The European economy is unified in a supranational market. Political sovereignty, on the other hand, remains divided in a plurality of states. We have the single currency, but not a common fiscal policy. With the pandemic, something has changed. Next Generation EU and SURE created a common debt and favorable conditions for new fiscal rules and starting up “a federal budget.”
However, two major obstacles – nationalist sovereignism and neoliberal EU governance – are standing in the way of change, of building a European agenda focused on the issues of peace, combating climate change, the energy crisis, switching to renewables and welfare.
For sovereignists, Europe is good only when it brings immediate benefits to their country. That’s how Giorgia Meloni and Matteo Salvini think, blaming the EU for the low growth of the Italian economy and denouncing its delays, bureaucracy and other faults. They make no secret of the fact that they want to downsize its role, not only maintaining the veto power in the European Council, but explicitly aiming to overturn the primacy of European law over national law.
They are confusing national interest with nationalism and protectionism, in perfect harmony with the Hungarian premier, Viktor Orbán, and the Polish premier, Mateusz Morawiecki. It does not matter if one is pro-Russian and the other Atlanticist. The fact of the matter is that the unity and political autonomy of the EU is being undermined by a sovereignist right wing that is getting in the way and blocking any decision aimed at addressing the gas emergency and the economic and social fallout on the peoples of the continent.
European political weakness is also a result of management inspired by the cult of monetary stability, the myth of limitless growth, and an unconditional faith in the thaumaturgic virtues of the “free market” and technological innovation. Now, the Russian-Ukrainian war has challenged the tangle of ties and mutual dependencies woven between states in the golden years of economic and financial globalization.
Everything is so tangled that Russia, under harsh sanctions from Western countries, manages to make a lot of money from the sale of methane and oil, despite having cut off supplies. Then again, the U.S. and Norway, NATO allies, are making huge profits from selling fossil fuels to European countries, of course at increased prices. And it happens that the Netherlands, an EU country, is seeing its GDP grow thanks to speculation by the Amsterdam Stock Exchange on the gas market.
We are in a war economy, but “markets tend to worry more about bond prices than about people’s welfare” (J. Stiglitz). It is well known that in times of war, some territories prosper at the expense of others, some sectors (arms, energy, credit) make large profits and others are forced to close. During emergencies, the “animal spirits” of capitalism, left to their own devices, increase imbalances and accentuate inequalities. Narrow segments of the population grow richer and richer while the number of those hit by hardship and social marginalization increases.
The crisis of globalization, which has reached a significant tipping point on our continent, has opened cracks and leaks that are difficult to plug with mere emergency measures or by spreading the illusion, as the leader of Fratelli d’Italia does, that our country can save itself with a national-sovereignist approach. On the other hand, the attempt to deal with the economic emergency without touching the economic mechanisms and social relations leads us right to that “unhappy degrowth” whose specter is often evoked by the neoliberals at home, with contempt and ironic ignorance of the left and ecological movements.
The September 25 vote will also decide the future of Europe. The sovereignist right has every interest in hiding its positions on European issues because it knows well that public opinion, in the vast majority, is pro-European. What would help the left would be for the confrontation to grow in intensity, for Europe to become a fundamental watershed between left and right.
The likely success of Meloni’s party, as the polls predict, would deal a crippling blow to the political strengthening of the Union, thus condemned to be the proverbial potted plant in the superpower game. A fragile and divided EU is Putin’s goal, who does not hesitate to use the gas weapon for this purpose. It is also no mystery that the U.S. administration prefers European policy marked by deregulation, which is advantageous for them precisely by the fragmentation of fiscal systems, rather than regulation, a political practice that is based on common and shared goals.
Giorgia Meloni is proposing a policy that espouses both Atlanticism and anti-Europeanism. A line that denies political autonomy to the EU domestically, depriving it of an active and proactive role in international relations. But the national interest coincides more than ever with an autonomous, democratic and federal Europe.
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