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The Fall of the Social State and Rise of Neo-liberalism

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European integration has been transformed into neo-liberal project when the economic crisis and global competition were strengthened starting from 1970s. There were other important occurrences which caused a shift in economic model, like 1973 oil price hike, 1975 U.S. defeat in Vietnam, halt in Bretton Woods System in 1971. After Keynesianism, rising social responsibilities of states and caring the class which consumes without producing also accelerated unavoidable economic shift.

Particularly, after economic crisis in 1973, it was identified that traditional approaches to economy is insufficient. Structural weakness of the economy was also revealed in the comparison with the U.S. and Japan’s economic development. In this situation, three main debates appeared over restructuring socio-economic order of Europe. The fundamental axis of ideological struggles within the European capitalist class in the beginning of 1980s constituted the contrast between neo-mercantilism and neo-liberalism. Neo-mercantilists had the view of “Europeanism”. They were the main industries which were producing for only Europe. Therefore, they wanted to create a strong European market which is resilient to outside competition. Thus, how and to what extent the European capitalist class has shaped the transformation of the European order largely depended on the outcome of the struggle between Europeanists and globalists.

The third adversary capitalist model – social democratic model appeared in the second half of 1980s. The main concern of this model was that social dimension should be added to the completion of internal market. Social democracy model was suggested by Jacques Delors in 1985 (president of European Commission) with promising high level of social protection against the possible disruptive forces of neoliberalism and globalization.Thus, European Social Model appeared in Delors’ vision that European capitalism should combine both the needs for welfare and sustainable growth, social solidarity and competitive market. To reach these goals, it was aimed to create strong European institutions and support state-building programs together with market-building. To make European market stronger against the global competition converged social model defenders to neo-mercantilists.

Indeed, all three models supported the accomplishment of internal market. However, the significant friction occurred on the question how the single market should be completed. The answer of neoliberalism was that trade liberalization should be increased and large external openness should be added there. On the other hand, social model supported regulation of market by a single supra-national power, namely Commission.The third project – neo-mercantilism supported interventionist industrial policy by increasing external tariffs in order to protect the internal market form outside competition.

The debate on the completion of market was resulted with the victory of neo-liberalist model of capitalism. The steady support and lobbying of corporate sector, while the weakness of labor unions were the main reasons for the victory of neo-liberalism. In Europethe shift towards state ownership or privatization, labor markets’ flexibilisation and pressure on wage demands started to be strengthened form 1980s which significantly decreased the power of labor unions. While support for further liberalization has been increased with the 200 TNCs and 500 corporate lobby groups based in Brussels, it wasn’t thought that the ignorance of labors’ social demands will cause resurgence of social model. Neo-Gramscian theorist van Apeldoorn particularly mentions the promotion activities of European Round Table Industrialists for global liberalism.

The turn of neo-liberalism has certainly been started in European integration after the creation of Single Market in 1987. Neo-liberalist approach was promoted with the claim of treating the deficiencies of the social welfare state, like increase in welfare, formation of rational and responsible individuality and productivity. In the beginning, it was accepted to provide a middle path (social democratic) and state intervention along with the free market. However, the further development of the approach was far from meeting the expectations of social policy and social welfare. In particular, the increasing welfare gap among social classes, income inequalities, increase in poverty and interest rates, erosion of job security and rise in the levels of unregistered employment increased the discontent substantially in the social sectors.

After completion of Single Market, further steps in integration, like European Monetary Union, Lisbon Strategy have been totally based on economic liberalization and preference for competition. Considering anti-globalization movements, EU became active in social policy improvement, whereas these movements were constrained by the claims for competitiveness, economic efficiency and stabilization. For example, Phipip Whyman, Mark Baimbridge and Andrew Mullen exemplify 1989 Social Charter and 1999 Luxembourg and Cologne process for the creation of European Employment Pact. They argue that the former process aimed to respect for national differences in social systems and the latter planned to deliver job-creating growth and decrease the burden on workers by reforming taxation and social security systems. However, the authors criticize that Employment policy guidelines have been left for the decision and control of member states. According to Cologne process, member states had to develop and implement their national action plans for employment improvement on their own and then they could publish the consequences in the joint employment report after Commission’s approval. They further claim that in this situation, there can’t be formed a unified EU level welfare state.

