Monday, May 9, 2016


In today's Le Monde, four Socialists (j'allais dire non-présidentiables, but that would be unkind) propose a set of sweeping reforms for the European Union: massive investments, a European tax, democratic control of expenditures by the European Parliament, a tax on multinational corporations, fiscal harmonization, powers to fight white-collar crime, etc. It's a breathtaking, inspiring agenda--and therefore of course completely unfeasible in the current state of intra-European relations. This sort of blue-sky thinking might be appropriate in an era of good feeling, but in a morose climate like the present, it only reinforces the sense that PS elites are out of touch with the country and the continent. What Cambadélis et al. are proposing is really a kind of Frexit par le haut, une fuite en avant toward the better tomorrow that might make a certain kind of sense if the Socialists had been out of power for 20 years but smacks of utter irrealism at the end of a disappointing quinquennat. It's as if they were saying, We haven't delivered on any of the promises we made on the domestic front, so let's make some new promises about how we're going to reform Europe.

This is not to say that there is not a sore need for proposals to reform Europe. But the only proposals that have a chance, in my view, are those that address the concerns of the moment. Security is one: Frontex is underfunded, and it should not be impossible to persuade member states to infuse a little cash to beef up border security. More investment would be welcome, but no plan based on a Eurotax or Eurobonds has a chance at the moment. But bilateral agreements to increase infrastructure spending should be possible. The European core needs to be strengthened, because if the bonds fray there, there is no hope of preventing the newer member states from heading off in their own direction, which they have already begun to do with respect to the refugee question.

More democracy for Europe--the basis of the Socialist appeal in Le Monde--sounds lofty and principled, but if implemented today it would likely further strain international ties, as nationalist majorities within states reject any and all cooperative ventures. It's time to hunker down, not stick one's neck out. Camba et al. do not seem to have grasped the gravity of the situation.


brent said...

Your pessimism about the feasibility of this 'decalogue' of proposals is surely correct--but is that the point? Thought of as a campaign document, isn't this aspirational tone a big improvement over the tepid rightward 'reforms' the PS is currently featuring? Yes, it would have been better to launch a program like this 4 years ago, and yes, it looks a little sad coming now at fin-de-regime time. But what choice do they have? Hunkering down around modest, defensive goals feeds the perception of Le Pen, Wilders et al. that the EU is altogether dispensable. Giving the voters a vision, even an implausible one, of an EU solidaire is at least the outline of a progressive campaign program. And rather than a Frexit par le haut, why not think of it as a long-overdue effort by the French (along with the Italians, and possibly the Spanish if they manage to seat a center-left government) to assert leadership in place of the disastrously misguided Germans? If the PS is going down, why not do so with honor? The real problem with this document IMHO is that it is insufficiently bold.

bert said...

"... bilateral agreements to increase infrastructure spending ..."?
There's already a very substantial multilateral infrastructure spending mechanism. If you have Objective 1 status (or whatever they're calling it now), you can do very nicely indeed. This being the EU, it is utterly divorced from any notion of Keynesian stimulus. Supporting arguments are generally supply-side ones, alongside equity arguments about the functioning of the single market. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

bernard said...

Il faut faire rêver les français. Enfin de la poesie!

PF said...

I second Brent's comment! The problem isn't this document; it's what the PS and broader left has failed to do alongside it.