Must-read article that carries a profoundly renewed vision of Europe, that is entirely compatible with the p2p/commons vision, reproduced from the blog of Jaap van Till but in the original full version at Eurozine.
Excerpted / republished from Ulrike Guérot:
“National borders come and go, basically they are a man-made artefact of history, a fiction, whereas regions are authentic reality and Heimat to people. It is important in this context to remember that until around 1880, Europe was much more borderless than today and you could travel from Paris to St. Petersburg without a passport.
We have been deconstructing borders again: the Schengen zone and the euro currency are examples of today’s efforts to break down borders in Europe. Yet it seems that we don’t want to abandon other, much more important national borders, which we hold against Europe, when it comes to administrations, social or tax issues, and which prevent the emergence – and emancipation – of a true European political entity.
Allow me to give you some examples of where the national Leviathan still brings Europe to its knees. The first being the location of major industry clusters in Europe. If you map these, it is not difficult to see that they are not organized “nationally”. Though there are transnational industry clusters, there is above all a great inequality between the centre and the periphery in Europe; and a great inequality between urban and rural areas.
This is the case all over the EU and even within Germany. And that says it all, really: we are still designing our EU policies along the national borders that left the scene quite some time ago in industry and supply chains.
For example, a German car is not German at all: it has leather seats from Italy, tyres from France or screws from Slovenia, but it still ends up being included in Germany’s export statistics. Thus, national economies such as Slovenia’s are largely dependent on the German supply chain and in this sense are no longer autonomous national economies.
This is, again, my main point: we measure on a national level things that can no longer be measured on a national level, things like productivity, exports, etc. It makes little sense to measure export statistics on a national basis within a currency zone: we don’t measure differences in exports between the German states of Hessen and Schleswig-Holstein, for instance.
What’s more, we are allowing member states to compete with one another. Instead of seeing Europe as one big pooled economy with one account for all nations, we place states – and by extension their citizens – in competition with one another: we are operating within a supply chain with unequal social standards, unequal taxation, unequal wages and unequal social rights. In the past few years, Germany in particular has in effect damaged other economies by deliberately keeping wages low. In essence, the current EU offers equality for markets or companies, but not for citizens. This should and even must be inversed eventually: each and every political entity must secure political equality for its entire people; whereas companies are out there to compete. That is their role, but citizens are not there to compete against each other through tax or social regimes. States are not enablers for companies, but should protect citizens. This is their original role.
So we essentially have exchanged market competition for citizen competition, because we allowed tax and wage shopping within the EU for companies. Further, while Germany is allegedly paying for everything in Europe, according to the distorted public discourse, the numbers tell a very different story: Germany has contributed largely to macroeconomic imbalances of the Eurozone through “beggar-thy-neighbour” policies and wage dumping; has made huge profits from the single European market, the euro and even the eurocrisis, including almost 30 billion euros through negative interest rates on its government bonds, for example. But the German model isn’t working for the rest of Europe! Not to mention the fact that Germany’s dominant role within the European economic governance system doesn’t work.
And finally, it is not even working for Germany, as even if Germany as a country “cashed” all these statistical gains from single market and the euro in, these gains would not be distributed evenly among German citizens (let alone Eurozone citizens), which explains why ordinary German taxpayers feel “overstretched” today as regards showing solidarity with Greece: it simply isn’t the case that all Germans have benefited from the euro, far from it
As a result of this nationalistic approach to EU politics, we are in effect perverting the protective function the state serves for its citizens: EU member states now find themselves in a race-to-the-bottom contest. I am reminded of that old advertisement with the Duracell Bunny: Germany is currently the bunny with the most powerful battery, but at the cost of its neighbor countries.
Political entities should in fact guarantee equal rights for their citizens, a point I’ll come back to later. They have responsibility for the care of their citizens rather than for the state of their markets. However in the EU system we have exactly the opposite: the EU states pit their citizens in competition against each other to guarantee the best possible conditions for their own industries: this would not be possible within a national democracy. Civil and social rights vary from country to country in Europe, particularly within the eurozone. It is these differences in civil and social rights, which stand in the way of a political entity called Europe. Europe thus needs an emancipatory movement!
The flawed structure of European governance still driven by national borders where it shouldn’t be can be applied to nearly all policy areas of the EU and they often block good policy results for European citizens. Take, second example, the European energy market. In recent years, sustainable energy has been incentivized through subsidies, which vary from country to country; energy grids, however, are still regulated on a national level. What about the energy union? If Portugal has a surplus of sustainably generated energy, this electricity cannot be fed into the French network, for example, because French energy companies lobby behind the French position in the council.
