- The apologists of the EU believe that nothing at all should change in the EU and it ought to continue its course as an economic and political bloc, expanding in global economic and political influence under globalization and neo-liberal policies that strengthen capital. The apologists believe the EU is not perfect but it is great the way it is and it will survive despite its problems.
- The reformists believe that the EU has lost its way, deviating sharply from its commitments to democracy, human rights, and economic and social justice, sinking into an economic/political bloc that Germany manipulates in order to remain competitive in the world. Reformists want the EU to abandon neo-liberalism and return to its democratic roots when the inter-dependent model of integration was in effect instead of the patron-client one today. The reformists question that the EU will be able to survive if it remains committed to neo-liberalism that serves the privileged few in society at the expense of the middle class.
- For very different reasons, Communists and right wing euro-skeptics including neo-Nazi political groups want the EU abolished. They believe that it is just a matter of time before the EU lapses into a permanent crisis and collapses. Communists see the EU as an instrument of finance capitalism pursuing anti-labor policies, while the right wingers see it as a supra-nationalist entity that threatens national sovereignty and cultural/ethnic identity with policies of multiculturalism and unprotected borders that allow Muslims to enter Europe.
That France has elected a neo-Fascist party to the EU Parliament and Greece among other countries opted for leftists/center-leftists sends a message to the EU of how polarized Europe has become as a result of the deep economic recession and austerity regime. This is not to suggest that the EU is about to break up or even change very much from its current neoliberal/monetarist policy orientation. After all, new nations like Ukraine are eager to join, as the behind the scenes manipulation that has been unfolding throughout 2013 and 2014 reveals. Nor is the EU about to become unstable and its reserve currency about to weaken along with its global trade relations because of political polarization. At least for now, the question is what happened that things have gone so badly for the EU mainstream political supporters and what does this signal for neo-liberalism.
As the self-proclaimed neutral arbiters of society, mainstream EU conservative and Socialist politicians opted to strengthen not just banks during the deep recessionary cycle that started in 2008, but they also used austerity measures as a means of transferring massive wealth from social welfare programs to corporate welfare. At the same time, governments used austerity as a means to sell lucrative public enterprises to private concerns invariably linked to the ruling political parties (clientist politics), invariably at low cost and to the detriment of the public interest and taxpayers. Privatization schemes that had started in the Reagan-Thatcher decade accelerated in the last five years (2009-2014) in EU because politicians argued this was the way to “save” capitalism and return society to growth and development. When the mainstream EU parties promise upward mobility across the board but deliver greater wealth concentration at the expense of the middle class and workers it is only natural to have political polarization bound to continue not just in the periphery but at the core as well.
Although the public demanded that governments hold banks accountable, the G-20 have swept under the carpet the underlying causes for the last recession that started toward the end of 2007 in New York (Lehman Brothers) and spread to the rest of the world. Just a few years ago, the US and EU leaders were crying out for structural reforms that would not permit a repeat of the decadent and corrupt banking-insurance-investment sector crisis that took down with it the world economy, put enormous downward pressure on middle class and working class living standards and raised unemployment to double-digit levels in much of the Western World.
The term “reform” does not mean the same thing to everyone. For example, reform for leftists and centrist political groups entails protecting labor rights, protecting the small businesses and professionals, providing subsidies to small farmers, public hospitals, and public schools, protecting wage scales and social security benefits. In short, the progressive reformist wants to protect the middle class and workers through the fiscal and legal system, while maintaining a commitment to social welfare rather than corporate welfare that strengthens big business at the expense of the lower classes.
By contrast, reform to an advocate of austerity and neo-liberalism entails:
a. slashing the public sector and privatizing as many services as possible, even if that means paying contractors much higher than if government workers performed the same task;
b. curbing as many trade union rights as possible, including collective bargaining and ending any kind of government protection for workers from employer abuses;
c. raising indirect taxes and lowering corporate and income taxes on the wealthy to stimulate investment, regardless of whether the stated goal is achieved;
d. massive consolidation of all professions, from truck and taxi transport to pharmacies so that multinationals are able to enter the market thus gradually replacing the small businesses.
e. provide subsidies only to large farmers and animal husbandry operations – milk, cheese, yogurt, meat processing, while ending subsidies to the small farmer.
f. slashing wages and benefits, cutting social security and raising retirement age, and gradually ending all subsidies to public health and education, while maintaining police and defense spending at high levels, despite pay cuts for officers.
The above scenario is one to which Germany and France have responded, with both conservatives and Socialists embracing such “reforms” as necessary to make EU “stronger”. No doubt the EU has become stronger, but only the financial and corporate interests at the expense of the middle class and labor.
From 2009 until the present, all governments of Europe went along with the concept of “reform” as monetarists and neo-liberals defined it, not as the center-leftists and leftists understand it. All of Europe looked to France as the leader to offer an alternative to the German concept of reform, but the French government under Conservative and Socialist leadership has been about the same toward the EU and toward the German-imposed patron-client model of integration. Rhetoric on both the Conservative and Socialist parties notwithstanding, both simply followed the lead of Chancellor Merkel in the last five years, and neither dared propose anything different. One explanation for the subservient role of France to Germany’s neo-liberal and austerity orientation is that the French capitalist class, especially the banks, espouse the German position on monetarism, fiscal policy favoring the wealthy, labor policy intended to weaken the trade unions, and social policy intended to further transfer assets from social welfare to corporate welfare.
It took many decades for political leaders to convince their citizens that EU membership was good for everyone and not just for banks and multinational corporations based mostly in northwest Europe. It has taken a relatively shorter time for people to judge for themselves the degree to which the EU best serves the interests of all people in all the member states and not just the core. The prevailing skepticism of whether there are really any benefits to the national economy and society as an EU member, or if membership really serves the domestic financial and political elites as well as the core EU members, especially Germany, is an issue that cannot be overcome with propaganda, but rather substantive policies resulting in real changes across Europe.
Such changes will not come because the powerful banks, insurance, pharmaceutical, defense, and other multinationals are behind the regimes of Europe and they resist any change in the patron-client integration model, and in making a commitment to social justice by strengthening the middle class and workers that have suffered high unemployment and major cuts in living standards. Along with some programs designed to reduce unemployment by strengthening businesses and providing even greater tax and other incentives to corporations to hire and keep workers, there will be a major propaganda campaign for voters to support the EU. Without tangible results in socioeconomic improvement, the result will be continued rise in the right wing and left wing political parties and disparate groups that want their countries to leave the EU or they demand a different integration model.
The contradiction of the EU is that it is trying to project itself as the most desirable bloc with the strongest reserve currency on earth, as it tries to attract new members in Eastern Europe, while at the same time, it is chocking growth and development within the periphery areas precisely because it has a strong currency under monetarist policies and neoliberal course of privatization and corporate welfare programs undercutting the middle class as the popular base of a democratic society. Survival is indeed certain for the short term, but longer terms the decline and fall of the EU under the current integration model is inevitable.