Danae Stratou, Ilargi, Yanis Varoufakis and Steve Keen Feb 16 2016
When my mate Steve Keen took me to meet Yanis Varoufakis for dinner last week when we all happened to find ourselves in Athens together, I at least sort of regretted not having the time and space to talk to Yanis about his DiEM25 project for the democratization of Europe. It was a private occasion, there were other people at the dinner table, Steve and Yanis had no seen each other for a while, it was simply not about that.
I did think afterward that it would be great to do this kind of get together more often, and get ideas running, but then realized we are all workaholics and we all live thousands of miles apart, so the odds of that happening are slim at best. And that in turn made me think of how inspiring the years were when I toured the world with my Automatic Earth partner in crime Nicole Foss, how important it is to have people around to bounce off your ideas of what’s going on, how much faster that crystallizes your own ideas.
But as things are, and as they happened, I didn’t have that time with Yanis. And not nearly enough with Steve either, for that matter, who has/is a brain that I would love to pick for days if not weeks, he’s such a brilliant mind. When you have just a few hours, though, the time is filled with drinking wine and catching up with what’s happened in each other’s personal lives, it had been 3 years since we met, and professionally, since Steve knows Nicole very well, they did quite a few presentations together, yada yada.
Immensely gratifying, of course, to be able to renew a friendship like that, but almost as frustrating to not be able to expand on it.
But to get back to Yanis: I think I have two major problems with his DiEM25 project. One is that, as I have written umpteen times before, the very structure of the EU (self-)selects for sociopaths to take up its leading positions. None of them have been democratically elected, and that would be very hard to begin with because no Greek or Portuguese has ever heard of, or has any connection with, some guy from Finland or Poland with a name they can’t pronounce. It wouldn’t just take democratization, you’d have to rewrite the entire machine from scratch.
The second is that I don’t think the EU will last long enough to pull through the democratization process he envisions, and appear at the ‘other end of the tunnel’ in 2025. I just don’t see it. For one thing, because the whole world is set to be hit with the most severe financial crisis in its history between now and then, and Europe will be in the eye of the storm center of that crisis. Talk about democratization, well-intended and needed as it may seem, will be on a back-back burner when that hits.
I first said about a year ago that Angela Merkel should call a UN emergency meeting over the refugee crisis, but she still hasn’t yet. The EU problem in a nutshell: Merkel is the de facto leader of both the EU and Germany. When EU interests, or interests of one or more other EU nations clash with German ones, she has no choice but to pick the German side. Because the Germans elected her, not Europe.
You can either hand over German sovereignty to Brussels or you can fall into trap after trap. These traps will not hurt Germany most -since Merkel calls the shots-, they will hurt the poorer nations first and most. But it is still the worst model one could ever have invented. And since neither Germany nor any other EU member is willing -or ever will be- to give up that sovereignty, there’s only one option: leave the EU.
There are many ways in which European sovereign nations can work together, open borders, promote trade and all these things. The worst possible way is through a bureaucracy like the EU, which may promise an equal voice and treatment and opportunities for all countries, but down the line will always be controlled by the biggest ones. It’s not a coincidence that Germany has a trade surplus.
The clampdown on Greece to keep French and German banks safe should have made clear once and for all where the EU fails. If it’s any consolation: the big economies, too, will fall.
But chances are that before that happens, the union will have splintered apart back into its separate member states. Britain toys with the Brexit idea, the Czechs say if Britain leaves there’ll be a Czexit, Holland wants a referendum on EU membership (Hexit), Marine Le Pen patiently waits for the French economy to go south so she can be elected president and fulfill her promise to take France into a Frexit. And those are just a few examples. Trouble brews just about everywhere.
And there is of course no bigger trouble than the refugee situation. If only European nations would stop bombing the places the refugees were from, that would send a signal that they’re serious about this. But instead after the Paris attacks France and Britain increased their bombing efforts in Syria, supported by Germany and Holland. If that doesn’t say enough about where their priorities lie, what can?
The Balkanization of Europe is well on its way in, appropriately, the Balkan area and surrounding nations. A conference on closing borders in Austria yesterday was attended by Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. But not Greece or Germany. These are not all EU members, but most would like to be. Greece doesn’t like it one bit, it has threatened to block all EU decision until this is resolved, and recalled its ambassador to Vienna today..
Six countries has (re-)introduced border checks: Belgium, France, Austria, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Many more have have erected razor wire fences. Hungary has the loudest voice; it announced a referendum on refugee quota yesterday. Quota that by the way are not worth the paper they’re written and translated into 20-odd languages on. Out of 160,000 agreed on, only some 500 refugees have been relocated.
The EU’s response so far has been a sort of para-military police force, Frontex, and now even NATO. As if refugees are a military threat. It’s amusing to see that many nations accuse Greece of not closing its borders properly, but never explain how that should be done when that border happens to be at sea. Just like they’ve never sent the people or equipment they vowed to make available. The EU in the end is proving to be toothless.
A German newspaper reports that a government document in Berlin talks about 3.6 million refugees in the country by 2020. That can only make one wonder what Europe will look like in 2020. But more importantly, we should wonder what Greece will look like in, say, a month from now. Since Frontex and NATO can’t stop the refugee flow any more than Greece itself can, and borders to countries to the north are closed, tens if not hundreds of thousands of people may get stranded in the country.
Europe has played a major role in turning Ukraine into a failed state, and did the same in Libya, Iraq and Syria. Unless someone shows some leadership soon and the chaos is stopped from spreading further, Greece could well be next on the list.
What I personally find deep black hilarious is that many if not all of the countries involved have signed a whole slew of both European and international laws, but even something as elementary as the Geneva convention gets thrown out the window seemingly at will. Just as black is the question: do refugees also have the right to asylum when they’re fleeing your own bombs?
The worst choice the EU -and Berlin- have made is to ally with Turkey’s Erdogan the way they have. And to force this inane alliance on Greece too. Erdogan plays everyone off against everyone while pocketing millions from ISIS oil sales to refugee smuggling, and now stands to be paid €3 billion per year to -not- stop refugees from ‘sailing’ from Turkey to Greece. Erdogan will soon start talking about Aegean territorial rights too.
There are bad partnerships -the US and EU with Saudi Arabia, just to name another example-, but relying on Turkey to stop the refugee flow is a real whopper. You could just not bomb Syria, and ask Jordan and Lebanon how you can assist with the refugee situation that’s overwhelming their nations, and even rebuild what you’ve just bombed.
Making a deal with Erdogan only seems to highlight that Europe really couldn’t care less. That they truly see the crisis as their crisis, and not that of the refugees. That it’s the people living in Berlin and Vienna and Amsterdam who get the short end of the stick, not those no longer living in Aleppo.
So when do we get to see a real Balkanization, with armies in streets and confronting each other on borders? And what will the EU ‘leadership’ and Hollande and Merkel do when that time comes?
No, I don’t see an EU left in 2025 ‘to be democratized’. I see a lot of old rifts in Europe’s future. And that’s without even having asked how Europe is going to ‘save’ its banks -and banking system- this time around. Or how they’re planning to tell their present and future pensioners that sorry, but the coffers are empty.
These things will start to play out well before 2025. It won’t be a good time to be a refugee living in Europe.