By now Germany has learnt that its famous Energiewende, the transition towards renewable energy, can only work if it has a European dimension – but the decision to launch the Energiewende was made unilaterally by Germany.
Example number three: the planned capital markets union. The plan is to mobilize private money and hedge funds for investments. In the European Commission’s Green Paper, all kinds of incentives are planned to make investing in, say, small and medium-sized businesses appealing to investors, through tax breaks for instance – but this would of course vary from country to country: hence, a capital union based on nationally varying tax incentives is a contradictio in adjecto. The real problem for investment in transnational industry clusters in border regions is national insolvency rights, because the investor does not know which law would apply. Instead of tackling this problem upfront, harmonizing or developing a common insolvency right, the EU flees into a formal rhetoric of structural reforms and credit crunch: the EU is actually very smart in not talking about the Elephant in the room.
Example number four: digital Europe. We all know – and this has now even been shown in studies by Deutsche Bank – that poor broadband provision is a decisive impediment to growth in rural areas. That’s why we now have the concept of a “digital union” which even a German European commissioner is trying hard to promote. However, the financing and infrastructure of this venture remain largely in the hands of national governments, which often don’t have the money. The great networks of the past century, like telecommunications, electricity, etc., which were the foundations of growth in that century, were developed by means of state monopolies, however. Today, instead, we want these networks to be either market driven or consumer driven forces. The problem is: today’s rural areas are deserted. There are no markets and no consumers out there. This is also why Europe’s current buzzword for everything – “structural reforms” – is largely meaningless: where there is nothing, there is nothing to reform.
By contrast, the EU – because it is not a “state” – is not allowed to use its “own money”, let alone loans, in order to provide these rural areas with suitable infrastructure. Yet, the market itself will not deliver: building broadband networks in Amrum or in Ardeche is not worth the hassle. And so we are failing on both accounts; we are not providing a European Internet on a global scale according to EU rules, nor are we supporting these rural areas. This seems to be the model for many EU politicians.
In this way, regional differences end up becoming set in stone, especially those between urban and rural areas, as a result of national policies – and these differences will come home to roost politically. Today’s social crisis is a crisis between urban centres and rural areas; but above all it is populism that is eroding Europe’s growth. All over Europe, it is for the most part in rural areas that support for populist movements is becoming a problem. As a result of this rural social crisis we now have a European electoral crisis. One only has to map support in France for the National Front to see immediately that it is particularly high in rural areas with high rates of unemployment. The correlation is as good as one to one: the map showing unemployment is nearly identical to that showing the FN vote.
Let’s take a look at Great Britain: the northern – and rural – areas in particular tend to vote UKIP. The little industry that remains is, however, especially dependent on the European single market (not in absolute, but in relative terms). In other words: a UKIP vote would particularly damage these deindustrialized regions in the north of England – the very regions where voters opt for UKIP. This largely rural social crisis we have today is waiting to happen on a European scale tomorrow!
Do national strategies help us get to grips with this problem? I’m afraid they don’t. We have to consider urban and rural areas together once more: the social crisis currently happening in the rural areas is the populist, and therefore Europe-wide, crisis of tomorrow. These regions all over Europe should be supported by the state, above all in terms of infrastructure.
As I mentioned, structural reforms – the current buzzword for many EU politicians – are not going to help here. Of the six billion euros set aside to tackle youth unemployment, only 25 million have been used, because these rural regions have no infrastructure, no small and medium-sized businesses, and therefore no work for young people. We are destroying the rural way of life, instead of building more decentralized lifestyles. Either we leave these regions devastated and we basically “feed” these regions on a European scale through fiscal redistribution from urban/industrial regions to rural, in which case they could become our resort for leisure; or we rebuild the regions. This is our choice, not nationally contoured policies within the Eurozone.
What we need to do in Europe is two things: engage in the protective function of the state for its citizens, by ensuring that all European citizens can basically and permanently count on one thing: the principle of political equality! This is the European roof of res publice europae according to that map of 1537. Below that roof, we need to rebuild vibrant and largely autonomous regions, to reconstruct what Pierre Rosanvallon, the great French sociologist, once called “social bodies”.
By the way, this would respond to Europe’s other detectable megatrend, which is about towns and metropolitan areas that want to be more independent. These towns, along with the rural regions, can be places under the new dress of Europe, a modern twenty-first-century dress that is all about a “Network Europe 21”. This Europe is flat, electro-mobile, it uses local energy resources, it lives in a shared economy and the Internet of things – and in doing so, once more becomes a global avant-garde, pre-designing the future dualistic global-local governance the world needs in lieu of nation-states. This Europe would also be slow-food and climate friendly, reactivating regional agricultural memories instead of participating in large-scale European agricultural policies, which has the perverse effects we know, here and in Africa (and which, among many other reasons and factors, is also one reason for the hunger and refugee problem of this continent).
