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Poverty in the world

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World Bank said that “Extreme poverty is falling” and that “the world we live better and absolute (or “extreme”) poverty fell for the first time to below ten percent of the global population. ”
Words that made speechless many researchers.

“Economic growth reduces poverty” said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. The gradual reduction of poverty would have been due thank to the high growth rates in developing countries. “This should give new impetus to the most effective strategies to end extreme poverty. An extremely difficult challenge, especially in a period of slower global growth, financial instability, volatile markets, conflict, high youth unemployment rates, and climate change. But we are on track to achieve the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030”, he continued.

Otherwise the latest update of the World Economic Outlook of International Monetary Fund reported of a decline in global growth. “New factors supporting growth – said Olivier Blanchard, chief economist of the organization of Washington – as the fall in oil prices, but also the depreciation of the euro and the yen, are more than offset by the persistence of negative forces, including the legacy of the crisis and the weaker potential growth in several countries”.

The truth is that IMB changed the extreme poverty line (that was $ 1.9 per day). This means that to be considered in absolute poverty, a man should have a daily income of less than or equal to this amount. Recently, someone decided, without any valid reason and without any geopolitical or economic motivation, to move the extreme poverty line to of 1.20 dollars a day. This means that those who had a daily income of $ 1.50 and until recently it was considered in absolute poverty, now it no longer is. It is always “poor”, but not in extreme conditions.
This modification of the extreme poverty line, however, has great consequences in the presentation of the global data. While in 2012 there were 902 million (equal to 12.8 percent of the population) in extreme poverty, in 2015, thanks to this change, the absolute poors are less than 702 million, 9.6 per cent of the world population.
Richard Moro, economist, said: “To want to be a little “bad”, we could say that this reduction is false, because it comes from the fact that we changed, for some time, the data to calculate the form in which it calculates extreme poverty”. And “If we look at what these people are able to buy, perhaps with inflation that there has been in recent years, the dollar and 90’re not so sure it will help appears the same things that were bought with a first dollar”.
Another macroeconomic index confirms that absolute poverty is not going down. Gini index (the number between 0 and 1 that evaluates the concentration of money: an higher index means that inequalities between different social classes are elevate). The worldwide Gini index average is 0.38 (and growing).

World Bank experiment was just an attempt to present the state of the art in a less tragic form. May be the attempt to reach goals such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), presented by the United Nations in 2000. One of these (the first) was “halve by 2015 the proportion of the global population whose income was less than one dollar a day” (http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/goals/gti.htm#goal1)
Unfortunately nowadays, absolute poverty in the world has not diminished (much less it has been reduced by half). Maybe that’s why the “experts” of international organizations decided to change the poverty rate….

The President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim said: “It’s the best news of the day – these projections show that we are the first generation in history to have the opportunity to end extreme poverty.”
His words has been written in many newspapers. And you will read on history books that in 2015 “poverty fell below the threshold of ten per cent,” … but, unfortunately the poor will continue and get poorer ….

C.Alessandro Mauceri

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Annunci

COP21 FAILURE!

Today, in Paris, starts the 21th UN Climate Conference (COP21), the international conference for climate. Terrific safety conditions after the attacks that killed 130 people just a couple of weeks ago. For the next two weeks (until 11 December), the entire area of the Bourget where takes place the conference will be controlled by 2,800 agents (other 6,300 will be deployed around Paris).

Leaders coming from 150 countries will try and reach an agreement to reduce global warming and avoid irreversible consequences.
“I count on you to negotiate and build compromises since the next few hours,” said the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, starting works of the Conference as president. And, referring to other climate conferences (such as the Kyoto and Copenhagen, six years ago), he said: “If we want to rely on a pseudo-miracle last night, I’m afraid that is not a good solution.”

After years of discussion and debate, it seems that the scientific community is unanimous about the state of criticality. The latest data on average annual temperatures are worrying: 2015 will be the warmest year of the Earth since when, in 1880, began the instrument readings. The global average temperature growth of the surface is 1.04 ° C, as confirmed by NASA data. As a matter “almost eerie, a significant jump for models of climate change,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a climate of CBE Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who added: “If the trend is not changed, there will be increased temperature by the end of the century more than 5 degrees.”
Anthropogenic warming, added to natural climate variability, will cause terrible changes in the territory.

