Europe needs fresh air!

Europe is currently in disarray. After ruling the planet for several centuries, we tore ourselves apart in the first half of the twentieth century, and we have never really recovered. Twenty years ago things seemed to be going much better, with the dismantling of the iron curtain dividing East and West and the signing of the Maastricht Treaty that would eventually pave the way for a single currency. Now things are not looking so rosy.

In fact, this is an understatement. Europe is on the brink of disintegrating. While I don’t see a return to 1914 (and even that might be wishful thinking), there is an incredibly dangerous rise in nationalist (and even subnational separatist) sentiment, and a breakdown of solidarity that threatens, once again, to engulf the global financial system.

The fact that the IMF has been called in to address solvency problems within the EU, despite the fact that there are wealthy EU countries with AAA ratings that are borrowing from the markets at record low rates, is a travesty. The fact that China, a developing country, most of whose population still lives in abject poverty, is even thinking about (and worse, has been asked by Europeans) to step in to bail us out is simply absurd.

The situation has reached a point where I am no longer willing to sit on the sidelines and wait passively, wringing my hands in despair. I want to do something about it. But I lack ideas. Hence this blog post.

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About Peter Wicks

International consultant. I bring clarity to complex and confusing situations and identify the most promising solutions.
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12 Responses to Europe needs fresh air!

  1. I want to do something about it, too. Some thoughts:

    Europe started well, but it has become an over-bureaucratized dinosaur, a centralized nanny-state wasteful by design, ruled by know-nothing control-freaks and corrupted administrators, without the legitimacy that comes from a popular mandate. The citizens of several European countries voted NO to the European Union in its present form, but the popular vote was ignored. This is always dangerous, because in a democracy the explicit will of the people must never be ignored, or else. If the major European countries had elections or referendums now, the result would be easy to guess.

    I see “the rise in nationalist (and even subnational separatist) sentiment” as a healthy immune reaction. If you are infected, your body develops a fever _to warn you of a danger_, and you can only ignore the warning of your body at your peril. Same with a society. We, the citizens of Europe, sense that our society is unhealthy, and that central administrations are part of the problem. It is not that we don’t want the EU. But we don’t want _this_ EU.

    I don’t have a solution to offer, but I am certainly looking for one. So we are at least two, and I am sure there many more. What can we _do_? I don’t know, but my gut feeling is that we should start establishing open, alternative governance structures, without the current political and administrative classes (which cannot be part of the solution because they are those who created the problems), peer-to-peer, by-the-people-for-the-people.

    • peterwicks says:

      Thanks Giulio, I think you’re basically spot on. Fortunately, we are indeed more than two.

      A word of warning, though. Immune reactions can be healthy, but they can also kill the patient. The rise of Hitler in the 1930s was, to a very large extent, such an immune reaction. So we also need medical intervention.

      But YES! to establishing open, alternative governance structures. The other day I was discussing the difference between the snowball effect (starts small, becomes large but in an essentially predictable way) and the butterfly effect (tiny changes leading to huge, but unpredictable results). What’s your favourite metaphor for change?

  2. Re snowball effect vs. butterfly effect: my favorite metaphor is a mix of both (I guess you had guessed).

    Things are never fully predictable in the real world (no battle plan ever survives the first encounter with the enemy). I would also add that a fully predictable world is a boring place to live in, and that the chaos generated by the butterfly effect is not always a bad thing, because it injects life and change in processes that could become ossified and static without chaos.

    Re immune reactions that can kill the patient: yes, Hitler’s rise to power was an extreme but typical example of societal immune reaction). But immune reactions kill sick patients, not healthy patients, because nobody has immune reactions against health. So we should consider immune reactions (such as the rejection of the EU in many European countries, and the rejection of the central state in many European regions) as a very serious warning.

    We all want to never see again what happened in the 30s, but if we don’t heal our institutions, things may start to go that way. When the people are really mad and begin to consider the institutions as their enemies, everything can happen, and there are always demagogues ready to take advantage. We are seeing this _now_ in many places in Europe.

  3. peterwicks says:

    To pursue the analogy further…..inappropriate and unnecessarily immune reactions do exist: they are called allergies. But I’m not arguing that this is the case here, and even if it was, the best remedy is usually to reduce exposure to the allergen.

    Yes indeed, a mixture of snowball and butterfly is what we need. In a sense the butterfly happens anyway – we’re all flapping our wings in one way or another, with unpredictable results – but if we have a clear objective and take consistent action towards that objective we can introduce a bit more snowball into the mix.

