Europe’s Battle: Nationalists vs. Elites

On both sides of the Atlantic, a battle is underway between largely discredited “elites” and sometimes disreputable “nationalists,” a conflict over un-kept promises about the future and unsettling memories of the past, writes Andrew Spannaus.

By Andrew Spannaus

In recent years “nationalism” has become a bad word in Europe, a synonym of closure, racism and wars. Over the past 20-25 years European elites have instead embraced a concept of globalization based on a world without economic, physical and social borders.

This view assumes the gradual affirmation of a set of shared values internationally, consisting of human rights and economic freedom, that however much the remaining closed, autocratic regimes may try, will inevitably become the standard for the entire world.

Flag of the European Union.

Flag of the European Union.

It is essentially the argument put forward by Francis Fukuyama in “The End of History:” liberal democracy and free markets have won the ideological war, and represent the culmination of human evolution.

The political events of 2016 are upending this view of the globalization of human rights and economic liberalism. The American electorate has supported a series of outsiders – most notably Donald Trump, who has run his campaign in direct opposition to the U.S. political and financial class, invoking economic protectionism and a stronger national identity.

Against expectations, the population of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, marking an irreparable break in the supposedly inevitable process of European unification. And across Europe support is growing for more extreme, anti-system political forces, that threaten not only to withdraw from the common currency – the Euro – but also to seal the borders in response to economic and security threats associated with immigration.

Establishment’s Failure

It is no exaggeration to speak of the failure of the entire transatlantic political establishment. Since the 1970s, Western economies have undergone a post-industrial transformation that has favored short-term gain over long-term investment. The notion of economic freedom has translated principally into support for deregulation and speculative finance.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is welcomed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Federal Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on April 14, 2011. [State Department photo/ Public Domain

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is welcomed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Federal Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on April 14, 2011. [State Department photo/ Public Domain

Central Banks have made unlimited resources available to the financial sector while large areas of the real economy struggle to survive, feeding discontent among the population. It is true that new economic sectors have arisen, along with widespread changes made possible by technologies that were inconceivable until a few years ago, but the overall effect has been to hollow out the middle class and create large-scale income equality.

In Europe, the principal vehicle of this process has been the economic policy of the European Union. From the implementation of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, European nations have been stuck in a monetary straitjacket, that prevents governments from taking effective economic action. In the name of market principles, liberalization has been implemented that favors large financial interests while lowering standards of living for the middle class.

Countries are constitutionally required to move towards a balanced budget, with the European Commission and the European Central Bank essentially having veto power over national policies. This has translated into harsh austerity, including the massive budget cuts and tax increases inflicted on countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy in recent years.

Despite paying lip service to the need for change, the economic and political elites have refused to abandon this approach, that not only ignores the suffering of the population, but actually makes the problem worse. In fact the austerity causes a drop in economy activity and thus exacerbates budget problems, leading to a vicious cycle that Europe seems unable to stop.

A Big Backlash

The resulting backlash is calling into question the process of European integration as a whole, provoking a strenuous defense by the elite of institutions that are said to have guaranteed “50 years of peace” after the Second World War.

The run-down PIX Theatre sign reads "Vote Trump" on Main Street in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. July 15, 2016. (Photo by Tony Webster Flickr)

The run-down PIX Theatre sign reads “Vote Trump” on Main Street in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. July 15, 2016. (Photo by Tony Webster Flickr)

It is true, of course, that there are some benefits to E.U. integration, and that nobody wants to return to a situation of conflict among the member states. But the current policies are quite different than the fruitful cooperation that existed until the 1990s, when the financial elite began its move to exert supranational control.

Now, the failed economic policies of the past 20 years are no longer sustainable. Governments are forced to negotiate over .1 percent of the budget deficit with the bureaucracy in Brussels, while the need for public and private investment runs in the trillions.

The pro-finance, anti-production policies must change not for ideological reasons or to serve some specific interest group; they must change because there is no other choice. People are revolting against a political class that does not respond adequately to widespread economic and social discontent. In times of economic distress the population becomes more vulnerable to demagogues, raising the risk of dangerous outcomes, as seen with Fascism and Nazism in the 1920s and 1930s.

