Disclaimer: I study German politics; this critique is centred on Germany.
Concerns about the ‘democratic deficit’ in European politics have gone hand in hand with economic hardship and popular discontent since way back when, even in Germany. This is hardly surprising; in 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, Capitalism won, socialism demonstrably did not work, the establishment of the EU in 1993 was obviously going to be Western right down to the shiny tips of its West German shoes. That meant capitalism: No market economy, no EU membership. And capitalism, as an unplanned and purely profit driven economy, is by nature not answerable for itself. It IS a democratic deficit.
Capitalism lies right at the heart of the EU. The EU is not an ideological, cultural, emotional union. It’s not a union based on, say, solidarity. It’s an economic union: it used to be CALLED the European Economic Community. And member states’ behaviour proves this; any member state is going to pursue policy in its own interest at the EU: in 1998, Germany threatened to derail Agenda 2000, the programme for the accession of ex-soviet states, unless EU funding was restructured so it would have to pay less. This was all forgotten about by 2007 when the Berliner Erklärung proclaimed that we are united for the sake of our happiness, we put the human being at the centre of our politics, only together can we defend our democracy, freedom, peace, and welfare – ‘in Solidarity’. But still, 2012, with Germany insisting that Brussels oversee the elected Greek government’s budget, looks a lot more like 1998.
What kind of foundation for ‘union’ is this? Not only is everyone is in it out of self interest, economic self interest at that, but those interests themselves are clearly planted in shaky ground;in 1989, the West German economic and political elites predicted a second Economic Miracle in the East, such as West Germany had enjoyed after the Second World War. They were proved wrong. In 1993, they insisted on market economies in all European member states, believing markets to be the only guarantee of economic prosperity. They are being proved wrong. Markets are no guarantee of anything; capitalism is AN UNPLANNED ECONOMY. IT IS BY NATURE UNPREDICTABLE. If you’re only in the club for personal gain, when the gains stop coming – and under capitalism, stop coming they will – you’re going to want out. Or to control the club so what gains there are are all yours.
And that’s the thing: the case of East Germany’s non Economic Miracle is actually nowhere near as bad as the current Eurozone/ Mediterranean crisis. West Germany and East Germany are one nation; they see themselves as having shared self interest, shared personal gain to make. The EU is comprised of nation states, demarcated territories that proclaim who is us and who is other. The Greek people are other to the German ruling class and the German ruling class can pretend they are other to the German working class too; the system says they are. That leaves little room for, say, solidarity.
1989 was an opportunity to rethink fundamentals of, at least, the German political and economic system. This didn’t happen; the pre-existing staples of Western European integration were adhered to more strongly than ever, as having supposedly been lent new legitimacy by the collapse of what was perceived as the only alternative to Western neoliberal bourgeois democracy and capitalism. Clearly, then, when a capitalist crisis struck, it would strike hard. Meanwhile, the capitalist drive for economic growth has trumped other considerations for European integration, meaning that those member states that ‘let the side down’ when it comes to growth are finding it harder to receive the support they need from their European peers. This is obviously not a propitious foundation for true integration; apart from any resentment in current Greek-German relations, serious democratic questions are rightly being asked about a situation in which a German government can impose budgetary restrictions on an elected Greek government and in which a German government can impose austerity on the Greek people against their will.
The increasingly economic and monetary foundations of European union lend themselves naturally to imperialism, as the largest purse, not the largest democratic mandate, holds the most power. Concerns about a ‘democratic deficit’ run throughout the history of European integration since 1945 and have clearly not been satisfactorily addressed – this needs to happen more urgently now than ever. That it did not happen in 1989 is perhaps unsurprising, given that the fall of the Iron Curtain was perceived as a victory for Western values which should not, therefore, be questioned. The current economic crisis, however, is a second opportunity. We have to seize it.