The European Union as we know it today started almost 70 years ago as a cartel of coal and steel producers from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. There have been different names over the years and twenty-two countries have joined the European Union since its creation. The single market was created to allow capital, goods, services and people to move freely and the common Euro currency was introduced to stabilise prices in the Eurozone.
The 7 crystal balls
The European Union is made up of 7 institutions: the European Council, the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, the European Court of Justice, the European Central Bank and the European Court of Auditors. The only European institution whose members are democratically elected is the European Parliament. Elections take place every 5 years, however turnout has been historically low at less than 50% for the last 20 years.
The main role of any parliament is to make laws. Yet the European Parliament does not have such power. Legislative power - the power to make laws - is in the hands of the European Commission. The European Parliament is a parliament in name only. Members of the other European institutions are designated by their respective governments and approved by the Parliament, except for the European Council whose members are the heads of states or governments.
One ring to rule them all
Over time, the European Union took over the national sovereignty of its member countries through the cunning use of treaties. The Maastricht Treaty (1992) took away the right of member countries to borrow money directly from their central banks at a low or nil rate and imposed neoliberal policies to all member countries. Other treaties such as the Stability and Growth Pact (1998) or the Fiscal Compact (2012) imposed European economic directives to all members and gave the European Union the power to veto any fiscal policies of any member country.
One-way democracy is not democracy
There is no way for ordinary people to vote against European policies. Yet, when a country disagrees with the European Union, their decision is systematically overturned. The examples of the French, Dutch, Greek and British referendums speak for themselves. ‘There can be no democratic choice against European treaties’ said Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, following the result of the Greek referendum about the EU's proposed bailout plan. The Greeks voted against Brussels' austerity measures and ended up with an even harsher deal than what they were negotiating before the referendum.
In 2005, France and the Netherlands rejected by referendum the proposal of a European Constitution. Two years later, the Treaty of Lisbon - a rebadged European Constitution - was signed by both countries. Other countries such as Denmark (1992) or Ireland (2008) held referendums twice until the result was is favour of the European Union. Democratic decisions are OK as long as they don’t interfere with the EU’s agenda. The European Union crucified Greece as a warning to the other countries and is trying to do the same with the United Kingdom.
Something is rotten in the state of Europe
In addition to an absence of democracy, there is a lack of transparency and non-accountability from the European institutions. The Eurogroup, a shadow institution of finance ministers, meet behind closed doors to discuss trade deals that undermine safety and environmental standards such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
There's also the question of the EU's imperial ambitions behind the creation of a European army and its interference in foreign countries' political affairs such as Venezuela's. Last but not least, the European Union - via its Central Bank - has proven its incompetence in managing the Euro debt crisis. To put it into the words of Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister: ‘The European Central Bank lent the biggest amount of money in the history of capitalism to the most bankrupt state in Europe.’ I couldn’t have said it better.
The European Union is on the brink of disintegration, as can be seen with the rise of nationalism and far-right political groups or the Brexit in the UK and the yellow vests movement in France. I wrote about the yellow vests a few months ago. The main demand of the protesters is citizens' initiated referendums, which is a means of direct democracy. French citizens could submit or repeal a law proposal, modify the constitution or remove any politician from office.
French President Emmanuel Macron said during an interview on the BBC that French people would probably vote to leave the EU as well if there was a referendum. This is precisely why he won't grant the yellow vests the means to make democratic choices that would endanger the European Union further. The definition of a democracy is governance of the people, by the people, for the people. A definition that clearly does not apply to the European Union.
No light at the end of the tunnel
There’s a crisis of democracy, or lack thereof, in the way the European Union is run and the way it operates, which leans more towards that of a mafia than a democracy. The European Union restricts the freedom and liberties of its member countries at the expense of the people. Competition between member countries associated with privatisation and austerity policies have resulted in more social injustice and the impoverishment of the people.
Reforming the European Union is impossible. The probability of 28 governments from all sides of the political spectrum agreeing to reform the European Union couldn't be closer to zero. Take it apart and rebuild as new. I will conclude with a quote from British political economy professor Mark Blyth: 'At the end of the day, if the European Union is not improving the lives of the majority of the people, what is it for?'
I recently had a chat with a friend who had been looking for a job for several months. He had finally found one and it was full-time, well paid and didn’t require any particular skills. Good on you Michael! When I asked him how difficult his job was, he replied that the only difficult aspect of the job was to get the job. ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’, he added. This wasn’t the first time I heard that saying but on this occasion I began to reflect upon it.
‘I have a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career.'
‘What you know’ refers to your skills and competences. It is your TAFE certificate, your university degree or simply your experience in a particular occupation. As a parent, you tell your kids that if they work hard at school they will be rewarded with a good job and a comfortable life. As a student, you invest a tremendous amount of time and money in acquiring advanced degrees or qualifications for the same reasons.
The idea that all your hard work can come undone because you simply don't know 'the right people' is unfair and frustrating. The sad reality is that we live in a system that doesn't reward the hard-working and deserving people, but those who are cunning and who are not afraid of stamping on ethics and their own principles. But this is for another blog.
Networking is not a crime
‘Who you know’ refers to your network. Networking means building and nurturing a group of people, acquaintances, former colleagues or people working in the same industry for the purpose of mutual benefits. Sometimes connections happen naturally, as part of your work. Sometimes you have to give luck a nudge, by attending events or introducing yourself to the right people. Building a strong network takes time and effort, and it is crucial if you hope to succeed.
Social networking is another form of networking. Platforms like Linkedin or Facebook have made networking easier and can be of great help, in particular if you're an introverted person. The motivational speaker Jim Rohn said that ‘you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with’. While I don’t agree with his statement, I do believe you should surround yourself with people who pull you up instead of dragging you down.
Inequality of opportunities
’It’s not what you know, it's who you know’ implies a hierarchy between your skills and your network, in which the latter tramples the former. When I go to the dentist or when I hire a plumber, I search for the best I can find - or that I can afford, not the most popular. These sometimes go hand in hand, yet I always look for the one who knows his or her stuff. Call me an idealist, but I believe a job should always go to the most suited applicant, regardless of who they know or any other factor such as age, ethnicity, gender or even handicap.
More importantly, it also implies there are people in positions for which they are not suitably qualified or that they didn’t necessarily deserve. Politics is a great example. How on earth did Melissa Price become Minister for the Environment? I know I will probably take some heat for picking on her. She popped up on my social media feed one day so I listened out of curiosity and, oh boy, is she clueless! The time has come to wrap up this week's blog as I'm starting to digress. If you made it to the end, I greatly appreciate your taking the time to read my work.
'French, free-thinker and promoter of social justice.'