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A great month for Western democracy, January 2021 A great month for Western democracy, January 2021
by Christos Mouzeviris
2021-01-20 10:18:39
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January the first month of the new year, and we already have plenty of developments in the Western democratic front. First of all, in the "poster-child" and self declared beacon of the free world, we witnessed something which can be classified as embarassing, laughable and worrying at the same time.

On the 6th of January, a mob of supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump in an attempt to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election, stormed the U.S. Capitol, aiming to prevent the formalization of President-elect Joe Biden's election victory. These rioters occupied, vandalized, and looted parts of the building for several hours, resulting in five deaths.

The storming of the Capitol was described by many as treason, insurrection, domestic terrorism, and an effort by Trump to carry out a coup d'état. The incident was a result of a number of actions by President Trump and his supporters, to keep him in power for at least another term. Trump announced plans for a rally before the January 6 vote count to continue his challenge to the validity of several states' election results. On December 18, he wrote on Twitter; "Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!" And sure it was.

President Trump was ardent that he was robbed of victory without any credible evidence to support that belief. Despite assurances from his own departments of Justice and Homeland Security that no serious fraud occurred, Trump has raged against the election result and mounted a relentless campaign to reverse Biden's victory.

From vote recounts to Twitter rants, pressuring a top election official in a phonecall, to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat, plus numerous lawsuits that followed, one could only wonder why he would not just let go. Even if we for one moment accept that all his claims were true, he could not actually prove anything. Every effort failed to justify his cause. The decent thing would be to admit defeat, step down and fight another day if he felt that he still had the American public's support. His actions, not only hinder any chance of him returning to American politics, but polarized and divided American society, damaged his party plus the image and reputation of his country abroad, as a democratic state.

demo00001_400As Europe was watching with disbelief, America was mocked by countries that itself had heavily criticised for the lack of democratic values, such as Belarus. Its President Alexander Lukashenko, in a meeting with International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel, for talks amid calls to move the world championship following mass protests against him, compared his country with the United States. “In our country, protesters and other dissatisfied people don’t storm government agencies and capitols,” Lukashenko said. “We have a completely normal situation from the perspective of the development of democratic processes.”

As we have only a few days left until the inauguration of Biden, one can only hope that this saga will come to an end, although it is doubtful that we heard the last of Trump. For him to be so desperate to cling onto power, he either had plans for America that did not want to be interrupted, feared as he had something to hide, or there are many powerful circles that desire a different America and backed him. No matter what, he managed to gain many devoted supporters and that ensures or indicates an inevitable change of course for U.S. politics. Even if the Democrats try to mend the damage done by Trump, they too will have to compromise, appeasing or winning back some of his voters, in order to stay in power. So Europe must be prepared for such development, in case.

Besides, our continent had its own fair share of political drama and instability. In just one week, three EU members had their governments imploding and resigning. Italy, the Netherland and Estonia are without a government effectively. All leaderships collapsed due to corruption, infighting, mismanaging and how they dealt the corona virus pandemic. The problem is that in all three countries, far-right and euroskeptic parties are lurking, gaining influence, ready to pounce and grasp power. And if they do, Europe will have even a more difficult time to stay united, if it doesn't lose another member.

Italy's former premier Matteo Renzi said on Wednesday he was pulling his party's ministers from the cabinet, effectively leaving the ruling coalition without a majority in parliament. Renzi, who heads the tiny Italia Viva party, had long threatened to quit the government, complaining about Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's plans over how to spend billions of euros promised by the European Union to relaunch the economy.

The country has been viewed as the "Sick Man of Europe" for years, with stagnant economic growth, rising poverty, emigration, political instability and euroskepticism. Since the last eurozone economic crisis, Italy has been engulfed in a bitter infighting over reforms, numerous government collapses, elections, coalitions, technocratic administrations, clashes with its EU partners over the block's budget. They just don't seem to get a grip and keep it together, or face the reality.

Italy, as all other former European powers, has not got over their former grandeur, influence and wealth. They fail to admit that they now need each other, as the world has dramatically changed since the time of European dominance. Many want things to remain as they are and they avoid reforms at all cost. Others wish for things to go back to what they were-like Britain, and left the EU altogether. Italy refuses to accept that its economy has been so integrated with that of other countries, that it cannot continue the way it has for decades. Reforms are painful but necessary.

They distanced themselves from Greece ten years ago, leaving it at the mercy of Germany and its allies, in an effort to avoid the same fate. "Italy is too big to fail", many economists were claiming back then, thus the Italian economy and politics were allowed to continue their antics for another decade. Now since the CoViD-19 pandemic is threatening Europe with another financial crisis, in Italy the knives are out again, in order to safeguard vested interests in the country, to the detriment of the ordinary Italian and European citizens.

The country's rulers must understand and make a decision that they cannot have their cake and eat it. They willingly joined the eurozone and they are one of the founding states of the EU. To avoid reforms is daft at this stage. If Greece was forced to privatize, sell out and reform, so can Italy. Having said that, it remains to be seen if the Greek painful path will bear fruits, or it merely turned it into a German de-facto colony, something that both France and Italy refuse to accept for themselves. But then why didn't they stand by Greece, forming a block that could stop and counter-balance the German hegemony in Europe? They do not want to see their national companies and assets, being taken over by foreign-notably German buyers, yet they were happy to see the Greeks ones suffer this fate. What goes around comes around as they say.

In a twisted turn of events, Italy's recent nemesis-the Netherlands also saw its own government collapsed, over a child benefits scandal. Thousands of parents were wrongly accused by Dutch authorities of fraudulently claiming child allowance, with many of them forced to pay back large amounts of money and ending up in financial ruin. The fact that some parents were targeted for investigation by tax officials because they had dual nationality also underscored long-standing criticisms of systemic racism in the Netherlands.

