European Politicians Reeling Under the Economic Crisis

Friday, June 8, 2012

Hossein Talebi

Failure of major political parties in recent Greek election, increased number of votes won by radical right-wing parties in French election, and unexpected success of such newly emerged parties as Germany’s Pirate Party (in Helswig province and Nordrhein-Westfalen province which is Germany’s biggest province) in parallel to failure of Germany’s Christian Democrat Party, which has been unprecedented following the World War II, as well as continuation of popular protests in Italy, are all telltale signs of disillusionment of the European people with classic and traditional parties. New parties are trying to make classic parties retreat and change their approaches by putting too much emphasis on radical nationalism, promotion of justice, and introducing more transparent policies. On the other hand, people, are seeking more participation in political, economic, and social fields, which may have resulted from higher participation of people in virtual social fields through the cyberspace. People’s inclination toward smaller parties and change of governments from ultra-right to socialist governments or vice versa may clearly prove disillusionment of people in these countries and their dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Greece is Europe Achilles’ Heel: Economic problems resulting from a relentless debt crisis has made this country greatly dependent on powerful members of the European Union. Of course, these problems have not remained limited to Greece and have also engulfed other EU countries. The Greek people, however, are totally fed-up with wrong economic policies of traditional Neo-democrat and Pasok parties as well as prevalent corruption and bribery among party officials. Therefore, they have become more inclined toward newer, smaller parties. They want a powerful economy with no dependence on big European powers. The people of Greece believe that Germans are trying by steering the country’s economy to finish the job that they could not finish during the World War II; that is, gain complete dominance over Greece. It seems that historical memory of the Greek people has come to life again, especially following the union between two parts of Germany. It is also interesting that geopolitical map of Europe has once more become similar to what it was before [the end of World War II in] 1945. What has made Greek people indignant with their political parties is economic austerity policies which are based on proposals offered to the Greek government by Germany and the rest of the European Union as well as corruption and bribery which is so rife among the country’s political managers. On the other hand, selling military equipment to Greece by Germany, whose price is paid through loans that have been given to Athens, is another issue which has angered the Greek people more than any time before. The classic view that the security of Greece should be assured in the face of Turkey, has caused Greek politicians to try to buy more military equipment. It seems that the new concept of national security has not found its way into the minds of Greek politicians and they are totally ignorant of such concepts as economic and human security (including higher level of social welfare for the country’s people and reduced immigration). It should be noted that Greece has so far made the most of its membership in the European Union as well as the single European money. Most problems which are currently nagging the country stem from its internal structures. Out of all EU member states, Greece is known as the country of strikes. Most civil servants in the country spend an average of one to several months a year in job action. It seems their idea of democracy should also change and they should try, like their German counterparts, to work more. On the other hand, Greeks are greatly dependent on their tourism industry followed by banking, insurance, shipping, and somehow, agriculture. Therefore, at a time of economic crisis, such countries are usually hit worst. Greece is now the EU’s Achilles’ heel.

Germany, the Savior: The European democracy, like all other human ideas, has its own weaknesses and people of Europe have targeted such weaknesses. Germany has been somehow touched as a result of the ongoing economic crisis. The country’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has been able by adopting austerity measures to keep the German economy somehow afloat. However, her measures have been apparently less than adequate and the crisis is quite possible to become worse in Germany. Some economic experts believe that Germany is “Europe’s China.” Although Germany’s debts are as high as 80 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, most of those debts are owed to Germany’s private and other domestic sectors. Also, the country’s technological might will enable it to keep its economic output at a relatively acceptable level (the most important problem for Germany in this area is rivalry with China for the supply of necessary raw materials).

Despite the above facts, it seems that Germany will not be able to put up with pressures resulting from economic stagnancy for long due to economic commonalities it shares with other European countries. The German government’s inability to pay due attention to social welfare and raising the retirement age as well as lack of transparency in the existing policies show that traditional German parties have lost their efficiency. On the other hand, emergence of new parties like Pirates Party, which has won the votes of about 8 percent of German people by just relying on the idea of freedom in the internet and increased transparency in political affairs, clearly proves how disillusioned the average Germany strata are with the present situation in the country. They are fed-up with everyday policies that are made behind closed doors and are looking for an escape to get rid of such a closed environment. Also, sudden rise in ultra-right political tendencies in Germany and France is indicative of unfavorable economic conditions of these countries.

What is the solution? Even intuitive plans like the Marshal Plan will be of no more use to European countries. Perhaps, more attention to the following issues will be a better way to get the European economy out of the current self-made deadlock.

1. Creating New Structures: By creating new structures and changing the existing ones, the European countries will be most probably able to restore confidence in the market and may even spur renewed boost in economic growth and transactions. People and investors have lost their trust in older structures and new solutions as well as new structures should be offered to solve this problem.

2. Emphasis on Increasing Domestic Production: Increasing domestic production can also lead to economic prosperity of European countries. Of course, pursuit of this policy may further strengthen nationalistic tendencies which will, in turn, undermine the integrity of the European Union. Suitable supply of raw materials and energy resources is among major problems which European countries will face in their effort to achieve this goal.

3. Expelling Weak States: The European Union is a mix of countries with different levels of economic power in which some countries are shuffling slowly along while others are speeding ahead on the strength of their powerful economic growth rates. This situation will not provide a solution to economic problems faced by the Union because some of its members have turned off their economic engines and are heading toward a precipice. This state of affairs will also cast doubts on future outlook and possible survival of the entire Union. It seems that if some weaker countries left the eurozone (even temporarily) it would give more room to powerful countries (like Germany, Italy and France which collectively account for 70 percent of the European economy) to grow and improve their economic indices. This approach, however, is not supported by many European politicians as most of them consider it the sign of the final collapse of the Union.

4. More Interaction with all Countries regardless of Ideological Considerations: Another problem facing the European Union is the impact of neoconservative ideas both among the American and European statesmen. The former French President Nikolas Sarkozy was brought to his doom by losing a second term in office as a result of his adherence to such ideas. The new European approach should be based on the acceptance of realities on the ground at international level and should be formulated on the basis of national interests of all member countries. The European Union has so far paid a high cost for the adoption of ideological approaches, which have also failed to help its member states to achieve their desired goals. Adoption of such an ideological approach has also led to considerable rifts among EU members.

5. More Attention to Domestic Policies: The European Union is suffering from an internal problem and contradiction. Interaction among member countries, adoption of individual foreign policies of each member states, as well as formulation of the overall foreign policy of the entire Union have been major instances which have faced member states with great challenges. Freedom of residence and traveling for European citizens perhaps provides those citizens with a solution to escape certain economic problems, but at the same time, increased immigration can worsen the economic problems with which the bigger and more powerful members of the Union are already grappling. By relying on the old adage of “all for one and one for all,” they are trying to prove that the European Union is still a successful experience. However, the time for knightly chivalries is apparently over and people of Europe have also understood this. Therefore, more attention to meeting their people’s demands and energizing their domestic economic growth will be among the most important measures to be taken by EU member states in the coming years when, perhaps, only the name of the Union lingers in people’s minds. Another option which is open to the European Union is to try to boost the Union’s economic growth by taking the risk of higher inflation and foreign debts. European economy may continue to grow, but that growth will be inevitably accompanied with higher inflation and higher debt. Anyway, it seems that European countries will have to take that risk and continue with an inflationary economic growth. Otherwise, they will have to provide suitable grounds for a drastic change in the existing structures by introducing new ideas.

Key Words: European Politicians, EU, Economic Crisis, Weak States, Domestic Policies, Talebi

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