Polen versus de Europese Unie: de technocratische macht van Europa

De Commissie heeft artikel 7 van het EU-verdrag ingeroepen, maar haar macht is beperkt. Het is eerder het Hof van Justitie dat de lidstaten tot de orde roept.

Polen versus de EU

Het is de eerste keer dat de Commissie een beroep doet op artikel 7, maar het is duidelijk dat de gevolgen voor Polen hoogstwaarschijnlijk uitblijven. De strafmaatregel, in dit geval het afnemen van het stemrecht van Polen in de Raad, kan enkel worden uitgevoerd als de Europese Raad de maatregel unaniem goedkeurt en Hongarije heeft al aangegeven dat niet te zullen doen.

Wil dat zeggen dat de macht van de Europese Unie beperkt is? Dit zegt voornamelijk iets over de macht van de Commissie. De Commissie is de instelling die het initiatief kan nemen: zij vaardigt voorstellen uit, of het nu om nieuwe wetgeving gaat of om strafmaatregelen. Tot welke resultaten dat initiatief leidt, heeft de Commissie niet in de hand.

Er is echter nog een andere manier om lidstaten tot de orde te roepen en dit middel wordt wel vaker toegepast, mét succes. Wanneer de Commissie een schending van de Europese regels vaststelt, kan ze een zaak voor het Hof van Justitie brengen. Het is net daar dat de technocratische macht van Europa ligt. Het Hof van Justitie is een onafhankelijke instelling die sancties kan opleggen bij een overtreding van de Europese wetgeving. Zo hebben we in België een sanctie gehad voor de verhindering van het vrije verkeer van werknemers tussen de Belgische taalgebieden en, bij uitbreiding, werknemers uit andere lidstaten.

Zo werkt de technocratische macht van de Europese Unie: nieuwe wetgeving moet unaniem door de lidstaten worden goedgekeurd, maar hoe die wetgeving wordt geïnterpreteerd en toegepast, wordt voorgelegd aan het Hof. De Commissie heeft ook een inbreukprocedure tegen Polen opgestart. Het is interessanter om de resultaten daarvan af te wachten dan van de inroeping van artikel 7.

Donuteconomie – framing

De donuteconomie – what's in a frame?

De laatste jaren zijn er tal van boeken over een nieuw economisch model gepubliceerd. Hoe het moet heten, is nog niet helemaal duidelijk, maar dat de boeken steeds meer convergeren naar één en hetzelfde model valt wel degelijk op. Naarmate het nieuwe model meer vorm krijgt, verandert ook de gebruikte terminologie en meer bepaald de framing.

Frames zijn een instrument om mensen vertrouwd te maken met een nieuw denkbeeld. Een frame kan erg krachtig zijn wanneer het meteen een beeld of een gevoel oproept. Een mooi voorbeeld van een geslaagd frame is "We are the 99%" van de Occupy-beweging. Iedereen weet wat ermee wordt bedoeld en en kan zich ermee identificeren.

Goede frames vinden voor een nieuw economisch model is een belangrijke en zware uitdaging, zeker aangezien economie voor het brede publiek een abstract gegeven is en dit model met de oude paradigma's wil breken. Laten we even drie frames bekijken die in dit model naar voren zijn gekomen.

 

1. Post- of ontgroei

Het centrale punt van dit model is dat het concept "groei" als motor en maatstaf van de economie moet worden losgelaten. Of het goed gaat met de economie is eerder afhankelijk van het welzijn van de samenleving en van de planeet. Het model verenigt dan ook de strijd tegen sociale ongelijkheid met de strijd tegen klimaatverandering.

Bij oudere werken ("oud" is in dit geval niet langer geleden dan 2010) zoals "Welvaart zonder groei" van Tim Jackson en "Ontgroei" van Giacomo D'Alisa, Federico Demaria en Giorgos Kallis gebruiken de schrijvers frames zoals "postgroei" en "ontgroei" om zich tegen groei af te zetten. Deze frames werken niet om de eenvoudige reden dat het beeld dat wordt opgeroepen "groei" is en daar willen de schrijvers nu net vanaf. Het is een reactie in plaats van een alternatief. Een goed frame roept een associatie op met het nieuwe concept of het te bereiken doel.

 

2. Sociaal ecologisme

In recentere werken wordt het frame "sociaal ecologisme" wel eens gebruikt als naam van het nieuwe economische model. Op zich dekt het de lading, omdat de twee belangrijkste speerpunten (de strijd tegen sociale ongelijkheid en klimaatverandering) expliciet worden genoemd. Toch heb ik twee bedenkingen bij deze term.