The goal of the summit is to define actions to be taken to stop, or at least limit, this phenomenon in the coming decades. Therefore, in view of the conference, 183 countries out of 195 (although with considerable delay) presented their promises and proposals to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
“Commitments” proposed, however, according to experts, would not avoid the increase in average temperatures of less than 3 degrees. Results will request to re-evaluate its proposals. Beginning in countries that are the biggest polluters, such as most industrialized countries (United States, Europe and Japan) and many of the developing world (China and India).

Promises that most of these countries are not ready to make. USA “are opposed to a binding agreement” (for internal reasons) and “have not presented an alternative approach,” said the European Commissioner for Climate, Miguel Arias Canete, recalling that Paris, unlike Kyoto, “must be a universal agreement, so we want the US to be part of it. ”
And position of the most European countries would be “still far” from what is necessary to reach an effective global agreement, as confirmed Jiri Jerabek Greenpeace. His opinion is shared by other organizations such as the Climate Action Network Europe (CAN) and WWF. According to Jerabek “Europe can do more to accelerate the transition towards an energy system based on renewables and commit to eliminate fossil fuels at home.”
The risk is that, as happened after Kyoto conference, Paris will become another opportunity to make promises not to be maintained or to allow industrialized countries to continue to pollute using “compensation” (a country can go over the limits promised as long as other countries sign a deal to stay below these limits). Wendel Trio, director of Can, said that “the negotiating position includes’ dark areas’ ‘.

Many countries in the developing world, from the Pacific Islands to the African Group, reiterated that they “want a binding agreement” and therefore “those who do not accept it must submit a proposal for negotiation” as confirmed Canete.

C.Alessandro Mauceri

 

Environment disaster in Brasil

In Brazil, 300 kilometers from Rio de Janeiro, two dams containing toxic waste coming from the extraction material in an iron mine owned by Samarco, collapsed pouring water and mud on the river and on the village of Bento Rodrigues Mariana, in Minas Gerais. At least 17 persons died and fifty were injured (their number is provisory since there are dozens missing). Over fifty million cubic meters of sludge and liquid waste coming from the mining and containing highly toxic substances such as mercury was a combination of “toxic sludge and mining wastes, an area of ten soccer stadiums,” as reported the president of the local miners’ union, Ronaldo Bento. The commander of firefighters, Adao Severino, said that “the situation is dramatic, there is mud everywhere”. The area was evacuated.

Samarco mining company has already agreed to pay $ 260 million for the breaking of the two dams, but denied that sludge can be toxic. Despite this they declared to be ready and “make every effort to give priority to the needs of the people who were in the accident.”

Klemens Laschesfki, professor of geosciences at the University of Minas Gerais, said something different: “It’s already been established that wild animals were killed by the mud”.

More than 250 thousand people cannot have access to safe drinking water and the river is coloured orange because of the chemicals products used to reduce iron impurities, the so-called ether amines, which could cause serious damage to the fertility of agricultural land and even modify pH of the river reducing the levels of oxygen in the water.

This is just the latest of a long series of disasters that caused damages to the river Rio Doce due to heavy mining (mainly gold and iron). The river is one of the main communication road between the state of Minas Gerais and the Atlantic Ocean. This is why researchers think that toxic substances coming from the collapse of the two dams could discharge at sea and contaminate the coast.

The damage of the environment would be terrific. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has compared the consequences of those caused by the British Petroleum oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

C.Alessandro Mauceri

Paris COP21: 21th UN Climate Conference

Today, in Paris, starts the 21th UN Climate Conference (COP21), the international conference for climate. Terrific safety conditions after the attacks that killed 130 people just a couple of weeks ago. For the next two weeks (until 11 December), the entire area of the Bourget where takes place the conference will be controlled by 2,800 agents (other 6,300 will be deployed around Paris).

Leaders coming from 150 countries will try and reach an agreement to reduce global warming and avoid irreversible consequences.

