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Europe: The new Sisyphus Europe: The new Sisyphus
by Apopseis.gr
2013-01-26 11:09:34
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Europe is sinking slowly into the quicksand of a deflationary depression, and the  demographic time bomb that is sapping the foundations of Europe is the rapidly greying and ageing of the population.

Where in effect there are not enough new taxpayers being born across Europe to pay for the increasing social welfare and largesse for the rest of the ageing population; which in turn -  along with other structural problems -  means that nations are receiving less income and are accruing increasing public debts.

So, what is the reaction across the corners of Europe?

apopseis01_01The Spanish region of Catalonia has recently elected secessionist orientated politicians in response to their economic ills, the United Kingdom has not only threatened to veto the EU budget but to give their people a public referendum on their future in the EU; Greece has been given a 'band-aid' debt agreement, and the price of milk and a new iPhone in Greece are among the most expensive in Europe to purchase!

While the Germans in the mean time have been force feeding financial austerity across the EU in effect compounding European debt burdens, due to their aversion of Keynesian economic fiscal stimulus theories and of the Weimar Republic hyper-inflationary ghosts  of the 1920's that still haunts the German national psyche.

The question needs to be asked, what has leaded us to these current events? Where is the dreamed of European prosperity?

Instead of prosperity, Europeans have found that they have all become like the Ancient Greek mythological figure of Sisyphus; forever doomed to push an unsustainable economic burden up the hill, only for it to come rolling back down again.

The dream of a united Europe is relatively recent, and is the love child, the construct of the French-Germanic axis that is currently 'ruling' the EU - and contrary to what the French or Germans, or any of their lackey Brussels bureaucrats would want you to believe - was not formed for the economic benefit of Europeans, but to allay and soothe the secret French and German fears of not wanting to go to war again.

As noble as that sentiment is, is this political modus operandi cause enough to seek a union of the peoples of Europe?

Tsar Alexander first proposed a union of Europe at the congress of Aix-La-Chapelle in 1818, and then a European Union was next propounded at the end of World War 2.

The former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill first coined the term "The United States of Europe" in a speech delivered on 9 September 1946 at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, when he said:

"We must build a kind of United States of Europe. In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living"

Yet in the final paragraph of his speech, Churchill's vision is clearly of a Europe without Britain when he states:

"We see nothing but good and hope in a richer, freer, more contented European commonality. But we have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked but not compromised. We are interested and associated but not absorbed."

The masterminds of the push to unify Europe are two former leaders of Germany and France, Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand; who peddled the economic benefits of a united Europe to the masses only to mask their real desire at constructing a Franco-Germanic imperialistic homage to the Frankish emperor Charlemagne, who united Western Europe in the eight century.

It is also interesting to note that both the French and German royal houses claim descent from Charlemagne.

In 1988 both Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand were the joint recipients of the Charlemagne Prize; which is bestowed by the sponsors of the award - the German city of Aachen - to honour recipients for their work in promoting the political unification of Europe.

For the city of Aachen considers Charlemagne as the "founder of western culture", and that under his reign the city of Aachen was the spiritual and political centre of what is now Western Europe; another recipient of the Charlemagne prize was Angela Merkel in 2008.

Yet a modern day Greek or Italian - the descendants of the classical legacy of Ancient Greece and Rome would strongly disagree that a barbarian Frankish ruler was the "founder of Western culture" - that the foundation of Europe is actually based on the classical glories that was Greece and Rome, and as a further extension, Byzantium.

Where Byzantium kept alive the classical legacy of Greece and Rome for over a thousand years to then pass it onto Renaissance Europe; and not through the myth that Classical Greek knowledge was disseminated by the Arabs of Spain to Europe - this task was accomplished by the very medieval descendants of the Greeks themselves.

Charlemagne had an antipathy and detestation of Byzantium out of jealousy; and a trait which was consistently displayed by other Western Europeans which resulted in the sack of Constantinople by fellow Christians in the fourth crusade in 1204, and the carving up of the body of the Byzantine empire by these rude Frankish crusaders.

Which in effect caused the weakening of the Byzantine empire, and which allowed the Islamic hordes of the Ottomans to invade Byzantium and establish a foothold in the corner of Europe, and whereby they are now audaciously asking for entry into the EU club based on this theft, a theft enabled by our Western European allies!

But all was not as grey as this, for later Frankish emperors’ desired marriage to Byzantine princesses to legitimise their rule and forge a link with the glories and legacy of the classical world.

