They can afford it, so they’re doing it. There is little to add to Chancellor Scholz’s announcement that he will allocate €200 billion to bring down the staggering increase in energy costs in Germany.
It’s a measure to help German businesses and citizens following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the blocking of supply lines. “We are big and the resources needed are big as well,” Economy Minister Lindner summed up.
After all, nowhere in the treaties and rules of the Union is there an instrument that can counter this decision or remove the historical asymmetry of European economies, or even push in that direction. It’s pointless for the rest to grumble that the Federal Republic, having gained more than any other from the common market, should now graciously return the favor. Likewise, it won’t change anything to accuse Berlin of dragging Europe into excessive dependence on cheap Russian energy sources (which suited everyone).
The European Union, in its political evanescence, is a space determined by power relations, not only between states, but also, and above all, between economic and financial forces that cross the borders of nations with no qualms, while the latter are competing with each other on who can host and favor them the most. As for economic-political dogmas, such as the infamous “black zero” (no debt spending allowed), these are valid only as long as the capital accumulation process is not affected. Accordingly, Brussels shows itself willing to set aside the ban on state aid to struggling companies, with obvious benefits to those in countries, such as Germany, that have greater financial capacity.
This time, the “homework,” quite the opposite of that imposed on Greece some years back, is being gladly done by those at the “top of the class.”
Berlin is insisting on an absolute difference between the pandemic crisis and the energy crisis in order to deny the possibility of using the same instruments for both, such as the joint debt fund of the SURE program. It’s a rather specious distinction when one looks at the recessionary dynamics, the shutdown of entire branches of economic activity, the contraction of consumption and unemployment common to both crises. We would rather say that the coronavirus has behaved, including in terms of social perception, in a more egalitarian and “natural” way than fossil fuels, the price of which – in addition to the out-of-control wartime escalation, which is no longer contemplating even the abstract possibility of peace negotiations – is determined by political choices and major speculative factors that are not the exception, but the norm on a completely artificial market.
And this affects not only asymmetrical, but also diversified production structures and infrastructure. While the pandemic disproportionately affected the future competitiveness of firms and business systems, this will not apply to how we will emerge (when and if we do emerge) from the energy crisis. Not to mention the fact that the pandemic has been (and continues to be, albeit out of the spotlight) a truly global catastrophe (like the long-forgotten climate change), while the energy crisis is affecting Europe most of all, and in unequal proportion, where it overrides all other hierarchies of priority.
That is why European solidarity is at an ebb, exposing an obvious pattern of conflicting interests that are blocking not only the approval of the much-touted gas price cap, but more generally any strategy of common response to the crisis. Under the cover of the unanimous and unquestioning support for Kyiv, which is now moving towards the dead-end prospect of “total war,” the Union is undergoing extreme fragmentation. This is mitigated only by those interdependencies of production chains and trade that make the European economic space irreplaceable, but which still manifest themselves only in a hierarchical and unequal form.
This mixture of interdependence and friction between national interests is the hard-to-read key to understanding the electoral growth of European right-wingers, from Sweden to France and Italy. In their case, the renunciation of isolationist adventures, while leaving patriotic rhetoric in place, is combined with a call on Europe to solve national problems. Fears fueled by the now decidedly stagnant or recessionary situation and substantial uncertainty about future developments in the crisis have led to a turn to the defense of the national interest, all within the framework of the European neoliberal order and its classist matrix. In this context, “nationalism” means, almost exclusively (and in a return to the classical definition), the attempted erasure of the fractures and lines of conflict that run through society in each country, and its immense inequalities. Attempting, that is, to erase the only “specter” still hovering, albeit very timidly, over Europe.
The European right-wingers understood that they could be the ones to offer their services for maintaining order in favor of solving the bottlenecks of the accumulation process, and seized the opportunity. On the other hand, the Draghian devotees of “responsibility” failed to understand that the very system of neoliberalism and its postpolitical forms required the utmost irresponsibility to hold itself up. If they wanted to be truly “responsible,” they needed to fight against it.
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