And lastly this concept would be compatible with the megatrend – or renaissance – of both republican and genossenschaftliches thinking, that is to say cooperative thinking, which emerged in the early twentieth century and which was by the way essentially created and sustained through “cooperative banks” (Caissa d’Espagna in Spain, Crédit Agricole in France, the Raiffeisenbanken und Sparkassen in Austria and Germany). This school of thought was everywhere the backbone of local industries. I do not need to point out that current EU policies, with reference to the banking union for example, are diametrically opposed to this school of thought, and make for good politics and structures where big banks are concerned, but not for Sparkassen; meanwhile complaint about a credit crunch in rural areas abound.
So the Europe of the future should have two things: a common legal roof that offers all its citizens political equality; and autonomous regions and metropolitan areas. This does not mean levelling down everybody.
When I’m talking about the principle of political equality, I mean three things:
– equal voting rights
– equality in the taxation of citizens (income tax, property tax) – equal access to social rights
The French revolution brought equality for all European citizens beyond classes. Today, Europe’s – peaceful! – revolution of minds must assure equality beyond nation-states.
In Germany, for example, where I come from, living conditions vary greatly between Munich in the south and Rügen in the north or the Saarland in the west, but, despite this, all citizens have the exact same vote in Bundestag elections, they are subject to the same tax liabilities and they have the same access to social rights. The rates of local trade taxes and corporation taxes vary and ensure a balance between regions. This could also work in Europe. We are therefore not talking about the levelling out of different regions, and we are not talking about social egalitarianism; we are talking the principle of political equality, without which a lasting political entity is unimaginable. Imagining this for Europe today seems inconceivable. But it was also inconceivable for the German territories in the German Confederation in 1868: “A uniform German social insurance system – my God, never!” was the protest at the time.
And then Bismarck came along. And it worked. Nobody can predict what will be conceivable or achievable on a European level in the long term.
On the contrary, this is not an entirely utopian fantasy – deliberations e.g. over the introduction of shared European unemployment insurance began in Brussels some time ago. Or to put it another way, one might also claim that without the basic principle of political equality we ultimately cannot forge a lasting political entity in Europe, starting with the eurozone. Perhaps it is then high time that we really try to understand this state of affairs!
The good news is that the vast majority of European citizens have long since accepted the principle of political equality. According to a sociological study, the concept of political equality – with an emphasis on social benefits – has long been accepted by around two-thirds of European citizens. In this respect, the general population seems to be in advance of the political elites, which currently seem to be trying hard to respond to populist pressure: it is a shame, then, that no political party in Europe has so far adopted the explicit goal of political equality. In other words: today, it is not citizens but national elites who are the problem in Europe, because they lack courage and political will!
In addition, the generational dynamics of the European discussion is astounding. In essence, mostly old white men are not capable of even imagining the Europe in which Europe’s youngsters are already living.
What are we offering the younger generation, who are already living in a Europe that Brussels currently doesn’t want to officially create?
When a young woman has been working in England for the last three years, has German citizenship and is still with her Danish boyfriend who she met while studying at university in the Netherlands, then this has long been normality. And both of them have managed to adapt well to this life. Then their desire to have a child becomes reality. After deciding to leave England and briefly considering moving to Germany to be with her family, they both elect to move to Denmark and raise their child there together. So far, so romantic. But have you thought about the questions this raises in terms of social benefits? After long discussions with the authorities, it finally turned out that the woman had lost all her entitlements to social benefits in England, which she had gained from paying into the English system, at the point when she registered as unemployed in Germany. She would have had to have been employed and subject to social insurance contributions for at least three days in Germany to be eligible to have her rights to benefits transferred. This in itself is absurd. But as an expectant mother of German nationality she also has no rights to German social security benefits while living in Denmark, and she would only be able to claim Danish benefits if she had been paying into the Danish social security system for at least 13 weeks before giving birth. Surely this isn’t what we want? And so I say again, what are we offering this younger generation already living in a Europe that we apparently don’t want to create?
* A regional and republican Europe: decentralized, and with a different kind of transnational European parliamentarism
How might the euro-union look if we went ahead and transformed it into a European Republic, constituted by regions and metropolitan areas? What building blocks might we zoom in on? I’ll attempt to take you on a speedy tour through the eurozone, which could become the Euro-Union and then a European Republic. Incidentally, I have addressed this topic in greater detail in the “Manifesto for the Foundation of a European Republic” which I published together with the Austrian writer Robert Menasse in 2013 – and which has just been reprinted in the catalogue of Kunsthaus Zurich, which is currently running an exhibition on Europe.
