Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Newsletter Sept - Nov 2014

In the school of Aristotle                                               @HF Athens 2014

About the Future European Commission under Juncker

The appointments to the various Commissions by Juncker have been approved by the European Parliament on Oct. 22nd. They are an indication of things to come as much as what one can expect of a highly politicized Commission. After all, the appointments of the new Commissioners are not only at the disgression of Juncker, but are subject to influences of the member states, political parties in the European Parliament and powerful forces within the European Union. In the final end, it does boil down to political appointments made at the disgression of the member states and their influence upon the workings of the European Commission. Given the need to please so many divergent interests, it may well be impossible to ask for more than what the Europe Union can offer at the moment. Still, it is a sad state of affairs and does little to minimize the anti European voices growing ever louder especially on Facebook and other outlets of the social media.

Some appointments are highly controversial for many reasons. It became evident during the hearings in the respective committees of the European Parliament for nominees. Definitely deep troubles lie ahead when wrong persons are appointed for Commissions which touch upon highly sensitive issues such as digital matters, economy, energy and foreign policy, but also cultural and European values.

For example, doubts were expressed about Jonathan Hill, who was nominated by Cameron in the UK to oversee financial markets. Apparently he did not outline his policies clearly enough to satisfy some MEPs during his hearing. Still, he got through along with the rest of the new Commissioners since no one wishes to cause a still further affront with the UK already deeply sceptical about the EU. 

Doubts have been expressed about Pierre Moscovici of France, if he can fulfil his posts since he failed to implement EU directives while an active politician in the French government. As for Miguel Arias Cañete of Spain, controversies surrounding him have to do with his family ties to a special business world which he will now oversee.

Another controversy was caused by Former Slovenian Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek. She had nominated herself to the post of a Commissioner, despite having lost the election. Everyone felt she should have given the incoming government a chance to appoint someone of their own choice. When she finally withdrew, Sven Giegold, a member of the parliament’s Greens group, posted it immediately on Twitter. 

The most controversial decision by Juncker is, however, the appointment of Tibor Navracsics from Hungary to become the new Commissioner for Culture, Education, Youth, Media and Sports. Helga Trüpel, MEP for the Greens in the European Parliament, stated why there is serious doubt about his appointment. As Minister for Justice in Hungary he was responsible for limiting the freedom of the media. In the hearing he did not distance himself sufficiently from the practices of the Hungarian government. Indeed, it perplexes many people that Juncker has named him even though culture and education are amongst the most sensitive portfolios. 

Interestingly enough, Peter Inkei from the Budapest Observatory draws a much more positive conclusion and endorses him in the following way: 

"It was a brave pull from Jean-Claude Juncker to offer this portfolio to a politician who has been a chief architect of a regime that favours uniformity and breeds discord. Nevertheless Tibor Navracsics has managed to keep certain integrity, has refrained from saying or directly doing things that would irritate believers in democratic plurality, fairness, tolerance and other values of the EU. The post of commissioner for culture etc. offers good chances for compensation. Navracsics has the abilities and maybe the determination to do so." (Source: Budapest Memo, September 2014: http://www.budobs.org)

To be on the safe side when making bets about future outcomes is not a bad option, but it reveals the absence of a real critical mass of voices in the cultural sector. Still, the Cultural Committee ended up voting against Tibor Navracsics 14 to 12, all the more surprising is, therefore, that Juncker chose to ignore the votum of the Cultural Committee and stuck to his original appointment. 

In view of the new Commission with Juncker as its president, the question can now be asked, if it has really the substance to fulfil what it is supposed to do, namely to steer the European Union out of a financial crisis and free it from a lack of moral legitamacy? The latter has become highly doubtful ever since the EU constitutional treaty had not been ratified in 2005. Added to this is the threat of an economic recession with some at the European Central Bank advocating all member states should proceed with structural reforms and match supply with demand policy, in order to achieve 'sustainable growth'.

One of the most negative parameters within the European Union has been intensified by the financial crisis, namely growing inequalities. Likewise the prime goal of socio-economic cohesion has been neglected, so that discrepancies between regions have made themselves be felt as South-North but also West-East divides. Add to this various forms of regional assertiveness gaining more and more ground. Equally worrying is the way European values have been handled not only in countries like Hungary. The United Kingdom is threatening to counter the free movement of people, a corner stone of the European Union. It shows that the European Union has a long way to go with regards to equal Rights for all citizens. These and other issues have been handled in a way which is hardly convincing to the majority of European voters.

