Recall the self-satisfied EU celebrations of recent years --
the inauguration of the euro and the famous blue Euro passport, the accession
of all the Eastern European and ex-Soviet statelets, the gloating as the euro
steadily revalued. Fortress Europe was strong and united at last. The 21st
century belonged to the new Old World.
But then a few cracks began to appear in the shiny facade.
The Poles, especially, carped about just about everything -- the thought of
giving up their precious zloty (boy, are they sorry now), the EU farming rules,
the lack of Euro-support for US wars, and the Euro-cowardice in facing down the
Russian bear. They and the Czechs revealed Fortress Europe for what it was by
welcoming US missile bases, provoking the Russians into threatening to make
Europe once again the world�s nuclear battlefield. Kosovo managed to divide
even the big boys, with Spain refusing to recognise this latest US-German
plaything, and ratcheting up the tensions between Serbs, Croats -- even the
Slovenes. The Balkan cauldron is as hot as ever.
The world financial meltdown was the proverbial straw that
has left the Euro-camel paralysed. The collapse of the government of the Czech
prime minister -- the Euro-president himself -- was a fitting symbol for the
collapsing house of cards. No doubt, someday there will be a musical about this
Euro-Camelot, this once-and-never-land.
The comeuppance of Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek was
not the result of his recent snub of US President Barack Obama (he called
Obama�s stimulus spending �a way to hell� that will �undermine the stability of
the global financial market�). Rather it was the modest but unflagging
campaigning by the Czech Nonviolent Movement (CNM), which has been fighting the
installation of the US missile base outside Prague for two years now. They
mounted an ongoing series of nonviolent actions -- petitions, hunger strikes,
rallies, protests, electioneering -- building a grassroots campaign uniting the
70 percent of the Czech population who oppose the base, nibbling away at the
right-centre majority until it finally fell.
CNM organiser Jan Tomas called for �all invading armies to
withdraw from all occupied territories� (you can fill in the blanks), and for
nuclear disarmament. �Now in the Czech Republic a new chapter of our struggle
Topolanek is welcoming Obama to the G20 meeting in London as
the European president and hosting Obama a few days later at a US-EU summit in
Prague. Obama will then go to Strasbourg for NATO celebrations. Topolanek�s
undiplomatic remark actually represents the EU consensus and is surely not so
far from the mark. Obama�s ad hoc measures to deal with the crisis have been
praised by almost no one but the bankers, who are being treated to trillions of
dollars with no assurance that this massive bill will do any good whatsoever --
except, of course, for the bankers. One-third of his stimulus package is in the
form of tax cuts and is unlikely to have any long-term effect.
Not that the Eurocrats are coming up with anything more
likely to succeed. The EU is a hodge-podge of very different states with
radically different governments and economies, with no parallel Europe-wide
budget to allow for fast and broad stimulus measures. The US budget deficit
will be 10 percent of GDP this year and the next and the next. This is
impossible for the EU, which has a 3 percent limit per country and which,
unlike the US, cannot print its currency as if there were no tomorrow.
Much of the trillions that Obama is spending is in fact
seeping into Europe, adding to the steady US dollar inflow over the past half
century, leaving Europe awash in dollars. For Europe to notch up the
euro-printing press would be foolhardy in the extreme. The EU counts on exports
as a stimulus to the economy, like Asia, something the US abandoned long ago.
Though the subprime craze infected Europe too, its financial woes stem
primarily from the US with its unbridled consumerism and wars, and will never
be solved until the US puts its own house in order, balancing its budget and
its trade, something that Obama has made no hint of doing.
Adding the eastern non-economies to the EU merely compounded
its problems. European institutions invested very heavily in these �emerging
markets� and the financial crisis has led to a withdrawal of capital from such
regions back to the centre, exposing investors to large losses. It�s no
coincidence that the US dollar rose over the past six months, despite the
terrible shape the US economy is in, or that the European leaders are unwilling
and unable to commit to major stimulus measures for the EU as a whole. What was
touted even a year ago as a joyous community, a big happy family, is now a
dysfunctional one, complete with sibling rivalry, spoiled brats and marital
This year�s G20 inspired protests across Europe. Tens of
thousands marched through Berlin, Vienna, Paris and other European cities to
demand action on poverty, job losses and climate change. In London, 35,000
protesters gathered to Put People First on 28 March, bringing together more
than 100 trade unions, aid agencies, religious groups and environmental
organisations to call on world leaders to commit to real reforms. �Never before
has such a wide coalition come together with such a clear message for world
leaders,� said Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the Trade Union
Congress. �The old ideas of unregulated free markets do not work and have
brought the world�s economy to near-collapse, failed to fight poverty and have
done far too little to move to a low-carbon economy.� The protests culminated
on 1 April -- Financial Fools Day -- with a movement called �Storm the Banks�
focusing on the Bank of England.
In Paris, demonstrators dumped a pile of sand outside the
city�s stock market to mock the use of island tax havens. Whether or not the
G20 leaders took note, the only real progress at the G20 was in fact a
concerted attempt to address this practice, though the havens are resisting
fiercely. The Swiss foreign minister called German Finance Minister Peer
Steinbruck a �Nazi henchman,� and the Sunday Times revealed that Lord
Myners, the minister in charge of the British government�s �assault� on tax
havens, has 250,000 pounds sterling in an offshore shelter in Jersey. Myners
recently met Jersey officials who now say they have �nothing to fear� from any
tax haven crackdown. Past attempts to take on the tax havens failed, and it is
far from certain that this one will succeed.
The G20 is ignoring the urgent issue of global warming, but
the demonstrators did not. Organisers of the largest group, Camp for Climate
Action, compare carbon trading to the subprime boondoggle. Important decisions
about climate change are being left to the market, despite the fact that it is
controlled by the biggest polluters teaming up with the same financiers who
brought economies crashing down, argues Peter McDonell in The Ecologist.
These voices of protest are the ones showing the way out of
Europe�s present chaos, not the voices mouthing the same old tired platitudes
at the G20, the special US-EU Summit or the upcoming NATO celebrations.
Topolanek can badmouth Obama as much as he likes. It makes no difference. He
would do well to leave behind his 500 retainers and together with his Czech
nemesis step outside their armed fortresses, dispense with their tear gas and Tasers,
and spend a night camping out with Climate Action or at least listening to the
likes of Tomas and Barber.
Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him at geocities.com/walberg2002.