A Future Where The Rights Of Citizens Are An Afterthought


From top: The EU’s White Paper on the Future of Europe; Tony Groves

Prediction is a mugs game. Many people much smarter than I have erred badly in the game of throwing predictions about. Some, while not quite masters, are certainly more adept in the art of reading the economic tarot cards.

I remember being at a banker “breakfast briefing” a few years before the Global Financial Crisis where a hipster economist named David McWilliams laid out his prediction of the economic crash to come in our not too distant future. I was convinced by his reasoning until a colleague put up his hand to ask a question.

“David,” he said, “I’ve been to a series of these briefings for a number of years, and you always give the same warning”.

“Is there a question in there?” replied David.

“Ah, it’s kind of like saying in the middle of a heatwave that it’s gonna rain tomorrow. When it does eventually rain you can say I told you so,” came the response.

Everyone laughed and the bankers (myself included) skipped out into the world of darkening clouds, imagining that we’d never need the use of an umbrella.

I’d like to think I’ve learned something from the hubristic Celtic Tiger implosion. I’d like to think we all have. But I’ve read the European Commission’s White Paper on the Future of Europe and I don’t think we’ve learned much of anything at all.

The paper outlines 5 Scenarios for how the EU 27 countries will operate by 2025.

These are:

SCENARIO 1: Carrying on

This is the ‘sure isn’t everything grand, nothing to see here, please move along option’. In this scenario the polarisation of the EU isn’t addressed. The first priority of Scenario 1 is “to focus on…strengthening the single market”.

SCENARIO 2: Notheing but the single market

This is exactly what is sounds like, “the functioning of the single market becomes the main raison d’etre of the EU”. Everything else becomes irrelevant. It’s like a more honest Scenario 1

SCENARIO 3: Those who want more do more

This is termed “the coalition of the willing” option. The member states who want to address challenges within the EU can form groupings and work together to improve cooperation and deepen ties. Sounds reasonable, until you read that the areas that are to be given priority. You’ve probably guessed it, yep, it’s focus will be on “budgetary arrangements and greater harmonisation of tax rules”.

SCENARIO 4: Doing Less more efficiently

This option is a funny one. It starts on the false premise that the EU will “focus its…limited resources on a reduced number of areas”. 15 of the 30 wealthiest countries in the world are in Europe, so if the EU has limited resources it is because of a focus on socialising debt and privatising capital.

Nonetheless, there is in Scenario 4 the first mention of consumer rights and protections. Sadly, they also state this will “help close the gap between promise and delivery” and that “common standards will be set to a minimum”. It’s like telling someone that their pizza will be with them within 6-8 hours and expecting them to be happy when you deliver it in only 4hrs, cold. In sales this is called the ‘Under Promise and Over Deliver Option.

SCENARIO 5: Doing much more together

The sharing is caring option. This is the option I pegged my hopes on. Yes, it starts on about deepening the single market again. Yes it goes on about “much greater coordination on fiscal and taxation matter”. Yes, it even states that a “European Defence Union is created”.

But, it also states that citizens rights will be put above those of the Corporations and Banks that created the crisis. It promises to create and foster a European Identity, where all citizens are afforded the protections and rights of a European Constitution. Scenario 5 puts the people of Europe at the centre of Europe…

only it doesn’t. None of these Scenarios even hint at anything as revolutionary as creating and fostering a European Identity.

Everyone of these Scenarios are market driven and the rights of citizens are an afterthought; something to be “set to a minimum”.

Five Scenarios that all carry, in the European Commission’s own words, “the risk of alienating…a society which feels that the EU lacks legitimacy”. Yes folks, they are aware of the problem, but they think doing more of the trickle down economics that caused the crisis will avert the next crisis.

A few months back I was at another financial get together. Once more, David McWilliams was the guest speaker. He gave an optimistic outlook for Ireland and our economy.

His predictions weren’t based on the global economic environment, they were more (to my mind) based on austerity fatigue and the behavioural economic phenomena of people saying “Feck it” and buying a new car.

David had identified the one thing that the European Commission failed to notice. That is that the people are the economy. The recovery, if there is to be one, will be driven from the bottom up and not the Single Market down.

European citizens are fed up of stagnation and having to put things like having a family on pause. The pent up societal demand of a life in economic limbo can be the driver of growth in the real economy.

The EU needs to recognise this and make it the centre of the 2025 plan, or, at the time of the next crash, the EU will collapse in on itself.

In Ireland we currently have no appetite for leaving the EU, but Brexit is everywhere. The election of Macron hasn’t stopped the disillusionment. The European Commission needs to wake up, people don’t live in an economy, they live in a society.

We need a Scenario 6. The McWilliams option.

ony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly aTrickstersworld

19 thoughts on “A Future Where The Rights Of Citizens Are An Afterthought

  1. Sheik Yahbouti

    Tony, I’ve got to the stage where I’m glad I’m old. Two world wars (and all the permanent wars fought by the USA, China, Russia et al) – excellent fighting by Trades Unions and Libertarian (in the true sense) organisations – and this is the vista that confronts us. Endless slavery to the One Per Cent. Were I a younger person I might be tempted to rash and violent action. I still might – after all, what have I got to lose?

  2. Rob_G

    … but they think doing more of the trickle down economics that caused the crisis will avert the next crisis

    Perhaps I missed the memo, but when has the EC ever proposed trickle-down economics as a solution to anything?

  3. Tony

    Perhaps tony is referring to the EU prioritising the interests of the 1% and allowing the benefits to ‘trickle down’ to the rest of society. Isnt that something all western governments do?

    1. Rob_G

      From my observations, most countries in the EU have progressive tax systems that take money from higher earners in order to finance comprehensive welfare programmes.

      So, kind of the opposite.

      1. Tony

        Oh dear. I think you’re being a little naïve there Robser!
        Sure we’ll just agree to disagree

        1. Rob_G

          The 28 countries of the EU spent 29% of its GDP on social spending in 2014. The OECD figure is 21% for the same year.

          Perhaps you have some figures to support your assertions? :)

          1. Rob_G

            Ah, I see where you found that now – that figure doesn’t take into account taxes and transfers. Of course it will be more unequal if you don’t take these into account; this is the whole point of taxes and transfers…

          2. LW

            The average spend in the EU28 is actually 23.9%, the aggregate figure is distorted by the the richer countries.

  4. Baffled

    “People don’t live in an economy, they live in a society”. Wow, very insightful.

    As for the McWilliams blah blah option, Tony seems to have failed to notice that the European economy is now in its best shape since the recession. The Eurozone unemployment rate is at an 8 year low of 9.1% – this sounds high but not excessively so when you consider that: (i) the average unemployment rate since the Eurozone was founded is 9.6%; and (ii) the unemployment rate at the establishment of the Eurozone was in double-digits.

    1. Anomanomanom

      So basically your saying “we’re back on track, its all good. No need to learn from our mistake”. Fantastic

        1. pedeyw

          The US does not need Trump nor does the UK need Bexit, but if people think their needs are being pushed aside to the benefit of the market you will end up with something similar happening in the EU.

      1. Milo

        Never mind what you think he’s saying, what are you saying? If anything? Is there somewhere better you’d rather we were like? Give us a clue? What continent is it on? Which century? Or is it just in your entitled head? Honestly, some people on here should get out more and see how the world works. But that would be hard work and the dole wont let them or something something….

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