrorist organizations guilty of heinous crimes against humanity.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, EU member countries have participated actively in destabilizing Venezuela, collaborated in the illegal US blockade of Cuba and approved the 2004 coup d'etat in Haiti along with its shameful military occupation by UN forces working at the behest of the US government. In Palestine, the EU and its member countries have collaborated with Israel's slow motion genocide of the Palestinian people. In Ukraine they supported a US right-wing coup d'etat against the elected government carried out by Nazi militias.
Those Nazi militias went on to try and ethnically cleanse Ukraine's Russian speaking population in the country's eastern regions. Against Russia itself, the EU has applied economic sanctions to punish Russia's acceptance of the Crimean people's democratic decision to join the Russian Federation, based on the precedent set by the EU itself in accepting Kosovo's secession from Serbia. Against Iran, the EU applied completely unjust sanctions to weaken the Iranian people in support of the regional agenda of Saudi Arabia's feudal tyranny and Israel's sadistic zionist government.
This collaboration with US foreign policy is hardly surprising since the EU developed from treaties negotiated under pressure from the US government after the end of World War 2. The NATO military alliance was formed in 1949. The 1951 Treaty of Paris agreed economic cooperation between France, Germany, Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg and from that agreement derived the European Coal and Steel Community consolidating the industries vital for a war economy.
The 1957 Treaty of Rome incorporated Italy into what became the European Economic Community which was the basis for the current institutional structure of the European Union. It is completely historically false to paint the European project as a project for peace. It was designed to support US intimidation of the Soviet Union. Throughout its history, the member countries of the European Union have always accepted on their territory large and powerful units of the US armed forces targeting first the Soviet Union and now the Russian Federation.
Right from the start, the focus of a potential war was a nuclear attack. The menace of US aggression intensified in the 1980s with the deployment of US nuclear cruise missiles in Germany and Britain. The menace subsided for a brief period in the 1990s after the demise of the Soviet Union only to once more intensify following Russia's rejection of NATO's bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999. Now, in violation of NATO promises to Russia in the early 1990s, NATO is stationing missile systems right on Russia's borders, dramatically increasing the likelihood of a nuclear war.
The only possible rationale for current European policy towards the Russian Federation is a hopelessly misguided belief that Russia will somehow fold before Western intimidation. The reverse has happened. Russia has for the moment abandoned it's earlier efforts to accommodate with the West and instead is developing a powerful de facto economic and military alliance with China, also a victim of Western menaces. The resulting Eurasian economic bloc stretches from the Western Pacific to Europe.
Unable to compete with this huge economic, political and military power, the anti-democratic European elite's economic response to that reality has once more been to collude with their US corporate allies. Now they are working together to force an abandonment of the Doha Round of trade talks so as to protect their massively subsidized agricultural sector against majority world farmers with whom Western farmers cannot compete. The Western corporate elites are also trying to force through acceptance of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, against the interests of their peoples, to protect their corporations against majority world competitors.
Likewise on Climate Change, the EU and the US collaborated to rig the Paris Climate Summit so as to avoid all discussion of proposals for climate justice from majority world countries. So now Western countries will continue to contaminate, provoking disastrous temperature increases which will reach between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius, if not more, in much of Africa, Asia, Oceania and Latin America. The Paris COP 21 agreement is above all the continuation by other means of the West's historic war on the majority world and derives ultimately from the EU's origins as a neocolonial structure designed to maintain imperial domination despite decolonization.
With over 500 million people, the EU is the third largest political entity by population and by territorial extension it is the seventh largest. Its gross domestic product of over US$16 trillion makes it the second biggest world economy after the United States. Even so, with all those huge resources, in domestic terms, rather than protect the most vulnerable sectors of its people, the EU authorities have applied repressive and regressive economic policies provoking high levels of unemployment and deepening poverty especially among women, young people and ethnic minorities.
Unemployment early in 2016 averaged over 10% in the EU ranging from over 24% in Greece to a little over 4% in Germany. But, as with the headline figure in the US, a more realistic figure is likely to be the equivalent of the US Labor Statistics Bureau U-6 number, usually around 10% higher than the headline number. In 2014, seven years after the beginning of the economic crisis, depending on the methodology one uses, between 17% and 24% of people in the EU were at serious risk of poverty or social exclusion and between 10% and 16% of people in the EU were suffering serious deprivation. The EU leadership show no sign of being able to correct this damning policy failure.