Likewise it does not appear that the new Commission shall end the reign of neo-liberal austerity policies but rather reinforce even more so this highly controversial way of resolving the crisis. By making the 'economic value' into the single factor which drives everything else, the EU Commission is more than just misguided. That is not only a fake accountability, but does no justice to a culture of diversity. The latter is best expressed by people embracing a variety of values, and not just a single i.e. economic one. Business organisations have long caught onto this. However, politicians still believe the proof of reality lies in gaining success over the economic value alone. That leads to a neglect of everything else best exemplified by neglecting culture within the EU. This is said despite of the European Capitals of Culture being a prime example of an ongoing successful project.

Changes in EU policy are too often just late responses to extreme cases. It is more usual that either nothing happens or the measures are too drastic. It is rare to find a governance based on 'practical wisdom' and which would allow people themselves to be the prime agents of change.

No doubt the EU faces in the 21st century numerous and challenging factors due to a world slithering along war. The risks of vulnerable areas being transformed into a proxy war-zone like airports has increased. Also many regions in the world are nearly out of control due to ever more violent conflicts as if humanity has forgotten to resolve things by talking to each other. Libya can be cited here as one of the latest examples of failures with Western intervention having made things worse, not better. 

At the same time, economic hardships rob especially future generations of any dream. For instance, the younger generation in Greece is either lost or else sees ahead but two alternatives, namely suicide or immigration to another country, may that be Germany, England or Holland.

The very lack of perspective indicates how a heavy handed style of governance is slowly grinding down everything. By having adopted such crude measures, more and more social injustices are inflicted upon the weak i.e. those depending on a decent salary or pension. Too much has been inflicted upon that special segment of society. As one consequence thereof, anti-European forces are gaining ground. Politically speaking, this manifests itself in the Far Right in France or in the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) in Germany. Quite often this popular opposition against Europe is linked to business interests who wish simply to advance by wishing not interference from the side of the Commission.

To govern Europe wisely, the European Commission must uphold standards which have been set, for example, to protect the environment. Likewise the EU Commission should listen much more to dissenting voices, for often those who are critical of how European affairs are being handled, they are still the most firmly committed ones to the European Union.

The outcome of the Scottish referendum for independence needs special interpretation. It is linked to what many people is not working within a European Union to much geared towards catering to special interests. At the same time, territorial self assertiveness seeks to combine cultural identity and a romantic version of political sovereignty as best answer to global forces. This is happening in Catalonia but also similar forces seem to gain ground in the United Kingdom e.g. UKIP. However, they do have a very strong weakness due to being merely a single issue orientated movement. Most of the time their binding power of members is based only on an anti Europe sentiment. It is a kind of 'self assertiveness' becoming virulent in the 21st century and reminds of the Wilson doctrin to Self-Determination laid out at the end of First World War in 1919. Unfortunately it helps merely to mask own helplessness, but also neglects to come to terms with globalization. Due to a strong dose of anti-Politics, these movements have lost already the prospect of coming to terms with political structures needed for world governance and international law to prevail. Issues like climate change have to be dealt with at that level, but also air traffic control for otherwise civilian planes are downed like that fateful Malaysian plane over Eastern Ukraine on July 17th 2014.

People need above all human solidarity and consistency, so that they do not give up but work through all the contradictions between vision and reality. Only then are some lasting agreements possible.

One last comment has to be made as to what the cultural sector at European level is up to. Culture Action Europe wished to go beyond the obvious at a conference it held in Newcastle, UK. Alone the title provokes one association of meaning. It was Hegel who said most often real knowledge is being overlooked because it is so obvious that everyone thinks it is worthwhile to give it much further attention. To that can be added Adorno saying in culture the only thing self-understood is that nothing is self-understood.

Hatto Fischer

Athens 22.10.2014

Poets in Search of Peace

After the poetry reading in Malta, Sept. 7th, 2014, and in view of intercultural dialogue not being really a satisfactory tool for Europe's foreign policy, some encouragement can be taken from what Amir Or represents in Israel.

Delicate Dialog with reality

mir Or brought together poets of the Arabic and Hebrew language in his poetry centre in Israel, so that they would translate each others' poems. To do so, everyone had to slip a bit, so Amir Or, into the role of the others, in order to understand what the other was saying in his or her language. The small seed of mutual understanding can be called the beginning of a 'delicate dialog with reality'. That is needed if the Barbarians are not only coming, but already amongst us, and therefore being 'together' takes on quite another meaning.

Likewise Israel can be perceived as a strange kind of normality as shown in the documentary film by Mieke Bal. The film shows people going to the beach, while not very far away Iraeli soldiers don't know what to do when they are posted in Hebron. Send there to protect the 800 settlers against the thousands of Palestinians confined to barricaded houses, in reality cages, they are confronted by another reality. For the Palestinians are much more subject of abuse by the settlers rather than the other way around. It leaves the soldiers so bewildered that they do not know what to do. Reluctant to intervene against settlers when they act against the Palestinians, it underlines a special kind of injustice happening all the time, and not only when the world media focuses on Gaza having come once again under attack as was the case in July 2014.


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