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Euro-scepticism or euro-something else
by Thanos Kalamidas
2009-06-08 06:52:20
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The next few days there’s going to be a lot of talk in Europe about the winners of the Euro-parliament elections, but less talk about what is really important: the losers of the Euro-parliament elections. Of course the ultimate winner, despite all the naive threats of a lost privilege to vote, is those who stay away from the polls. The Europeans made a choice; instead of sponsoring a system with too many loose ends, they went …swimming!

Having a young kid, I have learned one thing very well, never make threats and never say no without a reasonable excuse. I don’t want call the European member’s voters kids, but the parties definitely deal with them like kids. They also deal with them as naughty kids; kids that are expected make the wrong decisions, so they need a forced patronizing. Most European parties, including the euro-sceptics, have in one way or another communicated to the voters that abstinence is wrong, it is a crime and it is not democratic; ironically even the nationalists and xenophobes fear the same thing. So perhaps it is time to seriously think about what this abstinence, or better disobedience, means beyond the usual analysis that people are not well informed, or that they don’t like the people who represent the parties ruling the European countries in the last century.

There is a comedy with Richard Pryor where the protagonist becomes a candidate in the local elections, and his motto is “none of the above”. The man wins the elections by doing nothing, just saying what everybody else says in the city about corruption and manipulation. He didn’t prove anything, he didn’t accuse anybody, he just said that all the politicians are corrupted and that was enough to bring him victory. People wanted to vote but they didn’t want to vote on anybody of the …above! Perhaps something similar has been going on for the past two decades, not only in Europe but globally, and in my opinion Barack Obama is the last chance and hope for the American political system as it is. If Barack Obama doesn’t matter enough to be an excuse vote, then the whole system is doomed.

That doesn’t mean that there are no people in Europe, young or older politicians, who are honest and who care, but people just don’t believe them anymore. So people prefer abstinence. By the way, and that’s because I feel sick of it, voting or electing your representative to the Parliament, it doesn’t matter if it is the national or the European election – of course it is your superior democratic right and obligation to do so, but your right to express your opinion freely, even if that means your abstinence from the polls, is superior and it should never be discarded so naively. Actually, beyond the word, the European citizens do something more critical and perhaps far more interesting, they act! Now, if the system is deaf or it doesn’t want to listen, then it is the system that has the problem, not the citizens.

So there is no reason for warnings and hidden threats, if the parties had done their job better, people would have voted. Perhaps there is a crisis in the lack of ideas, and it is time to do something about that, perhaps it is time for the parties to reinvent themselves beyond compromises and semantics. Nowadays some of the European socialist or labour parties - when it comes to their programs but mainly to their actions - when they become part of the government, they turn out to be more conservative than the conservative and Christian democratic parties. You don’t have to look far for an example of this, you just need to see Britain’s Gordon Brown to get the full picture, and on the other side is Germany’s Angela Merkel, a real conservative who in action has proven more socialist than the German socialist governments of the past. Of course there is another sign of our times in Europe; the celebrity parties, or the parties that embrace celebrities’ attitudes, like the French Nicolas Sarkozy and the brightest star of them all, the Italian Silvio Berlusconi.

Sadly, the other winners of the Euro-parliament elections are the nationalists and the xenophobic parties, who base all their campaigning on immigration. I’m not going to analyze how much good the immigrants have done to Europe, and I’m not going to remind all those who vote for these parties, that we have the immigrants to thank for the fact that some people can still get their retirement money, or that there are still money to collect from the state in countries drowned by huge house-debts. Too many people have already said this and there are too many analyses on the internet this moment if you are interested in reading about it. But what people forget is that the security and immigration problems these parties rise to get votes, is part of their plan. Despite being a most hysterical fact; it is not the most dangerous. If these people remembered that Hitler for example didn’t take over through a coup, but through democratic elections, and his xenophobia was the main issue.

Then there are also the election losers, and I’m not going to use the cliché that Europe has lost, because Europe lost long time ago. Europe lost the minute it became the powerless partner of somebody who could bully it, like Bush and his gang of the neoconservatives. Europe lost when people like Solana and Barroso became the decision makers. Europe lost when the commission and the prime ministers consul started boycotting the European Parliament, when they changed the bureaucratic monster they had created and cleared the labyrinth of often stupid legislations; when they started neglecting the decisions and the legitimate of the decisions of the Parliament. The decisions that should have protected human rights became a negotiation game between leaders with hidden agendas.