“I count on you to negotiate and build compromises since the next few hours,” said the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, starting works of the Conference as president. And, referring to other climate conferences (such as the Kyoto and Copenhagen, six years ago), he said: “If we want to rely on a pseudo-miracle last night, I’m afraid that is not a good solution.”

After years of discussion and debate, it seems that the scientific community is unanimous about the state of criticality. The latest data on average annual temperatures are worrying: 2015 will be the warmest year of the Earth since when, in 1880, began the instrument readings. The global average temperature growth of the surface is 1.04 ° C, as confirmed by NASA data. As a matter “almost eerie, a significant jump for models of climate change,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a climate of CBE Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who added: “If the trend is not changed, there will be increased temperature by the end of the century more than 5 degrees.”

Anthropogenic warming, added to natural climate variability, will cause terrible changes in the territory.

The goal of the summit is to define actions to be taken to stop, or at least limit, this phenomenon in the coming decades. Therefore, in view of the conference, 183 countries out of 195 (although with considerable delay) presented their promises and proposals to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

“Commitments” proposed, however, according to experts, would not avoid the increase in average temperatures of less than 3 degrees. Results will request to re-evaluate its proposals. Beginning in countries that are the biggest polluters, such as most industrialized countries (United States, Europe and Japan) and many of the developing world (China and India).

Promises that most of these countries are not ready to make. USA “are opposed to a binding agreement” (for internal reasons) and “have not presented an alternative approach,” said the European Commissioner for Climate, Miguel Arias Canete, recalling that Paris, unlike Kyoto, “must be a universal agreement, so we want the US to be part of it. “

And position of the most European countries would be “still far” from what is necessary to reach an effective global agreement, as confirmed Jiri Jerabek Greenpeace. His opinion is shared by other organizations such as the Climate Action Network Europe (CAN) and WWF. According to Jerabek “Europe can do more to accelerate the transition towards an energy system based on renewables and commit to eliminate fossil fuels at home.”

The risk is that, as happened after Kyoto conference, Paris will become another opportunity to make promises not to be maintained or to allow industrialized countries to continue to pollute using “compensation” (a country can go over the limits promised as long as other countries sign a deal to stay below these limits). Wendel Trio, director of Can, said that “the negotiating position includes’ dark areas’ ‘.

Many countries in the developing world, from the Pacific Islands to the African Group, reiterated that they “want a binding agreement” and therefore “those who do not accept it must submit a proposal for negotiation” as confirmed Canete.

C.Alessandro Mauceri

Red meat cause cancer?

During the last days an alarm raised on newspapers and media: some kind of meat could cause cancer. Panic about food that is absolutely unfounded: the risks connected with the use of this food are far inferior to others. According to many studies, every year about 50 thousand die because of cancer caused by food. Far fewer of fatal cancers caused by smog (200 thousand), alcoholism (600 thousand) or cigarettes (smoking related deaths are a million). Yet no one has unleashed campaigns or has filled the newspapers of titles against smoking or against alcohol.

Just a few days later Europe – what a coincidence – authorized the consumption of foods such as insects, worms, spiders, algae and larvae. Again many people impressed, but with no reason: most of these foods are eaten in different parts of the world.
Many of those who were shocked by the new EU directive, should discuss about another “food” authorized. With insects and animal foods of various kinds, the Directive permit to consider “food” things completely created in the laboratory!
The European Council, with 359 votes in favor, 202 against and 127 abstentions, included in the “novel food” a simplification of procedures for foods based on cell cultures and tissues, new nanomaterials and dyes. The text of 1997 that contains food “allowed” has been updated with substances realized through chemical and biological industrial processing methods or technologies, such as primary molecular structure modified, foods consisting of, containing or produced from micro-organisms, fungi or algae, foods containing, consisting of or produced from cell cultures or tissues, minerals and other substances intended with complementary foods, foods that contain manufactured nanomaterials. “Parliament was not up to the concerns of Europeans,” stated representatives of the Greens.

The problem is that with this Directive, the European Council has made corporations a great gift allowing them and producing and selling as foods or ingredients something created from scratch in the lab or products with new methods and new technologies (such as, for example, cloning).
The problem is that instead of insects and algae whose edibility is well known, the situation is completely different for synthetic food: there is no evidence that they are eatable or even the consequences that they might have on people health.