Social Policy Agenda (2000) under Lisbon strategy aimed to modernize social protection and to create more and better jobs. However, there was a critic about EU’s social initiatives that all social policies were limited to voluntary coordination and social dialogue which shows the absence of willing for formulating a common and regulated mechanism.

Starting from 1990s, there appeared important deficiencies in neoliberalism which gave a way for resurgence of ESM discourse. One of the main flaws was related to the rising power of Trans National Corporations. Corporations’ unwillingness for organized labor market, stabilizing welfare benefits by ensuring work pays and increase in payment for social expenditure resulted with rise in poverty and social inequalities. They have played a crucial role in transforming of World Order by penetrating not only to economy, but also to policy-making process through lobbying endeavors and media by using propaganda. Phipip Whyman, Mark Baimbridge and Andrew Mullen argue in their book that TNCs started to govern the economics and became more wealthy and powerful after neo-liberal revolution and spreading the dominance of globalization. For example, worldwide sales of TNCs were smaller than world exports in 1960, however they got 247 per cent of world exports in 2000. Following this, Chomsky also declared neo-liberal world order as “new imperial age” by claiming that World Bank, GATT, IMF were programmed to serve the interests of TNCs and investment firms.

Global trade in services and goods started to be dependent on TNCs and this process of corporate concentration has been speed up by trade deals, like Single Market (in 1987) or NAFTA (in 1994). Moreover, as the two-third of TNCs were based in North (Japan, Europe, North America), FDIs in the form of acquisitions and cross-border mergers were substantially centered in core countries. This concentration of FDIs deepen core-periphery divergence and make periphery stay outside by increasing interpenetration of core countries.

Neo-liberal policies and its social consequences

Source:Peters, John. «Labour market deregulation and the decline of labour power in North America and Western Europe.» Policy and Society, 2008: 83-98.

Neoliberalism has been unsuccessful to reach its aims in terms of social well-being and economic efficiency. If we compare the period 1980-2000 with the previous twenty years (1960-1980), then we can easily identify that the latter period has been more successful in terms of well-being indicators and quality of life, than the former. Furthermore, annual rate of economic growth per capita has been lower in the EU when neo-liberalism peaked in 2000. The author also elaborates that class inequalities have increased substantially in Europe’s capitalist countries. To prove the hypothesis of increasing income inequality, Branco Milanovic came a conclusion that world population’s top 1 per cent obtained 57 per cent of the world income between 1995 and 2000.

Income and other social inequalities have appeared due to the class-determined policies. In other words, as neo-Gramscian theorists argue, hegemon classes in the form of lobby groups (European Round Table of Industrialists, World Economic Forum, Trilateral Commission and so on) directly influence to the decisions of governments. These decision and policies constitute the core of neo-liberalism which undermined the implementation of social policies.

One of the main public policy in neoliberalism was the deregulation of labor markets. John Peters argues in his article that the most significant consequence of labor markets’ deregulation was the decline in salaries and job security, while rise in temporary employment. This policy also eliminated the power of trade unions to change the nature of jobs through collective negotiations. The initiative of deregulation and allowing businesses to define wages have been started by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher with claim of supporting businesses. Table 1 shows the percentage of trade union membership in the EU after the launch of neoliberalism until its peak – 2003. Between this period of time we can observe a slight decline in the membership for Trade Unions in developed countries.

Table 1: Trade Union density

Then deregulation of financial markets and commerce in goods and services were followed. Deregulation for consumers was beneficial in terms of having more choices and superior customer service, however it was more detrimental for consumers who have worse socio-economic conditions. These types of customers can’t pay more for products and have been left for the mercy of businesses who mainly care their profits than social responsibility.