The losers are the traditional parties, and the reason for this is that they didn’t get it. They missed the point and they just repeat the same mistakes again and again. But you see I am one of those who actually believe in democracy, and I believe that democracy has its own way to prevail and correct itself. I believe that the system will get a message through this election that will escalate until they all get it. It has escalated over the last two decades, and that’s why all the threats are being made now. I believe it is time for a real change, but this of course depends on …if we want a united Europe!

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Emanuel Paparella2009-06-08 13:05:00
Euro something else it is, indeed. Intriguing that characterizing as “abstinence” what in fact amounts to the absenteeism of some 57% of the voters entitled to vote. Indeed, abstinence or willingly depriving oneself of something, even a good thing, what Freud called “deferred gratification,” is usually deemed virtuous. This ain't it however: try as one may this table cannot be easily turned around: it is the willing self-deprivation of the exercise of one’s civic duty in order to go to the beach instead, thus allowing the xenophobes and the extreme nationalists and the far right and the far left extremists to gain more ground; seems rather like a bad habit which only gets worse with every new election. Vices like virtues have appropriate names: in this case the more appropriate characterization, I would suggest, may be apathy abstaining from showing up. No virtue that I am afraid. Perhaps only a philosopher or a poet can plumb the depths of a public apathy rooted in quite desperation at the futility of it all. For, when people are deprived of a vision and of an identity they will indeed “abstain” from following the rhetorical cynicism of their leaders, so called, and leave the field to the worst, full of “passionate intensity” and committed to their ideology even more than to the people. The poet W. B. Yates probably said it best in his poem “The Second Coming”:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Emanuel Paparella2009-06-08 14:55:44
This piece of news as reported by EUobserver caught my eye: Results from the Dutch vote show that the far-right and anti-Islamic Party for Freedom, headed by MP Geert Wilders, came second with 17 percent of the vote, and will have four seats in the assembly.

One can expect those results from Austria with a history of xenophobia and anti-Semitism, but it is astonishing that it should be happening in a country that claims to be the most liberal and progressive in the EU. What is the message there? Perhaps this: it is easy to be liberal rhetorically as long as one does not have to live and work with “the other.” In America we call them “limousine liberals” who espouse all the “politically correct” causes but live in gated communities. In reality, the ideology and the cause is by far more important than the people it is supposed to be helping. Come to think of it, isn’t “apartheid” a Dutch word?

Emanuel Paparella2009-06-08 22:49:37
It gives one no pleasure to write the above comments but the truth is the only bitter medicine that may inoculate despair and restore a modicum of hope and sanity. The ineluctable fact remains, as I have reiterated in all my contributions on the EU, that Europe is an idea and either it is understood as an idea or it will not be understood at all, and that, I am afraid includes not only non-Europeans but Europeans too. Any dispassionate observer on either side of the Atlantic cannot avoid concluding that the idea of Europe as understood by the likes of Shuman, De Gasperi, Aidenauer in the 50s has long been betrayed and even forgotten. The process began when the EU bureaucrats and politicians, mediocrities steeped in Machiavellian “real politik” strayed away from the EU’s cultural underpinning and in fact denied them thus producing a utilitarian and banal constitution that reads more like a commercial treaty than a vision of the great ideals of the founding fathers. That, I submit once again, is a very sad fact indeed on both sides of the Atlantic because it is a failure of a civilization called Western civilization and resurrecting the straw man Bush and his neo-con will not cover the fact that the emperor remains naked.

Alexandra Pereira2009-06-09 01:10:22
Unfortunately Mr. Paparella, Europe cannot be just an idea of the elites, for the elites. And that, I think, is precisely the main problem. It must be a common vision supported by the average European citizen - that often isn't the case nowadays -, who must feel a sense of justice and integrity in all of this.

So Europe is united - in abstinence and looking for better days.
As for the only places where the turnout was higher, there were national or local elections on the same day.

Balance: First of all, most of the Europeans who did vote seem to be even more conservative than the Americans - they strongly turn right in times of crisis, hoping for salvation (no one knows how will they manage to find salvation - even economic one - in far right??) and denouncing all the racism and prejudices which are still there, underlying to many openness manifestations.
Second, European far right, nationalist and xenophobic parties and their brainless supporters raising their head. Pretty ugly/shameful, besides dangerous.
Third, a refusal to vote and to participate in such system by most Europeans, who are not happy with such state of things. Young generations of Europeans feel more affinities than ever before between them, they are usually closely connected to several European countries on a personal level, and pretty much feel that "being a European" is their identity. They are also aware and informed about the fact that their interests are defended (or not) on a European stage. "So why are they not interested?", "Why don't they care?", "Why do they want to show that?", "Why do they feel so disconnected from our institutions when they are more connected between them than ever before?" - our politicians must reflect on that.