Last possibility to avoid filling the dishes of chemicals is the final analysis of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). EFSA will have to evaluate new foods and new substances before they are placed in foods sold in the EU. A few weeks ago, about the insects, they said: “When the insects are fed unprocessed feed substances currently authorized, the potential occurrence of microbiological hazards is expected to be similar to that associated with other protein sources unprocessed. As to the transfer of chemical contaminants from different types of substrate as the insect the available data are limited.”
What will happen when they are entirely produced in the laboratory? Nobody knows the implications for human health, and to discover will be difficult, if not impossible. Something that clashes with the Council’s decision to “simplify” the authorization procedures.
The problem are not to find in our food insect larvae. The risk will be permit corporations to include in food they sell in supermarkets, substances that make it “more beautiful” or “more attractive”, but not necessarily healthier or, at least, harmless.

The truth is that now, waiting for the TTIP (and the problems it will cause), it will be easier for multinational companies to expand their market and sell artificial foods even where until now it wasn’t permitted.
A “step forward” imposed on Europe and people who olive there. That with wine without grapes, cheese without milk and chocolate without cocoa, will include in their diet laboratory products ….

C.Alessandro Mauceri

Stones and blood in Myanmar

Nearly one hundred people dead and missing at least another hundred (but there is little hope to find them still alive). Is this is the result of a landslide in a mine in Myanmar.

Just another case of deaths in mines without any security system: a price in blood and human lives that nobody talks or writes about.
The greatest part of the jade in the official markets is extracted in three countries: China, Korea and Myanmar (formerly Burma). Mines are quite often located in hard to reach areas: normal roads disappear into the forest where begins the hell for those who live in the miners, their guards and, of course, for Chinese buyers.

Extraction and trade of mineral usually occur outside of normal commercial channels. Almost half of jade mined in Myanmar is sold in China and, very often, on unofficial market. Billions of dollars (according to data of the ash Center at Harvard University): this market reached eight billion dollars, one-sixth of the entire GDP of Burma.
Nothing of this money remains in Myanmar: most of it goes to Chinese entrepreneurs and armed gangs that rules and permit mining companies to extract and to traffic drugs.

Mine workers are often treated in conditions of semi-slavery. Life goes digging with rudimentary; the only break is for sleeping a few hours or for consuming drugs. The two things are inseparable since several years. Often workers are “convinced ” (the first “dose”, usually is given free) to take drugs to be able to withstand the gruelling work shifts. Heroin, methamphetamine and opium (Myanmar is one of the largest producers of the latter, after Afghanistan). Shortly they become dependant and do not work anymore for a wage (even if ridiculous) but only for receiving their daily “dose”. That’s like their lives go on, until death.

Often a death like in the past few days. The collapse occurred in the state of Kachin. In the same place where, only three years ago, 100 thousand men, women and children had been evacuated during the violent clashes between the Burmese army and Kachin.

Many people know their situation. Authorities knew it: in an interview on the New York Times, Yang Houlan, Chinese ambassador to Myanmar, said that entrepreneurs and business people regularly and systematically violate Burmese laws and Chinese “business man” “cross the border to smuggle out jade”.

A situation that none, up to now, has done anything to change. One is the reason: the jade market is pretty darn prosperous and it grows quickly: during the last quarter of 2014, revenues in the export of jade in Myanmar increased by 30per cent over the same period last year.

Many of these stones are sold in all markets around the world, but especially in China (where they have a huge value tied to the belief that they can have healing properties or they can bring luck).These stones are not green: they are spotted of red, the blood of thousands of people who live as slaves in a hell of mines where they extract the jade.

C.Alessandro Mauceri

EU and Italy save the clams… but let people die.

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When someone read of something that caused millions of diseases and deaths, usually he answer: “Couldn’t be possible to do something to prevent this?”.

This was the first question during the last outbreak of the Ebola virus (which caused ten thousand deaths in African countries). And newspapers talked about it for months.

Same thing about the migrants who died trying to reach Europe crossing the Mediterranean (3188 of them died from 1990 to 2013 but this number is much higher for the last two years).