Well, we ought to remember how Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch former Minister of Finance and Eurogroup President, treated Greece, by demanding the country to open its financial books and records for inspection. Perhaps the Dutch should have primarily sticked inspecting their own books all these years, to avoid this embarrassment. If they equally focused on what was happening in their own country and national authorities, perhaps they could have coped on earlier and avoided this fiasco. But no, to them it is always the Southern EU states that need to get their taxation system in check, they dance and listen to music and drink wine while the hard working Dutch have to always pay for the tax evading Southerners. Clearly we can see that themselves are not so perfect and spotless after all.

This is a poor way to distract your public from your own faults dear Dutch government, by pointing out the faults of others. Again, what goes around comes around. When the Greeks were crying for mercy, their European "partners" threw them to the arms of the IMF to save their own economies. They accused them of not paying taxes, bothered by Greek farmers not declaring all their incomes, while they did not mind rich Greek companies tax evading by relocating their headquarters in countries like the Netherlands. They also accused them of retiring too early, but of course they forgot how generous is their own social welfare systems, offering benefits for life. Belgium's chomage technique, which not only is much higher than Greece's, but in principle unlimited, was never a cause of concern for the Germans and Dutch. Nor, the institutionalization of a part of Ireland's population, by keeping them permanently as welfare recipients, never mind the Scandinavian generosity in benefits.

And the Dutch scandal gets even more sinister, if we think that it is just a revelation of the reality in the country's government mentality, not a mistake or mishap. Because then, it indicates the fascist, racist nature of their policies and explains their contemptuous attitude towards Greece, Italy and Spain. They treat their migrant communities like second class citizens, when they present themselves as a very liberal nation, open and progressive society, ready to condemn others for their human rights abuses. If Greece pushes back a boat loaded with immigrants in the Aegean, they will be the first to criticise, as well and scorn Poland and Hungary for refusing to take them in. At least the Hungarians, although I strongly disagree and despise their attitude on this issue, are honest about it. Hypocrisy however is revolting.

The Netherlands to be fair, is not the only country that struggles with immigration. The whole of Europe does. But then we should stop pretending or keeping up the appearances and do something about it. Work collectively, by establishing a pan-European immigration policy which aims to attract the right immigrants, regarding their numbers, skills, educational background, countries of origin and length of stay. In this way, we can avoid the embarassing double standards, when we allow migrant families to settle in an EU member, offer them citizenship, only to treat them in this horrid manner, in an effort to stigmatize them and make them leave, or discourage others from coming. Yet, our national governments insist on keeping all policies and decisions ultimately to themselves, creating a messy, patchy mosaic or laws and regulations, detached from another state's.

The third country to become without government last week, was Estonia. Like many of the former USSR states and Central/Eastern European nations that joined the EU in 2004, Estonia enjoyed for over a decade an impressive economic boom. Yet, similarly to many others of this region, it can not easily escape its past, proving that democracy and capitalism in these countries are still fragile and vulnerable. In addition, it also indicates that for the EU periphery, like in the case of Greece and Ireland, economic prosperity or political stability are not guaranteed and secured for the long term. Thus, we need to collectively work on maintaining and promoting them, though this can only happen with a more active role of the EU institutions, something that all local, national elites dislike; they obviously want to hold on to power and influence over our national resources for themselves.

Estonia’s Prime Minister Jüri Ratas has ultimatelly resigned, after police and prosecutors launched an investigation into an alleged corruption scandal involving his left-leaning Centre party related to an impropriety, over the €39 million Porto Franco property development. Ratas just so happens to be in a power-sharing agreement, with the conservative Fatherland party and the Euroskeptic right-wing Conservative People’s Party of Estonia. And like most parties with populist ambition, they are opportunistic and seek to get in power by revealing or underlining government scandals. Thus, Ratas had no option but to resign, hoping the storm passes and regroup for the next election, in order to stop another Euroskeptic party edging closer to power.

To conclude and sum-up all of the above: We in the West must understand that democracy can never be taken for granted. Even in the richest and strongest countries, things can easily be overturned. Therefore, we must always remain alert. Economies and political systems are constantly being in flux, thus any period of prosperity must be accompanied with preparations, investments and reforms, in order to deal with the eventual and inevitable downturn. Corruption and systemic faults exist in all countries, it is just some of them manage to deal with or cover them with their wealth, government cover-ups and media PR. The poorer a nation is, the more citizen corruption it experiences, due to the fact that its people do what it comes natural in such circumstances; struggle to survive.

For the European rich nations then to go a blatantly slander and scapegoat them, while themselves are enjoying different standards as they exploit their resources, is the worse kind of corruption itself. Inequality among members of a "union", renders it as non democratic, thus unworthy. In addition, we need to have an open debate on immigration and reform the relevant laws. It is clear that the approach that we adopted until now does not work. Out of complex of our colonial past, we allowed too many migrants in Europe, but then when we do not want them, we do something even worse to these communities: we treat them as second class citizens, we scapegoat and label them as lazy and corrupt scroungers, seeking to abuse Europe's generous welfare system. But by these actions, we risk allowing the Far-Right to gain more power, destabilizing our continent and societies, threatening what we have worked and built so far in Europe.

Us Europeans are all in this together, meaning that our societies and economies are largely integrated. So any kind of infighting only makes matters worse and ultimately, it must come to a decision. We either start cooperating as a group of nations, preferably by upholding the vision we all have already agreed to adopt, or we revise and reverse back to what we had before, with all the good and bad of a divided continent, always at each other's throats, with peace and prosperity only enjoyed periodically by most.

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