16/03/2011

The Eurozone’s new clothes

By: Thomas Klau


It is a fantastic success that reforming the European Union and its instruments of government has been a process moulded by the spirit of compromise rather than the patterns of revolution or war. We are paying for this great prize of peace with the comparatively small price of fudge and obfuscation, as the current efforts to reform the eurozone’s economic governance show once again. The very term is in fact a misleadingly bland misnomer. Superficially, the reform is about ensuring the dispensation of good economic policy. Fundamentally, it is about the sensible allocation of sovereignty in a core area of our democracies. This highly political task should be a matter of vital concern for all politicians and engaged citizens. It should be left neither to economists nor technocrats, who tend to engage with the constraints of electorally-driven politics the way a prude approaches sexual intercourse.

 

The current European effort to rescue the eurozone ignores three basic truths. First, governments continue to elude the fact that the sovereign debt crisis results from the crisis of the European banking industry and that a rapid solution to the latter is a condition for a good solution to the former. Second, what European leaders are currently contemplating is a set of ludicrously overlapping processes and agreements lacking coherence, transparency, and therefore workability. Third, the system continues to be based on the assumption that the coordination of 17 national policies backed up by rules and sanctions can deliver, when this assumption is patently false.  

 

The first of these three denials of reality has been the object of much informed criticism, not least on this website. The other two have escaped sufficient public scrutiny. Yet a failure of common sense is obvious in both. A Stability Pact made even more complex, a European semester, a competitiveness pact, a Europe 2020 process, reinforced multiannual planning, a European crisis management mechanism, a role for the European Commission, a role for Eurozone heads of government and finance ministers, a role for the European Parliament, a role for national parliaments, a pinch of Herman van Rompuy, a sprinkling of Jean-Claude Juncker, a whiff of Olli Rehn - the system that is emerging threatens be so layered with targets, rules, sanctions and processes and so confusing as to the allocation of powers and responsibilities as to escape the understanding of any voter or even parliamentarian not making its study a full-time occupation. Complexity carried to such excess is undemocratic. In a democracy, it also amounts to a guarantee that the system will not deliver.

 

Failure in terms of generating a satisfactory policy-mix is all the more inevitable as the reform effort continues to be predicated on the phenomenally naïve assumption that is feasible to coordinate the macroeconomic, budgetary, social and fiscal policies of 17 and more states with different and diverging constitutional practices, political cycles, policy traditions and political cultures. A dispassionate examination of the EU’s experience with coordination leads to a simple observation. It is possible to coordinate policy amongst many member states for a limited period of time as a result of an exceptional effort driven by an emergency. It is also possible to coordinate on a specific issue such as, for instance, the relationship with Iran.

 

It is quite simply impossible to coordinate a large number of complex, often conflicting policies over a wide range of topics for an indefinite period of time between states and governments powerful enough to ignore or break and reframe joint agreements when backed into a political corner – yet this is exactly the hopeless undertaking eurozone leaders once again propose to embark on. To grasp the extent of the absurdity, let us imagine that the states forming the USA would drastically shrink their federal budget, abolish the Treasury, dis-empower Congress and the cabinet, and devise a system to generate sufficient harmony between their macro-economic and budgetary policies through a set of jointly agreed rules and guidelines backed by sanctions. Even with a shared language and the existence of a nationwide debate, we would know the endeavour to be doomed from the start.

 

So why does Europe cling to its suspension of disbelief? The answer is that it cannot bear to face up to reality. If coordination, rules and sanctions, processes and agreements and mechanisms cannot deliver a sound set of policies for the Eurozone over a prolonged period of time,  then the choice must ultimately be between discarding the euro or taking the plunge into a federal structure complete with Eurobonds,  a common set of core policies,  a bigger and more flexible EU budget, and so on. This is definitely not the kind of argument today’s wobbly cast of political leaders are prepared to put to the public. So they will drape their emperor of economic governance in new clothes and give press conferences marvelling at their beauty. We the public can re-read Andersen’s tale and know better. 

 

Thomas Klau is a senior policy fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations. Together with François Godement and Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, he has co-authored “Beyond Maastricht: a new deal for the eurozone”

21:56 Écrit par Jean-Paul Soyer | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) |  Facebook

Civil Servants : no love lost !

