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EUROPE ADRIFT

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LISBON, Dec 4 2008 (IPS) - There are remarkable differences between the effects of today\’s massive financial crisis on the US, the epicentre of the crisis, and on the European Union, writes Mario Soares, ex-President and ex-Primer Minister of Portugal. In this analysis, Soares writes that after the victory of Barack Obama and the Democratic party, the US has become \”the land where anything could happen\”, while the Old Continent remains paralysed and seemingly adrift. It is worrying that many European leaders seem not to have even grasped the scale of the challenges the world currently faces and the necessity of working together and joining forces to meet them. It seems improbable that the Treaty of Lisbon will be ratified by the 27 member states, just as predicted months ago. This is a shame, because the strategy embodied by the treaty, approved in March 2000, sets out a social and environmental model and affirms, therefore, that it is possible to make harmonise progressive social policies, workers\’ rights, and strict environmental regulation with economic competitiveness, financial rigour, and scientific and technological innovation.

While the United States, after the victory of Barack Obama and the Democratic party, has become “the land where anything could happen”, the Old Continent remains paralysed and seemingly adrift.

With less than a month left with France holding the Presidency of the European Union -during which it is fair to say Nicolas Sarkozy didn’t get much accomplished- and on the eve of the Czech Republic’s assumption of that position, which generates doubts and preconceptions about the future of the EU, it seems improbable that the Treaty of Lisbon will be ratified by the 27 member states, just as predicted months ago. This is a shame, because the strategy embodied by the treaty, approved in March 2000, sets out a social and environmental model and affirms, therefore, that it is possible to make harmonise progressive social policies, workers’ rights, and strict environmental regulation with economic competitiveness, financial rigour, and scientific and technological innovation.

But there is no denying that the Lisbon Treaty has lost importance and meaning as a result of the wreck caused by neoliberalism and the beginning of a new political-economic cycle. All of this is changing at a rapidly accelerating rate. The solutions to the great crisis must utilise different approaches. However, the means adopted thus far in Europe have been no better than those tried by the US, and they have been less transparent.

It is worrying that many European leaders seem not to have even grasped the scale of the challenges the world currently faces and the necessity of working together and joining forces to meet them.

True, the former Warsaw Pact countries that were part of the latest wave allowed to join the European Union never came across as very pro-Europe -with a few honourable exceptions. They were interested above all else in the security plan (rather theoretical) and membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, while they regarded the European Community as a free-trade organisation that removed tariffs, forgetting that this is not its primary objective, which is building a lasting peace on the continent and guiding it towards political union.

Today, some of these countries, for economic reasons, recognise that belonging to the Eurozone could bring them protection from the crisis. But they don’t see the EU as a real political community.

The parties of the extreme left, which always distrusted what they considered to be the “Europe of the trusts”, never understood the importance of European integration to the realisation of major political transformations.

As for the socialist and social democratic parties, they let themselves be influenced -if not colonised- by the neoliberal creed pushed by the George W. Bush administration and by the so-called “Third Way” of British Labour Party. Today, after the ruin of Bush and the Republican Party, and given the expectations for change that President-elect Barack Obama will bring, neoliberal free-market anti-regulation ideology seems a thing of the past.

However, for the European left to be able to offer a valid alternative to discredited neoliberalism, all of its components -social democrats, labourites, greens, and even the radical left emancipated from the old totalitarian utopias- must prove themselves responsible and capable of a new dynamism necessary to overcome the economic crisis.

In this regard, the French Socialist Party -the party of Leon Blum and Francois Mitterand- set a terrible example at its last congress in Rheims, where the leaders launched into personal fights and seemed incapable of debating ideas or strategy, while not listening to the demands of the activists.

This isn’t good for Europe and is even worse for the left. The first step towards making the changes that are needed today is recognising one’s own mistakes. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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