At a micro-economic level indebtedness continues to plague countries of the EU. In many countries household debt in relation to GDP in 20013 was higher than in 2008. In France it increased from 75% to 83%, in Italy from 58% to 65%, in Holland from 249% to 266% and in Ireland from 209% to 212%. Germany and Britain saw a slight reduction. These levels of household debt are due to stagnant incomes which imply a steady, hopeless downward spiral in consumption affecting production and investment. That problem can only be addressed by decisive fiscal measures which the EU and its member governments refuse to implement.
At the macroeconomic level, various writers have pointed out that the ratio of government revenue to government debt gives a much more realistic account of a country's economic health than debt to GDP. For Ireland that measure shot up from 187% in 2008 to 340% in 2012. In that same year the figure for Germany was 181%, France 174% and Britain 212%, higher than other countries, like Hungary, which are perceived to be less stable. High levels of government debt in the EU result from deliberate policy spearheaded by the politically driven European Central Bank.
At the behest of the EU élites after the 2007-2009 crisis, the ECB rescued the region's delinquent financial institutions and threw the cost onto the region's peoples. That is why economic growth in the EU in the decade since 2006 has barely averaged above zero. However, the figures conceal various asset price bubbles that in fact mean the real productive economy has been in recession all that time. In such a depressing context the economic challenge for Europe is not merely how to snap out of recession but how to break the stranglehold its financial sector maintains on political power.
That itself implies the need for a radical change in foreign policy that is simply not going to happen in the foreseeable future. The US will always stymie rapprochement between the EU and Russia to the detriment of the interests of Europe's peoples. This economic and foreign policy impasse has resulted in the emergence of radical political movements in Europe both right and left. In Austria on May 22nd the extreme right wing candidate Norbert Hofer lost the presidential election by only 31,000 out of over four and a half million votes.
Following the current economic crisis in France, the extreme right wing National Front expects to increase its substantial levels of support from the 28% it won in the last municipal elections. In Germany, the extreme right wing Alternative for Germany movement made notable advances in recent regional elections, for example becoming the second force in the important state of Saxony-Anhalt. In Denmark the extreme right wing People's Party formed part of the government after last year's elections winning 21% of the vote. In Italy, the third most important party is the amorphous euro-sceptic Five Star movement.
In the so-called Brexit referendum in Britain on June 23rd, it is very possible people will vote for Britain to leave the EU. In Spain the progressive Unidos Podemos electoral alliance, highly critical of current EU economic policy, may well form part of the government following Spain's national elections on June 26th. In Greece and Portugal it is no longer taboo to question the EU in its current form, especially after the brutal treatment of Greece and its people by Germany and the European Central Bank. All of these political developments show that the EU faces a strong crisis of acceptance among much of its people.
The crisis has been exacerbated by the EU's cynical response to mass migration of refugees from North Africa and Syria. The EU encouraged the Turkish government's support for terrorist extremists to destroy Syria. That policy resulted in around 2 million Syrian refugees moving to Turkey where President Erdogan last year encouraged them to migrate to Europe. In effect. President Erdogan was saying to the EU that if they want to generate a humanitarian crisis by supporting his terrorist war on Syria then they should help pay the costs of that crisis. So last March the EU and Turkey signed an agreement whereby hundreds of thousands of refugees will be sent back to Turkey in clear violation of their rights under international humanitarian law .
The EU will fund an economic package to help Turkey pay the costs of receiving those refugees. The EU also agreed to speed up consideration of Turkey's request to join the EU, something unlikely ever to happen given European islamophobia. The EU's response to the refugee crisis it provoked is another example of an irrational policy agenda making progress on other fronts, especially economic recovery in the short term, very improbable. All this context has laid bare self-evident contradictions within individual EU member countries and in the wider EU as well, very much derived from the logic of the EU's origins as a US project to menace the Soviet Union and as an imperialist response to decolonization.
The reality is that, along with the US, the EU is condemned to chronic insecurity and relative decline against a majority world, led by China and Russia, determined to realize its potential, stolen over centuries by the Western elites. The only rational option for the peoples of the EU to achieve a sustainable resolution of their many problems is to finally give up their imperial nostalgia and treat their former colonies as equals. That kind of realism is still extremely distant from current official EU thinking, despite all the smarmy rhetoric and the redundant performances of Beethoven's Ode to Joy.