[...] That's precisely what David Cameron thinks about government. He simply can't understand what all the guys in headsets – the civil service – are up to. And he says it's not just him they're annoying – they're pushing past or obstructing the whole private sector. In an extraordinary speech to the Conservatives' spring conference last weekend, he called them the "enemies of enterprise". To him, they're the Klingons.

He said he was "taking on… the bureaucrats in government departments who concoct those ridiculous rules and regulations that make life impossible for small firms". On the face of it, this is simple crowd-pleasing stuff. It's easy to slag off the faceless bureaucrats, who supposedly waste our time and money with all their stupid rules. It's convenient to forget that bureaucrats, or civil servants as they're called when they're not being victimised, don't actually make rules, they just enforce them. Maybe, sometimes, they enforce them officiously. Maybe, sometimes, the processes they "concoct" for enforcing them are unnecessarily time-consuming. Maybe fewer of them could enforce the rules just as effectively. But they don't make the rules, Parliament does.

In seeking to blame the civil service for the rules as well as their enforcement, I think this speech is more sinister than Cameron's usual second-rate demagogy and I'm surprised it didn't attract greater attention. To me, these remarks are just as damaging as the prime minister's disparagement of multiculturalism, which rightly drew criticism, and a truer reflection of his political standpoint. Here he's breaking new ground for his evidence-averse Thatcherite ideological crusade.

The whole premise of this government, of its NHS policy, of the "big society", of the "free schools" initiative is that the public sector sucks. The private sector, according to the Tories, beats it for efficiency every time, can be just as compassionate and, at the top, "rewards enterprise". Meanwhile the top of the public sector merely "pays people more than the prime minister".

But in this speech Cameron takes the argument further. By labelling civil servants as enemies of business, he's trying to make them responsible, not just for the failings of the public sector, but also those of the private: "Every regulator, every official, every bureaucrat in government has got to understand that we cannot afford to keep loading costs on to business," he says. "If I have to pull these people into my office to argue this out myself and get them off the backs of business then believe me, I will do it."

He's always said that, when the state wastes money, it's because of the bureaucrats. Now he's also saying that, if private enterprise fails to grow, prosper or fill the gap that shrinking government creates, that's not a flaw in George Osborne's economic policy, that, too, is because of the bureaucrats. In short, whatever goes wrong is the bureaucrats' fault.

If he can get this to stick, it's a masterstroke. It's what Mao was doing when he declared war on sparrows or intellectuals. In difficult times, deft powermongers deliver up whipping boys for the disgruntled. By picking on civil servants, Cameron has made an excellent choice: they work for him, so it's hard for them to complain; they enforce government policies so if policies fail, he can blame the enforcement; yet if they succeed, he can keep the credit.

As a policy, however, it's meaningless. He can't act separately from bureaucrats, he has to act through them. Everything he does – every transparency initiative, every "big society" clarification document, every restructuring of the NHS or the welfare system, creates work for bureaucrats. He also said in the speech: "There's only one strategy for growth we can have now and that is rolling up our sleeves and doing everything possible to make it easier for businesses to grow", without acknowledging that it's the bureaucrats' sleeves he's talking about, not his own or those of his party faithful.

Cameron also doesn't realise, or is wilfully ignoring, how important our large and basically effective bureaucracy is to our place in the front rank of free nations. Without the civil service, acts of Parliament are only words and elections just millions of little slips of paper, like they are in Afghanistan. Civil servants don't merely oil the wheels, they're the axles that join them. Without them David Cameron and his policies would be no more a government than Ian Hislop sitting in a field being sarcastic would be an episode of Have I Got News For You.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/13/david...

21:54 Écrit par Jean-Paul Soyer | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) |  Facebook

05/03/2011

La solidarité, au cœur de la relance du projet européen

À l’origine, la solidarité, fondée sur la recherche de l’intérêt commun, a été voulue et conçue comme le cœur et le moteur de la construction européenne.

Cette solidarité s’imposait alors par nécessité et devrait à nouveau s'imposer aujourd’hui dans la situation de crise et de mondialisation que nous vivons.

