Thu, Nov 15, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Europe’s sacrifices are increasingly becoming all pain, no gain

As southern Europeans feel the bite of more rounds of austerity, it is time to re-examine the terms of the social contract between society and government

By Michael Marder

However, the rhetoric of fear is losing sway, because the “new deal” taking shape across southern Europe offers more repression and less protection, thus violating the social contract’s fundamental tenets.

Indeed, while European citizens are being asked to sacrifice their standard of living — and even their livelihoods — for the sake of the “national economy,” transnational corporations are apparently thriving.

The conditions imposed by the “troika” — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF — amount to an indefinite delay in addressing the needs of those asked to sacrifice and in repairing tattered social safety nets. Yet national governments continue to implement policies that exacerbate injustice. For example, Portugal’s budget for next year reduces the number of tax brackets from eight to five — a move that will devastate the middle class.

Sacrifice used to involve ransoming the body — its pleasures, basic needs and even its vitality — for the sake of the spirit. While the discourse of sacrifice persists, the logic that has shored it up for millennia has been abandoned.

Europe’s leaders must imbue their citizens with renewed hope. The legitimacy of “post-national” Europe — based on the EU’s obligation, enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty, to promote “the well-being of its people” — is at stake.

Michael Marder is a research professor at the University of the Basque Country, Vitoria-Gasteiz.

Copyright: Project Syndicate/Institute for Human Sciences

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