    - butterfly to shake things up a bit, and we need to do some serious flapping.
    - clarity of purpose to create a rapid, exponentially increasing but well-directed snowball effect!

  4. By the way, also snowballs are affected by butterflies’ wings. Real snow has friction, real air is not still, and real snowballs do thermodynamics like everything else.

    No, nothing is fully predictable. We cannot compute tomorrow in less then one day. We just have to keep our sleeves rolled up, work hard, and try to do our best.

  5. peterwicks says:

    But snowballs at least have gravity on their side. Maybe what we need to be doing is tipping the scales?

  6. peterwicks says:

    By the way, re “without the current political and administrative classes (which cannot be part of the solution because they are those who created the problems)”, I only partially agree. “The current political and administrative classes” are not monolithic entities, and they contain a wealth of experience and goodwill. But they cannot be at the centre, I am increasingly convinced of that. They are just too invested in the status quo.

  7. Of course the _persons_ who belong to he current political and administrative classes, individually, can choose to join a grassroots citizen movement if they want. But as peers among peers, without demanding leadership.

  8. peterwicks says:

    Absolutely, that’s essential. And then, of course, we will need to see what to do with the existing political and administrative structures. Which ones need to go, which ones survive, which ones need to be allowed to fade into irrelevance? Do we need new ones? Of what kind? How do existing ones need to be transformed?

    • Monica Fortini says:

      Dear Giulio and Peter,
      I ‘ve carfully read all your discussion about the “Future of EU”. My first impression is that we are just in the only future the Europe can have in the light of the present social and economical mess. The picture of EU I have (a bad impression only? Hope so) is that it is the only possible result of a “sort of Project” ideated by someone and pointed to create a single crowd to play on.
      As Giulio posted above: “[---]The citizens of several European countries voted NO to the European Union in its present form, but the popular vote was ignored. This is always dangerous, because in a democracy the explicit will of the people must never be ignored, or else. [---]”, the will of people is simply ignored. This means that we ARE already, more or less -this depend on the EU Country-, in a kleptocracy, with no power: we’ve had the occasion to observe as the banks represent the power instead of a real governement. Speculative governance. We, the “unruffled” European Citizens, allow all this ‘cause we’ve lost our cohesiveness. In fact, I strongly believe that the main aim of this political scheme is to destroy the social cohesion. The involvement of all the Europeans in a common fight against the current unhealthy governance structures and the political and administrative classes is a very arduous purpose.
      My impression is that Europe is already destroyed, in a point of no return for the lack in social consciousness. The current political events inevitably recall the events of the Roman Emperor decline. Quote:
      In the light of all this negative picture, how we can face such a state of kleptocracy involving dormant people, so blind about a future with no future? And, more, how to reenact without falling into the trap of a war?

  9. peterwicks says:

    Dear Monica,
    Many thanks for this thoughtful response. In a sense I hope you are wrong, and that Europe is not at the point of no return, but on darker days it is easy to believe that the forces of disintegration are irreversibly dominant.

    One question I have: you say that we have “lost our cohesiveness”, but I wonder: did we ever really have it? Did we ever really have a sense of European identity, with a European political system that both had and deserved the trust of its people, or is it rather that current events have exposed the lack of a solidarity or social consciousness that was never really there?

    I don’t know the answer to this, but of one thing I am sure: somehow we have to find a sense of hope and determination, otherwise we will simply slide into irrelevance and mediocrity as large, more integrated (though perhaps even less democratic) powers rise around us, or the rest of the world simply follows our example and disintegrates.

    • Monica Fortini says:

      Dear Peter,
      Thank you for answering me. You are right. My sentence, “[---] We, the “unruffled” European Citizens, allow all this ‘cause we’ve lost our cohesiveness. [---]” is wrong. It is simply a lack of cohesiveness. I leaved in different countries, sometimes in different continents, and this stimulated in my imaginary the idea of a real European Union, just because this would be an encouraging way to leave in a new multicultural society. The present social-economical situation of my Country influenced my view so strongly to lead me to enlarge this sense of powerless to the entire EU. A simply emotional approach to this difficult and complex matter.
      May we consider this historical time in the light of a sort of “destruction” towards a reconstruction of a new society? This is the point.
      Thank you very much to stimulate my thoughts. To be confronted with other opinions is essential for a better awareness. Monica

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