Currently, there are unprepared and unpredictable political forces with growing support across Europe, that in some cases represent a threat to the democratic rights and values that the European Union aims to promote. Defending the orthodoxy of E.U. policy against popular movements that target failed economic policies, will only further damage precisely those values on which Europe is said to stand.

What to Do

At this point Europe needs a return to measures that promote productive investment and innovation, rather than cut social welfare programs and encourage further deregulation.

Refugees from Mideast wars camped along rail lines in Greece.

Refugees from Mideast wars camped along rail lines in Greece.

There are two potential directions: a wholesale change in the policies of the E.U. institutions, without modifying their essential structure, or a step back from the process of cancellation of national sovereignty.

The first option seems unrealistic, for various reasons. These include the constitutional nature of many economic and budget constraints, and the stubbornness demonstrated by the European ruling class in recent years; a class that, despite numerous alarm bells, does not at all seem ready to abandon an elitist view of globalization.

The response to the Brexit vote is a glaring example. Representatives of the E.U. institutions lashed out with arrogance and bitterness, essentially accusing half of the British population of being ignorant, racist and isolationist. It’s a comforting excuse based on partial truths, that avoids reflection on Europe’s own mistakes.

At this point a return of decision-making power to national governments is becoming inevitable: not in order to stop international cooperation, or to reject shared values, but because the model pursued by the supranational institutions and their allies in the financial world has failed, and risks producing both serious internal conflicts, and unacceptable strategic failures in an increasingly complex world.

Andrew Spannaus is a freelance journalist and strategic analyst based in Milan, Italy. He is the founder of Transatlantico.info, that provides news, analysis and consulting to Italian institutions and businesses. His book on the U.S. elections Perchè vince Trump (Why Trump is Winning) was published in June 2016.

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19 comments for “Europe’s Battle: Nationalists vs. Elites

  1. Drew Hunkins
    October 26, 2016 at 10:58 am

    Despite all of Trump’s faults, and there are myriad, he’s generally correct on two, and two points only:

    1.) His incessant denunciations of all the TPPs baloney and NAFTA. These attacks on the “free trade” agreements (really investor protection agreements) are so very welcome from a relatively mainstream candidate.

    2.) His refusal to join the massive group think of constantly bashing Putin and vilifying the Russian people. That Trump refrains from this dangerous game of Russophobia and demonization is to be applauded.

    Of course he’s out to lunch as it comes to his Ayn Rand policies of tax cuts for the super rich and giant multinationals and deregulation of big biz, and his xenophobia and penchant for police-state pronouncements are reprehensible. He’s also totally wrong in his disparagement of the Iran nuke agreement; which is arguably the finest policy accomplishment of Obama’s presidency. A rare example of Obama standing up to the ever so powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington.

    Nevertheless the two aforementioned points are not unimportant, to say the least.

    • backwardsevolution
      October 26, 2016 at 10:09 pm

      Drew – if the multinationals bring their money home and pay taxes, it might be worth it. The super rich and giant multinationals have been making out like bandits since…..well, pick a date! For a long time now. A lot of them should have gone under in 2008, but were criminally bailed out, and then were able to borrow for next to nothing. Trump can only do so much. He can’t come out and say he’s going to crush the rich (of course, he’s one of them); they would have gone after him even harder if he did. Taxes need to be way higher on the rich, back to what they used to be.

      Everything is out of whack, especially since Clinton, but going all the way back to Reagan, where “trickle down” started, but ended up going the wrong way – up. Under Clinton’s watch we had policy where the big telecommunication companies could now buy each other out, creating large monopolies. He also brought in bank deregulation, and then the fun really started happening. The Clinton’s have been instrumental in nearly wrecking the country as far as deregulation. NAFTA under Clinton as well.

      I don’t see Trump as being xenophobic. I see him trying to protect his country’s jobs, the welfare of its people, the medical system, the educational system. I mean, he doesn’t hate Russians, does he? But I bet if they started trying to get into the States, started getting free medical/education, taking jobs away from Americans, lowering wages, he’d probably put his foot down about them too. He’s being protective, not hateful.

