If there were a school-yard gang that offered you membership status on the prerequisite you wore their tee-shirt, and if wearing that tee-shirt provided you with benefits that enhanced your school experience then it could reasonably be said that membership is a good thing, so long as entry was left open to all, and non-tee-shirt children were not bullied in the process. In reality, this gang of like-minded children should be seen as a team.
But what happens when a child wants to wear a different tee-shirt, yet still expects to remain in the team? Might the manner in which a group deals with dissension be a strong indicator of whether that group is actually a team or if it is, in reality, just another gang?
The European Union is a team idea, based on a grand old vision of a unified Europe, a vision borne out of revulsion to the internecine conflicts of Europe’s past. Free flow of citizens across borders, shared ideals and, for 17 of the 27 EU members, a shared currency. It’s a grand plan to form a team that can hit higher and further than its individual players, and allow a greater voice in global trade and relations.
But what if a couple of team members cannot keep their gang colours clean or want to wear different tee-shirts? What if they play in the sandpit and climb trees until their tee-shirts are dirtied and torn? Should they be kicked off the team? And if their parents are too poor or incapable or unwilling to manage the upkeep of those tee-shirts, should these children be forced to leave the team or should they be forced to better maintain the team tee-shirts?
The European Union has various rules and agreements and treaties that set out minimum standards of conduct for members. The rules that have rocked global economics in 2010/11 are those that deal with debt. Member states are supposed to run their budgets prudently, and ensure that overall debts are below thresholds. Simply put, these thresholds have been pretty much ignored by most members. The unfolding dramas of the Global Financial Crisis highlight how susceptible the individual members of the EU are to any deviation from the capitalist aim of continuous growth, and now the question arises of how to deal with the countries in the worst position.
The position to date has been for the stronger members of the team to start dictating terms for their continued support of the players in trouble. Greece and Italy have lost their rights to a democracy, and have been taken under the wing of EU book-keepers. The economies will be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the golden ratios marked out as magnificent and righteous by the powers-that-be.
But is this the most appropriate way of dealing with such issues?
“Union” is a globally misunderstood term
The media-heads surrounding the first Iraq War understood this concept – they labelled their war a “coalition of the willing” (even if it was a politically cynical nomenclature for a triad invasion). Surely a union of minds and bodies works best if the members of that union are willing participants?
Human history is a torrid read, replete with massacres, genocide, brutality and suppression – most often in the name of “unification” under one leader or group or religion or idea. You would think when 502 million people elect their best and brightest to lead and govern, that such a group of Very Clever People would act prudently and think carefully about actions and outcomes – but you’d be wrong. It seems pride, vanity, envy and superiority are just as endemic in the hallowed halls of power as they are in the streets and slums that are home to the great unwashed and spectacularly less news-worthy, components of humanity.
If a country is straddled with high debt, and is having trouble working through that process then wouldn’t it make sense to go back to the idea of working as a team rather than acting like a gang?
Rather than take away sovereignty or implementing punitive measures from on-high, why not put in some real team effort to improve everyone’s position? Why not do everything possible to keep the team strong, and allow the less-fit players a bit of “time on the bench”?
The economics of a country are not set in stone, no matter how much effort is put in by Very Clever People. Sometimes the conditions available simply do not lend themselves to perfect answers and golden ratio outcomes. Real teams understand that basic fact, and they allow for it in their rules and constitutions and guidelines. More importantly, they act in a way that shows that the rules actually mean something. Here’s a little mind exercise…
Germany is wracked by a massive series of earthquakes, resulting in enormous damage to the country’s infrastructure. The resultant clean-up and rebuilding effort requires huge levels of capital, and quickly. Germany uses its global financial clout to borrow funds from global markets and rapidly brings its export-driven economy back on-line. In doing so, its budget deficit triples EU limits, while its national debt greatly exceeds EU maximums.
With these golden ratios exceeded – should the German government be sacked, and Brussells book-keepers be appointed to bring Germany back into line?
The more obvious response to this mind exercise is to ridicule it as being completely different to the situation of Greece, Italy (Ireland, Portugal and Spain), as these countries voluntarily failed to meet standards, and failed to implement measures to bring their economies back into line. In this reasoning, it is unfair to use an externally imposed condition as the basis of comparison with a self-created condition. Perhaps. And yet, perhaps not. Isn’t there room for just a wee tad of compassion in both circumstances? Isn’t that showing just a little bit of higher thinking than setting up a medieval set of stocks for those who breach golden ratios?
Leaving is just as important as joining
The EU sets out minimum standards that must be attained for a period of time before a nation can sit on the benches, awaiting eventual appointment to the EU team. High ideals and objectives can inspire hard work, creativity and good governance, so it makes sense to set limits for membership of any team. Punitive actions however, are ripe ground for sowing the seeds of envy, anger, prejudice and dissension, and their provisions should be thought through very, very carefully before being mandated or enforced.
And yet the major members of the Euro currency (Germany and France) have bullied the remaining members into agreeing on punitive action for enforcing golden ratios, while at the same time actively refusing to take steps that would strengthen the Euro. These school-yard bullies have further attempted to impose rules and sanctions from their Euro team onto the wider European Union team, whose members are not even part of the Euro team.
There would be many ways of working on long term answers to the European Union’s short term woes, and these could be supportive of the ailing countries rather than punitive. If the EU really were a team, the team managers would be working on game plans for the ailing states – putting in place long term management plans for long term injuries and ailments, while doing all they could to bolster the confidence, morale and willingness of the ailing team members to continue to be part of the team. How many people have watched the unfolding dramas in Europe, and felt that they were watching a cohesive and enthusiastic team doing their all for every player on the team?
It ends in war or authoritarian government
Europe’s history is such that you’d expect its leaders to be careful of triggering old rivalries or attempting to enforce regimes on unwilling populations. And you’d be wrong in your expectations.
It IS possible to have an authoritarian regime under the guise of a democracy. The examples in history are many and bloody and harsh. It seems that very little has been learned from the lessons of history. As a by-the-by, the EU motto is “United in Diversity”. Truly.