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Quo Vadis Europa? Quo Vadis Europa?
by Christos Mouzeviris
2020-08-07 08:32:35
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For the past decade Europe has shown an incredible resilience to consecutive waves of crises. After the Eurozone one, came the refugee and the Syria crisis, then Brexit and now we face a global pandemic, which unquestionably has tested our unity once again.

chr001_400_01And while it is easy to focus on the numerous fiascos, the nationalist drama, the chauvinist attitudes of various member states, the loss of appetite for further integration or expansion, the EU is becoming slowly but surely, more functioning and united, albeit the many tantrums and under the belt accusations, sidelining and smearing campaigns, or the sliding towards authoritarianism of some members.

And that is because, mainly the two driving forced of the block, France and Germany, have finally realized that if the block fragments further, it will be bad for everyone on the continent. The French President in particular Emmanuel Macron has long called for "More Europe" and tried to reform his own country, despite the numerous protests that erupted. He has managed to convince the German Chancellor about a U-turn on corona bonds, was one of the few European politicians that openly called for a European army and even tried to re-approach Russia. No wonder he faced a backlash back home.

However there many issues that need to be worked on, in order for Europe to fulfil its potential and not only financial ones. And they exist in every member state.

If we look towards the Central and Eastern Europe, we got a number of countries sliding backwards to what they tried to escape from in the past, authoritarianism. The most disappointing of them is Poland, which not only turned euro-skeptic from being a very enthusiastic member, but both on a national or local level, it trashes core European values nowadays.

The establishment of LGBT free zones in some of its municipalities resemble with first steps to fascism, plus in addition it plans to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, scrapping the protection from domestic violence for many individuals.

As a society, they have a long way to go in order to mature and accept that LGBT individuals can be an asset to any country, as they often are highly creative, educated and since they do not have the burden of child bearing, they can contribute massively in their society.

Blocking them from expressing their sexuality openly, can only force them to flee to another country, where they can have their unions recognized and be themselves. Who will lose out? The Polish society of course, but they cannot see this just yet, blinded by religious conservative fundamentalism.

The EU rightly decided to withhold funds towards Polish towns that abide by these laws, however their elites found another trick: enter US Army bases and their cash, fleeing from Germany. It is peculiar to see that Poland is so fixated to erase its Soviet past and have a clean break from Russia, that is keen in becoming another power's lap-dog, this time America's.

Naturally the US under Trump, is not a beacon of freedom anymore, whilst itself in a crisis within, both financially and socially. They are more than happy to befriend Poland, although the country increasingly resembles Russia, which the Americans despise; or do they?

The Germans on the other hand, protest on local level on the US army withdrawal, obviously miffed about the loss of income and revenue from the American troops. It is hard to wean from decades of cash injections, however it is time to grow up as a nation and a continent. Have they ever really thought on what do they have to give back to USA, for its "protection" and cash handouts?

Besides, this move is a clear evidence of a change of a status quo: Germany and America are drifting apart, and the US is trying to punish or black mail the Germans on their "disobedience" and lack of willingness to contribute more to NATO's budget. Yet, the German leadership does not seem that bothered, as of now.

They are happy to fill the US gap, on the Greek-Turkish negotiations over the Aegean dispute, acting as a deal broker between the two rivals, which are apparently NATO allies. The two nations have been at odds over the potential oil exploration in the Aegean, with the Turks openly and without shame, challenging Greece's AOZ.

While the rest of Europe only watches, finally Germany decided to calm things down. If Turkey was Russia and Greece Ukraine, no doubt Europe would be up in arms, however for Greece different rules apply. Understandably Germany has huge interests in Turkey, just as USA does. But what does this say about the validity of NATO, if two of its members are constantly on the brink of war?

Instead of sanctioning Turkey as they do Russia, Europe leaves Greece and Cyprus to deal with Mr Erdogan's antics by themselves. France only offered its support, with the "kind" offer of two frigates ships that Greece must buy, in order to gain France's support. Talking about friends with benefits eh?

Elsewhere in Europe, we got Hungary and its ongoing clash with the EU. Happy to get the funds, forget about the obligations. Make no mistake, the country together with Poland and the Czech Republic, will do a Sweden and avoid euro membership for as long as they can. But that is not all that is troublesome with Hungary.

The country's attitude to freedom of the press worries and bothers the rest of Europe and rightly so. If the state is able to mute what it is being written and controls the press, then how can anyone criticize the government and any of its politicians. Things such as these happen only in Russia right? Wrong. Europe has its own troubles with press freedom and it gets worse.

The firing of Szabolcs Dull, the editor-in-chief of Hungary’s biggest independent news website, Index, in the beginning of July has political interference written all over it, according to Human Rights Watch. Hungary slides, Slovenia too as well as Malta, and Greece is not doing better either.

The Greek public is increasingly relying on social media and blogs for its information, being fed up with mainstream politics and media. But then they are seriously exposed to propaganda and misinformation with worrying results. Increase of hate crimes and racism is being noted, as numerous blogs fuel xenophobia.

We are used to blame the Far-Right, or our favorite scapegoat the Russians for all the misinformation campaigns, however we never look towards the Western part of our shores. The British made this mistake and let the likes of Rupert Murdoch pour bile against the EU for decades, with the obvious result of Brexit.

