Matthias Heitmann  Klartext

European Spring?

The panel discussion took place at the Battle of Ideas on October 20, 2012 at the Barican in London.


Brian Denny, convener, No2EU - Yes to Democracy

Matthias Heitmann, freelance journalist

Karl-Erik Norrman, founder and secretary-general, European Cultural Parliament; former Swedish ambassador; author, A Better Life on Earth (forthcoming)

Eszter Salgó, adjunct professor, international relations, American University of Rome

Nick Sotirakopoulos, PhD student; assistant lecturer in environmental sociology, University of Kent, Canterbury

Michał Sutowski, political scientist and columnist, Krytyka Polityczna, Poland

Chair: Bruno Waterfield, Brussels correspondent, Daily Telegraph; co-author, No Means No

Perry Anderson in his book The New Old World argued that the 'contempt for elementary principles of democracy shown by the elites of the [European] Council and Commission... is reciprocated by the disdain of the masses for the Parliament that supposedly represents them, who ignore it in ever increasing numbers'. Many commentators today share his awareness of a divide between European politicians and their electorates. There has been a long-term trend of disengagement and apathy with respect to the EU: evidenced in a secular decline in electoral turnout. The recent emergence of new social movements -- the Indignados, Occupy, the Pirate Party, to name a few -- may represent a growing consciousness of the problem as well as a desire to address it. Is there a chance that the people could be about to forge a new European demos?

The huge numbers of unemployed (particularly among the young), the crippling levels of debt, fears of inflation, the spectre of beggar-thy-neighbour protectionism across Europe all cry out for a new politics, for new solutions, to match them. And not much in the way of alternatives has been on offer for years. But do these new movements and parties really represent an alternative? Much of their appeal seems to lie in a rejection of politics itself: maybe best expressed by the German Pirate Party's demand for a 'liquid politics', a technological realisation of politics beyond left and right. This parallels the response of European leaders like Angela Merkel and Manuel Barroso, which has often seemed to lean towards a wish that the messy business of democracy would just go away or, at least, be suspended for a while so the crisis could be cleaned up by the experts.

Might there be something to fears that politics might be taking a new populist turn across Europe? Do populists actually offer a way out of the crisis, or are they lying to the electorate, only gaining votes from those with nothing to lose rather than those with something to gain? And what should we make of the ease in which elected governments have been swept aside in Italy and Greece to name but two? When a Polish foreign minister calls for German leadership to save Europe, should we be relaxed about its economic and political muscle today? When the language of force is back in use in European politics, is it so irresponsible to fear for our futures? What is the reality of European politics today? And what shape might it have tomorrow?