To begin with, we must recognise that sovereignty is held not by the states but by the European citizens as a whole. The perceived lack of a European demos, which is often reiterated in current debates (think of the German Federal Constitutional Court, for example), turns out to be false. If we could deconstruct the term “sovereignty” and rediscover sovereignty as an individual concept, we would realize that we are in fact citizens in a double sense – we are both citizens of the EU and citizens of our individual states. We would also, I hope, realize that the authority of these states is based entirely on a sovereignty that we ourselves had previously delegated to these states. On this basis, we could conceive of a new kind of European polity. In other words: even if the UK as a country exits the EU, Scots – and all other British citizens – remain as individual citizens of the EU.
But let’s begin with the eurozone, which is the most homogenous area in economic terms and which most urgently requires that the common currency is embedded within a common European democracy. The eurozone, the nucleus of the European Republic, is currently made up of 19 countries, but many nations, such as Poland, could soon join the euro. A newly designed European parliamentary system might then be possible for the eurozone. By that I don’t mean higher rates of participation or even a democracy by plebiscite, but rather a democratic system that satisfies Montesquieu’s principle of the separation of powers: a Europe-wide legislature with control over a European executive. A Eurozone Parliament elected via equal suffrage – one person, one vote – would be equipped with full legislative rights. Democracy as we know it!
To this end Jürgen Habermas is developing a conceptual thought experiment on “double sovereignty” in which constitutive power consists of the totality of all EU citizens, on the one hand, and the European nations, on the other. This amounts to raising EU citizens to a position of equal sovereignty to the European nation-states. Democracy and nation-states would be decoupled to the extent that European citizens would, as citizens of the EU, be partly sovereign on their own. They would thus enter into an equal and heterarchic relationship with the sovereign nation-states in the constitution of the European community.
The European Parliament would have to be able to introduce bills, in other words it would have full rights to initiate legislation, and it would also have to receive budgetary powers. Therefore the “orderly legislative procedure” that requires the approval of both chambers of parliament would have to be extended to all political areas. This would mean that the European Council – the assembly of heads of state and government which until now has only enjoyed a semi-constitutive status – would have to be incorporated into a Council of Ministers that had been expanded into a second chamber of parliament. And finally the Commission would have to assume the functions of a government that is equally responsible towards the Council and Parliament.
But over time, one could push this even further, insofar as Network Europe 21 has two layers: a European republican roof and independent regions/towns. Europe could also take the US system as a model: next to a pro rata European parliament, there would stand a European congress composed of two senators per region or metropolitan area, with each region/metropolitan area having a governor. This would be compatible with the direct election of a European president, which is not a utopia notion, but already features in many party programmes of European parties today – and which would constitute an in-depth identity building exercise for European citizens in the twenty-first century.
The Europe that we are picturing is thus no longer organized on a national level. It is decentralized, but interconnected – digitally, through information and communications technology, transport and electricity. It has at its disposal an infrastructure that is uniformly developed and promoted by the EU. Rural regions will develop “social nodes” again and be able to close the gap with urban growth regions and no longer be neglected. Formerly desolate rural regions will be replaced by rural infrastructure and local or regional economies relying on local energy as well as on local banks. Regions and towns will become the spinal cord in a nervous system of new, decentralized growth policies and regional clusters of industry. This new network works in support of other European development goals, such as: decentralized energy production, the use of electric-powered vehicles on a regional level, sustainable rural development, and regional agricultural structures.
Network Europe 21’s new decentralized structure, which will link up rural areas with a network of cities, will no longer necessarily have to be organized on a national level; regions and cities will be brought together by means of a transnational democracy and on a common legal ground, that of the European Republic.
In this Europe, regions as well as cities will be under the large umbrella of a European Republic representing Europe on the international stage (in terms of foreign policy, the environment, trade, cyber, etc.), which will serve to hold the European entity together from the inside, guaranteeing equal public and social rights for its citizens: equal voting rights, equal taxation, and portable social rights (meaning European health care and European unemployment assurance). The necessary buffers and competition between regions will arise through the use of regional taxes.
As a result, individual nation-states will not necessarily be the constitutional pillars of the “Europe 21st” century project any more – instead, the Network European 21 project will be region-based, allowing regions to remain united yet largely autonomous. This feeds back into the current regional movements, which are already staging protests against the power of the nation-state, as in Scotland or Catalonia for example. This would be a win-win situation for Europe: the ability to act externally as a single entity in the international arena while achieving closeness to its citizens on the inside.
