Thursday, 6 December 2018

The passing of the EU age

Plenty of leavers have pointed me at Yanis Varoufakis articles over the last couple of years. I never read them. I don't want to know. He's has fifteen minutes of fame and he's been dining out on it ever since. I'm not interested. I don't want my analysis tainted by conclusions I did not arrive at independently thus I try to avoid comment pieces. I am, however, somewhat intrigued by this piece in the Irish Examiner.
Despite its obvious significance, Brexit is a sideshow when compared to the muffled but more fundamental disintegration taking place across the EU. The political centre is not holding in the key member states. Nationalism is on the march everywhere. 
Even pro-European governments have, in practice, abandoned all blueprints for genuine consolidation and are increasingly drifting towards re-nationalisation of banking systems, public debt, and social policy.
With Brexit from the north and the Italian government’s deployment of xenophobic anti-Europeanism from the south, “ever-closer union” is becoming a farcical symbol of the disconnect between reality and the EU establishment’s propaganda. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political eclipse is adding impetus to this dynamic.
This does actually tie in with my own analysis of late, which suggests the future of the EU is very much tied to whatever comes after Merkel. 

We are now used to the oft repeated Europhile message that Brexit is but a mere distraction - and there is considerable theatre going on to impress that upon us, but the UK's departure from the EU is far from insignificant. It changes the nature of the beast. The EU needs to prove now more than ever that it has longevity - which is why we see renewed federalism and plenty of blue flag waving from Merkel and Macron. It turns UK remainers green with envy as though Britain is somehow missing out on something. 

Meanwhile, domestically, we hear the the tired rhetoric that the UK is sliding into a populist abyss, but there is no actual evidence of that. Whatever "populist" moves we may have seen from this government are largely hamfisted attempts by May to relate to an electorate she does not understand, guided by Nick Timothy, whose political instincts are, shall we say, flawed. Britain's politics are in flux and there is no coherent narrative simply because nobody presently commands the attention of voters. 

This unearths the psychology of the British ultra remainer who seems to think that the EU is a bastion of liberal progressive values - which of course is what the EU pretends it is, but in reality is only the sum of its parts. And those parts are fragmenting.  Here I'm reminded of the lyrics to the Guns 'n' Roses song "Locomotive"
I bought me an illusion and I put it on the wall, I let it fill my head with dreams and I had to have them all, But oh the taste is never so sweet as what you'd believe it is - Well I guess it never is, it's these prejudiced illusions that pump the blood to the heart of the biz!
The remainer delusion only really works if you maintain a studious ignorance of what is happening on the continent. This they manage to do but the latest Citroen barbecues in Paris makes it increasingly difficult to ignore. 

In recent months eyes have largely been on Italy as the next possible candidate for an EU exit but I'm finding this unlikely. I don't think Italy's present dysfunction is far out of the norm. Moreover, the EU's fortunes rest with France and Germany and all is not well. 

It wasn't very long ago that the chatterati in the UK media were hailing Macron as the new leader of the free west. This is how dulled their political instincts have become. It was fairly obvious early on that the man was an empty vessel and as soon as he started signalling his virtues as a good European it became abundantly clear that he was a Cameron/Blair clone. Beavis to Mrs Merkel's Butthead. 

Fast forward to today and French authorities plan to deploy no fewer than 65,000 police on the streets. It started with a fuel protest but there's something more significant at work. It has taken on a distinctly anti-politics character. Again, though, it is difficult to tell if this will culminate into something more serious or whether this is just the periodic French national car burning ritual. It may peter out and British columnists will once again have egg on their faces. 

What we do know, though, is that the liberal internationalist image projected by Western European politicians is not a popular one. It's has long been out of fashion in the UK, Macon has blown it, and soon Mrs Merkel will be history. Electorates are fed up of seeing their leaders swan around on the "world stage" projecting their own self-importance. Varoufakis is right; “ever-closer union” is becoming a farcical symbol of the disconnect".

Where I part with Varoufakis is the narrative that Europe is witnessing a rise of nationalism and xenophobia as a consequence of austerity. It's the same narrative remainers use and it is largely self-serving lefty pomposity. The roots of this "European Spring" predate austerity. Certainly measures taken since the Euro crisis have not helped matters but the main reason we have not seen these manifestations earlier is due to the iron grip European elites have over the political narrative. 