In both cases there was a great attention both nationally and internationally, frightening medical missions, army, naval missions, study and research. Everything with one goal: trying and preventing deaths, or at least reducing them.

There’s another event that causes death much more (about 80 thousand deaths every year and hundreds of thousands of people with cancer) only in Italy, but no one says a word. Every year, in Italy, 83thousand men die because of smoking (in the world several million die, many more than those of the worst outbreaks of which were filled the front pages of newspapers).

Deaths that could have been easy avoided: it would have been enough banning cigarettes and tobacco derivates. The laws introduced so far looks to be ridiculous and morally reprehensible (why a government that claims to take care of health of citizens and requires use of seat belts and helmets for motorcyclists, should allow smoking knowing that – this is why they oblige producers to write on the packaging – causes death?).
It is already known that the campaign against smoking just launched by Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin entitled ‘But you’re stupid?’ won’t solve the problem.
The proof comes from the numbers of the consequences of smoking said by the same minister presenting this action: nowadays tobacco causes more deaths than alcohol, HIVs, drugs, road accidents, murder and suicide all together and the tobacco epidemic is a ”the largest public health challenges of history ”. The World Health Organization (WHO) defined tobacco smoking as ”the greatest threat to health in the European Region”.

Everybody knows seems to know the consequences but nobody yet has done anything. Neither in Italy nor in Europe. Nobody, for example, has proposed banning cigarettes and tobacco products. The decision, taken with the Sirchia law of 2003, banning smoking in some places and banning smoking to children had no results: according to a report made by University of Turin last year, 63,9 per cent of children did not receive any refusal by tobacco dealers nor any request for verification their age when asking to by cigarettes. Fully useless all the campaigns promoted up to now: 80 per cent of those who tried to quit failed (Istat data).

Rarely functional the European action in EU countries: Minister said the EU directive that provides “important news, from the ban on smoking in cars in front of children and pregnant women and the ban on sales to under-18s also electronic cigarettes with nicotine ” in Italy hasn’t been converted into law. And the situation is similar in several other countries: in Europe, as in Italy, the number of people who die and or are seriously diseased due to smoking is frightening.

The truth is that nobody concern of citizens health. It does not concern the companies that earn a lot of money selling cigarettes, it does not concern governments that get a lot of money from VAT and other taxed charged on this market, cashing in almost ten billion euro every year (to which must be added the rest of the sector , tax activities to licenses etc. etc.).
It does not concern the European Commission. The same Commission that is ready to prescribe rules about the size of mussels and clams and check that restaurants do not serve mussels of the wrong size, the same that prescribes how many ounces of milk should be taken from each breast of a cow. But that is very careful not to disturb the business of multinational companies banning cigarettes. Even after the World Health Organization has repeatedly confirmed that smoking is “the leading cause of preventable death in the world.”

And none says a word: all pretending not knowing the effects of this plague that causes more deaths than the Ebola virus: every year thousands of Europeans die and millions fall ill with terrible diseases. European and Italian citizens who will see their lives and their dreams go up in a smoke. The smoke of a cigarette.

C.Alessandro Mauceri

Caponata pie

caponata

Ingredients

550 g flour 00

200 g lard
40 g granulated sugar
120 g dry white wine
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
A generous pinch of salt

Directions

The day before, mix the flour, the lard, the sugar, the cinnamon, the salt, the whole egg and the egg yolk and the wine. Mix quickly so as to obtain a smooth and homogeneous dough. Cover with plastic wrap and put it into the refrigerator.
Grease a baking tray or cover it with baking paper, then roll out the shortcrust pastry and make two discs. With the first one we’ll cover the pan to the edges, the other one it is necessary to close the pie.
Pour the caponata into the baking tray, then cover with the other shortcrust pastry disk, taking care to seal well the edges. Put into the oven at moderate temperature for about thirty minutes. Serve cold or tepid.

from: Ricette di Sicilia

Some ideas can save your life

Tom Agapiades lost a friend to the water three years ago. Than he decided to create something that can help people floating in water. He designed a wrist band that will eject when you pull along its hook to activate the CO2 cylinder inside. This will inflate an orange safety bag to drag a man to the surface.