Another crucial neo-liberal policy was the reduction of social public expenditures which was harmful for working class. Government spending on social programmes has been cut through austerity measures which aimed to reduce budget deficits. Member countries started to reduce public debts and budget deficits within austerity measures after Maastricht Convergence Criteria which sharpened the already high unemployment rates. The trouble due to rising unemployment rates persuaded European Council to formulate European Stability Pact in 1997 which has played a crucial role in the process of cutting social expenditures. The main objective of Stability and Growth Pact was to ensure the commitment of member states to the Maastricht Convergence Criteria. However, the commitment about keeping deficit below 3 per cent of GNP has been strengthened which resulted with large reductions of social public expenditures.

The situation deteriorated for working class who use public services, with the next policy of privatization of services. U.K.’s large privatization experience has been a model for other countries, in particular after Maastricht Convergence Criteria. Privatization aimed to reduce public debt level and budget deficit. Privatization of assets and public sector services was continued after euro crisis in 2008 under Troika.

From the beginnings of 1990s the discourse of promotion of ant-interventionism has been reinforced under neo-liberal model. Despite the acceptance of state interventionism in neo-liberalism, the new discourse of ant-interventionism appeared to support the interests of TNCs and dominant classes.

Matthew Eagleton-Pierce explains the promotion of individualism and consumerism in neo-liberalism and relates the term of individualism with the term of choice. He further claims that the relationship between neo-liberalism and consumer choice is in contrast with the culture of collectivism. Starting from the 1970s, collective forms of socio-economic organization has been challenged by business lobbies and conservative governments. To show the correlation, he exemplifies that the decline in trade union participation in Western Europe started to weaken socialist-inspired goals and to erode bargaining positions.

Sabina Jahanli is PhD student at Corvinus University of Budapest in the department of Political Science. She is a graduate from Central European University and Budapest Business School’s International Relations MA Program. She has participated in Student Scientific Conference which is a national research competition in Hungary and was awarded with the first place twice in 2016 -17. She has also been a visiting student to Centre for EU- Russia Studies at University of Tartu in 2019.

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Should there be an age limit to be President?

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The presidential elections in Bulgaria are nearing in November 2021 and I would like to run for President of Bulgaria, but the issue is the age limit.

To run for President in Bulgaria a candidate needs to be at least 40 years old and I am 37. I am not the first to raise the question: should there be an age limit to run for President, and generally for office, and isn’t an age limit actually age discrimination?

Under the international human rights law standard, putting an age limit is allowed in the context of political participation under the right to vote and the right to run to be elected. Human Rights Committee General Comment No.25 interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that an age limit has to be based on objective and reasonable criteria, adding that it is reasonable to have a higher age requirement for certain offices. As it stands, the law says that having an age limit for president is not age discrimination, but is 40 actually a reasonable cut-off? National legislations can change. We need to lower the age limit and rethink what’s a reasonable age for President, and not do away with all age limits.

We have seen strong leaders emerge as heads of state and government who are below 40 years of age. Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, became Prime Minister at 34. Sebastrian Kurz, the Prime Minister of Austria, was elected at 31. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, assumed her position at 37. So perhaps it is time to rethink age limits for the highest offices.

The US has plenty of examples where elected Senators and Congressmen actually beat the age limit and made it despite the convention. The age limit for Senator in the US is 30 years old. Rush Holt was elected to the US Senate at 29. In South Carolina, two State Senators were elected at 24 years old and they were seated anyways. The age limit for US president is 35 years old.

In Argentina, the age cut-off is 30. In India, it is 35. In Pakistan, it is 45 years old. In Turkey, it is 40 years old. Iceland says 35 years old. In France, it is 18.

Generally, democracies set lower age limits. More conservative countries set the age limit higher in line with stereotypes rather than any real world evidence that a 45 year-old or 55 year-old person would be more effective and better suited to the job. Liberal countries tend to set lower age limits.

40 years old to be a President of Bulgaria seems to be an arbitrary line drawn. And while it is legal to have some age limits, 40 years old seems to be last century. Changing the age limit for president of Bulgaria could be a task for the next Bulgarian Parliament for which Bulgarians will also vote on the same date as they vote for President.