Though internet has been with us for some time, it is only in recent years it has been capable of challenging European establishments and it is a relatively new phenomenon that we are seeing hyper polarisation of public debate. What we are seeing is the culmination of various factors not all of which are economic. Now it has a real voice the establishments struggle to compete with (hence their attempts to control and censor it). 

Varoufakis characterises this as a battle between progressives and authoritarians. I'm not really sure that's accurate. Certainly we are seeing a new strain of authoritarianism in Eastern Europe but I do not recognise this trend in Western Europe. Rather it is a rejection of a Europe-wide narcissistic political class which believes itself to be progressive but in many respects is increasingly authoritarian in dictating their values to their peoples.

It is interesting that green fuel taxes should become a flashpoint in French politics. For more than a decade now, we have seen European elites devising ever more creative policies to drive up our living costs to demonstrate their eco-credentials - believing this to be quite popular. This is what happens when the EU uses NGOs as a figleaf of civic engagement. They are caught in a feedback loop.

It really speaks the the narcissism of our elites that they would put this not-so-quiet revolution down to a resurgence of nationalism. It has to be that otherwise it means admitting they are getting it wrong. It absolves them from having to examine their own failures. We are seeing anti-globalism written off as base populism. We are wrecking their precious technocratic neoliberal order. 

Here many on the right are predicting the imminent demise of the EU. I don't think that's correct. What we will see instead is the EU increasingly holding back from taking any decisive actions in fear of destabilising a fragile settlement. France and Germany will turn inward and they will tone down the Euro-rhetoric if only to keep the pilot light on. Too many member states see the EU as essential to their immediate national interest, be it strategic or economic even if they are not subscribers to the federalist vision. It may be that the EU fades away rather than implodes. 

Whether or not the EU can avoid disintegration really depend on what unfolds in Germany over the next few years and the severity of the next Euro crisis, which we are oft told is only round the corner. Here I would not place any bets. Varoufakis is not alone in pointing to a growing unease inside Germany and one not easily explained away by the usual narratives. This spells bad news for the EU. 

Sooner or later Macron will be gone and the next French premier will tone down the federalist rhetoric if they have any sense at all. Merkel's successor will need to do likewise. What happens then really depends on whether German politics descends into the sort of rampant infighting and incompetence we see here in the UK. I'm not ruling it out. It seems to me that there are larger forces at work here which are bigger than all of us and make a mockery of our feeble attempts to control the outcomes.

If it is to be that Europe is undergoing a political makeover, then it is perhaps for the best that the UK is well out of it. Politically it isn't much our business. European politics to the British has always been a goldfish bowl. Whatever the effects of Brexit in the UK, we may still find ourselves looking over the Channel at a worsening economic and political horizon. 

The feeling I get is that all political orders come to an end and the post-war settlement is in its twilight years. Our politics, our institutions and our systems of governance no longer reflect the make up of society or its aspirations. Britain's own democracy is badly in need of a deep cleanse and if that is true for us then it goes double for Europe.

What's telling is the agressively authoritarian actions of remainers. They know something's afoot. Democracy is asserting itself and they do not like it one bit. They talk of having a "people's vote"  which is code for overturning an actual people's vote that we had already. These are people who think that democracy is only democracy so long as we keep voting for self-styled liberal progressives. The fact we might decide a different value system for the new age both enrages and terrifies them. 

We are told that it is Brexiters who fear change but even though Brexit is going to bring seismic changes to our economy and our politics, I'm quite sanguine about it. Economies adapt and politics finds its own rhythm. If anyone is terrified of change it is the remainers, not least since they've convinced themselves that Brexit is motivated primarily by xenophobia and nationalism.

Brexit, though, is really more a yank on the leash of a political class far too used to doing as they please with virtually zero accountability. They've gotten used to imposing their expensive policy ideas on us; controlling what we eat, what we drive, what we say and what we think. Across Europe we are seeing movements who are reminding their own politicians who they are supposed to serve.

What we are witnessing here is the birth of a new Europe. A resurgence of national democracy. It is something to be celebrates, not feared. Though it spells turbulence it also spells hope for many. Business talks about ensuring certainty - but that certainty for most spells gradual decline and further economic isolation. The old order is no longer delivering and there is no sign that it will. The people demand change and change is coming whether our elites like it or not. Those who stand in its way are likely to be consumed by it. 

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