The Eastern threat and the perils of solidarity

Given the increasing success of populist forces across the Western world, Ross Dourthart provides a taxonomy of post-liberal approaches to politics. He describes three main typical political identities that challenge liberalism at its core: the “leftist new radicals”, the ”new reactionaries” and the “religious dissenters”. Dourthart claims that these emerging political philosophies draw upon human inner needs – respectively the yearning for community, the craving for honour and metaphysical hope – that go beyond the main essential goods – growth and wellbeing – that have been delivered by the liberal order over the past 50 years. However, according to Dourthart, the emergence of these political tendencies can trigger a reaction and be eventually beneficial to the further development of the “liberal civilization”. Judy Dempsey brings Dourthart’s theoretical distinction down to the level of European politics: there are two opposing views confronting each other on decisive European issues, such as the migration crisis. On the one hand, there is the “open” agenda of Germany’s Prime Minister, Angela Merkel, that calls for solidarity in order to keep the European Union together. On the other, there is the “Orban agenda”, made up of anti-EU policies and rhetoric, and the construction of new ideological and physical barriers between member states.

Following up on the Hungarian referendum dealing with the European “migrant quota scheme” and the harsh protests that took place in Poland against a controversial abortion law, several intellectuals try to answer the question whether “Central Europe is destroying EU solidarity”. If Vladimir Bartovic and Martin Ehl claim in a provocative fashion that it is not possible to destroy something that does not exist, Federiga Bindi argues that Central European countries still have issues with giving away sovereignty because of their past experiences with Communist regimes. However, most of the experts that have been called to give their views on the matter argue that the EU’s solidarity problem reaches far beyond the relations between the EU institutions and the Eastern countries.

The pitfalls of direct democracy

Looking at the examples of referendums in the UK, Hungary and Colombia, Julian Baggini makes a strong case for representative democracy vis-à-vis direct democracy. Baggini claims that it is a big mistake to assume that the majority is able to reach fair and wise decisions about specific policies. In particular, he argues that for democracy to work, it is more important that the people trust those who are elected to make decisions, rather than the other way round.

In a similar vein, writing on Die Zeit, Ludwig Greven argues that that there are two main factors that can turn a referendum into a dangerous game. In the first place, low turnout may intrinsically cast doubts on the legitimacy of majoritarian claims made by winning forces. Second, government parties can easily steer the agenda of referendum campaigns to their advantage, as it has been the case in Hungary. As Matthew Qvontrup explains, a referendum can easily become a weapon that blows up in a political leader’s hands. Forms of direct democracy should be an “extra check” on the elected politicians and not an ideological tool to push through a partisan agenda.

Finding a way out of European crisis

On El Pais, Joaquin Estefania writes that the only way to face the mounting political disaffection with the European integration project is to establish a social union that serves the European citizens. Estefania argues that this European Social Union should be able to tackle issues such as youth unemployment and job precariousness. Moreover it should foresee the creation of an automatic countercyclical mechanism aimed at mitigating inequalities between member states.

Mark Copelovitch, Jeffry Frieden and Stefanie Walter argue that there are four main lessons that can be learned from the evolution of the European crisis over the past six years. In the first place, the euro crisis has followed a classical balance-of-payments crisis, where lending by Northern European countries fuelled consumption in the south, so creating a bursting bubble. Second, the effects of the crisis have been amplified by the general context of the Monetary Union, within which crisis responses became intertwined with general discussions about the economic and political integration of the European Union. Third, the EU project is constantly suffering from longstanding problems, such as deflationary pressures, unfavourable demographics and from the fact that there is no consensus on the definition of problem-solving tools for the Eurozone. Finally, there is the lack of a fiscal and regulatory coordination between countries. However, Copelovitch, Frieden and Walter, argue that there are no specific technical obstacles linked to the definition of a solution to these problems, but only questions of political feasibility.

This Ideas Monitor is by Carlo Burelli and Alexander Damiano Ricci

Photo Credits CC: Gene Han

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