European Policy in Shambles

Europeans are stuck in a series of self-perpetuating concepts of their own. They adore heavy taxation, which they believe will accumulate revenue for an efficiently functioning public sector.

Misunderstanding is the mother of all lies. Likewise, intention kills the best dispositions. This can be seen in most major international events, as well as in nations’ efforts to overcome difficulties and dead-end situations. Europe has already started losing its grip, searching for complex solutions to relatively straightforward issues.

Talking to serious and moderate people in Russian cities, where I found myself for the last two weeks, I began to realize why the European experiment is in danger of perishing. While the US utilizes all available means to promote its aims and achieve results, Europeans are entangled in conceptual ambiguities and fruitless choices. In the case of Iran, it is obvious that Americans and Russians worked in concert to open paths of communication with a horizon far beyond Tehran’s nuclear efforts. Notwithstanding the cool façade in the relations between Washington and Moscow, the two great powers comprehend global geopolitical realities and the need for understanding to be in control of unfolding events and consequences.

The agreement with Iran paves the way for headway in the confrontation with the murderous jihadists of ISIS. Having achieved the support of Iran in this struggle, obviously with the tacit agreement of Russia, Assad’s regime in Syria would inevitably read the writing on the wall, and thus would either agree to a compromise or face demise. Likewise, other peripheral powers will acknowledge the fact that the period of pretension is over. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already faced reality and turned his guns against ISIS, while simultaneously desperately attempting to avert the establishment of a Kurdish state in the region.

For Saudi Arabia as well, the signs are clear that an epoch is coming to an end. Playing friendly games with the West, while protecting and encouraging jihadist radicalism cannot go any further. The dilemma is profound. Either a lid is forced upon the fanatical Wahhabis, who play a pivotal role in the governance of the Kingdom, or phenomena like the Shia revolt in Yemen will spread to the oil-rich districts of the eastern Saudi peninsula itself, with a menacing and powerful Shia Iran on the opposite shore. A similar message is obviously being forwarded to neighboring Qatar, where a nominally pro-Western regime is giving a wink to the Sunni extremists of ISIS, by means of generous financial handouts. In return, the hegemony of the ruling family in Doha is excluded from possible jihadist assaults.

What Russia gains by these developments is not difficult to discern. While receding somewhat in Iran, Lebanon and Syria, its interests are served with the termination of the war that Saudi Arabia had declared on the price of oil, aiming to reduce its revenues and undermine its global market share. In this, Moscow has the United States as its ally, since the collapse of oil prices has created difficulties in the extraction of shale oil, with various operations being rendered unprofitable. At the same time, Russia sees eye to eye with the West as far as the curtailing of jihadi activity and the restriction of their means of finance are concerned.

Talking with people in Kazan, in the Muslim-dominated Russian Republic of Tatarstan, and in Astrakhan, near the Caspian Sea, but also with pundits in Moscow, it became clear to me that there is a lot of concern, and that the need for joint action is desirable. I predict it will not be long before the thorn of Ukraine becomes an issue of the past. Many more pressing matters going forward require joint action. Many people in the West have started to recognize that an act of favoritism of the Soviet regime in the past – offering the Russian-speaking territories of Crimea and Donetsk as a prize to Ukraine for the purpose of regional enlargement and to serve the caprice of leaders of the USSR, powerful at the time, whose origins were in Ukraine (Khrushchev, Podgorny) – is an unnatural burden on today’s developments, and endanger the world’s political architecture. A timely decision to reverse the previous ruling of the Soviet government would have solved the problem. Andropov had contemplated it, and Gorbachev – although he had scheduled it – failed to enact it on time. When Yeltsin came to power, it was already too late to proceed with it.

As for the Europeans, they are always out of focus. They handle issues in an amateurish fashion lacking depth and vision. They are involved halfheartedly in the course of events, failing to show initiatives and rational planning. They were pathetically absent with Iran and are now rallying to do business with Tehran. Indifferent to the perils of Islamic radicalism, they have allowed their societies to become corroded with an influx of alien populations and are now wondering about the emerging hate and about the cost of curtailing the waves of incoming refugees. Wherever they took the initiative, they ended up in a mess. The case of Libya is paramount among their blunders. In the case of Ukraine, they were responsible for outcomes without having first studied the special national circumstances and institutional setups. Former President Yanukovych was overthrown by a decision of Parliament. This, however, was not legitimate under Ukraine’s constitution. It’s a wonder how an institutionally democratic Europe came to accept such a turn of events. Europe even proceeded with sanctions against Russia, disregarding plebiscites and popular feeling in Crimea. Moscow’s decision to recover Crimea is closely tied to European apathy and wrongly judged initiatives. Some days ago French MPs were touring the area, talking about the genuine popular disposition that led to the recovery. They obviously see damaged French economic interests and the need to do something about it. The government in Kiev protests about violations of sanctions, but it is obvious that the overall political climate is changing. The French are the first Europeans who are trying to catch up with events.

The way Brussels dealt with the Greek debt crisis is a typical symbol of European shortsightedness and operational foolishness. Struggling with countless regulations and bureaucratic entanglements, Europe assumes that for every problem there is a technical solution. It constantly bypasses issues of national characteristics as well as local habits and traditions. It assumes that if 50 get in, by necessity 50 will go out. In Greece, for example, instead of insisting on structural changes to the political system, which would have abolished clientelism and made deficit spending obsolete, they adamantly persisted in imposing heavier taxes and lukewarm spending cuts. All these proved ineffective since society overruled them and political authorities very randomly attempted to enforce them. Tax evasion in Greece is not a matter of legislation or institutional framework. It is rather the result of the genuine social contract that has existed since the Greek state was founded. It was based on the understanding that taxes would be imposed without people having to pay them. Elections signaled the plundering of state coffers by supporters of the victorious party.

Since major parties were succeeding each other in office, the whole of society was partaking in the spoils of office. Whatever laws there are to change this, the populist logic remains intact. Failure to comprehend this results in disastrous outcomes. Lending is destined never to solve Greece’s financial problems. Radical changes to the political system, and especially to the electoral procedure, may produce a situation resembling modernization and an approach to a contemporary democratic polity. As the Greek author and journalist Th. Papandropoulos has written, populism in Greece has produced not only economic damage, but brain damage as well. Europe has to understand that unless the bridges that connect state handouts, electoral process and the institutional makeup of the country are demolished, nothing is ever going to change in the country.

Europeans are stuck in a series of self-perpetuating concepts of their own. They adore heavy taxation, which they believe will accumulate revenue for an efficiently functioning public sector. For Greeks, there is the opposite trend: funds are distributed – largely borrowed – so that political authorities will secure the necessary votes for their re-election and impose taxes to cover the handouts for which the loans are not adequate. There are two elements that can break this self-perpetuating process. One is the abolition of the personal cross of preference during parliamentary elections, which would render obsolete the anxiety of a politician’s personal re-election. The other is the reduction of the need for public sector borrowing to enable the country become self-sufficient and autonomous. Europe has failed on both counts. Its authorities continue to insist on new taxes to rationalize (!) the public sector, while turning a blind eye to the country’s obvious deficient political procedures. Other European member-states are now loaded with the burden of Greek debt, while Greece continues to pursue policies when even its government does not believe they may succeed.

There is no doubt therefore that misconceptions lead to falsehood, and thus to a tragic lack of results. Will someone in Europe finally wake up to reality?

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.