Massimiliano Santini’s recent article here finishes with “…the solution may be in elaborating and putting forward a new narrative. It’s the narrative, stupid!”
Please, not a new narrative! That would be stupid! To cut it short: what Europe needs is credibility, not a new narrative. Europe has to deliver. The only really convincing narrative is: politicians, managers, civil servants, trade unionists, NGO representatives, clerics – all the people who appear in the media and public as part of the decision-making process in democratic societies must say what they intend to do and do what they say.
Mr Santini argues that “liberal-democratic and progressive parties have the responsibility of elaborating a new kind of political narrative that connects technical reforms with people’s needs and emotions in a globalised Europe”. The answer to that is: Europe has to deliver more quickly and in a comprehensible way what people need in a globalised Europe. Of course, unregulated globalisation is a massive political and economic challenge. That is particularly true when globalisation is dominated by the two economic superpowers that are, on the one side, governed by an egocentric and erratic president and his subordinated household, and on the other, ruled by a capitalist version of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat‘ with clear ambitions for global economic power. One more reason to act swiftly and firmly at the European level.
Why do people increasingly believe that the answer is: Spain, Germany, Britain, Austria, the Netherlands, France … my nation first? Perhaps because ‘at home‘, the responsible institutions and people are closer, more directly accessible, and more easily held accountable. They appear more often, they are more visible. They speak my language. Why might, as Mr Santini fears, the “nationalist international” be successful in the European Parliament elections in May 2019? The populist-nationalists offer easy ‘solutions‘, definite decisions, firm action, but in general they stress that they are against the political/societal establishment. Verbal reactions are often radical and rapid. Their style appears active and energetic. That makes them attractive for a growing number of Europeans.
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The news from Brussels usually starts with an early morning report about a dispute that far too often reaches no agreement or just a modest compromise. A very recent example is the debate about the ‘digital tax‘ (taxing just 3 percent of the income from advertisements on Google, Facebook…, the French-German compromise exempting the data trade, applied only from 2021 (!) onwards, put on hold for a final decision in 2019). Another example is the financial transaction tax – under discussion for years. It is further delayed and will probably not be decided before 2020. For years there has been no real progress on European taxation. The EU is wavering on an issue of major importance: social justice! No employee can escape taxation, but big multinationals and speculators obviously can.
Also for years, the policy discussions on refugees and migrants have been in deadlock. Refugee policy is one of the most decisive issues during elections (for example, the recent elections in Andalusia). In the absence of effective measures at European level, politicians like Orbán, Salvini and Kurz score points because of their determined crackdown.
The Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP 24, in Katowice, will most likely lead to disappointment in many respects. Participants who demand stricter measures to safeguard the environment as well as those who care about the social consequences for workers in the ‘polluting industries‘ will clearly be frustrated if there is no just transition framework for those who suffer the consequences of redundancy. A comprehensive European policy, a tangible European contribution to COP 24 is not visible. A purposeful and firm stand by the EU, combining environmental and social priorities, would support the narrative that “Europe stands for the future”.
True Social Europe
The European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) could have been a contribution to creating confidence and trust in Europe among its citizens. As it stands now, it might mean progress in the field of work-life balance, access to social security systems, clearer definition of labour contracts and the establishment of a labour authority (inspectorates). Currently, all this is in the legislative process. The Council will determine what the social pillar can support. The EPSR was approved by member states and the responsibility is on their shoulders too. It certainly did not mean a paradigm shift of social policy from member states to the EU. However, what the Social Pillar can deliver is far too small to be labelled ‘Social Europe‘. We need a Europe that advances a progressive social policy in order to generate a positive impression among working and, in particular, people without work.
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People want social justice. That would be the best and most convincing argument for defending Europe and further Europeanisation. President Macron should learn very quickly the lessons of recent weeks. The gilets jaunes are about social justice. And many of the social democratic parties must make it clear what they want and what they stand for. One option is to stand firm “Together in Europe”. It goes without saying that this would mean more EU competences on social policy. Otherwise, they will vanish, as some already have.
When Europe stands for solutions and action it will have created its best possible narrative. When action creates the narratives they will be convincing and sustainable. Europe certainly does not need a new narrative – it needs credibility.