You’ll stay attached to the wristband thanks to the lock safely attached around the bottom of. Even though the bright orange safety bag can be easily seen, a whistle on the side can summon help in case of low visibility. An integral compass can help you swim to shore, assisted by the bag for up to 48 hours. The canister of CO2 can be easily be changed by a quick twist on the valve at the side.

Drowning is a top cause of death among children under 10, because it can happen so quickly and without warning. Though the wristband isn’t the same as a full life vest, it can keep a child or worker afloat long enough to be rescued.

C.Alessandro Mauceri

Yanis Varoufakis’s answer….

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In this paper from his blog, Yanis Varoufakis explains what recently happened in Greece…..

Dr Schäuble’s Plan for Europe: Do Europeans approve? – English version of my article in Die Zeit

“The reason five months of negotiations between Greece and Europe led to impasse is that Dr Schäuble was determined that they would.

By the time I attended my first Brussels meetings in early February, a powerful majority within the Eurogroup had already formed. Revolving around the earnest figure of Germany’s Minister of Finance, its mission was to block any deal building on the common ground between our freshly elected government and the rest of the Eurozone.[1]

Thus five months of intense negotiations never had a chance. Condemned to lead to impasse, their purpose was to pave the ground for what Dr Schäuble had decided was ‘optimal’ well before our government was even elected: That Greece should be eased out of the Eurozone in order to discipline member-states resisting his very specific plan for re-structuring the Eurozone. This is no theory of mine. How do I know Grexit is an important part of Dr Schäuble’s plan for Europe? Because he told me so!

I am writing this not as a Greek politician critical of the German press’ denigration of our sensible proposals, of Berlin’s refusal seriously to consider our moderate debt re-profiling plan, of the European Central Bank’s highly political decision to asphyxiate our government, of the Eurogroup’s decision to give the ECB the green light to shut down our banks. I am writing this as a European observing the unfolding of a particular Plan for Europe – Dr Schäuble’s Plan. And I am asking a simple question of Die Zeit’s informed readers:

Is this a Plan that you approve of? Is this Plan good for Europe?

Dr Schäuble’s Plan for the Eurozone

The avalanche of toxic bailouts that followed the Eurozone’s first financial crisis offers ample proof that the non-credible ‘no bailout clause’ was a terrible substitute for political union. Wolfgang Schäuble knows this and has made clear his plan to forge a closer union. “Ideally, Europe would be a political union”, he wrote in a joint article with Karl Lamers, the CDU’s former foreign affairs chief (Financial Times, 1st September 2014).

Dr Schäuble is right to advocate institutional changes that might provide the Eurozone with its missing political mechanisms. Not only because it is impossible otherwise to address the Eurozone’s current crisis but also for the purpose of preparing our monetary union for the next crisis. The question is: Is his specific plan a good one? Is it one that Europeans should want? How do its authors propose that it be implemented?

The Schäuble-Lamers Plan rests on two ideas: “Why not have a European budget commissioner” asked Schäuble and Lamers “with powers to reject national budgets if they do not correspond to the rules we jointly agreed?” “We also favour”, they added “a ‘Eurozone parliament’ comprising the MEPs of Eurozone countries to strengthen the democratic legitimacy of decisions affecting the single currency bloc.”

The first point to raise about the Schäuble-Lamers Plan is that it is at odds with any notion of democratic federalism. A federal democracy, like Germany, the United States or Australia, is founded on the sovereignty of its citizens as reflected in the positive power of their representatives to legislate what must be done on the sovereign people’s behalf.

In sharp contrast, the Schäuble-Lamers Plan envisages only negative powers: A Eurozonal budget overlord (possibly a glorified version of the Eurogroup’s President) equipped solely with negative, or veto, powers over national Parliaments. The problem with this is twofold. First, it would not help sufficiently to safeguard the Eurozone’s macro-economy. Secondly, it would violate basic principles of Western liberal democracy.