They are still blaming the Russians, yet they ignore the media mogul's role in their national disaster, or that of the election of Donald Trump in their close allies, the USA. Murdoch's media outlets actively contributed to both outcomes, but the British elites were either unwilling or powerless to stop him and provide counter information.

Perhaps they allowed him to achieve what they wanted for them, or they were so fearful of meddling with the country's press and appear or be accused by his newspapers of acting like Orban and Hungary, that they preferred to let a foreigner decide the future of the country. Either way, we are witnessing the two extremes in Europe when it comes to press freedom; either total control by the state, or by a media mogul through uncontrolled media liberty.

However one cannot blame the likes of Murdoch, without point a few fingers to the collective European governments, who systematically misrepresented to their citizens what the EU is doing for them and how it works.

For decades the "Frugal Nations" of four or five, presented themselves together with Germany and whilst hiding behind Britain, as the ones who are milked by the corrupt and lazy South. The truth is far from it and if we dig further, we will see that they are the ones actually milking the periphery of EU states.

 chr002_400

As seen by this graph, the Frugal nations, together with those annoying cherry-pickers of the North and Switzerland, are the biggest beneficiaries from the Single Market.

No wonder the latter do not want to join the EU completely, as they will have to contribute more, thus lessen their benefits, plus of course the Frugals wish to keep things as they are and avoid further integration.

If the EU or the euro-zone become federal, thus allowing debt mutualisation in the block, they will not only lose the advantage they enjoy in the Single Market, but their top ratings from the financial agencies, thus weakening their borrowing capacity.

It is easier to blame and portray the peripheral states as lazy and corrupt, and offload the euro-zone's debt on them, while they can borrow with cheaper rates when they lend to the indebted South at a higher rate, thus making a profit out of their "partners". Does anyone still fall for their bluff and believe their nonsense in Europe? Well only if they are intellectually challenged.

In addition, many face the rise of the Far-Right in their own countries, so to appease their voters and keep the Right-wingers at bay, they put all the blame on other EU nations, for everything that is wrong in the block.

I cannot recall Europe being worried about the rise of the Greek Golden Dawn party as much, when it came to prominence after the harsh bail-out Greece had to accept by it partners and the Troika. Yet now the Frugals turn their internal political problems, intoEuropean ones. Not that the South or the Eastern countries, do not need necessary reforms and modernization.

But the whole of the EU needs it and that includes the Netherlands or every of Frugal nations. They can start by admitting to their citizens how much they gain from their EU membership in cash figures, not only stating how much they pay. And if they could scrap their tax haven status, see the Netherlands, then that will also be a very welcome bonus.

Regarding the South, I can only speak for Greece as I have never lived in another country apart from my native and Ireland. Greece has changed massively since I was growing up in the '80s and I moved to Ireland in 2004. It is not what it used to be, so to keep using it as a scapegoat and excuse for all that is wrong in the EU is unfair and outrageous.

Yes, it still has work to do, but usually its European partners demand more selling of its resources as a condition for any appraisal, not much concern exists on how it tackles its bureaucracy and red tape. So one could wonder on what are Greece's European partner's true intentions.

Even when they were threatening Greece to be kicked out of the euro and the negotiations about its bail-out were in full, heated mode, France and Germany tried to sell arms to Greece, albeit it being bankrupted.

They accused it of lying about its figures and statistics to enter the euro-zone, while it is something that all member states do and it is highly unlikely that the EU Commission was not aware of it. Ireland cooked its books for example in 2015 and presented to Brussels that its economy grew by 30% because of tax evasion practices.

Its GDP per capita surged and debt fell dramatically. The Commission accepted those figures but warned them that they would have to become net contributors to the EU budget and why would reject the Irish numbers, as it would bring more money into the block's cashiers. However as the Irish economy relies on false numbers, those who will pick up the bill again, are the Irish tax payers and if things go wrong, the European tax payers in the case of Ireland needing another bail-out in the future.

Yet, only Greece was shamed by Europe for doing what Ireland repeatedly does and understandably all other EU member states, with the blessings of the EU Commission and other financial institutions.

It is not a lie to say that the Greek elites waste or mismanage the money they receive from the EU, as a compensation and to balance the trade deficit that Greece suffers from its participation in the Single Market, as shown in the above table.

But it is also true that a lot of this cash, end up back in European banks in the forms of debt repayments, or Europe's companies especially those who sell arms and their governments. So if European tax payers want Greece to come clean about its misuse of funds, they have often no other place to look, from their own political and financial elites for explanations.

No wonder then, when the Greeks tried to get rid of the two establishment parties at the heist of the euro-zone crisis, PASOK and the New Democracy, it was the EU and the big European powers that threatened the Greeks not to vote for Syriza but to continue voting for the politicians who apparently lied about the country's finances.

And we got to admit, that if we wish to prohibit governments from abusing EU funds, then we need a EU body that will invest and distribute them directly in the regions or sectors needed, something that most nations reject as it will mean closer integration and a Federal Europe. Especially the citizens from richer countries. Few are ready for such development in our continent, although the movement is growing.

To conclude, unless the above issues are properly addressed and dealt with, together with numerous others that I would like to at some stage include, Europe will never reach its potential or overcome its impasse. It will be condemned in going in circles; for how long, depends from all of us. Our media and governments may sell us one side of the picture, it is however up to us to inform and educate ourselves and make appropriate decisions about our- shared hopefully-future. 

 


      
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