European democracy in doldrums

europe   European democracy in tatters?

Just a few recent headlines:

– Coulson arrested over NOTW phone hacking scandal
– French police begin investigating second Strauss-Kahn case
– If I could, I would leave office now, says Berlusconi
– Court to decide on Lagarde ‘misconduct’ inquiry
– Yulia Tymoshenko, former Ukrainian PM in court for pre-trial hearing over abuse of power

It looks like a trend in Europe these days. Get a powerful job, then abuse the power that comes with it. Regardless of whether people are elected to high office or have been promoted to powerful positions in business, European ‘leaders’ seem to have got a real taste for abusing their power for their own good.

Why is this happening?

One of the reasons this has been happening is lack of accountability. Regardless of whether they’re in charge of a European state or an influential newspaper, these people don’t seem to have to account for their actions like mere mortals have to. The European parliament can not hold a prime minister of a member state to account, so they can simply ignore whatever has been agreed. Take Greece, or Ireland for that matter. They will accept a financial life line, but won’t do much to put their financial house in order. Yes, they will pay lip service to Brussels’ demands and put “austerity” measures in place, but the moment they can fund the daily running of their state, they will most likely default, as this will be an easy way out of the mess. And that’ll be the end of the Euro as we know it.

“Influential” journalists get away with corrupt actions because they can threaten to destroy a politicians career with a few slanderous articles. The News of the World could bribe policemen for stories as politicians did not dare raise the issue for fear of losing their own cushy jobs through slanderous campaigns.

Powerful politicians get away with scandalous behaviour because they can pull strings in high office and can pay PR and legal people to get them of the hook. And then contemplate a return to politics. As if that’s normal.

Europeans have so far “accepted” this type of behaviour as they can not see a way to clean up this mess. Europe is not a real democracy, it is a bunch of states run by a clique of mandarins and politicians who account to no one. Can we vote out van Rompuy? Can a Spaniard stand for a seat in Denmark? Can we vote for a European President? Not really.

As people are not consulted and don’t have any influence, Europe/accountability is not something that really features high on people’s agenda. They have had to accept edicts from Planet Europe without being able to effectively raise their voices against them. No wonder people have turned away from project “Europe”. All they see is corruption and a money wasting, self centered elite who don’t want to change their fat cat lifestyle.

Oh, did I mention van Rompuy’s “Uterus”? He’s waste millions on a new, high profile office. As if an expensive office makes him a more efficient and effective leader….. I also know a European lawyer who has spent the whole of his professional life fine tuning one particular law, only to see it scrapped a short while after he retired. It must have cost the tax payer millions in wasted efforts, not to mention what it did to the poor man’s state of mind. And these are just two tiny examples of the wasteful attitude of Europe.

If politicians want Europe to become a better, more vibrant place, where people have a better life, can live in peace, set up businesses and earn a good living, they will have to turn Europe into something with which people can identify themselves. Why is the US so good at creating world beating companies? Americans believe they can create them without being hindered by an overabundance of health and safety laws, employment laws, taxes and all the other unnecessary red tape. Their financial, legal and taxation systems make it much easier and more interesting to work your socks off and their attitude therefore is much more ‘can do’ than their European counterparts. No wonder so many Europeans have moved to the US….

Simple, standardised rules, a robust legal system that reaches across borders, an accountable parliament and cross border parties are just a few of the things that could make Europe come to life again. Whether this would be called a federal state, a union or something else is totally irrelevant. (Not for hair splitting politicians though, who can spend years discussing one short sentence….)

The whole thing needs to be stripped back to the bare essentials and redesigned from the ground up. It’s probably wishful thinking, but if the theory Kondratieff developed under Stalin’s rule turns out to be right, we’re in for a few turbulent years and we might actually see some dramatic change. It would do Europe a lot of good if we were able to become more entrepreneurial, forward thinking and less risk averse.

The first signs are there: massive demonstrations in Greece, the UK, Italy and other countries. People are using the internet to force change quickly rather than through slow moving elections. Turmoil at the borders of the European ‘super state’ in Libya, Algeria, Egypt, etc. Centuries old newspapers going under as a result of a public outcry. Big companies going bust. Businesses moving online and creating cross border knowledge based companies and whole industries.

I suspect the expected chaos over the next few years will lead to more integration, eventually resulting in one European state, in whichever final form. And that is good news. It will become easier to get a job in other corners of Europe, without the hassle of residence permits, fragmented pensions, unmovable bank accounts, local mobile telephone accounts and all the other hassles that tie you down to one geographical location.

But it will be painful. We will have to let go of the notion that we are ‘French’ and therefore better than all the other Europeans. Or British, or German, or Spanish, or Latvian for that matter. We’re all in this together and it is totally irrelevant what our passport says, which concept was only invented by Napoleon. People moved around Europe unhindered by borders until Napoleon put a stop to it.

Let’s demand from our politicians that they come up with a bold blueprint for the future where transparency and accountability are the standards. The European democracy has an identity crisis right now and we have a unique opportunity to change Europe for the better. Let’s not squander it.


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