As when the Byzantine princess Theophano Skleraina was married to the German king Otto 2, on April 14th, 972 by Pope John XIII at Saint Peter’s; for she was regarded by the Germans as the ultimate symbol of sophistication, and conferred immense prestige.

Princess Theophano caused quite a stir on her arrival; bathing daily, very literate, dressed in silks, introducing luxurious jewels and garments into Germany, and caused a shock when she used a double pronged fork to bring food to her mouth instead of her hands as was the custom in Western Europe in those days.

Yet now in modern day Europe, our glorious shared heritage means nothing if we cannot rise ourselves up from this economic mess and malaise that is infecting Europe like a disease.

For we are not some rag wearing bedraggled tormented sad figures in one of Dante's circles of hell ,or like the dejected figures of the burghers of Calais!

Europe has been - and still is - the land of hope, of glory, of beautiful minds that have created the greatest glories of mankind.

Peopled with 'Zorba' like figures jumping on tables  dancing, cutting the air with their feet like blades, embodying the dichotomy of the Dionysian and Apollonian archetypes, or to the muscular power and lyricism of Cafavy or Seferis ;or of that magnificent baguette munching, absinthe drinking lover of women that was Camus, that giant of France living life with the élan and panache typical of the French amongst those cobblestone cafe clad streets with gastronomic aromas ascending and descending around him; or to  the beautiful Italian tenors charming our souls whilst they stroll under colonnaded porticoes watching the passing parade under a burnt Siena sky; or those magnificent and heroic Spaniards like Picasso creating masterpieces to the sounds of the flamenco and the dust of the matadors - whilst we the spectators of this magnificent European revelry  - watch these green shoots of culture push upwards towards the sun, engorging ourselves with sweet pomegranate juice as it tickles down our face.

It is a happy augury that in the last three hundred years more beautiful and powerful culture has been produced by the French and Germans than in all the preceding centuries, to add to the corpus of the western cultural traditions and to proudly take their place at the side of the Classical Greek and Roman cultural legacies; and it is in this vain that we should form a united front and stop casting the blame  for European economic  ills, for we all share the blame.

One of the four Maastricht criteria, article 121 point 2 under the title of 'Government Debt' states:

"The ratio of gross domestic debt to GDP must not exceed 60% at the end of the preceding fiscal year..."

Yet the debt to GDP of Germany is 82.8%, France 91%,United Kingdom 86%,Netherlands 68.2%, and Greece 150.3%. The average debt to GDP across all member states is 90%; so according to current economic data, seventeen out of the twenty seven member states would not have made EU membership criteria, and that includes France, Germany and the United Kingdom!

The two most important levers of economic management that a nation possesses is a floating currently, and its own interest rates; which enables a nation to manage economic demand and supply by increasing or decreasing the value of their currency and interest rates.


Yet twenty seven member nation states in Europe have been denied these two economic tools which basically mean they have their hands tied behind their backs and cost cutting and economic austerity thereby becomes their only tool!

Where European nations are trying to become competitive whilst slashing government expenditure to repay debt and retaining a fixed exchange rate, a task which is economically impossible.

One of the greatest threats to the EU is France; it has not balanced a single budget since 1981,where Moody's has downgraded French debt one notch down to Aa1, where they have also increased public spending, and are quickly destroying the competitiveness of private industry through leftist measures, whilst the Germans have accrued a budget surplus in the past and instead of using it to flush the economy to stimulate consumer spending and demand, have leant out their surplus to other European nations!

In Greece in the meantime, hard decisions need to be made, we need to look at ourselves in the mirror and accept part of the blame for where we are; where the state is complicit in shielding protected professions and businesses, and which allows collusion among producers, where Eurostat figures show that the prices in Greece for milk, cheese and eggs are 31 per cent more expensive than the EU average, and where the cost of oils and cereals are 16 per cent more.

The immediate answer to these unsustainable debt levels is threefold; some austerity, structural economic reforms, and debt forgiveness - something that the banks won't like - but the burden also needs to be shared by the banking sector that leant money so freely this past decade, and not just on the shoulders of wage earners and pensioners!

Maybe the south of Europe should form its own economic zone, the 'M.E.Z zone' (Mediterranean Economic Zone) with their own national currencies, which would thereby attract manufacturing to migrate from Northern Europe to Southern Europe, whereby it would be more economically competitive and attractive for manufacturers to base their businesses, which would in turn would cause the Northern Europeans to lose competitiveness.

The Germans need to make no qualms about this; if Europe is the 'Titanic', then they are going down with the ship whether they like it or not! so some hard questions need to be asked now.

