The Economic Policy Debate

Article published on April 30, 2004
community published
Article published on April 30, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Economic policy can still be a topic for debate despite globalisation, as long as it is discussed at European level - because that’s where the real power is.

The European Constitution will soon be signed and, at the same time, we will find ourselves part of an enlarged Europe of 25 members. Part of a Union, that is, not only welcoming different countries with different levels of economic development, but also representing diverging concepts about the future of our economies. It appears, however, that the fact that the fundamental nucleus of European integration was, and is the ‘common market’ is being forgotten. When these ten new countries join the Union, at least at first, they will be integrated into an economy, or, to put it bluntly, into a market with a global dimension: 450 million consumers.

The current political fight concerns moving the social and civil concept of the economy from traditional nation state structures to a new European framework of power. Governments justify their social cuts and rigid policies by claiming they are in agreement with European requirements. Individual citizens, however, are not able to express their own European economic policy. The scope of economic choice appears therefore to be becoming increasingly removed from the political dimension, getting lost in the impersonal mazes of a series of technical and untouchable European treaties with sacred principles like ‘zero deficit’.

The economic policy debate

With European elections now on the horizon, political parties are putting forward their candidates but what are their different proposals in terms of the economy? café babel’s debate in Brussels on April 1st brought together young representatives of the main European parties. Their different outlooks are based more on abstract intentions than concrete criteria for action. The social-democratic parties tell us that a social policy is possible, building a Europe which is sensitive to the social imperfections of a liberal economy. But they don’t tell us anything about how to achieve this. Not mentioning how brings us to a standstill. These intentions cannot contribute to reformist action, nor are they capable of redefining the latest process which drives European integration. Instead, such intentions are submerged in the quagmire of impotence.

The dominant idea seems to be the image of the EU as a bureaucratic iron cage, able to transform economic policy in a fixed direction. But the liberalisation process leaves the noteworthy margins to citizens, and it therefore remains possible to introduce adoptable social policies in Europe. But lack of co-ordination and too much abstraction could mean missing the boat.

The young representatives from YEPP, according to Arnt Kennis, Vice-President of the group, identify the good state of employment levels in the national safeguard of economic growth through stable conditions and fair incentives for investment. All countries must make adjustments for the Stability Pact. The Greens mention through their spokesman, Jacopo Moccia, the dangers of a process of ‘globalisation’ (and what is the rest of the EU about?) where nation states, as guarantors of social policies, are losing political weight. Ecology must be valued in the EU, giving space for principles of research and development, and pushing for single legislation to favour the development of eco-efficient technology. The fight against social ‘dumping’, like the creation of employment through the phenomenon of ‘delocalisation’, must be the basis of economic policies and employment. The Liberals from LYMEC, through their Treasurer Aloys Rigaut, talk of the EU as an area of free trade with freedom of movement for people and capital, and wider development of privatisation in sectors like gas and energy, and a drive in economic development through aid for the research and development sectors. For this group, social policies should remain under national competency. But can a truly liberal and single economy exist with social conditions differing from country to country?

Ief Janssens, Vice-President of ECOSY, the group of the Young Socialists, expresses his concern about the differences in unemployment rates in the various areas of the EU. The fight against this imbalance, through specific but collective action, must be in keeping with the development and growth of a liberal economy. The information society must be the basis of employment in European society, and legislative measures against the precariousness of employment must be adopted, especially with regard to the young population in the period between ending their studies and starting professional careers.

Europe’s two levels

In summary, the difference between those who see the EU merely as an instrument of economic drive and development, leaving social questions to the competence of individual member states, (Conservatives and Liberals) and those who see the EU not only as economic but also social (Greens and Socialists) is clear. The Conservatives hold that the process of economic liberalisation and of globalisation is automatic and in Europe is proceeding unrelentingly, partly due to inertia. On the other hand, globalisation of social and environmental rights are slow and costly stop-off points, and in general follow more vigorous economic periods. The strength of trans-national co-ordination between trade unions and the social-democratic parties of the EU is vital for everyone who defends the harmonious growth of the economy and who claims to be creating real European citizenship beyond the mere concept of a ‘common market’ - the only glue which currently holds everyone together.

Ief Janssens, Vice-President of ECOSY

Arnt Kennis, Vice-President of YEPP

Jacopo Moccia, candidate of the Belgian organisation écolo-j, close to FYEG

Aloys Rigaut, Treasurer of LYMEC