      And look at what Bill Clinton had to say about illegal aliens during his 1995 State of the Union address:

      “All Americans, not only in the states most heavily affected but in every place in this country, are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants. The public service they use impose burdens on our taxpayers. That’s why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal hiring, by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens. In the budget I will present to you, we will try to do more to speed the deportation of illegal aliens who are arrested for crimes, to better identify illegal aliens in the workplace as recommended by the commission headed by former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. We are a nation of immigrants. But we are also a nation of laws. It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years, and we must do more to stop it.”

      http://millercenter.org/president/clinton/speeches/speech-3440

    • October 27, 2016 at 7:46 am

      Oboma and the Iran nuke agreement.
      Its all how you look at it.
      Having worked and lived in Iran for some six-years I do not give Oboma any points on that score.
      Its like a guy beating regularly the shit out of his kid and then bring the kid a sack of candy, and then start beating the shit out of the kid again because the kid is eating too many candies.
      Oboma reminds me of Ike, during his 8-year tenure he build the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) and then on his last day out the door of the White House he warns the Americans about the dangers of the MIC. Well by that time the horse was already out of the barn so need anymore to lock the barn door then.

  2. Brad Owen
    October 26, 2016 at 11:12 am

    What they need to do is go to FDR’s New Deal policies for the forgotten Europeans, middle, working class and unemployed, giving the Elites a chance to re-discover their lost & misplaced Noblesse Oblige.

    • Berg Djelderian
      October 29, 2016 at 11:11 am

      Hillary and Trump are not FDR, What we need is a world wide uprising. When the elite sees that no matter which one of their houses they run to, the crowd with the pitchforks will greet them. They control the police, the military, the politicians, the media and the banks, it is time they realize we mean business. Nothing more convincing than a few heads of the greedy being chopped off. either they loose their grip on power, or their heads.

  3. Cal
    October 26, 2016 at 11:27 am

    ” In the name of market principles, liberalization has been implemented that favors large financial interests while lowering standards of living for the middle class”>>>>

    Large financial interest is what ‘liberalization and globalism’ has always been about.
    That is why the elite global financial interest hype ‘nationalism’ as racism and wars.

    Anyone who believes a wide open borderless world of no sovereign nations acting in their own populace’s interest and with a ” universal one rule fits all” controlled by the same global elites is a childish fool with no acquaintance with history or human nature.

    Those nattering about possible fascist outbreaks of (gasp) neo Nazis in countries should instead worry about and contemplate to whom they will appeal for their bread, rights and protection when the global financial elites control the world .
    That is the ‘big F’ fascism and its almost here already.

    • Brad Owen
      October 26, 2016 at 1:35 pm

      A wide open, borderless world of no sovereign nations is a world of 50,000 Feudal Estates and an Oligarchy of 50,000 Feudal Lords meeting like so many mafia Dons to decide who gets what “turf” and what “piece of the Action”, and ready to kill anybody who has the audacity to disrupt the “Meeting of The Dons”, when not fighting petty wars continuously, among themselves, for “more turf” or “a bigger piece of The Action”. VERY ironically; sovereign nations with national governments were devised as the SOLUTION (ala “We The People”) to this most ancient of problems plaguing humanity. The libertarians have it exactly BACKWARDS, pushing their “NEW IDEAS” as some kind of solution for the “old” problems of government…liberty for the Mafia Dons; strict, soul-crushing obedience from everyone else.

  4. evelync
    October 26, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    Yes, and sorry to repeat the point made by Noam Chomsky that Bernie Sanders was not a socialist but “a decent, honest New Deal democrat”.
    (not sure if he meant capital “D” or small “d”…..)
    Bernie, unlike most politicians, I think, understands and fought for – hopefully will continue to fight for – sustainability. The elites do not.

    So, Andrew Spannaus is quite right. And his points apply in the U.S as well.
    The struggle he defines is not about ideology.
    It is quite possible, i think, to have multinational arrangements and globalization and have sustainability and economic justice. That is not the issue.

