On 20th November 2014, the French Parliament voted to abolish many of the historic regions of France through forced mergers, against the wishes of those affected. An amendment calling for the reunification of Brittany – split since the Vichy era between two regions, one predominantly non-Breton – was haughtily rejected. Will David Cameron protest? Will there be airstrikes?
In both these states, the full force of the law is being used to crush democratic feeling. All in defence of the outdated primacy of ‘France’ and ‘Spain’, and of the power of centralist politicians to glorify a long-dead past and view other, more human-scale loyalties as a threat. This is what happens when the Europe of a Hundred Flags steps up from bookish theory to impassioned practice. There are those who really don’t like the idea one bit. Warmongers, austerity-merchants and lovers of technocracy. David Cameron is among them, so watch this space.
Let’s step back to 14th November for an insight into the true depth of establishment paranoia. Cornelius Adebahr’s article for the Carnegie Endowment explores the problems facing a fragmenting Europe, from the perspective that fragmentation is somehow a ‘bad thing’. Xenophobic hatred certainly is, but that isn’t the subject matter of debate among Europeans seeking greater autonomy. All we want is genuine subsidiarity free from centralist manipulation.
Including the power to judge for ourselves what functions we’re capable of exercising. Europe is in crisis because it has become a project of elite dominance, the preserve of a managerialist class that denies the right – or even the ability – of ordinary folk to shape their own governance. Adebahr sneers at what he terms ‘populism’ because it’s too democratic. He sneers at nationalism because it isn’t driven by a narrowly economic conception of rationality. Because it rejects that ‘rationality’ in which economic power rests not with democratic states but with anonymous global ‘investors’ shopping around for the choicest bargain.
The Europe of the Investors is an integrated economic space in which barriers to the movement of capital do not exist and democratic ownership of key economic assets is repeatedly eroded. Together, these two things make it easy for markets to punish policy-makers who dare to be different. (UK governments make things more than usually hard for themselves – and for us – for contorted ideological reasons that stem from City overlordship of our political system.) Populism is labelled as bad because it’s the opposite of what we might call investism. TTIP and the Lisbon Treaty are part of the process of declaring democracy illegal worldwide because it cannot be guaranteed to put investor interests first. And we now see in France and Spain on which side of the argument nationalists and regionalists are judged to stand. Voting is the way to change everything, or it is nothing. OK, nothing it is then.
We’ve made clear our own view that vital industries, utilities and public services must be owned and controlled locally and regionally – not bought and sold by the multi-nationals. Common ownership is a widely held ideal, even among Conservatives. The consensus now needs to be put into effect. Obviously, not through Labour or its continental equivalents, all tainted beyond recognition, but through radical nationalist and regionalist alternatives.
How radical? Should compensation be paid to the present owners? And if so, how much? If the aim is to achieve common ownership, in the public interest, can the private (or foreign public) interests represented by compensation claims be viewed as anything but self-centred trivia, irrelevant to the core issue of achieving economic democracy? Or should those who invested in good faith be reimbursed, it being no fault of theirs if they sank money into a politically sensitive industry? In short, is the current set-up a crime against society or just a mistake? Have the investment giants earned our rage or our pity?
Any such theories of ‘fairness’ can be laboured so as to slow down necessary progress. Even to visualise the issue as a transaction is to bow to a hostile point of view. Why not decouple progress from that which retards it? Why not take back now, and pay back later (if at all)? Our thinking has been so polluted by investism – even governments claim to be 'investing' in roads or a better NHS when what they mean is they're devoting more resources to transport or healthcare – that we miss the most obvious, direct answers to our problems. Cut the Gordian knot. Or perhaps, in the case of PFI, the Gordon knot.
Bear in mind (a) that many of our nationalised industries were created by seizing municipal assets without compensation (and this sort of thing still goes on, quite shamelessly), (b) that they were then privatised at an average 30% discount on the market price, (c) that as natural monopolies they have continued to be cash cows ever since, and (d) that corporations spent – and spend – millions on subverting the democratic debate, belying the idea that they exist only to serve. False title. False value. False benefit. False intent. It would be entirely reasonable to conclude that the owners are worth rather less to us than they claim. Moreover, the owners aren't the ones who know how to run buses, trains, power plants or treatment works in Wessex. Their only expertise is in financial engineering, which any sane society would be better off without. So how do we value their contribution? On balance, negatively. THEY should be paying US. At the very least, let's start the negotiations at nil and work upwards EVER so reluctantly. We can't increase taxes or borrowing, so the third option it has to be.
What we need is not so much ‘UK plc’ as ‘Wessex Common Estate’, our resources managed for this and for future generations. Public assets belong to everyone, born and unborn, and should only ever be leased, never sold, let alone given away. We need a politics of stewardship, not a politics of trading. Friends are motivated by love to share, willingly, within the restraints of a common bond. Enemies are motivated by fear to trade, suspiciously, without the restraints of a common bond. It’s true for us, it’s true for Europe, and it’s true for the world. You share with your friends and you trade with your enemies. What does that say about those who want global trade to grow?
Europe stands at a crossroads. A second Berlin Wall can come tumbling down, destroying the needless political centralism of old global empires AND, if the will is there, the needless economic centralism of new global corporations too. These are two causes that can make common cause in delivering what folk clearly want to see happen. Either that, or the military will be on the streets to make sure it doesn’t happen. That’s how scared the bullies are.