The words of Albert Einstein seem appropriate here: “No idea is a good idea unless it first appears to be completely illusory.” In other words, the right to a utopian ideal is a human right: “Because that which exists is not all there is, that which exists can change”, as Theodor Adorno once said. Now more than ever, it is our responsibility to change Europe. For Europe has not run out of options, societal processes can always change and be shaped by citizens.
Now perhaps you’re asking yourselves: but how do we get from A to B?
That is a valid question. And in fact, right now it looks like we won’t be getting from A to B, and a European Republic will certainly not be voted in over the EU negotiating table. This is a question that cannot be answered here. Nevertheless we can and must allow ourselves to think about the future as we would like to see it. We can allow ourselves, for the first time, to develop a clear vision of the kind of political entity we would like to create in Europe; indeed, it is even our duty to develop a convincing narrative for Europe – and then to hope that, if it becomes popular, it will gain some political weight.
The idea of Europe conceived by people like Richard Coudenhoven-Kalergi or Aristide Briand in the 1920s did not really become a reality until the 1950s; even the currency union took 30 years to get from the Werner Plan to the euro: sometimes good things take time and even a historical catalyst; and the organization of a European democracy is naturally a complex and difficult issue. We will certainly need half a century to work on it. But it is good to have a compass: without a clear goal, Europe and the EU will continue to go round in circles, as it is currently doing!
The Network Europe 21, a European Republic composed by a network of regions and towns is not real but it is imaginable. The concept of the Republic has been the fundamental principle of political order in the European history of ideas since Plato. It is compatible with all European political traditions and languages, from Poland to Italy. The notion of a Republic speaks to us emotionally, as it point to the public good. The next step is thus merely a matter of raising awareness of the fact that, as vocal, emancipated European citizens, we hold the new political order in our hands at all times, for we are sovereign!
Is this easy? By no means! How can we achieve a joint bureaucracy and protect minorities from small territories – such as the citizens of Malta, who would hardly be represented in the European Parliament any more? Is it possible to ensure this level of political arbitrage between very different regions and towns? And what about the financial tug-of-war between the centre and the periphery? And how should we go about balancing out social preferences? Is there such as thing as a European public sphere? What should we do about language? Can we make it work via the use of technology? European parliamentary sessions held via I-Translate – can we imagine that? Speeches from Brussels being broadcast live on national TV in that country’s language? Academics are still quite sceptical in this respect. However, a multilingual democracy does seem to work in India, which is poor and has a high rate of illiteracy, so why should Europe not be able to have a multilingual democracy? Nothing is easy. But deconstructing the euro and unravelling Europe isn’t simple either. And we do not want to live in the monster.
Indeed, we are left with no alternative but to build a European democracy: Yes we can. If we want, we can!
Conversely, we have to imagine the kind of world which we are sliding into, the people who will be governing us if Marine Le Pen ends up leading France, and Jobbik leading Hungary; if the populists are allowed to continue stirring up trouble and idiocy reigns supreme. And then, after the neo-liberal revolution, a surveillance revolution might come, driven by fear and praising a misleading concept of security. It is time to remember that Karl Popper was concerned about open societies and its enemies. A world in which we once again become one another’s enemies, divided along national lines – and moreover become so preoccupied with our own problems that we forget that the world outside continues to turn, faster and faster – a world in which, in the not too distant future, we may no longer play such a prominent role: we do only make up seven per cent of the world’s population. What else should we really be doing, than investing all of our energies into finally creating a European political entity that works?
Those of you who may have just now begun to take an interest in Europe, those of you who have just begun to grasp that the issue of Europe is your issue too, everyone’s issue, the one sentence to remember from here on is this: unless we want to abandon our continent to political neglect, we need to re-build Europe, to turn it from upside down and make it fit for the twenty first century.
We need to (re-)build it based on the principle of the political equality of all European citizens! The enforcement of the principle of political equality is therefore what we are calling for today. This is the emancipatory movement Europe must take on. This is Europe’s task for the twenty first century, a step forward to shaping Network Europe 21.
We do not need to do this all now. But we need to do a first step to escape the vicious circle we are in. The first step is to put our aim on paper as a claim. The first presentation of Europe as a map dates, I mentioned it earlier, from 1537. In 2037, this map will be 500 years old. This leaves us some 30 years to fix a republican Network Europe 21 and to orient Europe towards a common future for all European citizens on a different basis from what we have today.”