Ten eerste is het een frame dat meteen aan politiek links doet denken en dat is jammer. We kunnen nu eenmaal geen twee economische modellen in de samenleving hebben, we hebben er een nodig dat voor iedereen werkt. Wat het model betreft, is dat op zich niet zo'n probleem: de problemen waar we mee kampen in de samenleving en waar het model een oplossing voor tracht te formuleren, worden grotendeels zowel door links als door rechts erkend. Ik denk bijvoorbeeld aan de klimaatverandering of de burn-outepidemie. Dit zijn geen typisch linkse of rechtse thema's. Het zou dus beter zijn om een politiek neutralere term te gebruiken en onnodige polarisatie door een fout frame te vermijden.

Ten tweede is "sociaal ecologisme" niet exporteerbaar. Net omdat er een politieke betekenis aan kleeft, roept de term andere associaties op in andere landen. Woorden zoals "socialism" en "commons" zijn in de VS gedoemd om veroordeeld te worden als communistisch gedachtegoed. Gebruik dat als frame voor het nieuwe model en je hebt bij voorbaat verloren.

 

3. Donuteconomie

Een van de populairste boeken over dit onderwerp is "Doughnut Economics" (donuteconomie) van Kate Raworth. Ze is een Britse econome die het model niet alleen heeft beschreven, maar ook in een vorm heeft gegoten. Want, zoals ze zelf aangeeft, een beeld zegt meer dan 1000 woorden. Dat beeld ziet er dus uit als een donut. De binnenste cirkel is het sociale fundament. Als je daar voorbij gaat wordt de sociale ongelijkheid te groot. De buitenste cirkel geeft de grenzen van de planeet weer. De economie hoort zich dus tussen de twee cirkels af te spelen (zie foto).

Doughnut economics

"Doughnut Economics" van Kate Raworth, bron: www.kateraworth.com


Het is een heel goed visueel frame: het is eenvoudig en maakt meteen de theorie duidelijk. Over de naam heb ik echter nog steeds mijn twijfels. Aan de ene kant vind ik het een goed frame, omdat het blijft hangen. Bij "donuteconomie" zie ik die cirkelvorm voor me en dat is wat een goed frame hoort te doen. Maar aan de andere kant denk ik dan: loop even de ECB binnen en vertel daar over een donuteconomie... ik zie Mario Draghi al met zijn ogen rollen.  

Misschien hangt het ook af van de doelgroep die je ermee wilt bereiken. Kate Raworth legt de nadruk op onderwijs. Het brede publiek en zeker studenten economie horen te weten dat er een alternatief is, in tegenstelling tot wat Thatcher ons wilde doen geloven. Daarvoor zijn het donutmodel en haar boek erg geschikt.

Maar als doelstelling is dat niet voldoende. Met een economisch model moet je naar de top. Net zoals ons huidige neoliberale model gemeengoed is geworden door Reagan en Thatcher, moet je de heersende elite ervan weten te overtuigen de oude denkbeelden over de economie en de samenleving los te laten. En dan blijft het de vraag of de donuteconomie daar het beste frame voor is.

 

Een nieuw voorstel: burgereconomie

Zoals al vermeld is groei in het nieuwe economische model niet langer de maatstaf van de economie. De maatregelen die worden voorgesteld, zetten de burger centraal. De parameters om de staat van de economie te meten, zijn gericht op het welzijn van de burgers en van de planeet. Daarnaast nemen de burgers actief deel aan de organisatie van de economie en de samenleving, bv. door de oprichting van coöperaties en de deeleconomie.

Binnen de politieke denkkaders is "de burger" langs beide zijden van het politieke spectrum een aanvaardbare term. Bij links zullen er eerder associaties zijn met sociale thema's, bij rechts wordt dan weer gedacht aan zaken zoals verantwoordelijkheid opnemen en groepsidentiteit. Al deze aspecten komen in het model aan bod. Dit economisch model is tenslotte geen abstract gegeven, maar een manier om de samenleving vorm te geven.

Plukboerderij

De plukboerderij - hype of hemel?

Ik stond met de boerin te praten toen een auto het erf op kwam gereden. Twee vrouwen, waarschijnlijk moeder en dochter, stapten uit. Hippe zonnebrillen, flashy laarsjes. Een perfect afgedragen jeans en bijpassend nonchalant t-shirt maakten het plaatje compleet.

