This week we had a chance to participate in a conference in The European Parliament on “Media coverage of the EU: the way ahead” which generally did not live up to its expectations. One of the panels “From the news-desk to a seat in the EP: the view from both sides of the fence” was interesting as a reflection of how the centre-right conservative/liberal hegemonic bloc in the European Parliament perceives ‘austerity’ and people throughout Europe who oppose it. One of the speakers, Conservative Derk Jan Eppink, a former journalist and author of the book Life of a European Mandarin (not surprising as he has been elected MEP several times), drew a parallel between the rise of what he called the ‘extreme left’ and the ‘extreme right’ and how these form the core of today’s Euro-skeptics. By this he implied that Greek parties like Syriza and Golden Dawn, two parties galaxies apart ideologically, were in fact one and the same thing. It’s a banal position to take, which was further enhanced by a more generic ignorance by like-minded MEP’s on the impact of austerity itself in member countries such as Greece, Cyprus, Spain and Ireland. While neo-liberal advocates of austerity claim it will rebuild economies, what is actually happening is these economies are becoming stunted and more dependent through an endless cycle of debt. The money circulating in the ‘bailout’ rescue operations is having minimal benefit to citizens in these states. All that is happening is the bankers, who created many of the problems in the first place, are the ones benefiting from high interest loans that many member states are paying back in a feudalistic manner.
When countries joined the EU, in various enlargement phases over the decades, there was a certain sense that they had a lot to gain from the process of membership. In Cyprus, for example, there was huge political capital invested in this kind of discourse. There is even a party called ‘The European Party’ which built its whole program around joining the EU. In exchange, however, the ‘gain’ has in fact become ‘pain’ through endless dole queues, severe cuts in public expenditure and increased forms of taxation, and whole generations of youth seeing their future opportunities obliterated. Additionally as is evidenced from Greece, ‘austerity’ and popular resistance to it cannot be ignored, and the legions of previously subservient politicians ‘The Yes Men’ are no longer. There is hope from millions of voices resisting austerity and this return to darker, harsher ages. There is also a danger though that these realities, these voices will again be ignored by the hegemonic bloc that controls Europe. The advocates of 21st century neo-liberalism have replaced Thatcherism with Merkilism. The effects are hardship and an endless cycle of debt-dependence. Ignoring these realities could lead Europe into a much deeper political crisis of legitimacy, increased tension and disintegration, which will only benefit the extreme right, who, if they ever come to power again legitimately anywhere in the world, would be just as catastrophic as their Nazi and Fascist predecessors.
Mike Hajimichael, February 2015