 
Have we Europeans lost our desire? Lost our desire for change? I think the great English poet T.S.Eliot put it succinctly when he said in his poem 'The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock' :

"...Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
    I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach,
    I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each...."


In respect to Sisyphus, he  knew that he was sinning against the gods, knew that he was going to get punished, yet made his choice and lived his life doomed to push the boulder up the hill for it to only come rolling back down again for eternity; yet in that momentary pause at the bottom of the hill as he looks back, he is a true existential hero, for he has made his choice and lived life his way, created his own destiny.

As the French existentialist philosopher Sartre once said;" To exist is to choose", and in this, the everyday people of Europe have not been given a true choice to choose their own destiny.

When the former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou bandied about to his EU allies the idea of a Greek referendum in respect to their future in the EU, Sarkozy and Merkel quickly dispatched him by knifing him in the back; for the Germans and French knew that they actually had more to lose than the Greeks did.

But for how long can the voice of the European citizenry be silenced? Not for long I fear!

************************************************************************* 

Nikos Laios, North Sydney, Australia

 



   
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Emanuel Paparella2013-01-26 13:01:48
The above is an insightful article which asks the right hard questions before attempting a political analysis and proposing a solution, for indeed there are many that have cavalierly offered facile answers to the present predicament of the EU but precious few who have supplied the right questions. Much to ponder here, not the least the famous proverbial myth of Sisyphus as popularized by that other great existential European philosopher, mentioned briefly in the piece, Albert Camus.

I am afraid that what Camus was describing of the human condition is not so much the classical conception of Man but that of Faustian Romantic man, resigned to carry the boulder up the hill time and again knowing that it will come down again on him again but at the same time stoically glorying in that knowledge. The myth is not too dissimilar from Nietzsche’s “eternal return” but here the question arises: is it likely to supply hope to Europeans who find themselves in a politically made Europe without knowing what it means to be a European? Is it likely that the myth applied to Romantic Man will inspire a vision, a solution and a better way which is certainly not that of homo economicus exclusively? I ask the question and I sincerely do not know the answer, albeit I have had a few questions of my own in the past issues of Ovi magazine and I will again supply one at the end of this comment.

It perhaps bears mentioning here that before Czar Alexander I's dream of a United Europe there was that of Napoleon thus expressed: “…by the power of universal Enlightenment, it might become possible to dream, for the great European family, of going the way of the American Congress…what an outlook then of power, of glory, of well being, of prosperity! What great and magnificent spectacle!” I have suggested previously that the operative word in that statement is “power” and that it goes a long way in explaining why the magnificent spectacle and dream turned into a magnificent nightmare. Was Churchill thinking of the dream or the nightmare? One wonders. But the boulder was brought up the hill and the dream was resurrected.

And now a critique by way of a question of my own: where pray, in this whole article, is the dream and the idealistic proposals of the founding fathers of the EU? Churchill is prominently mentioned but properly speaking he is not a founding father, for as correctly pointed out by the author of the article, he encouraged it but did not commit to it. Unless one is willing to commit and even die for one's dreams, one is not a founding father of anything. I remain convinced that were we to examine the founding fahers' proposed dream, we would discover that they certainly do not propose it as the nightmare of a boulder to be carried back and forth in eternity and ad nauseam (another theme of Albert Camus). They certainly did not make the mistake of the present midget politicians and EU bureaucrats of putting the cart before the horse beginning with a political-economic union before achieving a cultural identity.

My modest proposal is therefore that we go back to the future before we begin another mindless revolution against those myopic politicians and financial cronies in the name of libertè, fraternitè, egalitè, tat we take the trouble to study in depth the thought and the vision of the founding fathers of the EU to determine what such a union, as they envisioned it, is all about and what is worth preserving and fighting for in a union so constituted. Till that is accomplished, I am afraid that we’ll be condemned to carry the boulder up the hill, again and again and again.


Murray Hunter2013-01-26 13:59:22
Thank you for the very enlightening piece of writing.


