Time for a European New Deal?
by Dean Carroll
Try not to laugh, but it is 'Europe Day' – the annual celebration of unity and peace across the continent and the chance for the Brussels bubble to pat itself on the back for more than 60 years of supranational governance; all without a trace of irony. The programme of events incudes concerts, cookery displays, 'laughter yoga' and nightclub parties. All this takes place as democracy battles against economics in Greece and France, while markets nosedive at the thought of a Greek exit from the eurozone.
To the ordinary citizen, there seems to be little worth shouting about. Nevertheless, the rather synthetic and public relations-focused celebrations will go ahead regardless. But the trouble is the participants will be the politicians and officials themselves. Thoughts of a 'European identity' among a 'European demos' remain as lofty ideals, rather than practical reality. The first European Citizens' Initiative also launches on Europe day. It aims to "enhance EU exchange programmes - like Erasmus or the European Voluntary Services – in order to contribute to a united Europe based on solidarity among citizens". Hardly likely to set pulses racing.
In fact, the austerity driven by the European Union is actually creating momentum for anti-EU sentiment. Indeed, United Kingdom Independence Party deputy leader Paul Nuttall has a point – although he is over-egging the pudding somewhat - when he says: "I am sure the millions left destitute and unemployed by the EU's ruinous policies will join me in denouncing these Europe Day events. These people have learnt nothing from the past few years. They carry on, divorced from reality, pretending that all is well. It is a disgrace, but also reveals the contempt with which they hold the populations of Europe."
It is time to truly recognise the perilous and fractured state that Europe is in, rather than holding celebrations that seem at best misguided and at worst inappropriate. The austerity backlash witnessed in elections across France, Greece and Britain suggests that what voters really want is a rapid injection of investment into the flagging European economy. After all, the United States became the superpower in the 20th century on the back of its New Deal programme. The sustained pump-priming of the American economy following the 1930s depression allowed it to build a huge manufacturing base at the same time as tackling unemployment. It subsequently used the base and expanding coffers to lease out goods to other nations, at a hefty profit, as well as to loan cash to the struggling European economies.
A growing number of intellectuals and policy wonks now think that Europe needs a Green New Deal to boost employment levels and develop new environmentally-friendly technologies to tackle climate change. It is said that these leading-edge products could then be sold across the world to emerging giants like China and India. The US model proves it can be done. I have certainly heard worse ideas and combined with renewed investment in digital growth areas such as broadband and e-government, such a programme could put Europe in the vanguard. So as the Champagne corks pop today, a toast should perhaps be made to a new EU fiscal stimulus package. The alternative, austerity, has been comprehensively rejected by voters. And if Europe fails to change course, more incumbent politicians are likely to suffer bloody noses at the ballot box. They have been warned.