Delors: EU is struggling between survival and decline
When I was writing this article, the outcome of Sunday’s referendum in Italy was still not known. And we could not know whether Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has stood by his word to resign in the event that his proposed EU-backed reforms in the country’s political institutions are rejected.
Many analysts have seen his “political blackmail” as a gross misjudgment that may put not only his political future at stake but also that of his country.
If opinions polls prove accurate, Italy may plunge into economic, social and political chaos as Renzi’s departure from power would give the floor to anti-establishment, conservative and ultra-conservative parties that advocate an exit from the eurozone. The Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo and the anti-immigrant Northern League are sharpening their knives against Brussels. An Italian “no” would mark the second “no” this year after the Brexit referendum in June; it would emphasize even further the big discontent in European societies towards the neoliberal policies that have gradually eroded Europe’s socio-political fabric.
Policies that are coming from the EU in Brussels, imposed by a powerful Germany and its like-minded leaderships in the European north, are among the reasons for this discontent.
But such a discontent goes one step further into more dangerous grounds. As happened in Britain, these angry, xenophobic, ill-educated and gradually pauperized societies, ill-informed and guided by manipulative media and populist politicians, end up voting for ultra-conservative leaderships that are ideologically far away from defending the rights of the economically weak.
This may be due to the lack of a convincing ideological alternative of the left in Europe after the collapse of the Soviet model. The decision last week of French President Francois Hollande not to run again for the presidency is proof of a failure to articulate a convincing socialist answer for his country and Europe against the rise of conservative alternatives such as the Front National of Marine Le Pen.
But it also shows the collapse of the EU model as it was originally envisaged by its founders.
One of the political figures mostly associated with the original EU vision, Jacques Delors, today in his 90s, is often quoted as having warned that Europe is now struggling to balance between “survival and decline.”
Talking to the French weekly, Journal du Dimanche, he went further, claiming that “this system of the EU is no longer governable and cannot last.” He proposes that the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) should be re-established.
But is it too late? On the same day as 50 million Italians were called to vote in a referendum that may bring down the 61st government in their country, further north in Austria, the ecologically minded professor Alexander Van der Bellen, who narrowly defeated his far-right opponent Norbert Hoffer in last May’s presidential elections, may be defeated by Hoffer in a re-run of balloting ordered by the Constitutional Court upon objections by the conservative candidate. If Hoffer wins, another right-wing, anti-immigrant populist politician, who wants his country out of the EU, will be the first far-right head of state in the EU.
The side effects of the economic crisis of 2008 and the recent immigration crisis have tested the validity of Europe as a continent of moral values, freedom, tolerance, humanism and care. They have exposed gross discrepancies in the application of such values. Delors accuses today’s Europe of having lost its “moral authority.” Europe, he says, needs to regain the moral strength it had in times such as after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
But there is widespread pessimism about whether Europe can reset itself. As Aristeidis Kazakos, a distinguished Greek professor of labor kaw, said in a recent interview: “The EU was originally an economic agreement about Coal and Steel to prevent war between France and Germany. In the way things are going, it will end up again becoming nothing more than a Coal and Steel Agreement.”