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Without roots, no future. Germans and Russians – Decoupling ideologies

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Source: Wikipedia

Krieg ist das Ergebnis einer falschen Politik und sein Erbe Not und Elend.1 (From Gestrüpp meines Lebens, a diary kept by my grandfather, Helmuth Banik)

…next – Prussia, family roots and identity of heart

Cultural diversity or universal uniformity? Peaceful co-existence of nation-states or institutional global governance with international organizations and their sphere of influence gaining more and more ground, even in everyone’s private life? Which future will be ours?

Roots, earth and homeland—while unearthing the deepest parts of my family history and, at the same time, German history, my uninhibited view of my Prussian roots continues to pave my way towards a new future. Our world today is on the verge of a new beginning. It is up to us to decide which way humanity will go in the future. An individual’s identity is complex and has many layers that need to be uncovered. So, too, is our world: complexly composed of many layers that need to be uncovered for its roots to be revealed—as there is no future without roots.

Thus, it is necessary to decouple from all ideas and ideologies that have long determined political activity around the world. Let us start with Russia and Germany, since their destinies are forever linked; historically, culturally and geopolitically.

“I have sympathy toward the German people; my ancestors came to Russia from Westphalia under Peter the Great. Great nations can stay dormant for some time, but they always wake up!” Quote from a Russian friend

Sapere aude! In the spirit of Immanuel Kant, the great philosopher of Königsberg, let us reinvent and imagine the world in which we want to live!

Without Russia, not a better world in sight

The world, but especially the European Union (EU), is at a crossroads. The old structures and beliefs of the current governance seem to be collapsing before our very eyes. How simple was yesterday’s world. The enemy, namely Russia, was in the East. A bipolar world vision, divided between “the good” and “the bad.”

In the West, the EU with its main ally, the United States, represents the good world, an ideal world—in short, the world of the G7. Countries with a democratic system under the rule of law in which freedom is one of the fundamental values: All other countries in the world are measured and judged according to this ideal, especially if they want to enter this “club of the free world.”

And now? What has become of this G7 world? The measures taken to fight the pandemic were lockdown and other more or less draconian actions that deprived a large part of the world’s population of their fundamental rights, whatever the political regime or national culture. This is the cruel reality of a uniform crisis management policy that is visibly shared by democracies and authoritarian regimes. The main characteristics of this policy are the intransigence of clinging to the rule of the political-economic elites and, with that, the absolute will to remain in power and control communications and, as such, the population. The boundaries separating democracies and authoritarian regimes are disappearing, and a uniform technocratic world without identity is emerging. Propaganda—in this case, the massive communication of fear and hatred—is getting a second wind, this time not on a national level but on a global institutional scale. Moreover, it seems to be accompanied by a new Cold War strategy: According to an EU strategy paper, China is classified as a “systemic rival” (ecfr.eu 2020) and, together with Russia, is considered a new challenge to NATO by the Biden administration (Le Figaro 2021).

And the Russian president? Vladimir Putin always keeps the door for cooperation wide open, as he makes clear in “Offen sein, trotz Vergangenheit,”2 the recent article published in Die Zeit in which he states: “Ich möchte noch einmal betonen: Russland plädiert für die Wiederherstellung einer umfassenden Partnerschaft zu Europa.”3

Moreover, the opportunities offered by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) do not seem to be taken into consideration. On the contrary, the G7 initiative to “Build Back a Better World” (B3W) is an alternative to the BRI. Conflict instead of cooperation. Yet, we should keep in mind: It is not possible to have a better world without integrating Russia.

The technotronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.” (Zbigniew Brzezinski in Between Two Ages: America’s role in the technotronic era)

Humanity’s ultimate battle

There is an urgent need to continue questioning the sustainability of a power, political system and governance that are global—values and mercantilism, democracy and dictatorship, free market economy and planned market economy, diverse identities and universal uniformity, nation states and institutional global governance.

What future awaits us?

Either:

a political system of “universal digital governance,” of total and totalitarian surveillance with a capitalist state economy, that is, a system in which humanity serves the system by constantly adapting to its different benchmarks, a technocratic world order according to Brzezinski,

or:

new political structures that are very much at the service of humankind and that ensure a free and autonomous life for everyone in the spirit of Immanuel Kant’s sapere aude, that is, global governance that ensures a peaceful return to the primacy of humanity, relations and nations, deeply rooted in its own history, a return to cultural diversities and identities, to creation and, thus, a return to the roots.

