Is this the end of the world as we know it?

It's certainly the end of the eurozone as we know it.

If there was ever a time for apocalyptic titles, well, this is it. Politicians, journalists, market participants, commentators, academics and pretty much everybody under the sun have engaged in an unofficial competition for who is going to come up with the most depressing prediction of what the not-so-distant-future holds for the eurozone and Europe at large.

If these doomsday predictions are anything to go by, our world will come crashing before our eyes very soon. Maybe, but it is not all that bad. This is indeed the end of the eurozone as we know but I believe we should all feel fine.

What is about to end is the perverse system of guarding a monetary union with peer pressure alone. The Stability and Growth Pack was an inadequate tool for governance, based on intergovernmentalism. Supranational institutions like the European Commission and Eurostat were left powerless to enforce discipline (or even question Member States' statistics).

Proposals are already on the table to strengthen the governance of the eurozone and empower the Commission to scrutinise national budgets, warn about the build-up of imbalances and challenge Member States that break the rules. But more needs to be done; not least the creation of a European treasury with the appropriate authority, know-how and firepower to make fiscal and economic policy common for the eurozone as a whole.

The intergovernmental model of governance has taken focus away from the collective good of the Union and put the emphasis on EU Member States' competing national interests. What we need is independent and supranational institutions, taking decisions beyond narrow national interests, with the good of the EU as a whole in mind.

In a similar vein, the idea that monetary union can prosper without fiscal union has run its course.

The emergence of imbalances and the loss of competitiveness are features of all monetary unions, including the US or the UK. To reduce the chance that these imbalances occur, scrutiny of fiscal policies and national budgets must be accompanied by the integration of labour, social and tax policies in an effort to form not just common economic policies but also a truly common European economy.

But when imbalances do emerge a system of transfers must be put in place to afford the embattled part of the union time and space to implement the necessary policies that will allow it to regain competitiveness. Those transfers will be conditional to the applications of the appropriate policies and can only happen in the context of a comprehensive fiscal union, with the rights and responsibilities that implies.

Furthermore, the European Central Bank must be liberated from its purely price stability remit. A strong and stable eurozone requires an central bank that monitors the build-up of imbalances across the economy and the financial services sector and is able -- and willing -- to function as lender of last resort when solvent member states and financial institutions find themselves in liquidity problems due to a systemic shock in the markets.

The creation of a fiscal union and the strengthening of the central bank will allow for the issuance of common bonds without the risk of moral hazard. Member Sates won't need to rely purely on the discipline of markets when they have to abide to the discipline of eurozone institutions. At the same time, the eurozone will not run the risk of constantly falling pray to the un-picking of its weakest link by the markets.

Last, but certainly not least, this Huxleyian Brave New World should have at its core democratically legitimate and accountable institutions. If we are to move closer to fiscal and economic federalism, governed by the independent and supranational institutions mentioned above, EU citizens must be at the heart of the process. Those charged with making decision -- be it the President of the European Commission, the President of the European Council, a European Finance Minister or the Members of the European Parliament -- must be directly accountable to the people.

Direct election for the three former, and a more representative voting system for the latter, will ensure a direct link between the electorate and the elected, and legitimise the process of economic integration needed to safeguard the future of the eurozone. This is not pro-European fantasy: it is a necessary building block in the architecture of the new governance structure of the Eurozone. And for that we need a new, grand, pan-EU Social Contract between EU citizens and their elected representatives.

The sooner we start drafting that contract the quicker we will be able to take EU citizens on board the process of closer European integration, bidding farewell to the world as we know it while greeting a new, brave one.

Petros Fassoulas is the Chairman of the European Movement UK

Petros Fassoulas is the chairman of European Movement UK

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How the mantra of centrism gave populism its big break

A Labour insider reflects on the forces behind the march of populism. 

For just under a quarter of a century, British politics has been dominated by what might be called, paradoxically, a “theology of centrism” - the belief that most people were more concerned with what works than ideology, and that politics should principally be the art of improving the delivery of public goods. It was a theology that, for all their policy differences, united Tony Blair and David Cameron. Anyone who thought electoral success could be won anywhere but from the centre was either naïve or fanatical, or both... but definitely wrong.

Now, populism is on the march across the West. In Britain, as elsewhere, the political class is unnerved and baffled.

So what happened? Partly, as with all revolutions in politics, the answer is: “events”. Unsuccessful wars, economic crashes and political scandals all played their part. But that isn’t enough of an explanation. In fact, the rise of populist politics has also been a direct result of the era of centrism. Here is what has taken place:

1. A hollow left and right

First, the theology of centrism was the culmination of a decades-long hollowing out of mainstream politics on the left and right.

In the mid-20th century, Conservatism was a rich tapestry of values – tradition, localism, social conservatism, paternalism and fiscal modesty, to name but a few. By 1979, this tapestry had been replaced by a single overriding principle - faith in free-market liberalism. One of Margaret Thatcher's great achievements was to turn a fundamentalist faith in free markets into the hallmark of moderate centrism for the next generation of leaders.