Pendant les 30 dernières années, l’hégémonie culturelle « ultra-libérale », qui a inspiré une majorité d’Etats membres, a imposé chaque jour moins de solidarité dans ces Etats membres et, par contagion, à l'ensemble de l'Union européenne. Cette vision idéologique de l'économie s'est traduite par moins de services publics, et a désigné le marché comme régulateur suprême de l'économie et, donc, de la vie du citoyen européen.

Les dérives de cette politique ultra-libérale, cause de la crise économique, poursuivent la destruction des acquis sociaux des Européens (sécurité sociale, pensions, enseignement, recherche, etc.), fruits de longues et difficiles conquêtes sociales.

En effet, cette politique affaiblit la construction européenne en la confinant de plus en plus à un rôle d’une simple zone de libre-échange où l’intérêt du citoyen européen n’est plus le moteur.

Combinée aux tentations de replis identitaires nationaux et régionaux, cette politique a en outre fait perdre aux peuples européens le sens d’un destin partagé.

La financiarisation excessive de l’économie, conjuguée à une absence de régulation, a conduit à la crise économique actuelle et aux difficultés connues au sein des Etats membres.

Les réponses actuelles de l’Union Européenne ne sont pas à la hauteur des défis posés car elles demeurent trop nationales et insuffisamment solidaires.

En effet, dans cette tourmente financière, les Etats renflouent massivement les banques, contractent leurs dépenses pour revenir à un déficit de moins de 3% et font ainsi payer la note au citoyen européen des seules classes moyennes et populaires.

En se perpétuant, cette situation instaure ainsi une précarité massive du travail et un chômage désastreux.

Elle s'accompagne aussi d'une réduction drastique des services publics, désormais qualifiés de "trop onéreux" voire d’"inutiles"!

Or, c’est justement en période de crise que les services publics et les services d’intérêt général sont les plus nécessaires.

Ils peuvent jouer non seulement un rôle d'amortisseur pour la crise mais aussi renforcer la cohésion sociale et préparer la relance économique. Car la solidarité, c'est aussi se projeter ensemble dans l'avenir, c'est aussi concevoir la cohésion sociale comme condition d'une compétitivité retrouvée de l'économie européenne.

Ces efforts ne peuvent trouver leur pleine efficacité que dans un cadre européen.

Comment assurer la sauvegarde et le renforcement du modèle social européen où se conjuguent liberté, démocratie, solidarités collectives, progrès social, développement durable et équitable?

Par plus de solidarité à tous les niveaux. Solidarité citoyenne. Solidarité entre générations. Solidarité entre actifs, inactifs et précaires. Solidarité entre Etats membres au sein de l’Union européenne.

 

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Pour bâtir une Union européenne solidaire, qui rassemble ses Peuples et soit au service de ses citoyens,

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pour sauvegarder et renforcer le modèle social européen,

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pour mettre en place des réponses à la crise qui nécessitent gouvernance économique et moyens budgétaires européens,

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pour que les choix politiques légitimes opérés aux niveaux européen, national, régional et local soient mis en oeuvre par des fonctions publiques permanentes, compétentes et donc indépendantes de tous les groupes de pression nationaux et groupes d'intérêt sectoriels,

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pour que l'Union européenne dispose effectivement de la masse critique pour peser suffisamment à la fois pour élaborer des solutions solidaires et équitables et pour défendre les intérêts communs de ses citoyens sur la scène internationale,

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pour que les "peuples d'Europe" soient appelés par leurs gouvernements à une union sans cesse plus étroite et pour que les "citoyens de l'Union" soient effectivement représentés au Parlement dans l'élaboration des politiques européennes (art. 14 TUE) ,

NOUS, SIGNATAIRES, demandons qu’un débat public soit rapidement entamé de manière assez étendue afin que le citoyen européen puisse faire, en toute connaissance de cause, ses choix sur l'Europe à construire ensemble.

NOUS demandons au Parlement européen, à la Commission européenne, au Comité économique et social européen et au Comité européen des régions d’ouvrir ce débat en leur sein et avec les citoyens européens.

11:12 Écrit par Jean-Paul Soyer | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) |  Facebook