Earlier crises paved the way for structural changes, or at least sped them up. Crises brought about the institutionalisation of state regulation, the welfare state itself, and, not least, the Keynesian economic paradigm that dominated for so long. That was essentially the bigger picture. Eventually, however, the "productive effects" once more slid under the thumb of powerful vested interests. That they are being pressed to the wall in a Germany ruled by a Social Democrat-Greens coalition, which deregulated what was once regulated and relinquished the level of redistribution that had already been achieved, is one of the explanations for the current crash-bang-wallop.
With the crisis, the German principle of the "debt brake" has spread throughout Europe. "What we must not do", said Chancellor Merkel, "is destroy the trust of investors along the way". This reveals where her loyalties lie. And it illustrates what the European debate has been reduced to: a debate about saving money, about preserving claims to assets, about preserving competitiveness. Whenever someone demands more "passion for Europe", the call ultimately comes down merely to sanctions for enforcing budgetary discipline, rules for sovereign defaults and the like. What's more, it can't hide the coalition's politically-motivated squabbles over European policy. That parliament will in future be more closely involved in decisions on rescuing the euro is itself still no answer to the question of what the deputies will be rescuing.
"If the euro fails, Europe fails", the chancellor has declared and so unleashed on to the world a threat that will have the same impact on the MPs of the governing parties as it will on small savers and benefit recipients, workers and students, doctors and artists, retirees and housewives. The sentence at best expresses only half the truth. For the foundations of a better Europe are being destroyed – a Europe that, in the dispute over the Lisbon treaty, was at least open to debate: one that stood for social standards, for enforceable fundamental rights. Whoever wants to save Europe, with more in mind than an elitist project thought up purely for economic interests – with its democracy deficit, tax competition and social dumping – must now stand up to the "saviours", Merkel, Sarkozy and co.
This is necessary on the one hand because, through these very crisis-management decisions, the future EU constitutional reality is already being created. On the other hand, it will not be so easy, since a "no" to the rescue course from a united society can be all too easily confused with the eurosceptic populism that is currently spreading through that same society.
What's at stake is no less than this: either the euro crisis will be solved "from above" and will lead to an EU regime of authoritarian austerity, which will restrict room for manoeuvre for policy-making on the ground and reinforce the centrifugal social forces away from the European ideal, or pressure "from below" will force governments to correct their course.
Original article 'Euer Europa, unser Europa', © der Freitag
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