etopia
DEBATING IN THE MAELSTROM
 
 
Benoît Lechat †

Né à Eupen en 1960, Benoît Lechat a été au Groupement des Jeunes Protecteurs de la Nature (GJPN) à la fin des années ’70 avant de faire des études de philosophie et de journalisme. Après avoir couvert l’actualité sociale à l’Agence Belga pendant les années ’90 et notamment les mouvements des enseignants et des étudiants, il a rejoint l’équipe d’Isabelle Durant au Ministère fédéral de la Mobilité et ensuite Etopia en 2004. Il publie régulièrement dans la Revue Nouvelle des articles consacrés à la politique et aux médias belges.

Il est responsable des publications chez Etopia, membre du Conseil scientifique de la Fondation de l’Ecologie Politique et rédacteur en chef du Green European Journal

Benoît est décédé le 8 janvier 2015

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http://www.greeneuropeanjournal.eu

In this peculiar period of uncertainty and quick changes, launching a new journal dedicated to the analysis of long term trends might appear as pragmatic as trying to organise a meditation congress in the middle of a tsunami. But this project is based on the conviction that it is precisely the uncertainty that reinforces the need to better understand the deeper changes that our societies are currently facing. We further have the conviction that this work must be carried out on a transnational level, by giving to different visions and proposals the opportunity to travel beyond borders, in order to reach all those who want to contribute to the construction of a more sustainable and democratic Europe.

Rethinking economy and democracy

This first edition has one main leitmotiv : The economic and the democratic crises are two sides of the same coin. Any attempt to solve the crisis of economic governance within the European Union without addressing the question of democratic deliberation and control is doomed to failure. European leaders debating behind closed doors may, under the influence of powerful member states and the market, come to some form of compromise. But this will not hold, unless those who subscribe to different ideological views and represent different national interests succeed in building a consensus on the causes of the current crisis, which has laid bare key weaknesses of the European project – foremost the financial imbalances, as well as the social and ecological costs of an insufficiently regulated internal market.

But the debate on the centrifugal forces, which threaten to break apart the European Union is not only stifled by national self-interest and short-sightedness. One of the principal problems is that the spaces in which this debate has already started are politically weak and marginal, while national public spheres remain largely disconnected from one another and are strongly influenced by nationalist inclinations. Therefore, it is most urgent to strengthen the transnational spaces in which alternative viewpoints are forced to engage in open-ended dialogue. The ambition of the Green European Journal is to make a modest contribution to this effort by building links between green-minded audiences of the European Union’s member states.

Crisis : do the Greens really have the answers ?

Approved on November 14th by the Congress of the European Green Party, the “Paris Declaration”[i] gives a snapshot of the current state of the debate on questions of economy and democracy inside the European Greens.

In the Major theme of this edition Pascal Canfin and Alain Lipietz question from an ecological and historical perspective the “liberal-productivist” economic model that in their view lies at the core of the current crisis.

The Greens have also been producing very concrete political proposals. In 2008 the political family put forward its key answer : the “Green New Deal”, an attempt at resuscitating Roosevelt in the 21st century. Although the ecological modernisation of some of the most advanced European economies provides them with a powerful claim and symbol, many questions remain open. For instance, growing energy efficiency may just not be enough if on the economic level it is overpowered by the “rebound effect”, and is overshadowed by the rise of inequalities on the social level.

The resolution adopted on the 25th and 27th November at the conference of the delegates of the German Greens in Kiel shows how one influential Green party attempts to cope with the renascent growth vs. degrowth debate. The clash between partisans of an alternative to austerity and proponents of an alternative austerity[ii] is a pragmatically oriented, yet also ideologically loaded, and a most certainly fascinating debate, which will influence the political priorities and positioning of Greens in the future. This, for sure, will be an important topic for future editions of the “Green European Journal”.

Although this important debate has not been decided, both sides tend to agree that the “one-size fits all” austerity policies advocated by most European governments and institutions have shown their limits. As demonstrated by economist Ricardo Mamede in the case of Portugal, far from helping to surmount the structural weaknesses of the economy, they have actually aggravated them.

Before Portugal, Greece had been recognised as a showcase for how problems considered as peripheral could suddenly become central. The interview with Nikos Chrizogelos and Viola von Cramon – who discuss the way the German and Greek Greens try to overcome the walls of incomprehension in order to propose common solutions to the serious problems that the Greek people face – provides a convincing argument for the need to foster European dialogue on the issue.

More Europe ! Writing a new narrative

Jürgen Habermas sets the tone for the Minor part of this edition. According to him, the method used for the European construction is meeting its limits under the pressure of the crisis and the resulting rise of populism. If the economic governance adopted to save the Euro builds solidarity, then it should also be completed by democratic reforms. But this step could be risky if solidarity does not receive a new content above and beyond the nation-state level.
It was precisely because of this risk that the Heinrich Boell Foundation, the political foundation of the German Green Party[iii] launched the project “Solidarity and Europe” one year ago. The report of the commission of experts who have been working with the Foundation contains many paths of discussions for the debates that the Heinrich Boell Foundation and Green European Foundation will organise in 2012. But, besides influencing the narrative on the future face of European solidarity, the Greens are also attempting to influence Europe’s short-term political trajectory. We have therefore included another text proposed by the German Greens, which will be debated in Berlin on the 24th of February (containing new proposals for reducing the numerous imbalances in the development of the European economy[iv]).

Yet, we must also acknowledge that these important attempts to develop the base for a broader conception of solidarity have so far not been very successful, with a narrower definition of national solidarity – one that seems to bring us back to the nineteenth century – appearing to triumph in some parts of the European periphery. As depicted by Kristóf Szombati, the situation in Hungary teaches us that this last temptation cannot simply be dismissed as a self-serving reaction of East-European elites attempting to cling on to their power (although it certainly serves that purpose too). The re-emergence of nationalism could instead be interpreted in the light of the severe difficulties faced by East Europeans in the post-communist era, and their concomitant thirst for recognition in an increasingly interdependent Europe. Hungary’s predicament also raises interesting parallels between the new nationalist moment and the imbalances of the European project, which has been confounded in Eastern Europe with the neoliberal agenda.

It is common place, but also painfully true : dead national heroes still hold more sway over our imagination than the possibility (or rather necessity) of constructing a new Europe. The experience of the exiled writers before the Second World War described by Erica Meijers shows some common points with our current situation. The crisis then was also thoroughly economic and political. We can only hope that the experiences gathered during more than 50 years of European construction can help us to reinvent a new model of society for our continent. Transforming the economy in the direction of sustainability, restoring the meaning of social justice and developing a democracy on the European level are historical tasks that the Greens have been attempting to tackle since their emergence at the end of the seventies. They should continue.

Benoît Lechat is editor-in-chief of the Green European Journal. He also works as an editor for Etopia, the foundation of the Belgian Greens.

[i] www.europeangreens.eu
[ii] www.greenhousethinktank.org and « Solide, solidarisch, Grün : Unsere Haushalts- und Finanzpolitik” (Motion adopted by the Confrence of the Delegates of the German Greens at Kiel on 18 November 2011) see www.gruene.de/no_cache/einzelansicht/artikel/solide-solidarisch-gruen.html
[iii] http://www.boell.de/publications/publications-solidarity-and-strength-the-future-of-the-european-union-13276.html
[iv] www.gruenes-blog.de


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