    The same issue but as it pertains to this country is that the so-called “elites” who had/took the power to set the rules did so in secrecy. And did so to disenfranchise the rest of us. They were greedy. The money to be made was not from fair trade which would have succeeded in raising labor and environmental standards to a sustainable level around the world. The secret trade deals were negotiated to exploit labor and the environment in third world countries. And to grab the difference for themselves between paying a living wage and using the environment responsibly vs paying slave wages and ruining the environment. Inevitably, btw, costing the workers in developed countries their jobs.
    Our leading politicians all went along with this. If Bill Clinton is the brilliant Rhodes Scholar who Hillary expects to “run the economy” for her we can’t help but remember that he was a huge enabler of the secret trade deals not to mention the financial lopsided deregulation of the banks – keeping the FDIC govt insured deposits in place while deregulating the lending side to become a high risk derivative gambling house, with predatory, cheating,maneuvers, like the sub prime gambit – once again exploiting those who were vulnerable and no longer protected cause the rules were shredded. Sustainability was again disregarded.

    Fair trade would have set environmental rules and labor rules such that there was a level playing field at or close to the New Deal levels in this country. Instead the game was to exploit workers and the environment to enrich the exploiters.

    So it wasn’t globalization that was at fault it was rules that were written secretly to benefit a small group.

    So Andrew Spannaus is right that these unfair policies may have very dangerous consequences indeed:
    ” The pro-finance, anti-production policies must change not for ideological reasons or to serve some specific interest group; they must change because there is no other choice. People are revolting against a political class that does not respond adequately to widespread economic and social discontent. In times of economic distress the population becomes more vulnerable to demagogues, raising the risk of dangerous outcomes, as seen with Fascism and Nazism in the 1920s and 1930s.”

    • Cal
      October 26, 2016 at 6:55 pm

      ‘So it wasn’t globalization that was at fault it was rules that were written secretly to benefit a small group.”>>>>>

      First the rules weren’t written in secret. They have been in full view of any interested parties since the first step of GATT in the late 40’s.
      .
      And its been a creepy crawly process–GATT to the WTO to NAFTA to the TPP.

      AND…the governments and politicians and bureaucrats were WARNED what would happen to their domestic manufacturing bases once all protections were removed.
      I know this because I was at the 1966 GATT conference in Geneva listening to representatives of US Manufacturing describe how this ‘movement toward free trade would eventually eviscerate US industry and jobs.

      And that is exactly what has happened.

  5. Drew Hunkins
    October 26, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little bit of economic nationalism, nothing at all. As long as civil liberties are upheld for ALL citizens and the gov’t of said econ-nationalist state doesn’t implement NAFTA/TPP style trade policies which cause out of work immigrants to flee their home states (see poor Mexican campesinos flooding the U.S. southern border), and the military faction of said econ-nationalist state doesn’t tread all over the world on imperialist crusades.

  6. October 26, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    I believe the E.U. is a dictatorship. Most of the countries in the E.U. were taken into it, without a vote by all of their citizens. Some who voted NO were subjected to a second vote to get a Yes. Ireland is one example of this:

    The E.U. Debt Crisis,The Money Changers and Democracy

    “National sovereignty has been surrendered to technocrats, bureaucrats, bankers and the unelected. The Euro Observer of December 9, 2011 stated: “…almost all fiscal policy-making would be taken out of the hands of national assemblies and delivered up to European civil servants.” [4] The people are being betrayed by their puppet political “leaders.” Democracy has been ditched and political treason abounds. Referendums are refused and restrictions imposed. The crisis has been collectivized and bankers sanitized. The people are ignored and austerity is the final solution of the banking elite. A smell of fascism is in the air and the perverted money system is in the hands of the moneychangers who hold the power by appointment rather than by political approval by election or referendum. Democracy is dead in Europe slain by the banking elites….”
    [read more at link below]
    http://graysinfo.blogspot.ca/2011/12/eu-debt-crisisthe-money-changers-and.html

    • jack flanigan
      October 27, 2016 at 8:55 am

      Stephen.
      Pure poetry.
      you might be Irish.
      I totally agree with you. Your observations are clear and concise.
      Keep going.

      Jack Flanigan
      Australia

  7. J'hon Doe II
    October 26, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Survival of the Fittest. Or, Darwin’s Law.

