Tag Archives: Merkel

The crisis of post-modernity in liberal Western democracies: second Italy.

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Italians voted no to the proposition of institutional and constitutional reforms, which was agreed by the Italian Parliament for the first time after almost 70 years since the “Costituente”. The Italian Parliament was following the strong acceleration of a post-ideological modern Government, again the first of such governments in Italian recent history. But in a time of increased transparency, empowered individuals and bottom-up democratic tools (first of all the use of referendums) the confidence of some Western leaders to appeal to popular support in order to increase their legitimacy has turned to be a big mistake. From Cameron to Renzi, leaders European leaders believed that they could bring the people on the ship of their vision for the future. But they forgot about one thing: the deep culture and identity of their societies. Exceptionalism for British people and conservatism for Italians. Who will be next? We hope no Merkel even if we are not so sure (Hollande avoided such risk with his recent decision to not seek re-election).

Italians don’t like change, they live in open sky museums, adore their traditions and have a culture of self-governance and “make do” that survive better in government instability than in the opposite scenarios. Italians, even if they always criticize the politicians for being corrupted and not wanting to change, prefer weak corrupt governments that keep the things as they have always been (that’s why Berlusconi reigned for around a generation) than  strong stable governments that could really change the things, including asking the citizens to behave. Besides that, Italians have always been afraid of Communism, before with Fascism demonization and after with the one of Christian Democracy, making a left or liberal government, almost impossible to survive for long time in the country. That, together with the economic stagnation and the manipulation of information in a post-truth, post-fact society, fueled by opposite politicians with a hate narrative rarely seen before, made the result of referendum. But how Italian referendum result enters in the long run of Western liberal democratic crisis?

As said in the previous article on the US, the three “Ps” are very evident also in Italy: increased Poverty, with inequality and intellectual unemployment (involving in particular the middle class); extreme Polarization, in particular between nationalist and cosmopolitanists (not much between Leftist and Rightist that is not anymore the real division of the socio-political spectrum in Western democracies); and spread Populism, or anti-establishment feelings (in particular distrust for corrupted and distant elites). These phenomena are growing in the Italian society since almost a decade. Since more less the Euro consequences (in particular the raised prices) started to couple with the economic crisis, the social media technology started to empower individuals and at the same time superficialize and polarize them, and the populist feelings started to be fed in particular by the 5 Star Movement birth, apparently bottom up but behind the scene with the Big Brother approach, already in 2005 with around 40 “Friends of Beppe Grillo” Meetups (using the American born Meetup idea).

Besides these “first layer” reasons the democratic crisis in Italy can be seen also as an identity crisis, as said in the article on US, because of increasing immigration, women empowerment and international integration. Italy, like the rest of Western rich countries, started to be afraid of having to share the wealth with poorer people, first of all economic migrants but also refugees, and risk its identity dilution with the creation of a melting pot society (and in the last 3 years the number of immigrants in Italy increased exponentially with the Middle Eastern refugee crisis). Italian men, ruling the country, its families and its society since the Latin times (similarly to the rest of Europe) started to be afraid of having to share the power with women (and this actually was the first government that among other things had 50% of women). And the Italian nation state in itself, existing since 4 century (since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648) started to be afraid of having to reduce its sovereignty with new supranational actors, first of all the EU (this was one of the most pro-EU governments, accepting the decisions from the EU even if using the rhetoric of anti-austerity) reducing therefore its ontological security.

Therefore in Italy as in the US we are on the right track towards the democratic natural crisis. We need to see how we use this crisis for the good and not for the bad, not only in Italy but in Europe. Even in the worst case scenario that the EU will fail and disintegrate in a decade or so what is important is to know who will take the lead for future new alliances and integration processes. We will not have a pre-WWII scenario because of economic integration and because Russia will always be there to make European continent cohesive (hopefully with the constant support of NATO). But as a recent article on Foreign Affairs said: “Populism is gaining ground. Around the world, economic hardship and growing unease with globalization, immigration, and the established elite have propelled such movements into power, leading to a groundswell of public support for parties and leaders viewed as capable of holding the forces of cultural and social change at bay.”[1]

What we know is that strong leaders will not make a democratic renaissance against the establishment, as they promise, on the opposite they will deepen the democratic crisis, gradually eroding the liberal elements of our countries, as expert populists around the world from Chavez, to Erdogan to Putin, showed. This is the risk in our liberal Western democracies crisis too, at least until the citizens will not take back the lead of the future in their hands through their civil society, with new associations, movements, parties and organizations at grassroots level, and not lead from top-down. The political establishment has to be checked and controlled by these civil society associations to reduce corruption and increase vision, but cannot disappear as representative democracies needs politicians. Otherwise you have fake “direct democracies” that hide what they really are: autocracies, or as Plato said about the failing of democracy: new tyrannies.

[1] Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz. How Democracies Fall Apart. Why Populism Is a Pathway to Autocracy. Foreign Affairs, December 2016.

 

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How to kill welfare state, nation state and democracy in Europe in one blow?

