Thursday, 31 May 2012 07:26

No austerity without representation!

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In 1760, British citizens from the Thirteen Colonies coined the slogan: "No taxation without representation." They were unhappy with the economic measures implemented by their Parliament without having a political voice in return. Are European citizens echoing this message today?

Brussels seems to have interpreted the latest election results in Greece, France and Northern Westphalia as a rejection of austerity. But even if the economy remains the main concern, I believe the main message to be heard is political.

After all, if the economy was the only electoral key and we took votes as a referendum for or against austerity, would the massive voting of conservatives in Spain have meant that citizens supported the austerity measures later implemented? Hardly believable considering that one of PP's main campaign videos (and promises) claimed: "jobs are the priority."

This being the case, is there any common message being sent by these voters in Greece, France, Germany, Spain and other countries? It is general discontent. On the one hand, for fake promises on the national level, and on the other, because EU officials have failed to make citizens understand the need for austerity. The result? A quasi revival of the years of enlightened despotism, where "everything is for the people, but without the people." 

First in Italy, where the sense of urgency and need for a new head of state became more important than the healthy tradition of holding elections. In Greece, where fear over the results of a referendum on the European bailout prevailed over the opportunity to explain it to the citizens and gain legitimacy. Or in Spain, where the need to win the elections and revive the country made the conservatives believe it was a good idea to have a campaign full of promises about employment knowing that their first measures would actually reduce employment.

While the EU might have focused too much on politics during its early years, damaging the economy, the tendency is reversed now. Bill Clinton's "it's the economy, stupid" could have applied very well a few years ago, when too much political talk put economic thought to sleep. But now that too much focus on the economy has sacrificed good political practice, the sentence should be altered. The very necessary goal of involving citizens in EU politics has been put in second place, when the situation was already horrific to begin with.

The EU is starting to pay the price for that. And while some changes in the political discourse signal that the bubble might begin to burst, the tendency is still going on both nationally and on the EU level. In France, for instance, where Hollande's promises to keep the retirement age at 60 or to hire 60,000 teachers are unlikely to happen and will produce more discontent.

Better communication and better politics have to be brought back to the scene. And real sovereignty needs to make its debut. Going back to the American Revolution, citizens seem to be calling for more and better politics on the national level, and more sovereignty on the European. As if, in a new version, they claimed: "No austerity without representation."

The author would like to thank Francesco Nicoli for his contribution to this article.

Last modified on Thursday, 31 May 2012 09:27

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