Ik zag de boerin even met haar ogen knipperen en haar mond vertrok. Maar ze herstelde zich snel en liep de twee vrouwen tegemoet om hen te verwelkomen. "Bedankt om te komen", zei ze. "Er zijn veel courgetten vandaag die geplukt moeten worden. Als jullie naar dat veld daar gaan, zien jullie de anderen wel die al bezig zijn. En, oh ja, daar staan lege bakken om mee te nemen."

"Oh, courgetten! Daar heb ik nog leuke receptjes voor liggen!"

De boerin kwam weer naar me toe en glimlachte vermoeid. "Gelukkig is het mooi weer vandaag of we hadden er weer alleen voorgestaan", zei ze. Samen kijken we de twee vrouwen na die luid kletsend naar het veld lopen.

"Ja," zei ik, "tof dat die stadsmensen in het weekend af en toe komen helpen."

"Gelukkig alleen maar op zondag", antwoordde ze.

Ik keek haar aan. "En als de hype weer voorbij is, wat dan?"

Why millennials (don’t) vote

Brexit - Why millennials (don't) vote

In the wake of the EU referendum in the UK many analyses have been published to pinpoint the factor that tipped the balance in favour of Leave, including regional differences, levels of education, conservative versus liberal mindsets and age. Especially the conclusion that many young voters voted Remain while older voters chose Leave has sparked a lot of debate. Even so, the voting behaviour of millennials is not so homogeneous.

The general turnout for the referendum was 72.2%, which is higher than for general elections. However, it was not equally divided amongst age groups with 64% of the 18-to-24-year-olds voting and the percentage steadily rising to a staggering 90% of people aged 65 and over. As the percentage of people going out to vote rises with age, so does the number of supporters of the Leave campaign: over 70% of the 18-24-year-olds wished to remain in the EU; this percentage dropped to less than 40% for the oldest age group.

This has left many young people feeling angry and disillusioned. Those who voted Remain wish to be a part of Europe and claim the acquired rights that come with EU membership, for example the possibility to study abroad with the Erasmus programme. None of these rights are now so certain.

In reaction to their complaint that they are the group that has to live with the consequences of Brexit the longest, older voters pointed out that the turnout of millennials was the lowest of all age groups. Even though a turnout of 64% of 18-to-24-year-olds corresponds to the average turnout for a general election, the lack of interest in politics seems to be highest in this group.

 

Millennials who voted 'Remain'

The UK is a country where Euroscepticism always had a prominent place. On the other side of the spectrum, there is a group of mostly younger people identifying themselves as 'Europeans'. Their country has been a member of the EU during their entire lifetime and those who followed higher education have had the possibility to study or find work abroad thanks to EU programmes such as Erasmus and Leonardo da Vinci. They are focused on their rights as EU citizens and advantages such as being part of a prosperous trading bloc, job opportunities and political stability within Europe.

 

Millennials who voted 'Leave'

Despite most polls claiming Remain would win the referendum, the Leave voters turned out to be in the majority. Only amongst millennials more people voted Remain than Leave. The main reasons to vote Leave are centred around economic circumstances, immigration and British sovereignty.

When it comes to economic circumstances, the districts that voted Leave are those that suffer most from unemployment and a stagnation in wages. People with a lower skill set are more vulnerable to shifts in economy such as the outsourcing of jobs to low-wage countries. They also tend to feel more threatened by immigrants since they may compete for social housing and jobs.

The migration issue has also gained more attention in the wake of terrorist attacks in Europe and the immigration flows in 2015. The general feeling of insecurity, discomfort and lack of opportunities translates into a wish for taking back control. The idea that laws are being imposed and money is flowing to Brussels without a clearly perceived benefit in return has been an important element in the Leave campaign.

 

Millennials who didn't vote

Since voters in the UK must register to vote, there is a large part of the population that chooses not to vote. In case of the referendum 12.9 million people of the electorate didn't vote. This is significant for the millennials because the turnout for this age group was the lowest. There are several reasons why this might be the case.

First, there seems to be indifference to what goes on in the political arena. This may stem from a lack of interest, but also from a gap between the people's needs and the decisions taken. The last decade decisions on public policy have seemed to be against citizens' interests: there have been austerity measures to fight the crisis and other decisions such as the increase of the tuition fees. Whenever protests took place, they seemed to have no effect, leading to a sense of powerlessness or apathy. This tendency is also observed elsewhere in Europe.