The geographer and geopolitician Jacques Ancel set the vision of French geopolitics. According to Ancel, man is the creator of global governance, of identities and, subsequently, also the borders of civilizations, where “human groups … reach a harmonious balance and … end up recognizing borders deriving from a common memory, history, culture and language.” It is “a nation of the heart in itself, not rational” (Ancel 1938, Banik 2021).

Neither Germany, nor China, nor the U.S., nor Russia is an isolated paradise. No country can claim to know the absolute truth. Violence, increased global competition (for natural resources, food, water, etc.) and international terrorism are forcing us to face up to the current realities, to abandon any ideology driving ideas such as the European project, socialism with Chinese or even Russian characteristics, or the ideology prevalent in the United States, which styles itself leader of the free world (Banik, 2016, 2019).

Ultimately, it is up to us to decide which path humanity will take.

“Kultur hat nie Grenzen gekannt. Kultur war immer unser gemeinsames Gut und hat die Völker verbunden.”4 Vladimir Putin, 25.9.2001

The big European house

According to Jacques Ancel, “human groups … reach a harmonious balance and … end up recognizing borders deriving from a common memory, history, culture and language.” It is thus important to encourage community spirit and to create human bonds—instead of strategic alliances—of geographical proximity and to overcome ideologies. The only way is to integrate Russia by creating a great pan-European house and, at the same time, taking advantage of the BRI as a link that encompasses the Eurasian region.

Russia and Germany have a common memory and their destiny is forever linked. It is up to Germany to finally assume its responsibility and play the key role in creating this space of peace and security. Integrating Russia is crucial if we are to create new political visions which serve humankind and which ensure a free and autonomous life for everyone.

Geographically, Russia is the largest country in Europe. Geographically, Europe is much larger than the territory of the EU. The EU, and subsequently Germany, must at all costs avoid being caught up in the tension that seems to be developing between China, Russia and the U.S. In case of a military conflict, the major nations will win while the EU will be the main loser. The current danger is the image of the resurgent enemy resulting from the aggressive policy of the Biden administration and the EU towards China and towards Russia. Two almost “military” fronts have thus been created. In fact, the Cold War has never ended but merely changed its guise.

Rise in military spending

According to the Sipri press release of April 26, 2021: “The five biggest spenders in 2020, which together accounted for 62 per cent of global military expenditure, were the United States, China, India, Russia and the United Kingdom. Military spending by China grew for the 26th consecutive year.” China has focused on its navy. It is the second largest military spender after the United States. In 2020, “China’s military expenditure is estimated at $252 billion in 2020, representing an increase of 1.9 per cent since 2019 and 76 per cent since 2011.” (Sipri 2021). “Russia’s military expenditure increased by 2.5 per cent in 2020 to reach $61.7 billion. This was the second consecutive year of growth. Nevertheless, Russia’s actual military spending in 2020 was 6.6 per cent lower than its initial military budget, a larger shortfall than in previous years” (Sipri press release, 26.4. 2021).

From the perspective of the two fronts—“The Chinese Enemy” and “The Russian Enemy”—one must also consider U.S. military spending in 2020, “[which] reached an estimated $778 billion, representing an increase of 4.4 per cent over 2019. As the world’s largest military spender, the USA accounted for 39 per cent of total military expenditure in 2020” (Sipri press release, 26.4. 2021).

In view of the world’s ever-increasing military outlays, it is urgent that we revitalize and reform the instruments already in place, such as the NATO-Russia Council, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the EU-Russia dialogue and the various regional formats such as the Arctic Council. It is worth noting the bilateral agreements of strategic importance between China and Russia in the field of nuclear energy and within the framework of the Polar Silk Road, as well as the importance of the Eurasian Economic Union, in which Serbia, for one, has a free trade agreement.

Towards a uniform, faceless, controlled world?

