Two Takes on Europe

The twilight of the elites due to their incompetence and arrogance is something I’ve highlighted for years. The first take is from our old friend David Dayen (we knew him back when as dday). The second is from Pravda, the company paper of D.C., if anything a bastion of the Center-Right Village.

Who’s to Blame for Brexit? The Elites
by David Dayen, The American Prospect
June 24, 2016

Over the past decade, elites broke the world, and were unrepentant about their failure. They created the conditions for the worst economic crisis in nearly a century, and made sure that their elite friends at the top would scoop up the post-crisis gains, stranding the vast majority of people. They decided their project of globalization and liberalization mattered more than democracy. Brexit is among the first tangible responses.

Yes, the victorious campaign to leave the European Union won on the basis of xenophobia and the demonization of immigrants. For anyone of a cosmopolitan bent it’s a terrible outcome. And those with long enough memories to remember the last time European nations broke apart instead of coming together will be pained by the outcome.

(I)f you tell people you know what’s best for them for years and years while their prospects wither and their lives are immiserated, at some point you should expect some kind of reaction. Practically all of the U.K.’s elites—including the leaders of both major political parties—supported remaining in the EU, and couldn’t convince enough of their citizens to go along. Democracy was the poison pill that halted the European project. And now, its architects have a choice to make: admit nothing is wrong with their abhorrent excuse for leadership and lose the rest of the continent, or change course and embrace the views of their citizens instead of ignoring them.

Consider how Europe acted after the 2008 financial crisis. They demanded balanced budgets and even surpluses from member countries that had no ability to both run them and provide for their citizens. They viewed every appeal from those countries, assembled mostly in southern Europe, as a personal affront. They turned a global recession into a morality play, so they could scold the weak sisters of the Eurozone as lazy slugabeds who deserved to suffer.

And they didn’t just do this out of spite: they explicitly wanted to empower multinational conglomerates at the expense of independent domestic producers. Last year’s list of demands for the Greek economy from the “troika” (the European Union, European Central Bank and the IMF) had little to do with preventing corruption and furthering economic opportunity. They were mostly about breaking the power of the local publishing industry, journalists, olive oil makers, mom and pop retailers, and so on. The goal was to make way for outside corporations and throw over the internal political and social culture.

The technocratic administration of policy in the EU is obtuse to the average Briton or Italian or Frenchman. They viewed democracy the way most people view mosquito bites, as a nuisance rather than a collective voice worth listening to. Euroskepticism grew amid this neglect. For all the talk of burdensome migration, Leave did best in rural communities with few, if any, immigrants. These are the cities and towns that lost out from globalization, where deindustrialization has wiped them out and left them flat. Anger at economic stagnation played as much of a role in Brexit as anger at faceless foreigners allegedly ruining British society.

The Remain campaign tried to tamp down this anger with lectures, talking down to the rubes in the backwoods and explaining how they didn’t know what was good for them. This has been pre-eminent rhetorical technique among globalization enthusiasts for decades: that they would fix everything if the public would only listen. What they have fixed is a transition of wealth into financial centers and corporate coffers, and a denuding of societal character in favor of a global monoculture.

(A)rrogance has been the default switch of the elite technocrats, and member state publics would revolt if Brussels tried to grab even more power now. If Europe responds to Brexit by consolidating more control, they’ll have learned nothing from the yearning for people to free themselves from the yoke of unaccountable external rule, and the UK won’t be the first to leave.

Nationalism can be ugly. But so can rule from a secret chamber abroad, for the benefit of corporations. The post-World War II social order has failed too many, and people are desperate for an alternative. As much as the toxicity of right-wing populism is driving this disruption, ultimately the blame must be laid at the feet of those who bungled the European project so completely.

The E.U.’s biggest threat is the will of its people
By Anthony Faiola and Michael Birnbaum, Washington Post
June 26

The vote in Britain to leave the European Union lays bare the most dangerous obstacle confronting the world’s most ambitious economic and political bloc: the voice of the European people.

The elites who forged the union — a sprawling labor and consumer market of more than 500 million people — have for decades pursued an agenda of deepening integration. French bakers, German bankers and Italian restaurateurs would find themselves beholden to Brussels — the administrative capital now viewed with the same amount of voter sympathy in the towns and villages of Europe as Washington in the American heartland.

The British result amounted to a shock because of its sweep — an outright pullout from the E.U. It forces Europe to face the fact of broad public discontent with the E.U., by no means confined to Britain. Voters in France, Ireland and the Netherlands have previously made that clear when refusing to endorse various proposals that would have furthered European integration. But the United Kingdom’s vote was a direct challenge to the E.U.’s viability.

And alarmed leaders fear a domino effect of exit votes that could unravel the bloc. They are vowing a swift reinvention of a cumbersome, complicated and often confusing institution that the average European loves to hate.

Even those who support the E.U’s lofty ideals concede a profound disconnect between the bureaucrats in Brussels calling for “more Europe” — a slogan meaning more integration — and the millions of citizens they serve who say they want less.

Ralf Gotthardt, a 58-year-old retired bus driver smoking a cigarette in front of the local supermarket, offered a picture of the resentment threatening the bloc.

“I understand the British,” he said. “Decisions are just being made over our heads, and we need a referendum. The English did the right thing.”

He blames the E.U. for just about everything subpar in Rudow (a Berlin neighborhood). For the non-German-made washing machines in local stores that “break after only two years.” For goods and services that seem to cost more than they used to. For the E.U.’s failure to come up with a real plan for handling a record wave of migrants from the Middle East. For crime — which he sees as the byproduct of the free flow of movement across European borders.

Even before the British vote, a poll by the Pew Research Center suggested the extent of the citizen backlash. The populations, if not the governments, in Eastern European nations such as Poland and Hungary are the bloc’s strongest supporters. But the French, the poll showed, actually dislike the E.U. more than the British. And a majority of Greeks and pluralities of Swedes, Dutch, Germans, Italians and French said they wanted some E.U. powers returned to their national governments.

When voters in France and the Netherlands rejected a proposed E.U. constitution in 2005, E.U. leaders came back two years later and implemented many of the same changes through a different legal path that did not require voter approval. That helped fuel a sense that the E.U.’s expanding ambition had a life of its own, unchecked by national will.

Also unchecked, critics say, are E.U. rules. Bakers in Scandinavia rebelled in 2013 when the E.U. tried to limit the amount of cinnamon in baked goods to 15 milligrams per kilogram of dough, after studies found that excessive consumption of a chemical found in the spice caused liver damage. British voters loved to mock regulations about “bendy bananas,” a requirement that bananas be “free from malformation or abnormal curvature.”

In Brussels, at an exhibition at the granite-and-steel European Parliament building devoted to explaining the E.U.’s byzantine workings to the public, visitors on Saturday traced the arc of E.U. history in a long hallway. Each of the 28 member states had its own section.

One large group of visitors to the center, known as the Parlamentarium, were students getting master’s degrees in European studies — essentially a graduate program in how the E.U. works. Many aspired to working inside the bloc’s institutions and were devoting more than a year to studying the intricate patchwork of commissions, directorates, councils and Parliament.

It is, perhaps, telling that a higher degree is needed to fully grasp the E.U. — a fact that has isolated it from many of the citizens it serves.

Inside Brussels’ corridors of power, there is a furious argument underway about how to respond to the British vote. Some leaders say that the rejection should inspire a wholesale rethinking of how the E.U. relates to its citizens and perhaps a permanent trimming of its ambitions. But others say that the best course is to keep doing what they have always done: to push forward with integration and pooled sovereignty, in the faith that a perfected project will prove its worth to ordinary voters.

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