It is a similar story on the left. In the mid-20th century, the left was committed to the transformation of workplace relations, the collectivisation of economic power, strong civic life in communities, internationalism, and protection of family life. By the turn of the 21st century, the left’s offer had narrowed significantly – accepting economic liberalism and using the proceeds of growth to support public investment and redistribution. It was an approach committed to managing the existing economy, not transforming the structure of it or of society.

And it was an approach that relied on good economic times to work. So when those good times disappeared after the financial crash, the centrism of both parties was left high and dry. The political economic model of New Labour disappeared in the first days of October 2008. And when a return to Tory austerity merely compounded the problem of stagnant living standards, public faith in the economic liberalism of the centre-ground was mortally wounded.

2. Fatalism about globalisation

Second, Labour and Tory politics-as-usual contained a fatalism about globalisation. The right, obsessed with economic liberalism, welcomed globalisation readily. The left under Bill Clinton in the US and Blair in the UK made their parties’ peace with it. But globalisation was not a force to be managed or mitigated. It was to be accepted wholesale. In fact, in his 2005 Conference speech, PM Tony Blair chastised those who even wanted to discuss it. “I hear people say we have to stop and debate globalisation," he said. “You might as well debate whether autumn should follow summer. They're not debating it in China and India.” (I bet they were, and still are.) The signal to voters was that it was not legitimate to fret about the pace and consequences of change. No wonder, when the fretting began, people turned away from these same politicians.

3. A narrowing policy gap

Third, the modernising projects of Blair and Cameron ended up producing a politics that was, to use Peter Mair’s term, “cartelised”. The backgrounds, worldviews and character of party elites began to converge significantly. Both parties’ leaderships accepted the same external conditions under which British politics operated – globalisation, economic liberalism, sceptical acceptance of the EU, enthusiasm for closeness to the US on security issues. The policy space between both main parties narrowed like never before. As a result, economic and class divisions in the country were less and less reflected in political divisions in Westminster.

The impression arose, with good reason, of an intellectual, cultural and financial affinity between politicians across the main divide, and between the political class and big business. This affinity in turn gave rise to a perception of “groupthink” across the elite, on issues from expenses to Europe, and one that came with a tin ear to the concerns of struggling families. It may be misleading it is to depict all politicians as snug and smug members of a remote Establishment. Nevertheless, social and economic convergence inside Westminster party politics gave populists an opportunity to present themselves as the antidote not just to Labour or the Tories, but to conventional politics as a whole.

4. New political divides

Lastly, the populist moment was created by the way in which new electoral cleavages opened up, but were ignored by the main political parties. The last decade has seen a global financial crash that has restored economic insecurity to frontline politics. But at the same time, we are witnessing a terminal decline of normal party politics based fundamentally on the division between a centre-left and centre-right offering competing economic policies. 

Of course economics and class still matter to voting. But a new cleavage has emerged that rivals and threatens to eclipse it - globalism vs nationalism. Globalists are economically liberal, positive about trade, culturally cosmopolitan, socially progressive, with a benign view of globalisation and faith in international law and cooperation. Nationalists are hostile to both social and economic liberalism, want more regulation and protection, are sceptical of trade, see immigration as an economic and cultural threat, and have little time for the liberal international order.

The factors that drive this new electoral divide are not just about voters’ economic situation. Age, geography and education levels matter – a lot. Initially both main parties were tectonically slow to respond to this new world. But populism – whether Ukip, the SNP or Theresa May's Tories – has thrived on the erosion of the traditional class divide, and sown seeds of panic into the Labour party as it faces the prospect of sections of its traditional core vote peeling away.

Centrists thought their politics was moderate, pragmatic, not ideological. But signing up to free market liberalism, globalisation and an economistic view of politics turned out to be seen as a curious kind of fundamentalism, one which was derailed by the 2008 crisis. The exhaustion of the theology of centrism did not create populism – but it did allow it a chance to appeal and succeed.

Those on the left and right watching the march of populism with trepidation need to understand this if they are to respond to it successfully. The answer to the rise of populist politics is not to mimic it, but to challenge it with a politics that wears its values proudly, and develops a vision of Britain’s future (not just its economy) on the foundation of those values. Populists need to be challenged for having the wrong values, as well as for having anger instead of solutions.

But calling for a return to centrism simply won’t work. It plays precisely to what has become an unfair but embedded caricature of New Labour and Notting Hill conservatism – power-hungry, valueless, a professional political class. It suggests a faith in moderate managerialism at a time when that has been rejected by events and the public. And it tells voters to reconcile themselves to globalisation, when they want politicians to wrestle a better deal out of it.

Stewart Wood, Lord Wood of Anfield, was a special adviser to No. 10 Downing Street from 2007 to 2010 and an adviser to former Labour leader Ed Miliband.