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18 September, 2017

EU Uber Alles? Neoliberal echoes of a darker, mid-century plan for continental unity

The unflinching support for the EU and its institutions is not about preventing European countries from becoming “Afghanistan.” Not about preventing collapse. Not about the inconvenience of long lines at passport control. It is about promoting an ideology, a specific worldview, a vision for the way the world should work.

by Michael Nevradakis

Part 7 - International cooperation and repairing what’s broken

A lack of willingness to question the aforementioned political and economic order may help explain why even those individuals who expressed “solidarity” with Greece—at least up until Greece and its crisis were largely forgotten following the July 2015 referendum—nevertheless refused to question the very core issues of the EU, its policies in Greece and other crisis-stricken countries, and continued membership in the EU and the Eurozone. Even during the “#ThisIsACoup” phase of “solidarity” towards Greece, the “bad” Europeans who were said to be blackmailing the Greek government were apparently never considered quite bad enough to necessitate “Grexit”—or to later support Brexit. At worst, the Greek situation could be said to be viewed by these elements as merely a momentary hiccup on the path towards a borderless European—or global—utopia.

It seems to be the case that questioning the project in purported European “unity” that is the EU is enough for ordinary individuals to be branded “racists” and “xenophobes,” “isolationists” and “reactionaries.” I suppose then that Tariq Ali, who also questioned SYRIZA when it was not yet fashionable to do so, is a racist and a regressive force—as are Glenn Greenwald, Julian Assange, and George Galloway, who also adopted positions in favor of Brexit.

So why not simply fix the EU if it is broken? That’s what the likes of Yanis Varoufakis have repeatedly argued. But if Grexit is unreasonable and unrealistic, is it more reasonable and more realistic to presume that entrenched institutional structures — such as a non-elected European Commission, an unaccountable European justice system, and thousands upon thousands of regulations and directives dictating many aspects of life and economic activity in Europe, right down to the shape of bananas sold for human consumption (regulations which do in fact exist despite insistence to the contrary by the EU’s supporters) — can simply be changed or eliminated? Or that the issue of surplus labor and downward pressures on wages can be solved within such an institutional and regulatory context? I have not heard a satisfactory answer to these questions, not even from Varoufakis himself. Can an institution that is rotten and undemocratic to the core be salvaged?

Having mentioned Varoufakis, it bears noting that he has, on several occasions, openly praised Mrs. TINA herself, Margaret Thatcher (see also here, here, here, and here). This should come as no surprise, as it is Varoufakis who told us that There Is No Alternative to the euro for Greece, refused to even bring the Grexit option to the negotiating table as Greece’s finance minister, and accepted all of the EU’s austerity demands in the name of keeping Greece in the Eurozone at all costs.

It’s quite ironic that “anti-establishment” leftists and anarchists find themselves precisely on the same side as much of the establishment itself when it comes to the existence of institutions such as the EU, in the name of “open borders”—or no borders whatsoever. The very same establishment that praises one of the harshest prescribers of austerity, Angela Merkel, as a bastion of liberal democracy and as the newly anointed leader of the “free” world.

Those who do not conform to this orthodoxy often do not go unpunished. In various ways, three other purportedly “leftist” or “progressive” publications made it clear that this author’s contributions were no longer welcome. Ditto a radio station and Voice of America affiliate in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, which once carried my radio program. So much for tolerance.

Yet, in the name of journalistic integrity — and in the face of injustice, hypocrisy and intolerance — there are things that must be said, if we are to engage in the type of healthy, robust and open democratic dialogue that we’d like to believe we stand for. For this, and as I prepare to begin a professional career in my chosen field, shall I expect to be confronted with a dressing-down akin to that seen in the classic 1976 film Network, where journalist Howard Beale was kindly informed that he had meddled with the primal forces of nature and that he will atone? Perhaps!

The lecture to which Beale was subjected in Network, whether intentionally or not, was accurate: by and large there is no left or right. There are no Democrats or Republicans. There is a prevailing globalist, neoliberal worldview, and there is a smattering of various elements from a wide range of sharply different and often incongruent belief systems that, each for its own reasons, oppose this prevailing trend. And because of the actions of fringe groups that truly are racist and violent, anyone who even so much as simply questions the orthodox worldview is lumped together with such genuinely reactionary elements.

There is true beauty in diversity and cultural difference. But what is diversity and what is cultural difference? I don’t wish to see the same Starbucks in Los Angeles, Lisbon, Lima, and Lesotho. I don’t desire to see one global “lingua franca” prevail while “unimportant” languages (like Greek) die out. I would not like to see the same corporations and the same lifestyle imposed worldwide via the process of globalization. When I am privileged enough to travel, I’d like to enjoy the local food and music and culture, to hear the local language and learn a few words (or more), to appreciate a way of life and a worldview different from my own. That’s diversity, and it is endangered by the homogenizing process of globalization, which is itself brought further along by the elimination of national sovereignty.

If I am a Greek voter, I want my elected prime minister, whether it is Alexis Tsipras or anyone else, to talk about the country that they were elected to govern and to represent me, my children and my family, not to discuss some abstract entity known as “Europe” which he or she was not elected to represent. Democracy works at a local level, while imperialism and empire are what prevail at the global, supranational level. And if the price of that democracy is waiting in a queue to exchange currency (which preferably would be in physical form) then so be it.

The idea of unity is often treated as a zero-sum game with the idea of the nation, that only one or the other is possible. But is this truly the case? International cooperation and understanding can and does exist across nations and peoples in an astounding myriad of ways. These could include trade agreements that are not parasitic or based on exploitation, visa-free travel regimes across countries, and academic exchange programs that help foster cultural mixing and collaboration. Those academics who are also EU backers and are worried about losing, say, the Erasmus+ exchange program, may wish to consider that it is open to non-EU citizens, just as the United States’ Fulbright exchange program is open to participants from all around the world. Those are concrete examples of international cooperation and cultural bridging in action which can exist, should exist, and oftentimes do exist without the necessity of a bloated supranational behemoth micromanaging every aspect of life and serving the interests of a select few.

Nation-states and borders do not necessarily mean isolationism. They don’t necessarily mean hatred, nor do they mean a lack of cooperation. Indeed these elements can and do exist even absent of borders, such as within societies or within supranational entities. We are told that the EU has served as a force for peace and that the nation-state as an institution promotes war. But the EU and EU member-states allied with NATO have participated in countless conflicts, both on the European continent and elsewhere, and have no problem allying themselves with oppressive, violent, authoritarian and genocidal regimes for reasons of economic or geopolitical expediency. War itself has existed since prehistoric times, long before the advent of the nation-state. It has also indeed contributed to the breakup of larger supranational entities. And as demonstrated earlier, whether due to conspiracy or coincidence, the idea of European economic and political unity is not necessarily incompatible with fascist and extremist ideology.

So what of the EU and Eurozone? A commonly heard retort is that no one has suggested any practical alternatives or a course of action that would allow a country such as, say, Greece, to depart from these institutions without a catastrophic meltdown taking place. This therefore raises the question: should a country like Greece depart and, if so, how can it accomplish this? What are the alternatives, and are they viable? Will Greece be transformed into Afghanistan, as Tsipras suggests? The next installment of this series will address these questions—and more—in detail. Stay tuned.

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