Consider events both prior to the eruption of the euro crisis, in 2010, and afterwards. Before the crisis, had Dr Schäuble’s fiscal overlord existed, she or he might have been able to veto the Greek government’s profligacy but would be in no position to do anything regarding the tsunami of loans flowing from the private banks of Frankfurt and Paris to the Periphery’s private banks.[2] Those capital outflows underpinned unsustainable debt that, unavoidably, got transferred back onto the public’s shoulders the moment financial markets imploded. Post-crisis, Dr Schäuble’s budget Leviathan would also be powerless, in the face of potential insolvency of several states caused by their bailing out (directly or indirectly) the private banks.

In short, the new high office envisioned by the Schäuble-Lamers Plan would have been impotent to prevent the causes of the crisis and to deal with its repercussions. Moreover, every time it did act, by vetoing a national budget, the new high office would be annulling the sovereignty of a European people without having replaced it by a higher-order sovereignty at a federal or supra-national level.

Dr Schäuble has been impressively consistent in his espousal of a political union that runs contrary to the basic principles of a democratic federation. In an article in Die Welt published on 15th June 1995, he dismissed the “academic debate” over whether Europe should be “…a federation or an alliance of states”. Was he right that there is no difference between a federation and an ‘alliance of states’? I submit that a failure to distinguish between the two constitutes a major threat to European democracy.

Forgotten prerequisites for a liberal democratic, multinational political union

One often forgotten fact about liberal democracies is that the legitimacy of its laws and constitution is determined not by its legal content but by politics. To claim, as Dr Schäuble did in 1995, and implied again in 2014, that it makes no difference whether the Eurozone is an alliance of sovereign states or a federal state is purposely to ignore that the latter can create political authority whereas the former cannot.

An ‘alliance of states’ can, of course, come to mutually beneficial arrangements against a common aggressor (e.g. in the context of a defensive military alliance), or in agreeing to common industry standards, or even effect a free trade zone. But, such an alliance of sovereign states can never legitimately create an overlord with the right to strike down a states’ sovereignty, since there is no collective, alliance-wide sovereignty from which to draw the necessary political authority to do so.

This is why the difference between a federation and an ‘alliance of states’ matters hugely. For while a federation replaces the sovereignty forfeited at the national or state level with a new-fangled sovereignty at the unitary, federal level, centralising power within an ‘alliance of states’ is, by definition, illegitimate, and lacks any sovereign body politic that can anoint it. Nor can any Euro Chamber of the European Parliament, itself lacking the power to legislate at will, legitimise the Budget Commissioner’s veto power over national Parliaments.

To put it slightly differently, small sovereign nations, e.g. Iceland, have choices to make within the broader constraints created for them by nature and by the rest of humanity. However limited these choices, Iceland’s body politic retains absolute authority to hold their elected officials accountable for the decisions they have reached within the nation’s exogenous constraints and to strike down every piece of legislation that it has decided upon in the past. In juxtaposition, the Eurozone’s finance ministers often return from Eurogroup meetings decrying the decisions that they have just signed up to, using the standard excuse that “it was the best we could negotiate within the Eurogroup”.

The euro crisis has expanded this lacuna at the centre of Europe hideously. An informal body, the Eurogroup, that keeps no minutes, abides by no written rules, and is answerable to precisely no one, is running the world’s largest macro-economy, with a Central Bank struggling to stay within vague rules that it creates as it goes along, and no body politic to provide the necessary bedrock of political legitimacy on which fiscal and monetary decisions may rest.

Will Dr Schäuble’s Plan remedy this indefensible system of governance? If anything, it would dress up the Eurogroup’s present ineffective macro-governance and political authoritarianism in a cloak of pseudo-legitimacy. The malignancies of the present ‘Alliance of States’ would be cast in stone and the dream of a democratic European federation would be pushed further into an uncertain future.

Dr Schäuble’s perilous strategy for implementing the Schäuble-Lamers Plan

Back in May, in the sidelines of yet another Eurogroup meeting, I had had the privilege of a fascinating conversation with Dr Schäuble. We talked extensively both about Greece and regarding the future of the Eurozone. Later on that day, the Eurogroup meeting’s agenda included an item on future institutional changes to bolster the Eurozone. In that conversation, it was abundantly clear that Dr Schäuble’s Plan was the axis around which the majority of finance ministers were revolving.

