A sign of the time is that Germany is raising a revolt against the President of the European Commission, Jeam-Claude Juncker, whom Chancellor Angela Merkel imposed in 2014 after a strong fight with David Cameron, then a powerful British PM. The group of Visograd, formed by Poland, Hungary, Slovaquia and the Czech Republic, which resurged from ashes, to become an anti Brussels voice, has requested to bring back the Commission under the authority of the States. When Merkel organized a meeting of the leaders of the six original founders of the EU, in Berlin, she invited Donald Tusk, the President of the Council, but not Jean-Claude Juncker, who is the President of the Commission. And Wolfgang Schauble, the German minister of Finance, has launched an appeal: “it is time to bring back Brussels under the control of the states.”
It is curious that the debate on Brexit has completely ignored the creeping action to end the supranational character of the EU. What is in process, in fact, is something of extreme importance: the end of internationalism and return to the national. And that is one of the fruits of globalization…. Japan, China and Russia are at the peak of nationalism.
Globalization is not a neutral term. The globalization that was imposed after the collapse of the Berlin Wall was a straight jacket as strong as those of the ideologies, which were accused to bring to the Second World War, and fifty years of Cold War. It presented the market as the only basis for society, with the elimination of any national barrier for free flow of capitals and trade. It did shun, as obsolete, the values of social justice, social institutions, (like welfare); the state was seen as an impediment, a problem, not as a solution.. The new values were, for instant, individual success over community values. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher changed the direction of the world. Thatcher famously said: “There is no such a thing as society. There are only individuals”. Reagan originally even wanted to eliminate the ministry of education….
Well, now every journalist is discovering that Brexit and Donald Trump are the result of the revolt of the victims of globalization. It is important to note that they usually go to the right, except few cases, like Podemos in Spain or Bernie Sanders in the US. Sanders decries that in “the last 15 years, nearly 60.000 factories, and more than 4.8 million well-paid manufacturing jobs have disappeared, because disastrous trade agreements have encouraged corporations to move to low-wage countries”, He goes against a taboo that elite and mainstream economist do not even discuss. Free trade is an engine of growth., and statistics are there to prove it. The problem, continue Sanders “is that median male worker makes now $726 dollars less than in 1973, and the median female worker is making $1.1.54 less than in 2007. And nearly 47 million Americans live now in poverty. Meanwhile, the top one-tenth of 1 per cent of successful Americans, now owns as much as the bottom 90 per cent. The wealthiest 62 people on this planet own as much wealth as the bottom half of the world population: about 3.6 billion people.”
Sanders put us to a dilemma: “the change will come from demagogy, bigotry and anti-immigrant sentiments, xenophobia and populism unless the new President will vigorously support international cooperation that brings peoples of the world closer, reduce hypernationalism and decreases the possibility of war: and above all, that will protect working people, not just those from the elite.”
So the problem is not that globalization brings growth. The problem is that the State has left the market unregulated, without any redistribution. Why those left out would vote for the conventional wisdom of the system, when they are victims?
The engine of this kind of growth has been Greed. Now, the fear that Sanders evokes is already well installed in Europe. Migrations have been fuelling it, in the middle of fears of different nature, from terrorism to climate change, from bad food to declining social services. It is easy to ride fear and resentment, and Europe knows this well: it happened in the thirties, and Hitler left a Europe destroyed.