Emanuel Paparella2013-01-26 14:00:09
P.S. If I may be allowed a brief follow-up to the above comment on this article, Charlemagne, despite his appreciation of education and classical culture, did indeed remain a barbarian aping the glories of the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire (the continuation of the Roman Empire in the East); no doubt about it; however, it also bears mentioning here that he did understand one thing (as did Emperor Constantine too in the fourth century AD and the founding fathers of the EU too in mid 20th century) which Napoleon in the 19th century and many present day Europeans in the 21st century do not seem to grasp any longer; namely that organized religion, independent of its spiritual value, or non value for man, can be a powerful political centripetal force, a sort of cultural cement when one is attempting to unify and govern diverse people with diverse cultures and languages. Hence the dire prediction of a Gadaffy that Islam will conquer culturally in Europe what it could not conquer militarily on the battlefield. Hence Charlemagne calling of his Western Empire “Holy Roman Empire” which if truth be told was neither Roman nor holy. For much more on this fascinating subject of the importance of religion as a cultural cement, I would recommend to the curious reader Christopher Dawson’s The Making of Europe which I have also discussed at some length in Ovi’s pages.


Thanos2013-01-26 16:25:26
It seems that before we get somewhere we are going to literally hit bottom. The latest comments from Cameron – the infamous British referendum we hear about the last thirty years – and the reaction from Berlin and Paris show the good old European power game in its peak creating waves of insecurity among Europe. Especially times were insecurity is the constant companion of the average European.

Good article Mr. Laios


Nikos Laios2013-01-26 16:52:15
The idea and conception of a 'European Union' should have only ever been that of a very loose trading confederation,without any political obligations; that was as an after thought,an imperialistic dream or mirage in the Franko-Germanic psyche of paying homage to the 'Charlemagne' dream.The idea of a union was also an easy scapegoat in namely avoiding the tough questions that we Europeans are loath to ask; namely the demographic failings of Europe, the Anarchic,leftist ant-market or Nephelokokkygian (Aristophenean 'Cloud-cuckoo land' ) entitlement culture that is holding back the renewal of Europe. In life,no one owes anyone a free lunch,and we Europeans need to go back to the drawing board to come up with a better solution to the ills that are sapping the creativity and economic vilatility of our societies, than live with this nightmare of a Frankenstein's monster that has become the Euroean Union. Indeed we can pose the question Edward Albee did, " Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?"; who indeed is afraid of living life without illusions?, we Europeans are I'm afraid.


Emanuel Paparella2013-01-26 18:14:34
When I read the writings of the EU founding fathers, nowhere do I discern the suggestion that by bread and the economy alone does man live and that the union ought to be a mere lose confederation for purely economic motives to insure material prosperity. I am thinking now of the likes of Adenauer, Schumann, Monnet, De Gasperi, just to mention a few among the statesmen, not to speak of the philosophers such as Dante, Husserl, Levinas, Habermas, Mostesqueieu, Vico, Dawson. These men’s vision went beyond mere power, a la Napoleon or Charlemagne, or economic prosperity or the stock market and laisses faire social Darwinian economic principles a la Ayn Rand, devoid of solidarity and concern for the common good, but alas, they are now almost forgotten, or worse, considered passé to be mentioned on ceremonial occasions, while the cynicism of a Voltaire or the nihilism of a Nietzsche are found quite relevant among the intelligentia…And so the boulder is brought back up the hill again and again. Both Albert Camus and the EU founding fathers must be turning in their graves.


Nikos Laios2013-01-26 23:55:07
.....and indeed, as you rightly state Mr.Paparella - devoid of the religiosiity of the formerly important state religions in Europe - their diminishing significance across swathes of Europe is the unravelling of the invisible threads that has kept large parts of European society united socially for so long.Even Jung wrote about the significance and importance of religion as a framework whereby man and society is thereby able to construct some meaning in life.Have we become one dimensional cinical know-it-all latte sipping automatons? I'd like to think not,but In considering the union,the 'founding fathers' - if i can coin that phrase losely - should have considered its construction based on two principles; both economic and cultural/social principles only.For i still believe a political union per se is an unnatural construct to the European psyche,in that it inhibits the fierce individual and social democratic freedoms of each nation and where this smacks slightly of an imperialist era Chinese centralised court system, which is an antithesis to the natural flow of European culture; for we Europeans have never kowtowed to central authority so easily, as it is against the grain of our recolutionary zeal. The ingredients in the 'batter' should have been different I suspect. But I do agree with much that you say; and also let me take this opportunity to state how much I enjoy the meaning and humanity in your writings.


Emanuel Paparella2013-01-27 13:22:20
Thank you for the enlightening dialogue Mr. Laios. I am in the process of reexamining the thought of four founding fathers of the EU (Monet, Adenauer, Schuman, De Gasperi) which I intend to send to Ovi in the near future. If you wish we may then perhaps continue our dialogue on exactly what did the EU founding fathers intent for European Union.

I should add that I too much enjoy the exchanges with the open minded and intelligent contributors to Ovi, among which yourself.


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