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From Our Practical Politics Blog

Political education needed for Europe’s role in the world

You should watch The Future of Europe Group carefully. Its nameless Final Report could decide the future of the planet.
How the EU responds to the world economic crisis could decide the state of humanity at the end of this century. Disastrous decision’s by political elites a hundred years ago led directly to the First and Second World Wars, brutal dictatorship and the slaughter of millions. More enlightened global leadership after the Second War unleashed decades of growing freedom and prosperity for millions, although much of the Majority World still suffered and the environment took a battering.

Now another economic crisis is again spawning a new political settlement. The question is whether the world collapses into chaos before something better crawls out of the ruins, or whether world leaders can contain the crisis and create a safe and sustainable order without wrecking everything first (I’ve read that Shell’s esteemed Scenario Team are more pessimistic, seeing only two realistic scenarios – “Collapse” or “Collapse and Recovery”.)

A lot depends on who ‘we the people’ permit to be our leaders (you can’t really say we choose them). And that depends on people’s understanding of what is at stake.

The eleven Foreign Ministers who wrote the Future of Europe Report know what is at stake. They want to strengthen European institutions to manage national economies and increase Europe’s political clout in world affairs. The President of the EU Commission, Manuel Barroso, wrote: “We will need to move towards a federation of nation states. … In the age of globalisation pooled sovereignty means more power, not less.”

Make no mistake, the EU could set the rules for global finance, trade, climate, energy, human rights and politics – if it wants to. The EU is the world’s largest economic block, with over 20% of global income. It has deeper relationships with most countries of the world than other blocks, through migration, linguistic diversity, trade and institutional arrangements (and it gives out more than half of world aid to poorer countries). It also has the biggest block of representatives in global governance, including two permanent members on the UN Security Council and a majority in the Bank of International Settlements, all with less than 10% of world population.

If the EU got its act together it could do great things – or cause chaos everywhere, as in Greece.

We the people of Europe need to understand what’s happening and how to use our political skills to create the kind of future we need to thrive, and not the accidental fallout from another crash. There are many things wrong with the EU, but it does offer three powerful lessons for managing the global economy:

  1. democracitc rule of law, binding on rulers, states and the rich as well as ordinaty citizens: it is far from perfect, but it has been crafted over decades to resist the arbitrary power of dictatorship;
  2. peaceful mechanisms for problem solving and conflict resolution, at every level from the neighbourhood and workplace to corporate board rooms and country borders: look around the world to see how rare and necessary this is;
  3. core values of solidarity, social protection, sustainable development, freedom and democracy which mean that its richest states give billions to help the poorest.
You may not agree with any of this, but Europe has the political mechanisms for people to openly challenge and influence its rules without fear, unlike most other regions of the world. The political education we will get is the mighty clash of slogans from politicians squabbling for seats in the parliaments of Scotland, Westminster, Brussels and every nation and region of Europe. This could create enlightenment and elect wise leaders who steer humanity through its most challenging century. Or it could lead to Britain breaking up, a diminished England bleating outside a Eurozone grinding citizens in austerity while Latin America, Africa and Asia seize the reigns of global governance and prosper (and climate chaos drowns the planet). We are just about smart enough to chose chaos.

But as citizens we can and should be able to see what’s happening and learn how to influence events better. Political education provided a partisan press, polarised parties and vested interests is like health education from drug companies, with no need to provide counter-indications or truth in advertising. The Future of Europe Group put great emphasis on “full democratic legitimacy and accountability” as well as “strengthening the European Union as a community of values,” but this means little if most people are not listening or feel powerless to take part. Where are the opportunities for citizens to join the dialogue and set out their visions for the future of Europe? As tax payers, we paid for The Future of Europe Group. If they want “full democratic legitimacy and accountability” they should also make it easier for all citizens to join the debate and take part in shaping the future of Europe and the world. Our media and adult education should stand back from the political fray and encourage people to question, discuss and probe more deeply into the politics of our place in the world.

If the EU elite get it wrong, its citizens carry the can.

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