Who is European? - A message from the Mediterranean trench
Updated: Apr 15, 2020
Knowledge instead of information is a goal that has mattered to many people during recent years, in the times of austerity and social media.
The decline of journalists’ working conditions and the pressure of high-speed publishing, creates a multiplication of information. We find news everywhere. Though after news are published, we rarely follow the progress of the situation, or conflict, or policy…
One reason is probably the dominance of mere information. Lots of facts are given, but fewer reflections and analysis. These aspects require precise research, and time to write - but are crucial in democratizing knowledge.
One topic particularly affected is the economic plan of the EU on the Covid-19 crisis.
On April 10th, after a long night of debates between the Economy Ministers of the EU member states, a fund of more than half a billion Euros was announced to invest in measures directly related with the pandemic. After weeks of waiting the news was published.
The same day, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte defined this measure as "a successful result but only for the first match“. He argued for a plan that allows more money than decided, but also that mutualizing the debts between all European countries will remove the impact of the pandemic. These are the so-called Eurobonds.
The situation of the Italian and Spanish economies now shows this, especially taking in account how it can develop in the following months. A crucial element for the economies of this countries is tourism. Summer tourism has been ruined as widescale lock-down will not end suddenly. The effects of the pandemic will increase in more countries during the coming months.
The EU meets again on the last week of April. Is the latest economic plan final or is there still hope for the Eurobonds?
In addition to the general fear of a pandemic, Southern European Countries experience an economic and existential fear. This is because of the lack of social politics of the Union. The constitution of a plan for Eurobonds depends on the diplomatic effort of EU members supporting this measure and on competitive pressure in a globalized world. The USA, for example, has implemented the greatest mobilization of public resources in its history. Japan has announced an unprecedented economic stimulus, a package equal to 20 percent of the country’s economic output.
Unnecessary weeks of uncertainty pass, while the representatives of the EU members reach a consensus. People are dying or enduring an economic situation that doesn’t allow the necessary minimum to exist. In Covid-times, dignity, equality and elemental socio-economic rights are endangered. Human rights achieved after decades of fight - centuries in some cases - must be defended, even if a consensus is not reached.
The need for Eurobonds is clear. The focus on an economic system rather than of human rights shows that the Union built a monetary union - but not a social state.
Demonstrators in Berlin push for the right path in 2015 - Echoed in 2020
Berlin-Kreuzberg, Spring 2015: "OXI" is written on banners of Rajoy kissing Merkel (emulating the Honecker-Brezhnev kiss on the Berlin wall). There are crowded demonstrations against the austerity program in Southern European countries. Demonstrators criticize cuts on social budget and reduction of national sovereignty. These demonstrations were mainly organized and attended by Berliners.
The meeting point was often Oranienplatz. Maybe one of the main functions of this square is to be the waiting place before demonstrations . People wait on their own or in collectives. On a sunny afternoon, a joyful mass with sunglasses and a colourful mix of posters, drafts, banners, messages, symbols… The collective means a political party, a movement or a platform.
Leftist parties from a lot of EU countries were there, as well as Kurdish, Chilean and Iranian parties, movements like the 15M, and many feminist groups or platforms for housing. Each demonstration had its own playlist but one song was never missing.
Bella Ciao was sung by all, and blared from vehicles leading the march. In April 2020. Bella Ciao played again. This time from the windows and balconies of Spain and Italy.
Both moments show that the EU has realized itself. People in a continent without borders - freedom of movement - sharing an idea of economic justice, the same idea of transnational governance - the same values.
In recent years a lot has been said about North-South power relations. The interest is shown by the number of publications, talks, movements and studies referring to it. A global reality is visible, the world is in fact divided in Global North and Global South.
This consciousness started to diffuse through the Non-Aligned Movement, continued through worldwide revolutions and movements in hand with intellectuals and students, Postcolonial studies show that the world is still divided between oppressors and oppresseds - even after the abolition of slavery and the independence of ex-colonial powers.
Less commented upon are the North-South power relations taking place within the Global North. Concretely, in the relation among EU members during the debate on Eurobonds.
Yet the members of the EU did not have colonies in the southern states of the Union. We are all Europeans. People singing Bella Ciao are legally EU citizens. They support the European Union. Or they favour some developments linked with the EU.