But the most important reason, it seems, is a lack of knowledge about the EU. Many people complained that they have no idea what the EU does and how it works. This has led to a remarkable difference in reaction: those who wished to remain in the European Union felt that a lot was at stake and that they have lost opportunities, while those who voted to leave the EU felt that EU membership doesn't matter much either way.

During the campaign both sides focused mostly on a few issues and their consequences for the UK, notably migration, sovereignty and economics. Only very little attention was paid to basic information on the EU's activities. People who didn't vote referred to this, saying they had no opinion on the EU since it's a complex political institution they don't understand.

Both the UK campaigners and the EU institutions seem therefore to have missed the most important point. Only after the negotiations are finished, the British citizens will learn which consequences their referendum decision will have.

French Elections

Why the Economy Should Be the Most Important Topic in the Upcoming French Elections

Hello France, Belgium calling...

With an interest, unknown to me in previous years, I'm following the election campaign leading up  to the first round of the French presidential elections. And I think I'm not the only one. There seems to be a growing awareness of the influence the political leadership of other member states has on our political stability and economy.

Since it seems that also in France, there is an apparent shift away from traditional centrist parties towards non-traditional parties, this election could give an indication of the direction our politics, economies and thus our societies will take in the coming years. Considered there are also elections coming up in September in Germany, 2017 is the year in which international policies may take a new turn.

This shift is most outspoken in the popularity of three candidates: Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

- Marine Le Pen is the leader of the extreme right-wing party Front National and is well-known in the political arena from previous years. Currently she focuses mainly on putting a stop to migration and leaving the EU.  

- Emmanuel Macron is the leader of the new party En Marche and believes in international cooperation in the context of the EU. Even though his views are to be considered centrist, his popularity is surprising because he, as a politician, and his party are new to the arena.

- Jean-Luc Mélenchon is the leader of the new left-wing party La France insoumise. He is not new to politics, but still his popularity is surprising because he supports a citizen-based movement for change, the sharing economy,  ecological planning, and deeply reforming the EU to bring social harmony.

Since two of these three candidates have voiced strong criticism for the EU, their becoming president of a country that plays such a central role in EU politics could have far-reaching impact, both for international political stability and for our economies.

Strangely enough, the economy, which is crucial for the well-being of French citizens as well as the citizens of the other European member states, is hardly addressed adequately. Apart from the recurring points from every election (more jobs, better services, tax reforms), attention is mostly spent on the issues of migration and sovereignty.

This is where politicians fail to address what is happening below the surface. We are still seeing the aftermath of the financial and economic crisis that started almost ten years ago and many people are still suffering its consequences. Even though we sometimes hear news of a return to growth with some small percentage points, we currently live in a climate where the middle class is eroding and the lower class is struggling to make ends meet.

Economic policies have an effect on our everyday lives, whether they are about unemployment rates, or pensions, or the stagnation in wages, or taxation, or affordable housing, or support for people starting up their own business. In fact, all other themes are connected with the economy or even subordinated to it, whether it's migration, safety, education or environmental policies. Any decision on these themes will fit the economic model the government supports.

Connection politics - economy - society

And so I, a citizen of Belgium, sit in front the TV to watch a French election campaign. Considered the views of the three popular candidates mentioned above, I'm worried, because I know the outcome of this election might have an impact on my life. And yet, while the economic decisions they might take when elected could have an impact on all of us, the main issues under discussion are migration and sovereignty. The policies the presidential candidates will suggest for these issues will be strongly related to their economic viewpoints, as shown below.

On the EU and Sovereignty

Whether decisions are taken on a local/regional, the national or on European level, is not a matter of ideology, but of efficiency. Whether or not to build a bridge over a river is a local or regional decision, how the justice system should work is a national decision, how to combat terrorism in Europe needs to be a European decision, and how to stop climate change and protect the planet is a decision to be taken globally. We do not longer live in societies that can survive by themselves.

The focus on France as a nation and possibly leaving the EU is from my point of view a purely emotional one. I don't reject feelings of national identity, but they shouldn't lead to the detriment of the well-being of the citizen or the efficiency of the state. And by leaving the EU, both possibilities are a serious risk. We begin to see the effects of Brexit for the UK. Many companies are leaving to re-establish on the European continent. Other companies that were involved in international trade are losing clients because buying with competitors within the EU will be cheaper due to the import tariffs.