    Nationalist vs. Elites = ethnic warfare aka rule through division of ethnicities.
    Political authorities negate liberty/freedom via strict “rule of law” professions.
    Practiced ‘rule of law’ in America is constructed upon a Rigged System of justice.

  8. Matt Krist Germany
    October 26, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    Excellent article,excellent Website.Unfortunately we don’t have something similar in our german/american Indian Reservation.Must be to dangerous,even more than the dangerous Russians we live together in our community.We like them.Really nice People.(And unbelievable beautiful women…)The only People we are really afraid of ,are our occupiers and their syndicates.We dont want no anglo-american Forces in Europe any more!It seems,as if these People work really hard on WW 3!We hope,they love their children too.Because Russia has the bigger balls.We Germans know that.There is no Need to test it again.From America we like to get more Mustangs,Camaros and Kitchenaids.. We like these things and some others too.
    Nationalism always grows,when Politicians work active against their own Country.Like today.Nobody wants that really,but it is a very succesful breeding-progamm for any Kind of agression.We whish us back into the 1980’th.We were all good friends and had free trading.That is all we want,that is all we need I thank your Website for working on that.
    Matt from Germany.

  9. Joe Tedesky
    October 26, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    One day while driving to my bank I heard on the radio how Stephen Hawking was concerned to how robots would take over human work over the next 100 years. Thinking about my beautiful 13 grandchildren I talked to the investment manager of the bank, telling him how the bank should start buying blocks of manufacturing robots, and turn this into an investment tool. The investment manager looked at me strange, and asked why would the bank do that? I said, so that in the future my unemployed grandchildren could benefit by making money from the working robots. I went on to explain, how if robots would replace human workers, then how would the humans survive. The bank investment manager agreed, but didn’t have an answer. He also worries about his grandchildren as well. Now is the time to build toward the future, and are we doing this?

    These international trade agreements will strip what’s left of all sovereignty that any nation may have left down to nothing. It’s that simple that a country’s constitution is negated by a corporate mandate of some kind, and that’s not right. Corporations should be paying taxes and working for the common good, not the other way around.

    Although the Brooking’s Institute believes that China will fail with their ‘One Belt One Road’ Silk Road Project, I find it more rewarding that what the U.S. does by selling weapons instead. Infrastructure, and Environmental projects are what the world needs most, not more bombs. The U.S. is also seeing signs of fractures within it’s realm of client states, such as the Philippines, Thailand, France if they don’t encounter anymore false flag attacks, England with the BREXIT, and almost any nation in South America is pealing away from the U.S. to a large degree, to fine solace in more productive things. Now that Russia has signed an energy deal with Turkey and Israel I am wondering to where this might lead us. Is it possible Hillary once president, will find it hard to govern her flock?

  10. backwardsevolution
    October 26, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    Soros believes in open borders and no nations. Hillary does too. This is what the elite want: a one-world government, no borders, and whole bunch of serfs – I mean tax-paying consumers. I can see it going this way; this is what they are trying to push through.

    If you vote for Hillary, you are voting for a borderless world with supranational courts (TPP and TTIP), no culture, no glue that holds a country together, no nothing. Multinationals roaming the world with no allegiance to anyone.

    Vote for her and kiss the U.S.A. good-bye.

    • J'hon Doe II
      October 27, 2016 at 12:24 pm

      backwardsevolution – “Multinationals roaming the world with no allegiance to anyone.”

      With no ethnic identity, no roots. random amalgamations of mixed and remixed blood. – babylon, devolution.

      • backwardsevolution
        October 27, 2016 at 6:35 pm

        J’hon – that’s about it. Sad. I kind of thought culture was important.

  11. J'hon Doe II
    October 28, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    Culture is history beyond legal documents.

    It’s the extended
    string of
    mouth to mouth

    shared remembrances,
    good and bad
    recollections that reach

    backwards into
    unrealized decades
    constructed by DNA.

    Cultural identity is sacred.

    Please Support The Tribes Gathered (being brutalized by the “authorities”)
    protecting WATER RIGHTS in North Dakota.
    SPEAK OUT TO YOUR CONGRESS MEMBERS

Comments are closed.