Last week (February 14, 2019), Eurostat released its latest national accounts estimates – GDP up by 0.2% and employment up by 0.3% in the euro area – which confirmed that EU growth rates have declined significantly over the course of 2018. Moreover, the December-quarter data confirmed Italy is in official recession and Germany recorded zero growth (thereby avoiding the ‘technical recession’ category after contracting by 0.2 per cent in the September-quarter). Export expenditure accounts for nearly 50 per cent of Germany’s GDP – a massive proportion. It has adopted a growth strategy based on impoverishing its own residents through flat wages growth and a sustained proportion of low-paid, precarious jobs and setting its sail on sucking out expenditure from other nations (in the form of their imports). This has been particularly damaging to the Eurozone partners but also exposes Germany to the fluctuations in world export markets. Those markets are softening for various reasons (economic and political) and, as a result, German growth has hit the wall. The solution is simple – stimulate domestic demand, push for higher wages for workers, outlaw Minijobs, and start fixing the massively degraded public infrastructure that the austerity bent has starved. Likelihood of the German government adopting that sort of responsible policy. Zero to very low. There is the problem of the Eurozone from another angle. The main economy cannot play the game properly.
The aptly named – Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) – “is a research and campaign group working to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups in EU policy making”. It is relentless in exposing the corporate scams that result in European Union laws being biased towards corporations at the expense of the well-being of the broader population. The research results they publish are diametrically opposed to the claims by the Europhile Left, especially those from Britain, that posit that the EU is the exemplar of global organisation, defending workers’ rights and all manner of good things, and with just a few reforms here and there is the hope for a progressive future. CEO’s most recent report (February 6, 2019) – Captured states: when EU governments are a channel for corporate interests – allow us to see how the EU machinery has turned the Member States into a “channel for corporate interests” – “middlemen for corporate interests”. My position is that CEO has it right and the Europhiles a dreaming.
The increasing uprising against Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) in the media is salutory because it means our ideas are now considered to be a threat to the mainstream economics (for example, Paul Krugman now buying into the carping) and to the heterodox tradition (for example, the British economists who self-identify with that tradition). The high profile debate around the Green New Deal has been associated with MMT and this has brought all sort of crazy attacks on MMT from those who think they are ‘green’ but haven’t traversed out of ‘Monetarist-type’ economics thinking. And then I note that apparently the Green New Deal is being expropriated by Europhiles to wedge those who consider Lexit and Brexit to be the only way to re-establish progressive society and politics. Apparently, the Europhiles are arguing that you cannot be both Lexit/Brexit and support the Green New Deal. Curious logic. And, of course, a desperate attempt by the Europhiles to grasp at anything to discredit both Brexit and MMT, given that there is a high proportion of MMTers who prefer Britain leave the EU and that the EU disappears in its current form. And so it goes. Wolfgang Streek recently published an interesting academic article that bears on this discussion. That is what this blog post is about.
Transparency International EU, is part of TIs “anti-corruption movement” focused on happenings in the European Union. It gets around 40 per cent of its funding from the European Commission, itself, although they claim this does not compromise their “institutional integrity and independence”. Let’s hope not! They have just released a report – Vanishing Act: The Eurogroup’s Accountability (February 5, 2019) – which confirms, in case one wasn’t already aware (looking at the Europhile Left here) that the core decision-making body in the European Union – the so-called Eurogroup – (the Finance Ministers of the Eurozone), which “exercises political control over the currency and … the Stability and Growth Pact” – is inherently shady and anti-democratic. The Report finds that the EU’s democratic deficit is intrinsic to its design and resistance to any effective reform. While the Report proposes some changes to the structure and operations of the Eurogroup it maintains the line that the growing lack of democratic oversight in key EU decision-making can be improved. I disagree. The problems are endemic. The DNA of the Eurozone architecture is neoliberal to the core. That ideology has permeated all the major EU institutions and has left the EU citizens without an effective voice in the decision-making process. To resolve that alienation, people are donning yellow vests and taking to the streets. Progressives should encourage these anti-EU protests and support those who desire to abandon these neoliberal institutions. The reformers cannot seem to grasp that the basic structure is the problem. Any steps in the right direction require that basic structure (the Single Market, SGP, etc) to be abandoned. And doing that means the whole house of cards falls down. And it cannot come quickly enough.
On the back of a decelerating inflation rate, Italy in recession, Germany not far behind, terrible PMI in Europe, Eurostat released the latest retail sales data yesterday (February 5, 2019) – Volume of retail trade down by 1.6% in euro area. Not good news. Remember all those Europhile Left reformers telling us that now was the time to reform the EU while the ‘sun was shining’. Well, its black clouds again and they didn’t get to first base in the reform basis. Lots of hot air – none of it got near disturbing the neoliberal austerity bias. But this austerity bias is not just a feature of the currency union. Yesterday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released two data sets – Retail Trade and Balance of International Trade – and they both tell the same story. The interesting thing was that the trade data recorded a “record trade surplus” and I heard commentators actually claiming this was a great result. Wrong. Exports declined, but more slowly than imports. And imports declined because consumer spending and business investment was weak. Not a great result at all. At some point, the austerity bias around the world has to stop. But nations are heading south again in the meanwhile. With all that gloom, the best thing to do is enjoy my regular Wednesday music spot (if you like). And if you don’t like it, then maybe, appreciate the artistry of the musicians.