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If Margaret Thatcher has been remembered as the Iron Lady, the Lady that destroyed the welfare state to open space to the complete free market in her country, Angela Merkel could be remembered as the “Steel Lady”. The Steel Lady that could destroy in one blow not only the welfare state in southern Europe (with Renzi in Italy and the impositions to Greece) but the sovereignty of the European nation states and, even more important, the integration of Europe from the grassroots level, from the voice of the people, in one word: the democracy in the European integration.

As Krugman correctly wrote today (1) Germany’s attitude after the Greek referendum “goes beyond harsh into vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief. (…) Who will ever trust Germany’s good intentions after this?” Nobody, and this will be caused by the law of Karma (or call it the third Newton’s law of motion, as Germans love more scientism) that is if you mistreat the others sooner or later the others will do the same to you. It happened many times since the German unification at the end of last century, and keeps happening because history repeats itself and often we don’t learn from it. Did Germany forgot what does it produce to humiliate a country? Did the German government forgot how populism, fascism and racism started in Europe almost one hundred years ago? German people, and in general northern Europeans, in a way or another feel superiors to the southern Europeans (like in Italy, where the people from the north feel superior to the ones of the south). But many times they overcome their stereotypes and worked together, as populations, to come out from suffering and miseries. I hope that they will do this time too, without punishing the “slackers” of the Mediterranean, being them Italians, Greeks or Spaniards, as they don’t work enough and steel if they can (even if they have good food, the sun and the sea). If this is not a form of racism what is it? The problem is that racism applied to politics is not exactly the best adviser.

The negotiations for Greece tonight are going on “with a vengeance”, in all senses, and the ashtag “Thisisacoup” is a hit. Not only Frau Merkel, and the rest of the Eurogroup (that is the ministries of finance of the Euro countries) could humiliate Greece, punishing it with consequences for that state that we cannot foresee right now. But they could throw to the garbage also the voice of the Greek people, that voted in the majority to ask the EU to reconsider the absurd austerity measures that made their economy to collapse. This could be not only the destruction of the welfare state and the ‘statism’ in the south of Europe. Not only anymore a struggle between who believe that there is only one way for the economic development, the way of the banks that hold the states by their balls (pardon my French) and the others that tries to propose alternative. This could be the start of the end for the national sovereignty in the European continent. And that would not be a drama if it was coming from below instead than from above. Instead it could be the start of the end of the democratic voice of the European people, because the European Union, as it is structured right now, cannot give to the people the voice to decide for the continent as a whole, and so it still needs the national sovereignty to give people the possibility to count. The European Parliament has no this force, and the European Commission neither. So this could be a democratic collapse. And it could be very risky for the future of the continent.

Where is the dream of the European integration, the motto of “United in Diversity”, where is the trust among countries that fought for thousands of years and finally found peace and prosperity after the biggest madness of their history. Where is the mutual understanding, the consensus decision making, the struggle for agreements, dialogue, dignity and tolerance? Did it start to end when Tsipras was lectured and insulted in the European Parliament and outside, treated by his Northern European colleagues as Schauble, Junker or Verhofstadt, as a pampered child that doesn’t do the homework? Will start to end tonight, with Ms Merkel and Mr Schauble sitting on the altar of the Gods, and the Greeks under the Olimpo, with their smaller gods asking for dignity and being slammed in the face with humiliations? Is this the start of the end of the European dream? May be, or maybe could be the beginning of it, with finally the people of Europe, in particular southern Europe, retaking in their hands their destinies.

If Germany believes that will be able to compete with superpowers like China and the US, or even with future great powers like India, Brazil or Indonesia, without the European integration, is just naïf. But Germany should become the trusted and legitimate leader, not the hated ruler. And the point is that, even if there will be no Grexit, the other states could not trust Germany anymore if these negotiations fail or Greece will be humiliated in the conditions requested, and countries like Italy will not stay still, looking outside the window for when the German storm will pass. Unless Renzi greases Italian’s people palm with much more than 80 euros in the salary or the reimbursement for the pensions, the Five Stars Movement could be the next first party in Italy very soon. And at that point the Karma, and the laws of economy, will do their path, going back to Germany and making this country regret its arrogance of tonight.

PS An agreement has been reached in the morning, it is much tougher than the one rejected by the referendum, in disregard to the voice of the Greeks. We’ll see if it will be accepted by the Greek Parliament…Germany and the rest of Europe have been forward-looking to keep Greece inside Euro, but they have done so mostly for their interests. It is the end of national sovereignty in Europe: monetary politics and banks won, and Germany, followed by several other northern countries, decided the domestic policy of another country. If this is not the start of the end of the nation state from above what is that? Greek debt has not been restructured, as instead it was done for Germany after WWII or for many international banks recently (from Morgan Stanley to Citigroup and for many more billions of dollars respect to Greece). German hypocrisy remained, keep cutting public expenditure in Greece while maintaining it in its country to increase the advantages respect to the other members, and going on with a monetary union that benefit mostly Germany, being not fair a real monetary union among countries so different in the competitiveness. Reforms and the EU Commission intervention should help Greece economic growth but it is not sure yet how. Hopefully this experience will help the continent to be more united and democratic in the future…but i have my doubts.

(1) Killing the European Project, from: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/