EU’s dilemma: Equality in diversity or money

EU’s dilemma: Equality in diversity or money

Europe, the continent of “solidarity, peace and democracy” is becoming the land of fragmentation, polarization and radicalization.

Who is feeling isolated and the inferior “other”? According to Volkan Bozkir, Turkey’s EU minister, the Muslims living in Europe. And, speaking in a panel discussion in Brussels last week, sponsored by the German Marshall Fund, Bozkir suggested to the European leaders that they should take action so that their Muslim populations cease to feel “outside the circle”, as he said. Presumably, he implied that this leads eventually to their radicalization into Muslim extremists. 

Actually, we will get a taste of how much this is true in France, when the results of yesterday’s first round of local elections in 101 constituencies are announced. Two months after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, we will also see what will be the electoral gains-if any- of the two new Muslim dominated Equality and Justice Parties, which campaigned on a pro-diversity agenda. Yet, if predictions are to be proven correct, the far-right National Front is expected to make big gains, still to be seen next week at the second and final round of the vote. Hollande and his leftist allies are probably going to suffer big losses and lose many of the 61 local governments they used to hold. 

And further west, we will see how much support will Britain’s ultra-right nationalist UKIP (Independent Party) gains on the May 7 general election-after sweeping most British votes in the European elections last year.    

The economic stagnation that hit Europe in recent years has brought up to the surface two important issues that seem to play a significant role in peoples’ attitude towards politics. One is the debate of identity in all its facets –where the argument of Mr. Bozkir may fit-; and the other whether the crisis was really a terrible state of affairs that hit every part of the society or an opportunity for the European citizens to realize that in a now largely conservative neo-liberal Europe, the price was largely paid by the worse off-an argument that would fit to a leftist class analysis.

To the ongoing discussion let me add an interesting and highly enlightening report that came out last week and  was compiled by the German Hans Böckler Foundation,  a non-profit organization that conducts research analyses to “ contribute to the improvement of people’s working lives. In this research analysis, the Böckler Foundation dealt with the impact of the economic crisis in the Greek society. The assigned Greek team of experts analyzed the data from 260,000 households between 2008 and 2012 and arrived at some startling results. It was shown that the income of the average Greek household shrank by one quarter, and most of it was due to the massive cuts in salaries or loss of jobs. During that period, one in three Greek households had to live on an annual income of 7,000 euros.

During four years of economic crisis, the poorer social groups lost 86% of their total income while the wealthier families lost just 16%! But perhaps the hardest evidence for supporting the leftist interpretation of the argument was the following figure: during the same period, the poorer people in Greece paid 337% more taxes than the richer ones who had to paid just a mere 9% more than what they used to pay before. To the unfortunate high tax payers one has to add the vast majority of pensioners whose impoverished state has lead them into the soup kitchens organized by a number of church and charity organizations. One interesting point about who suffered most among the sufferers. According to the research, the workers in the private sector were the biggest losers of their income compared to the civil servants who either managed to prevent their dismissal through court action or the governmental decisions over their dismissal were not applied: in a country where the public sector was extensively used as a fertile ground for nepotism, this conclusion is not a surprise.  

In the case of Greece, the dramatic fall of income led to the collapse of the center and the contraction of right political parties and led to the emergence of extreme right and meteoric rise of the radical left of Syriza. In terms of respecting diversity and not excluding “the other”, the eventual election of Syriza to power-although its cohabitation with the nationalists of Independent Greeks may be cause problem-  may be a better outcome compared to Le Pen’s or UKIP’s dominance in French and British politics. And in the debate between identity and unfair distribution of income, perhaps we should rather try to sort out the latter first.