Ideas Monitor #6/2017

Solving Europe’s economic problems: what’s the priority?

Reflections on the destiny of the European Union have been at the centre of the public intellectual debate this week. On Die Welt, Dorothea Siems rounded on the monetary policy of the European Central Bank. Siems claims that the low interest rate policy established by Mario Draghi is driving the continent apart rather than unifying it. There is, Siems argues, an erroneous belief that low interest rates will lead to more investments. On the contrary, the only real solution to Europe’s economic predicament would be to foster structural reforms in crisis-hit countries.

The Economist focuses on Germany’s trade account imbalance and claims that Berlin’s surplus is becoming a bit of a concern for the rest of Europe. While the magazine criticizes the Trump administration for its remarks on Germany’s alleged currency manipulation, it says that there is a case for increasing investments in Germany, or for lowering value-added tax while increasing payroll taxes, so as to reduce the country’s current account balance.

In The Guardian, Jan Kubik argues instead that the Europe’s most important challenge is the breakup of eastern democracies. Kubik claims that the eastern European region is characterized by three main forces: “a disconnected political class, impatient and angry publics, and assertive demagogues”. Kubik warns that anger mediated by populist parties can destroy weak institutional frameworks. Moreover, the author claims that bringing down populist forces might not be sufficient to restore a liberal order if the former have successfully instilled the idea that complex problems can have quick and easy solutions.
 (Rotten) French elections: a turning point for the EU?

Martin Kettle, in The Guardian, argues that a victory of Emmanuel Macron in the next French Presidential elections could be a turning point for the EU. Kettle claims that Macron is committed to a “less austerity-driven Eurozone” and that his reform impetus for the EU looks “Anglo-Saxon” in many ways. Macron would be the best answer to those who foresee a domino effect on European politics, after a 2016 marked by the Brexit referendum and Trump’s election to the White House.

The editorial board of the The New York Times too focuses on the French electoral race. Reflecting on the recent Fillon affair, as well as Nicolas Sarkozy’s involvement in an illegal financing scheme, the NYT describes France’s current political landscape as “rotten”. This, according to the daily, has led to a boost for Emmanuel Macron and Benoît Hamon in the preferences of the French public, who is sick “of the self-serving behaviour of the political class”.

Labour and Podemos: it’s all about leadership

Last week the House of Commons approved Article 50 without any major amendment, so paving the way for the beginning of Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU. The split that occurred within the Labour party on the occasion of the vote on Article 50 raised once again the leadership issue. According to Matthew d’Ancona, the bells are tolling for Jeremy Corbyn. However, d’Ancona argues that there is no centrist Labour front ready to take up the challenge to steer the party in future years. On the other hand, Julian Coman highlights that the gap between Labour’s MPs and their constituencies is widening. Moreover, the Article 50 vote put several deputies at odds with their own electorates, who voted “leave” in June 2016.

In The Independent, John Rentoul writes that former shadow Business Secretary Clive Lewis might be the right candidate to take Corbyn’s place. Lewis approved Article 50 during the second reading but voted against in the third reading following Labour’s inability to introduce any significant changes to the bill.

The Economist focuses instead on the leadership contest within Spain’s Podemos party that took place over the weekend. The British magazine claims that with the success of Pablo Iglesias in the second national assembly of the Party, Podemos has further moved to the left. However, the magazine claims that this will not prevent more youngsters from joining the movement.

Grexit: an option for no one

On Carnegie Europe, Yannos Papantoniou warns that the threat of Grexit is back. According to Papantoniou Greece’s European lenders are focusing too much on harsh austerity measures. At the same time, Athens has made nothing but policy errors over the past decade. As Grexit is starting to become an attractive option in European conservative circles, Papantoniou warns about the risks of such a scenario. In the first place, Grexit would provoke a further shock to the country’s already weak economy.

Needless to say, social discontent and political instability would follow. As a consequence of the latter, geopolitical risks would rise “at a time when Russia and Turkey are challenging European security and the refugee problem has not passed its peak”.

An infectious Dutch disease?

The Economist focuses on the kick-off of the national electoral campaign in the Netherlands. The editors tackle the consolidation of Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom (PVV) vis-à-vis the democratic history of the country. The magazine claims that in the past Dutch politics have often been the a sort of “bellwether for Northern Europe”. Consequently, the likely success of the nationalist PVV might start a surge of European nationalism in 2017.

On EUROPP, Daphne Halikiopoulou takes a more theoretical perspective on populism and nationalism, arguing that notwithstanding the rhetoric ability of contemporary nationalist leaders, the success of their parties is not centred around nationalism per se. On the contrary, Halikiopoulou claims that drivers of support are economic and political insecurities. Crucially, she highlights that economic insecurity is not only about the “haves” and “have nots”, but also about the expectations and economic status of broad social groups.

This Ideas Monitor is by Carlo Burelli and Alexander Damiano Ricci

Photo Credits CC Karl-Ludwig Poggemann

Originally published at EuVisions.