Just another Sunday, by Luís Teles Morais

Elections to the European Parliament will be held at the end of coming May – that is to say, in only four months’ time. Their outcome will have deep, long-lasting implications – not only for democracy, but also for the practical life of Europe’s citizens. Decisions on how the institutions on which the Euro and the Union are built should continue to be reformed over the next few years will be significantly, if not decisively, influenced by the outcome of these polls – not only due to the power of the Parliament itself, but also due to the powerful signals it can send to the Council regarding how electors stand on furthering European integration in the near future.

This is especially true in the case of the Eurozone countries and, particularly, for those countries most affected by the many recent crises, subject to financial assistance programmes, such as Portugal, which – save for Italy – have very little bargaining and lobbying power in the Council.

Therefore, an in-depth, comprehensive, wide-ranging debate about Europe should currently be taking place in the Portuguese public sphere. There is a host of questions with no straightforward answer, on which electors and candidates could and should be reflecting, such as: How to continue Eurozone reform? Should the role of the ECB and its statutes be revised? How to ensure effective implementation and enforcement of the Fiscal Compact? Should further powers be delegated in fair European institutions, giving them strength to correct persistent imbalances in the Euro’s idiosyncratic economies, and if not, how to do so? How to continue the construction of the banking union, what type and extent of bank regulation should be implemented?

Yet, such a debate is all but inexistent. In the media and the political agenda, the lexicon of simplistic dichotomies such as “austerity vs. anti-austerity”, “periphery vs. core”, “us vs. the Germans” is pervasive and smothers any hint of meaningful discussion about Europe. Perhaps even more worryingly, in the political discourse there seems to be a generalized aversion to overtly displaying commitment and enthusiasm for Europe. Instead, there is a strong concern for the use and abuse of the term “sovereignty” as a purported priority, even if in a vague manner. It is harder than ever to, as José Manuel Barroso once elegantly put it, “make the case for Europe”.

Neither particular end of the political spectrum can be faulted for this. In Portugal, the populist, Europhobic wave has mostly been surfed by the left – to mixed results – unlike what has been the pattern in other countries, where far-right parties have seen their influence rise markedly. However, factions of the centre and centre-right parties, notably including the central discourse that coalition partner CDS-PP has been pushing through, have also increasingly given in to the temptation of blaming the European boogeyman for the hardships a part of society went through along the adjustment programme, going as far as pompously introducing a countdown timer for “the day the Troika will leave”.

Opinion polls have never shown a true, widespread anti-European sentiment in the Portuguese, and it is safe to say we remain among the most committed to Europe, but having said that, all this «noise» drives people away from discussing and thinking about the issues of the Union. Combined with how often agenda-setters try hard to make light of the importance of the coming elections, downplaying them as a mere “opinion poll” on which to base conjectures about pointless issues such as the composition of the next government, or whether or not the opposition’s leader will be replaced, people can have a hard time seeing the point of the elections and, in the process, miss a crucial opportunity for all of us to work together towards more and better Europe.

This can be inverted, if we own the duty to put a serious discussion about Europe on the table and empower those around us to, firstly, think and, then, argue about what Europe, and our place in it, should be. It is our job to not allow the coming 25th May to be just another Sunday.

Luís Teles Morais is a student of NovaSBE’s MSc Finance (major in Banking, Financial Regulation and Supervision) and executive/research assistant at the Institute of Public Policy Thomas Jefferson-Correia da Serra. He is keen on the economics of money, finance, banking, public and welfare economics, policy and institutions.

Advertisements

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for your ideas Luís. I fully agree with you that more and more European elections should concern all of us to discuss the questions you raised.

    But I think there is a primordial question before the economic ones: a political one. The one relative to federalism. In order to implement long-lasting economic policies in the whole European-Union we need to have democratically legitimized pan-european government (an executive body which actions are dependent of parliament approval) and, most importantly, a parliament with effective legislative powers, i.e a federation of states. This way we raise political responsibility and engagement from both the supply and demand side of the political representation market: politicians directly elected by the citizens accordingly to their scrutinized political programs and electors that are asked to judge which policies should be carried out and whom should execute them.

    I find very undemocratic (to say the least) that the main strategies of the European Union are set by a council of governments which, in fact, is a council of politicians elected to take care of the interests of their particular electorates. Why not give to all the electorates the power to vote directly to a parliament with effective powers? Why should the country x government be allowed a veto power toward country y government decisions given that country x representatives don´t have to take in account country y electors aspirations? Why should Minho’s government decisions be rejected by the Algarve’s government? Why not should the electorates of Minho and Algarve and of all other regions vote for an effective global parliament? Oh…wait! That’s called Portugal!

    Let us think that we, europeans, can be more than a mere collection of governments…that we can be an experience of responsible wide progress.

    P.S. 1) federalism should not be synonym of blind-centralism. Regionalism should be taken in consideration, either in the form of the present day states or cultural\linguistic regions. 2) the existence of the euro-zone should be well articulated with the existence of legitimized pan-european elected parliament and consequent dependent government.

    1. Thanks for reading and for your comments, João. I must say that I see myself as, before anything else, an “emotional” federalist and, so, I fully support such ideals as well as most proposals with that in mind. At the same time, I make more and more sense of a, so to say, “possibilist” view to European construction – a possible Europe is better than no Europe, if federal or quasi-federal Europe is too much of a political stretch – and, if we’re honest, it was through a step-by-step, gradual process that it came this far. Possibly, public opinions might not be open enough to that just yet, as like I was saying above, we’re still just too sensitive to the word “sovereignty”.

  2. It’s the first time I check the NEC blog and I may tell you this article is extremely well written.
    Keep on writing this way Luís Teles Morais.

Leave a comment or suggestion

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s