A sequence of referendum is now hastening the demise of democracy. In the Brexit, 70% of people voted. That means that 36% made the majority: one citizen out of three. According to the European Council of External Relations, there are 32 referendum called in 18 countries of the EU. And there are now 47 political parties who share anti-Europe positions. In a third of the 28th member countries, they are part of the government’s coalitions, and their exit has been pushing the traditional parties to adopt some of their position. Referendums amount to a veto. EU will face a strong challenge from this process of vetocracy…but also the idea of internationalism will be the victim…
The idea behind internationalism, and more exactly international law, is based on the acceptance of principle and values under which citizens feels community and participation. Is on that basis that national entities agree to relinquish some of their sovereignty. They feel it expands the national consensus to treaties and agreements, which project their views and interests in a world of cooperation at international level. International law and cooperation were the new ideas, emerging from the ashes of the Second World War. United Nations was the most unprecedented device for lasting peace and cooperation: and little after, the idea of a European Union, and this as a supranational entity, not just a intergovernmental organization, like the UN. It was through the UN that the dangers of the Cold war were put under some kind of control. It was through the UN that the process of decolonization was steered. The UN were the framework for the north-south relations in the world, and development its philosophy, with a sharing of international law as the instrument for dialogue, and social justice, participation and democracy, based on dialogue and cooperation, to make a lasting peace and human development the new achievement for humankind.
Well, all this went well, until in 1981 in the Summit of Cancun. Reagan and Thatcher brought back the idea that universal democracy was an unjust illusion. Regan asked to the other head of states, which had come to discuss how to advance cooperation: why my country should have the same rights that San Marino? Let us go back to a policy where countries could defend their interest without being bound by general principles and agreements. Since them, the UN lost its primacy. The great powers took away trade, one of the two engines of globalization. The other engine, finance, was never in New York, but in Washington. The Un was left only with the social issues, increasingly irrelevant, When Boutros Boutros-Ghali tried to bring back some power to the secretariat; his re-election as the secretary general of the UN was vetoed by the US. Same mechanism with Juncker…Boutros-Ghali was made a scapegoat by Bill Clinton, who was in his electoral campaign. The UN had organized an invasion in Somalia to bring peace and food. This was done under US request, US direction and US control.. The invasion backfired, with white American soldiers dead and dragged in the streets by a crowd of black people. Promptly, Boutros-Ghali was considered the responsible for the failure, with the US appearing as a victim of the UN. Juncker now is made responsible folr Brexit by Germany, whose fiscal policy and the imposition of austerity has disenchanted many of those who are now opting out from Europe.
The post-ideological world, which has accompanied globalization, has transformed political parties into machines of public opinion, directed to solve administrative problems. Citizens are deserting institutions without vision, where politicians seem interested in their perpetuation, and polling and marketing tools have substituted dialogue with citizens. Values have disappeared from the political debate. Global issues have left national parliaments more and more irrelevant. There has been no global response on finance (4 trillion dollars in fiscal paradises), which has no world regulatory body, and moves 40 times more money that the real economy of production and services. One exceptional response was a global response on the climate change, which is a real threat to human survival. But that response is clearly insufficient…
Traditional parties have tried to halt their decline by taking the banners of the new parties. The best example is Austria, where the two traditional parties changed their position on immigration., claiming that they would not leave that banner to populism. The result was to legitimize xenophobia. The extreme right wing lost for only 36.000 votes, and a new election called for irregularities may be see now its victory.
It must be clear that during all those years an irresponsible game has been going on. If anything went wrong, it was the EU fault. Anything that went right was the result of national policies. As any insider knows, is the Council, where member states are represented, which take decisions on strategy and policies. The Commission is basically an implementer…only the European Central Bank (with great irritation from Germany) and the European Court of Justice (from which Cameron announced the UK wishes to withdraw, even before the Brexit,) have some super national power left. All the efforts of the member states have been to recover as much sovereignty as possible. And we are now obliged to write in Juncker defence…if he leaves it will be for the wrong reasons…
Anyhow after him, a weak guy as before, will appear. In the UN, the main candidate is Irina Bokova, the outgoing DG of Unesco, much less impressive that all the other women who are candidates. So, to see where we are now, in the decline of internationalism: would today US pledge to fund 25% of the regular budget of the UN, as it did at its creation? Would the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be approved? And finally, would it be possible to undersign the Treaty of Rome, of 1947, where the vision of a United Europe was approved unanimously? Governments would be in difficulty to answer. Let us imagine the people…
Roberto Savio is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.