Uncertainty Prods Europeans to Yearn for a Better Yesterday

By Roberto Savio | IDN-InDepthNews Viewpoint

ROME (IDN | Other News) – The recent elections in Switzerland and Poland are good indicators of what will happen elsewhere in Europe in the face of an irresistible growing wave of refugees. But let us first consider a few key elements.

First, the present system of international relations and national governance is not functioning any longer. We are in a period of transition, but nobody knows to where. The Left is without a manifesto, and the Right is just riding the status quo. There is no long-term political thinking.

Second, we are living in a “new economy,” based on the supremacy of finance over man’s production. Unelected officials, like governors of central banks and bankers, have increasingly more power than ever before. This “new economy” considers job insecurity and lay-offs as natural, social inequality as a legitimate reality, the market as the sole basis for societal development and the state as inefficient and a brake on the private sector.

Third, political institutions have lost their gloss. No political party has any longer a real youth movement. They are perceived more and more as self-referent, regarding citizens as just an electorate. They are seen more as part of the system in power than spokespersons for citizens.

The cost of politics (and corruption) is growing year by year. The upcoming elections in the U.S. will cost over 4 billion dollars, and until now 145 donors have paid for more than 50 per cent of the cost of the electoral campaign. According to the London School of Economics, the cost of electoral campaigns in Europe has increased by 47 per cent in the last decade. In other words, many consider that we live now in a democracy that is turning into a plutocracy. And Hungary is openly advocating for an autocratic democracy, like Singapore and China, and getting away with it.

Fourth, multilateralism is in crisis. The U.S. has stopped ratifying any international treaties, from the Right of the Children to the Law of the Sea. The United Nations has been marginalized. The regional organizations, like the African Union, ASEAN or the Organization of American States, are notoriously toothless. And the European Union is going from an existential crisis on the euro (Greece), into a more serious one, the refugees. The United Kingdom is leading a charge for devolution of powers from Brussels that will create a precedent that others will invoke – Hungary and Poland to begin with.

If there is consensus on these elements of the current situation, then it is not difficult to understand that the European electorates are voting on the basis of political nostalgia and lack of security. In the face of an uncertain future, the temptation to go back to a better past is strong. Both the Swiss and Polish elections rewarded the party, which wanted to defend the national identity against foreigners, especially Muslims, and the national religious traditions against the European values of sexual liberty, gays marriage, free abortion and decaying lifestyles.

The Polish case is emblematic. Poland has been one of the greatest recipients of EU aid. East Europe joined the EU to get funds and support, but without any intention to give anything in exchange, as the refusal to accept any immigrant has made amply clear.

It is worth remembering that until the financial crisis of 2007, xenophobic and right wing parties were marginal political entities in almost whole of Europe. In a short time, they have become important players all over Europe, even in countries known for their civic sense and tolerance, like the Netherlands and the Nordic countries.

What brings votes to a xenophobic, right wing and an anti-Europe party is the dream to return to a secure and orderly past. Voters do not want to vote for an uncertain future: they find it more reassuring to vote for a time in which politics was national, there was no faceless bureaucracy in Brussels dictating how to pack tomatoes, and a supranational currency, the euro, manoeuvred by unelected powerful bankers in Frankfurt, with a hegemonic Germany dictating other countries. It is also worth remembering that a large segment of European citizens have yet to recover the quality of life it had before 2007, and that young people pay a disproportionate cost for a crisis stemming from the financial.

The dream of returning to the past is also the reason for the creation in U.S. of the radical wing of the Republican Party, known as the Tea Party, and the victory of Justin Trudeau in Canada. And while the West has a golden recent age of which to dream, in the Global South nationalism, a twin of political nostalgia is on the rise.

But for the West, there is a problem. There are now 60 million refugees, and in this figure there are not those who escape sex persecutions, like gays in Africa, or women from Boko Haram in Nigeria. Migrants is a term much more representative of the reality than refugees, which are for Europe those who escape from clearly recognized conflicts. Demography is clear. Africa is going to peak 1.6 billion in 2030 from one billion people in 2010. Europe would lose at least 15 million people by then.

The Europe we know – homogeneous, white, Christian and tolerant – is going to disappear. But it will not be without lot of suffering. The U.S. has become a multicultural and multi-ethnic country in over a century. According to the records of the most important entry points, Ellis Island in New York, 9 million Irish, Germans, Austrians and Scandinavians entered the country in the steamboat times, with more than 8 million Poles, Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Russians and Balts, and more than 5 million Italians and Greeks. In a few decades, a total of 22.5 million Europeans became Americans. Europe is not ready even for a tenth of non-Europeans taking to European citizenship. [IDN-InDepthNews – 30 October 2015]

*Roberto Savio is publisher of Other News, editorial adviser to IDN, adviser to Global Cooperation Council. He is also co-founder of Inter Press Service and its President Emeritus. This article appeared on Other News and is being re-published by arrangement with the writer.

2015 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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