Alexandra Pereira2009-06-09 02:23:45

Also unfortunately, the shame of our shames Mr. Barroso will keep shaming us in Brussels - as the Europeans don't seem to be tired of him?!! And in his home country there was a very low turnout of 36.48%. The same as in the Netherlands, but somehow in the opposite sense: instead of voting far right, the portuguese voted Left Bloc or new left, which in these elections dramatically rose to be the 3rd national party, ahead of the CDU platform, formed by the Greens and the Communist Party, and behind the Socialists and the Social Democrats.

Alexandra Pereira2009-06-09 02:40:39

I would say: Europeans must decide themselves and agree on what they want - a turn to the right or a turn to the left? If they don't agree on that, it can break Europe apart as well (besides all the social problems).

One thing, of course, everybody knows: things just can't remain the same for too long.

Emanuel Paparella2009-06-09 10:19:08
"Unfortunately Mr. Paparella, Europe cannot be just an idea of the elites, for the elites. And that, I think, is precisely the main problem. It must be a common vision supported by the average European citizen" (Ms. Pereira)

Unfortunately, Ms. Pereira, you could not possibly have read my comments very carefully; for if you had you would have acknowledges that in fact we agree that the mediocre elites that have taken over the EU political apparatus have betrayed not only the ideals of the founding fathers but also the people as a whole; which in fact does not excuse those who practice abstinence from civic duty, and went to the beach instead, for making virtue out necessity and then complaining about the far right people who won by default.

Had you read my comments carefully you would have found common ground rather than fantasize what you would have liked me to say. What in fact I did say was that "...The process began when the EU bureaucrats and politicians, mediocrities steeped in Machiavellian real politik strayed away from the EU’s cultural underpinning and in fact denied them thus producing a utilitarian and banal constitution that reads more like a commercial treaty than a vision of the great ideals of the founding fathers. That, I submit once again, is a very sad fact indeed..."

Emanuel Paparella2009-06-09 11:03:09
Errata: acknowledged.

Alexandra Pereira2009-06-09 17:18:48
You also wrote that "Europe is an idea and either it is understood as an idea or it will not be understood at all, and that, I am afraid includes not only non-Europeans but Europeans too".
I just added that average Europeans DO HAVE practical ideas and broader concepts for Europe - they just need their leaders to listen to them!!

As for the abstinence, I don't defend it but I don't oppose it either - it is a right which derives from the freedom of choice inside any democratic system. Actually, perhaps the current European leaders can consider themselves happy as long as the Europeans disagree through abstinence instead of acting in more serious manners - and such phenomena happened in several European countries not long ago, as some kind of warning.

There are also deep fractures between the European policies and the policies at a national level: the European Parliament is a right-majority and the President of the European Commission is center-right. Most EU contries are now governed by center-right, right, nationalist ultra-liberals, social democrats and Christian-democrat conservatives. Naturally the European policies tend to favour the national goverments from the same political spectrum (while these have strong interests, influences and lobbies in Brussels), which is sad to say the least.

At the same time, many Europeans still feel that the truly important elections happen on a national level, which is increasingly less true.

Alexandra Pereira2009-06-09 17:23:36
So I suppose all the (few) center-left and left governments in Europe can now count with more unemployment, more social problems, more racism and even... LESS support!!

Alexandra Pereira2009-06-09 17:29:26
And among the abstinents, I think you can count with at least some 30% who are not happy with the recent European policies. If our leaders don't read between the numbers, I believe they are doomed.

Emanuel Paparella2009-06-09 17:41:34
Indeed Europeans who don't elect to vote are entitled to their "abstinence." What they are not entitled to do is call dereliction of one's civic duties a virtue and to complain that right xenophobic politicians have won by default. One gets the democracy one deserves as a people.

ap2009-06-10 00:54:31
I liked your "abstinence" (do not mistake with Catholic virtues)...

Emanuel Paparella2009-06-10 03:33:01
Abstinence from gratuitous ideological bias and ad hominem arguments would certainly be helpful.

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