China’s withdrawal or Chinese deglobalization

China’s 14th Five-Year Plan is the continuation of the country’s efforts to reform and modernize, but the “dual circulation” model also marks an important step towards China’s deglobalization. This “dual circulation” strategy welcomes foreign investment, but only in those products and services that are not (yet) available in China. Therefore, China aims to reduce its economic dependence on foreign countries and focus on building its own capacity. Nevertheless, it also wants to boost bilateral agreements, and is pursuing the BRI. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) follows the same logic, pursuing reinforcement on the geographical and geopolitical level in Eurasia. With the implementation of the RCEP, the largest free trade area in the world is being established. On the other hand,

China’s FDI in Europe continued to fall, to a 10-year low: Shrinking M&A activity meant the EU-27 and the United Kingdom saw a 45 percent decline in completed Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) last year,…” (Merics 2021).

“Keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”

The United States is pursuing a strategy, particularly in the area of foreign policy, that was initiated by Donald Trump, meaning “America first” when it comes to economic, military and geopolitical issues. American foreign policy is, above all, marked by the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. Note that, contrary to what Trump decided in 2020, Biden has reversed the partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from Germany (Politico 2021). Lord Ismay’s narrative seeking to keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down” is still relevant today.

The EU: a theater of conflict between China and the United States

Europeans have an increasingly critical view of China. China is seen as a systemic rival for the EU. The pandemic has exposed problems, including strategic dependence on imports from China. Therefore, the EU wants to remain credible at the international level and is seeking closer cooperation with the West, especially the United States, rather than an adjustment of its economic relations with China independent of the Americans.

Germany uprooted and war trauma

Germany seems to be stuck in a kind of “time loop.” Even though the Berlin Wall has long disappeared, there is still no uninhibited view of an open perspective towards the East, towards Germany’s historical East, especially towards Russia and the chances for cooperation that the country offers. German public opinion is still manipulated. As a result, it remains frozen in distrust of Russia. Further, the experienced war trauma—destruction, displacement and loss of homeland—has disconnected a whole generation from its own history, leading to a partial loss of its own identity. This disconnection has been unconscious, inherited by the descendants.

Towards total surveillance?

Basically, the conflict between the different ideologies and the omnipresence of the “pandemic” in the mainstream media strongly distract our attention from the real battle that has been going on in the background for a very long time.

The battle for world domination is not the conflict between different nation-states, e.g. the U.S., China or Russia, or between different political systems, democracy or dictatorship, but it is the struggle for supremacy by the lobbyists and by international institutions and organizations such as the World Economic Forum (WEF), the EU institutions, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and by the various interest groups and industrial associations that seem to be striving for a uniform, controlled world made of public-private partnerships, without nation-states, without cultural diversity, without a past, without a history, without roots and without identity.

“Smart government” and total surveillance

The advance of artificial intelligence and the 4th Industrial Revolution are visibly shifting geopolitics to geoeconomics. The need for control of international markets prevails over military conflicts. Large technological communication companies, such as social media giants (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), search engines like Google and Baidu, platforms like Amazon and Alibaba, cooperate more and more closely with their respective governments, thus creating public-private partnerships (PPPs). Back when geopolitics prevailed, the state’s sovereignty was ensured by the military control of the country and its borders. Now we see an increasing interdependence and cooperation between different governments, technology companies and large enterprises—“global players,” such as Big Data and Big Pharma. We are clearly heading towards a political system based on the “state economy,” as is already the case in China. In China, the state-owned enterprises, the “national champions,” are playing a predominant role not only in China but also on the international markets. In order to better face the Chinese competition, the EU has also launched a new industrial strategy to support and finance the creation of industrial alliances, a kind of “European industrial champions” (touteleurope.eu 2021)—even if the approach is not uniformly supported within the EU.

With an increasing number of PPPs, the establishment of state capitalism blurs the boundaries between business and government. In China, Russia and the United States, this issue is played out at the national level, while on the European continent it is advanced by the EU institutions. What is insidious is that, thanks to the cooperation between politics and technology companies, the media propaganda effectively supports and feeds this structural change. Thus, fundamental rights and identities are slowly being extinguished in favor of the uniformity of the corporate market.