Remember back in early 2009, when the then head of the European Central Bank Jean-Claude Trichet (boasted that the “euro … is a success … it helps to secure prosperity in participating states”. He was still making these claims in October 2018. At an event in honour of he and former German finance minister Theodor Waigel, organised by the Banque de France, Trichet said that “the euro is a historic success … in terms of credibility, resilience, adaptability, popular support and real growth during its first 20 years is impressive”. He particularly singled out the “delivery of price stability”. Well the latest data confirms beyond doubt that the ECB has failed to deliver on its price stability charter. Further, the descent back into recession in Italy and probably Germany in the December-quarter 2018 tells us that this reliance on monetary policy to stimulate growth while maintaining ridiculous levels of fiscal rectitude has undermined growth and unnecessarily condemned millions to unemployment and rising poverty.
In the blog post earlier this week – The conflicting concepts of cosmopolitan within Europe – Part 1 (January 29, 2019) – I juxtaposed two concepts of ‘cosmopolitanism’ which appeared to be part of the early moves to achieve European integration. On the one hand, there was a Kantian-style desire to create, through cooperation between previously warring states, a peaceful and prosperous future for a ‘one’ Europe. This construct would be welcoming to outsiders, progressive, and celebrate ethnic and cultural diversity. It was a rights-based conception of citizenship and democracy, which closely aligned with the growing popularity of the social democratic polity. On the other hand, the early moves to overcome the resistance to creating a supranational entity that would increasingly compromise national sovereignty – the so-called “functionalist” approach of Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, created a pragmatic, free market-based cosmopolitanism, which set the Member States against each other as competitors. As I demonstrated, over time, the economic cosmopolitanism channeled the burgeoning neoliberalism of the 1980s and compromised the rights-based, political cosmopolitanism, to the end that we now talk about democratic deficits as the European Commission and its unelected allies such as the IMF trample over the rights of citizens across the geographic spread of Europe. Europhile progressives hanker for the first conception of European cosmopolitanism and proffer various reform proposals, which they claim will tame the economic dimensions and restore the ‘European Project’ as a progressive force in the world. In this second part of the series I will argue that from the outset the cosmopolitanism embedded in the ‘Project’ was deeply flawed and it is no surprise that democracy is now compromised in the European Union. I argue that reform is not possible such is the extent of the failures.
In the past week, the UK Guardian readers were confronted with the on-going scandal of wealthy British politicians and ‘peers’ receiving massive European Union subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The article (January 27, 2019) – Peers and MPs receiving millions in EU farm subsidies – recounted the familiar tale –
“Dozens of MPs and peers, including some with vast inherited wealth, own or manage farms that collectively have received millions of pounds in European Union subsidies”. The story is not new and this scandal is just a reflection of the way in which the development of the European Union has contradicted the idealism that the Europhile Left associate with ‘Europe’. As an aside, it would be telling, one imagines to map the EU payments (and well-paid job holdings) with Brexit support – one would conjecture a strong negative correlation. This is a two-or-three part mini-series on the evolution of concepts of ‘cosmopolitanism’ in the European context. It is part of work I am doing for the next book Thomas Fazi and I hope to publish by the end of the year. In this blog post, I introduce the conflict that is inherent in the European Union, and the way the Europhile Left has been seduced by a concept of cosmopolitanism that bears not relevance in the reality of modern Europe.
While the Brexit shambles wound on in London, with the Prime Minister being walloped one day by her own party, and then the next given a victory, courtesy of some Labour Party bungling (the no-confidence motion), across the Channel things have been turning markedly sour. While the Europhile Left hold Europe dear to their hearts, the reality is that their dreamworld is falling apart. This is not only because of the incompetence of its polity but also because of the deliberate strategies of the polity to privilege ideology over economic reality. But if the Europeans continue down their ideological path, there mightn’t be much to exit from for the British. Late last week (January 14, 2019), Eurostat published their latest output data – Industrial production down by 1.7% in euro area – which as the title indicates is not good. Once again, the fiscally-starved Eurozone is trailing behind a sinking EU28. Over the 12 months to November 2018, industrial production in the Eurozone fell by 3.3 per cent and by 2.2 per cent in the EU28. The declines are across all product categories – capital goods, energy, durable consumer goods, intermediate goods and non-durable consumer goods. What we understand from this is that the policy makers in the European Union deliberately choose to subjugate economic prosperity and the well-being of people (jobs, incomes, savings, etc) to maintain an adherence to an ideology that purposely redistributes real resources and incomes to the top end of the distribution and provides lucrative paths for European Commission executives to move between these ‘political’ roles into highly paid banking and related jobs. It is neoliberal central, in other words, and is beyond reform.
I suppose Brexit is to blame for the fact that Britain is now growing faster than the major European economies. The latest ‘monthly’ GDP figures show that the British economy grew by 0.3 per cent in the three months to November 2018 and will probably sustain that rate of growth for the entire final quarter of 2018. This is in contradistinction to major European economies such as Germany (which will probably record a technical recession – two consecutive quarters of negative growth) with France and Italy probably following in Germany’s wake. I have made the point before that the growth trajectory of the British economy (inasmuch as there is one) is very unbalanced and reliant on households and firms maintaining expenditure by running down savings and accessing credit – which means ever increasing private debt burdens. With private credit growth weakening as the debt levels become excessive and the rundown of saving balances being finite, Britain will face recession unless the fiscal austerity is reversed. Earlier in 2018, the Guardian Brexit Watch ‘experts’ were continually pointing out that Britain’s growth rate was at the bottom of the G7 as evidence that Brexit was causing so much damage. So now European G7 nations are starting to lag behind, these commentators will have to find another ruse to pin their anti-Brexit narrative on. We also consider in this blog post some more Brexit-related arguments – pro and con – which reinforce my conclusion that a No Deal Brexit will not cause the skies to fall in.