Though Grexit was not referred to directly in that Eurogroup meeting of nineteen ministers, plus the institutions’ leaders, veiled references were most certainly made to it. I heard a colleague say that member-states that cannot meet their commitments should not count on the Eurozone’s indivisibility, since reinforced discipline was of the essence. Some mentioned the importance of bestowing upon a permanent Eurogroup President the power to veto national budgets. Others discussed the need to convene a Euro Chamber of Parliamentarians to legitimise her or his authority. Echoes of Dr Schäuble’s Plan reverberated throughout the room.

Judging from that Eurogroup conversation, and from my discussions with Germany’s Finance Minister, Grexit features in Dr Schäuble’s Plan as a crucial move that would kickstart the process of its implementation. A controlled escalation of the long suffering Greeks’ pains, intensified by shut banks while ameliorated by some humanitarian aid, was foreshadowed as the harbinger of the New Eurozone. On the one hand, the fate of the prodigal Greeks would act as a morality tale for governments toying with the idea of challenging the existing ‘rules’ (e.g. Italy), or of resisting the transfer of national sovereignty over budgets to the Eurogroup (e.g. France). On the other hand, the prospect of (limited) fiscal transfers (e.g. a closer banking union and a common unemployment benefit pool) would offer the requisite carrot (that smaller nations craved).

Setting aside any moral or philosophical objections to the idea of forging a better union through controlled boosts in the suffering of a constituent member-state, several broader questions pose themselves urgently:

  • Are the means fit for the ends?
  • Is the abrogation of the Eurozone’s constitutional indivisibility a safe means of securing its future as a realm of shared prosperity?
  • Will the ritual sacrifice of a member-state help bring Europeans closer together?
  • Does the argument that elections cannot change anything in indebted member-states inspire trust in Europe’s institutions?
  • Or might it have the precise opposite effect, as fear and loathing become established parts of Europe’s intercourse?

Conclusion: Europe at a crossroads

The Eurozone’s faulty foundations revealed themselves first in Greece, before the crisis spread elsewhere. Five years later, Greece is again in the limelight as Germany’s sole surviving statesman from the era that forged the euro, Dr Wolfgang Schäuble, has a plan to refurbish Europe’s monetary union that involves jettisoning Greece on the excuse that the Greek government has no ‘credible’ reforms on offer.

The reality is that a Eurogroup sold to Dr Schäuble’s Plan, and strategy, never had any serious intention to strike a New Deal with Greece reflecting the common interests of creditors and of a nation whose income had been crushed, and whose society was fragmented, as a result of a terribly designed ‘Program’. Official Europe’s insistence that this failed ‘Program’ be adopted by our new government ‘or else’ was nothing but the trigger for the implementation of Dr Schäuble’s Plan.

It is quite telling that, the moment negotiations collapsed, our government’s argument that Greece’s debt had to be restructured as part of any viable agreement was, belatedly, acknowledged. The International Monetary Fund was the first institution to do so. Remarkably Dr Schäuble himself also acknowledged that debt relief was needed but hastened to add that it was politically “impossible”. What I am sure he really meant was that it was undesirable, to him, because his aim is to justify a Grexit that triggers the implementation of his Plan for Europe.

Perhaps it is true that, as a Greek and a protagonist in the past five months of negotiations, my assessment of the Schäuble-Lamers Plan, and of their chosen means, is too biased to matter in Germany.

Germany has been a loyal European ‘citizen’ and the German people, to their credit, have always yearned to embed their nation-state, to lose themselves in an important sense, within a united Europe. So, setting aside my views on the matter, the question is this:

What do you, dear reader, think of it? Is Dr Schäuble’s Plan consistent with your dream of a democratic Europe? Or will its implementation, beginning with the treatment of Greece as something between a pariah state and a sacrificial lamb, spark off a never-ending feedback between economic instability and the authoritarianism that feeds off it?”

[1] “Elections can change nothing” and “It is the MoU or nothing”, were typical of the utterances that he greeted my first intervention at the Eurogroup with.

[2] Moreover, if the Greek state had been barred from borrowing by Dr Schäuble’s budget commissioner, Greek debt would still have piled up via the private banks – as it did in Ireland and Spain.