Roots, identities, nations

Russians, Poles and Germans not only have a common history but shared cultural footprints. This history is a strength and not a weakness. According to Ancel’s vision, these three countries are at the crossroads of arbitrary borders and of borders of civilization. There are, on the one hand, the so-called arbitrary borders, which are more fraught, more strategic borders that have resulted from military pretensions. The borders of civilization, on the other hand, are more permanent as these are based on a common memory, common history and common language arising from a group of humans in equilibrium. The borders of civilization are “nevertheless more complicated because they are the object of numerous political and commercial interpretations”—even if the commercial justifications aim at “clearing a path” and not “enclosing” as the military justifications do (Ancel 1938, Banik 2021). For Russia, Poland and Germany, reconciling the past means “making a path in harmony,” our path back to our shared roots.

According to Ancel, the frontier is “a political isobar that fixes, for a certain time, the equilibrium between two pressures: the equilibrium of mass and the equilibrium of forces” (Ancel 1938). The real problem is not the question of borders. Borders will always exist, even in a globalized world. “There are no problems of borders. There are only problems of Nation” (Ancel 1938). Jacques Ancel argues for mankind as creator. “One does not revise borders, except by force; one modifies minds” (Ancel 1938; Lomnica 1938 foreword).

Quoting Vladimir Putin:

“Und wir können es uns einfach nicht leisten, die Last früherer Missverständnisse, Kränkungen, Konflikte und Fehler mit uns herumzuschleppen. Eine Last, die uns an der Lösung aktueller Probleme hindert.”5 Die Zeit, 2021

Regaining a sense of self

We, the Germans, unfortunately refused to take the hand that Putin extended to us in his speech to the Bundestag on September 25, 2001. The window of opportunity is wide open again. The German people need to reconnect to their entire cultural past. It is up to every German to discover his or her own roots, reconnect to his or her family past, healing the wounds and thus helping Germany to integrate its entire history and become whole again.

Similar to my path back to my Prussian roots, let us take an uninhibited view of our roots and seize this chance in order to create new prospects for German-Russian cooperation.

As Putin said in 2001:

“Ich bin überzeugt: Wir schlagen heute eine neue Seite in der Geschichte unserer bilateralen Beziehungen auf und wir leisten damit unseren gemeinsamen Beitrag zum Aufbau des europäischen Hauses.”6

There will be no better world, especially for Europe, without Russia’s integration into the pan-European house – and no better world if Germany is still cut off from its roots.

…Back to the roots

Katja Banik

www.katjabanik.com

Specialist in geopolitical issues, doctorate from Sorbonne Nouvelle University;

speaker and guest lecturer on geopolitical, economic and political issues, focusing on Jacques Ancel’s geopolitical vision of “the identity of the heart.”

Author of articles published on moderndiplomacy.eu, russiancouncil.ru (RIAC) and worldscientific.com, and author of the book Les relations Chine-Europe à croisées des chemins, published by L’Harmattan, Paris. Katja is the descendant of ancestors who lived in East and West Prussia. Her family on her mother’s side had to flee from Königsberg in East Prussia in January 1945 and, on her father’s side, from Schneidemühl in West Prussia. She increasingly connects the topics of identities, roots and borders in her geopolitical views.

Visible roots: Kurort Oybin, Germany 2021 and 1955:

Great-granddaughter and great-grandfather Friedrich Herbst


[1] “War is the result of the wrong policy and its legacy is distress and misery.”

[2] “Being open, despite the past.”

[3] “I would like to emphasize once again: Russia advocates for the restoration of a comprehensive partnership with Europe.”

[4] “Culture has never known borders. Culture has always been our common good and has united peoples.”

[5] “And we simply cannot afford to carry around the burden of past misunderstandings, offenses, conflicts and mistakes. A burden that prevents us from solving current problems.”

[6] “I am convinced that today we are turning a new page in the history of our bilateral relations and that we are making our joint contribution to the construction of the European house.”

