On Saturday 20th October 2012, the Academy of Ideas presented a debate on the idea of a European Spring.
About the debate:
Perry Anderson in his book The New Old World argued that the ‘contempt for elementary principles of democracy shown by the elites of the [European] Council and Commission… is reciprocated by the disdain of the masses for the Parliament that supposedly represents them, [and yet] who ignore it in ever increasing numbers’. Many commentators today share his awareness of a divide between European politicians and their electorates. There has been a long-term trend of disengagement and apathy with respect to the EU: evidenced in a rising decline in electoral turnout. The recent emergence of new social movements – the Indignados, Occupy, the Pirate Party, to name a few – may represent a growing consciousness of the problem as well as a desire to address it. Is there a chance that the people could be about to forge a new European political form?
The huge numbers of unemployed (particularly among the young), the crippling levels of debt, fears of inflation, the spectre of beggar-thy-neighbour protectionism across Europe all cry out for a new politics and for new solutions, to match them. And not much in the way of alternatives has been on offer for years. Yet, do these new movements and parties really represent an alternative? Much of their appeal seems to lie in a rejection of politics itself. This is maybe best expressed by the German Pirate Party’s demand for a “liquid politics”, a technological realisation of a politics beyond left and right. This parallels the response of European leaders like Angela Merkel and Manuel Barroso, which has often seemed to lean towards a wish that the messy business of democracy would just go away or, at least, be suspended for a while so the crisis could be cleaned up by the experts.
Might there be something to fears that politics could be taking a new populist turn across Europe? Do populists actually offer a way out of the crisis, or are they lying to the electorate, only gaining votes from those with nothing to lose, rather than those with something to gain? And what should we make of the ease in which elected governments have been swept aside in for example Italy and Greece? When a Polish foreign minister calls for German leadership to save Europe, should we be relaxed about her contemporary economic and political muscle? When the language of force is back in use in European politics, is it so irresponsible to fear for our futures? What is the reality of European politics today? And what shape might it have tomorrow?
Teacher, Leiden Law School; Columnist, NRC Handelsblad; Author, The Significance of Borders: why representative government and the rule of law require nation states
Convener, No2EU – Yes to Democracy
Freelance Journalist; Contributor, NovoArgumente; Columnist, Schweizer Monat
Founder and Secretary-general, European Cultural Parliament; former Swedish Ambassador; Author, A Better Life on Earth (forthcoming)
Adjunct Professor, International Relations, American University of Rome
PhD student; Assistant Lecturer in Environmental Sociology, University of Kent, Canterbury
Political Scientist and Columnist, Krytyka Polityczna, Poland
Brussels Correspondent, Daily Telegraph; Co-Author, No Means No
Head of external relations, Academy of Ideas; Chair, IoI Economy Forum; Convenor, The Academy