Invisible Europe

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A rejection of capitalism; confrontation of rising xenophobia as an element in new social movements, a challenge to take local democracy back to the town square to re-find a meaningful political identity – these themes were all tackled at this week’s ECFR’s Black Coffee discussion with Professor Mary Kaldor of LSE and Mike Richmond, from the Occupied Times of London, on the recently published report ‘The “Bubbling up” of Subterranean Politics in Europe’.

The only thing missing was Europe. While the grassroots activists (from Germany, Hungary, Spain and UK,) from the six social movements that were interviewed for ‘Bubbling up’ reported international solidarity with other protest movements around the world, and took the EU as a neo-liberal institution for granted, there was in no sense a belief that Europe could be part of a solution to their concerns about the mismatch between global and local realities. Where the EU was considered at all it was part of the problem, as was also clear in the anti-German protests which greeted Angela Merkel’s visit to Greece earlier this month.

In a week which started on a high for the European project with the EU wining the Nobel Prize for Peace, swiftly followed by warning shots from the Swedish finance minister that we should expect Greece to leave the Eurozone in the next six months, and finished on yet another Euro Summit to try to finally get a grip on the crisis, this discussion really brought home the stark reality of the disconnect between the political level Europe that the media reports on, and the Europe that citizens experience.

The big question of course is where these subterranean trends are headed, and what their long term effect will be. Kaldor sees the movements such as Occupy London, the 15-M Movement in Spain and the Wutbuerger protests in Germany as the beginning of a cycle of rejection of ‘normal politics’, and the success of anti-mainstream parties across Europe such as the Pirate Party, the True Finns and the Five Star movement in Italy as an indicator that more than ever before these movements are starting to impact on traditional political systems.

For now, business as usual grinds on: day two of the EU Council meeting is underway in Brussels,  Van Rompuy has announced a deal on banking supervision, and the discussions between European leaders on where next must feel very familiar even if not comfortable. But perhaps as they step out into the late October sunshine at the end of today’s meeting a slight chill in the autumn air might remind them that when such large swathes of the people that they represent complain of a lack of agency or stake in their political institutions, a wind of change may have to blow through the corridors of Europe. Perhaps one day soon the call for a new kind of European democracy will have to become these leaders’ core business rather than an interesting challenge for which there is never any time.

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