Author’s Note: The paper was previously published by the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC)

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The End of a Belle Époque: Stability and Risks in Germany’s Elections

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On September 26, 2021, Angela Merkel’s 16-year tenure as Federal Chancellor of Germany will end. Protracted periods of stability, even positive stability, as a rule lead to a decrease in domestic political activity: players get used to an adaptive strategy, lose their ability to manoeuvre tenaciously, and at a turning point cannot decide to change. Germany is no exception: the upcoming elections are a fork between the continuation of traditional politics (stability) or an attempt at renewal (risk), primarily for the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Although Merkel announced her intention to leave the post of CDU head, having ruled out her re-election as chancellor, back in 2018, the process of choosing a successor, and therefore determining the future course, was not without difficulties. At first, the stake was placed on Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer—then the general secretary of the party, a technocrat even outwardly similar to the chancellor, but she did not gain popularity and after the scandal in the Thuringia state elections in February 2020, she resigned. After a year of hesitation, the place was taken by Armin Laschet—Prime Minister of one of the largest and most developed regions, North Rhine—Westphalia, an experienced politician and traditionalist.

In the struggle, they bypassed not only a stubborn revisionist, the former head of the CDU/CSU faction in the Bundestag Friedrich Merz, and the ambitious Minister of Health Jens Spahn, but also the leader of Bavaria, Markus Soeder, who has earned great popularity in the fight against COVID-19. At the state level, his Christian Social Union (CSU) operates independently, but at the federal level—it acts in alliance with the CDU. If the bloc won the elections, he could apply for the post of chancellor, but the CDU/CSU board voted against this after behind-the-scenes consultations. This confirms the party’s explainable choice in favour of stability: excessive risks during the transition of power can lose political capital, and continuity will help preserve the main voters.

However, the current ratings and political tradition will not allow the CDU to single-handedly form a government in the event of victory, and in the coalition negotiations, the stake on stability may already play against the party. Since 2013, the “grand coalition” of the CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) has been in power. In the absence of traditional competition, the “crisis of the centre” proved fatal for the Social Democrats, who ceased to be associated with the working class and the centre-left agenda and lost their voters.

It is difficult to count on a third “grand coalition”, even for reasons of continuity in such conditions: support for the CDU/CSU fluctuates at the level of 23–25%, and for the SPD—18-20% of the vote.

The Social Democrats have relied on Olaf Scholz, the most experienced finance minister and vice-chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. He surpasses Laschet in popularity, but his ability to further increase the rating is limited. The #laschetlacht scandal related to the incorrect behaviour of the candidate during the floods in Germany in July 2021 may cost the CDU some support.

What can the CDU/CSU count on in this situation at the coalition negotiations? How can a majority be achieved? The big party crisis did not mobilise small parties in the way the CDU would have liked. The radical Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the intractable Greens have gained in popularity: if a coalition with the first is excluded for ideological reasons, then an alliance with the latter contradicts the preservation of stability. Chancellor-candidate Anna-Lena Baerbock and the party’s electoral programme make it clear that they are in favour of changing the course of German policy (for example, for stopping Nord Stream-2). Today the party is supported by about 20% of voters (and in the spring this figure reached 28%)—this is twice as much as 4 years ago, and reflects public demand for innovations. Accordingly, the black-green coalition initially has a potential for conflict.

It turns out that the CDU needs a coalition of three parties. The centrist Free Democratic Party (FDP) claims 10–11% of the vote and could either balance the Greens, or boost the coalition with the CDU/CSU and the SPD to the required majority. The first option was already considered 4 years ago and the negotiations did not lead to success, despite the political weight of Merkel, which Laschet does not have. FDP leader Christian Lindner is not the easiest negotiator and does not have confidence in the Greens. Will he go for another deal?

The coalition of CDU/CSU, SPD and FDP could have a symbolic meaning in the context of transit—the main colours of the parties add up to the German flag. It responds to the CDU’s stake on continuity (at the expense of the SPD), but tolerates moderate innovation (from the FDP). Germans today have no clear coalition preferences, which indicates that the population has no idea of their capabilities. In this situation, the voter may well support the course towards stability.

In other words, we can talk about the firm intention of the ruling party to maintain the leadership and course of the outgoing chancellor. However, it is controversial whether this stake will work in the long term: coalition negotiations will be difficult, and there are few backup options. Laschet will have to manoeuvre between persistence and concessions, and analysts will have a very interesting autumn.

From our partner RIAC

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