Peter van Els
The EU is a precarious subject these days. Both backers and detractors are subject to harsh criticism, and those wanting to leave the EU are habitually considered populists or nationalists. However, this Europe, with its undeniable capitalist and neoliberal penchants, isn’t MY Europe, or at least not the Europe I once pictured it to be. That is why, as it stands, I vehemently oppose the present shape of the European Union.
Sure, it’s hard to picture a Europe that isn’t united, as no country (with the possible exception of Switzerland) can manage to be economically independent. The only way nations like the Netherlands can be a global player comparable to Asia and the US, is as part of a strong unification of healthy European countries. Still, this – largely economic – objective, seems to be at the expense of democracy. Recent developments (think Brexit and the unfortunate rise of far-right politics in France and Austria) show that I’m not the only one expressing profound dissatisfaction.
By no means do I oppose a united Europe, quite the contrary. As a European and a world citizen I am in favor of open borders. We are one human race, with diverse and unique individuals, each with their own culture, tradition and values. But what I seek is a Europe that, first and foremost, serves its people and puts the rights of the individual above its monetary agenda.
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” Shakespeare said, and so it is. Increasingly, the world is becoming an arena for a Shakespearean tragedy, “with principals worthy of a Macbeth.” Post-Brexit Britain is behaving like a sinking ship, with crew blaming each other and passengers clambering for the lifeboats. Those responsible for the present situation now seem to avoid leadership at all cost.
In the US, capitalism is rampant and more prevalent than ever before. The Clintons are being backed by Wall Street, Trump is virtually the embodiment of uncontrolled capitalism, all political entities now prone to populism in order to get the uneducated to rally behind them.
Ever since Milton Friedman introduced market capitalism and a limited government, a feat that won him the Nobel Prize for Economics, democracy has become a dying swan. Friedman is the founder of monetarism and served as an adviser to Ronald Reagan. Along with Margaret Thatcher he secured the now cataclysmic notion that the free market should reign supreme, almost inevitably setting the stage for institutionalized corruption and the morality of greed. Those adhering to the radical capitalism advocated by people like Ayn Rand, have now successfully created a society in which selfishness has become a virtue.
Unfortunately, and despite the lofty ideals portrayed by Friedman, today’s citizen is a modern slave burdened by debt and paralyzed by increased feelings of powerlessness. According to Oxfam, the wealth of the poorest 50% has declined by 41% between 2010 and 2015, despite an increase in the world’s population of 400 million. In the same period, the wealth of the richest 62 individuals increased with $ 500 billion (£ 350 billion) to $ 1,760 billion.
Recent journalistic exposés like Swiss Leaks and the Panama Papers have given us a perverted insight in the underbelly of this system, a system in which the One Percent is given tax breaks while the rest of the world’s population is paying the price for the global financial crisis and the economic meltdown. Now, as a way of getting the populace under control, Eurosceptics are bullied by the prospect of higher taxes, lower pensions and economic instability. This is precisely the Europe that an increasing number of people are rallying against.
A new Europe
What we need is not a Europe that is once again divided, not a sinking ship to be abandoned, but a new Europe. One that remembers and upholds basic human rights and democratic values. A unified, secure and economically strong Europe, where social humanity is central and where power and governments do not automatically corrupt under pressure of unquestioned capitalism.
Among the things we need to do are: fight tax evasion by companies and wealthy individuals; invest in universal, free public services such as health and education; distribute the tax burden more fairly; introduce minimum wages and move toward a living wage for all workers; provide adequate safety nets for the poorest, including a minimum income guarantee.
Idealism doesn’t exclude realism, and it won’t be easy to pose fundamental challenges to our way of thinking. But if we want to build a unified Europe that actually holds the support of its people, we will first need to create a Europe that respects its citizens, one that fights for their wellbeing and that embodies the moral, humane standards that are the real glue of mankind.