What keeps the power relations in a North-South axis in the EU is another of its characteristics, the influence. In contrast with other centuries, rather than through violence power is conquered now through a narrative. A message that makes out of the sender the center and the receiver the periphery because it starts a kind of admiration for the sender with the result of influencing the periphery culturally, economically and politically.
The following points show what the message against Eurobonds contains.
1. Who’s European? The construction of the other
To be European goes together with good management.
During the financial crisis of 2008, the countries of the South were depicted as being unable to manage their economies. Now the larger number of deaths of Coronavirus in Spain and Italy than in any other country, is linked to an "inability" of the South to deal with their medical system. This is to justify the "real“ Europeans, countries (eg Germany and Netherlands) not allowing the mutualizing of debts.
This is far from the truth. Other countries can also be blamed for bad management. The project Nextstrain gives more information about this. This is a system that shows the genetical sequences of the virus shared by public hospitals worldwide with the aim of finding the genetical tree of the Pandemic.
It has been used by the General University Hospital of Valencia (Hospital General Universitario de Valencia). The investigation shows that the origin of one of the Covid-19 stumps in Spain is Germany.
Remember the context. The first positives in Spain were a German tourist in La Gomera and a British tourist in Mallorca. This is easy to understand when we see how the main commercial exchange of Europe with China takes place in Frankfurt and London. The German method of refusing the lockdown style of other countries has its negative impacts.
Yes there was bad Southern management, as hospitals in Spain are so overcrowded that many people die. Meanwhile in Germany free beds are available at an advanced stage of the virus. The reason is clear if we compare when the health budget of both countries. Spain invests 3.300 Euros per year per inhabitant, half the quantity invested by Germany.
Public systems must show competence at the national level, in each of the European member states. The Spanish right loves privatization and cuts in social budget. Despite that, the images of the overcrowded hospitals have a root cause, which is the EU austerity programs. These meant an unprecedented cut. Now we know that they did not lead to good governance.
2. Sending masks and other handouts
It is crucial to thank the medical material that Spain and Italy have received from other European countries; as well as the reception of French and Italian sick people in German hospitals. This needs to be differentiated from the idea of Eurobonds as Southern Europe once more asking for money.
Southern countries are not asking for handouts. Many voices supporting Eurobonds argue that the EU needs to create them in order to realize solidarity among states, one of the reasons to be of the continental Union.
Parallel to this, the creation of Eurobonds is coherent with the European system. The larger number of infected in Spain is linked with the distribution of production of the EU system. With the entry in the EU, industry started to be dismantled in Spain.
Germany has been applauded because of the number of tests provided by the state. It is well known that this reduces the infection. Germany could provide them because it has a high national production of tests.
Eurobonds are a way of balancing the imbalance caused by the EU.
3. Tulips for the South
Paternalism. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has respected the codes of political behavior in her public speeches. Simultaneously she has been less sensitive in meetings of the debate on Eurobonds. Two facts published by El Pais Newspaper on April 6th corroborate this.
First, David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament was left out of negotiations related to the economical plan. Second, in meetings before the evening of April 9th, Southern states sent a petition to base the need of Eurobonds on studies about necessary measures to recover their economies.
The Chancellor disregards the truth that locals might be the best providers of information, and refuses to consider these documents. She argued that what this countries ask for is impossible. One European leader holds a monopoly of defining what is possible. Other EU leaders may only listen.
The South does not need beautiful words or political guidelines but to be treated as equal.
Times of Covid-19 are for actions instead of narratives. This is not the first time that people in Europe have faced a double existential crisis of death and economical collapse. We can look back the 1940s: Nazi invasions and terror followed by economical collapse after the war.
Then, the terror was defeated by the Italian partisans who wrote the lyrics for Bella Ciao. States were saved from economical collapse through the Marshall Plan. The success of the plan can be observed in Germany as it was one of the main beneficiaries from it. Today’s Marshall Plan are Eurobonds.
The Media have published the decisions taken on the last meeting of the EU states. The information is there. Now we should be able to ask how - while it’s been said that Covid-19 teaches the need of international collaboration - a high developed international system, the EU, does not act.