Does that mean that the EU is doing just fine? Not necessarily. The criticism for the EU has grown over the past years, mainly due to the way it has dealt with the crisis. The EU is one of the biggest economies of the world, yet we were the last and slowest to recover. The measures of austerity have caused a lot of harm and have shown how rigid the EU can be, also when faced with the suffering of its own citizens. It shouldn't be a surprise that this rigidity comes with a price. The trust in the EU institutions has never been as low as today.

A misunderstanding, though, is that the decision-making process of the EU isn't democratic. This claim is largely unfounded. The procedures to make laws (regulations and directives) in the EU involve the Commission, the Parliament elected by the citizens and the Council which consists of ministers from the member states. The Council usually needs to vote by unanimity, meaning that the member states basically have veto right. Any 'undemocratic' processes taking place, are not a problem of procedures, but of the more complex dynamics between individual people and institutions. Please see Verhofstadt, wie wil die defensie-unie eigenlijk? (in Dutch) for more information on this subject.

 

On Migration

Immigrants and the policies that apply to them can largely be divided into three groups. Looking at the figures for France gives the following overview:

- EU citizens: according the founding principles of the European Union, EU citizens have the right of free movement within the EU member states. This means they are allowed to live and work in any member state they choose. According to United Nations statistics from 2015, roughly 2.1 million French citizens live outside France and another 350 000 are cross-border workers.

- Refugees and asylum seekers: asylum is granted to people fleeing persecution or serious harm in their own country and are therefore in need of international protection. Asylum is a fundamental right; granting it is an international obligation, first recognised in the 1951 Geneva Convention on the protection of refugees. When their application for international protection is accepted, they receive the status of "refugee".

- Other migrants: people who have decided to move to a different country in the hope of better job prospects, to be with their partner, to have a better climate etc. This includes "economic" migrants from poor countries, but also high-skilled workers from rich countries such as the US or Australia.

Migration has advantages and disadvantages, and thus supporters and opponents. And this is where the economy comes in.

 
Advantages of Migration

The main advantage for citizens is the right to free movement. By EU law, citizens can study, work and live abroad if they so wish, without having to pay double taxes or other administrative difficulties. This offers many opportunities for both high-skilled and low-skilled workers as long as they have the ability and motivation to leave their country.

Cross-border mobility is encouraged in Europe, especially in countries where there is a lack of suitable candidates for certain types of jobs and in countries where the population is ageing. People with skills in high demand will gladly be welcomed and having an extensive labour force is encouraged to be able to maintain social welfare on the long term.

 
Disadvantages of Migration

The main disadvantage to both citizens in the host country and the migrant workers is social dumping. In certain sectors, such as transport and construction, foreign workers are hired for very low wages as they are officially employed by companies in their country of origin. The costs of hiring French workers is much higher, so they have difficulty finding a job. Added to that is the competition for social housing and the rise of house prices in general.

This trend is already going on for a number of years. There are also other factors that have an impact on the availability of jobs and job security, such as large industries that have closed their factories in France and moved to low-wage countries. With the advance of digitalisation and automation, some jobs in other sectors are being outsourced or will require less workers, further increasing the pressure and insecurity for large parts of the population.

The other main disadvantage is the fear of terrorism. The past few years, we have seen an increase in terrorist attacks in Europe. To prevent these from happening in the future, the policies applied should work both on prevention and on punishment. How much of a connection there is between migration and terrorism, is hard to say. Even though we can assume that some immigrants will have extremist sympathies, it did turn out that the terrorists from the attack on Charlie Hebdo were French, 7 out of 11 terrorists from the November 2015 attacks were French or Belgian and 2 were Iraqi, and the perpetrator from the Nice raid was Tunisian, not typically a country associated with terrorism. In any case, looking at the figures above, the threat of terrorism comes both from outside and from within.

 

Deeper-lying Problems vs Symptoms

France faces many problems, some of which are very clear, such as the terrorist attacks, and some of which stay below the surface, such as the effects of social dumping and rising housing prices. In this election campaign – as in many others – the issues being discussed are mostly symptoms of deeper-lying problems. Whether this is because politicians are failing to see what stays below the surface, whether they are unable to offer solutions or whether they prefer to deal with clear-cut issues instead of complex ones, is not up to me to judge. However, it's clear the new president of France is waiting a very heavy task. I hope both for the citizens of France as well as for myself as a citizen of Europe that he or she understands the dynamics of the deeper-lying problems and will tackle the economic issues instead of the symptoms they lead to. By making France more resilient and by building European relationships, France could trigger a positive influence for our political stability and economies – or the opposite.