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Debunking the EU official line

by Jerome a Paris Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 04:38:34 PM EST

I went to a meeting organised by a French research foundation the Fondation Robert Schuman, which was actually more of a press conference with Jacques Barrot, the (French) EU Commissioner for Transport, on the theme of "how to promote growth in Europe". That foundation, as far as I can tell, right of center and, in the good ol'days, would have been called Christian Democrat.

Barrot spoke for about an hour, and then took a few questions from the public. Of course, I was the first to jump in!


The introduction of Barrot was made by the President of the foundation, who painted an apocalyptic picture: China has 7 times higher growth than Europe! India 5 times! The USA 3 times higher! Europe's share of world GDP is declining! What can we do?

Barrot then went on to present what I imagine is the standard EU line, based on 3 main themes and 4 tools:

The main themes are the following:

  • the first thing is the importance of the Single Market, which must be enforced and extended. He mentioned the service directive as amended by the EP as probably an acceptable compromise. He flagged the issue of freedom of movement from the accession countries to the old members.

  • the second thing is "governance", which was a code word for (i) limiting public debt and deficits; (ii) invest in R&D, and (iii) increase the employment ratio (i.e. getting old people back to work);

  • the third thing is the necessity to have popular support for Europe. That included making sure that Europe was still relevant in a world where part of the youth is globalised and lookd beyond Europe, and part closes itself to the outside world. He also flagged the need for solutions to Europe's dire natality, and for more (if controlled) immigration;

The tools the EU has at its disposal are:

  • the Stability Pact, which now include more ocnstraints in good years, as opposed to only (poorly enforced) sanctions in bad years;

  • the Lisbon Strategy, including the obligation for each country to present a yearly plan of reforms;

  • the eurogroup (the finance ministers form the eurozone) which should see its role increase and work to coordinate policies better. He flagged coordination of the tax base (not taxe rates, but what they are calculated on) as a major task;

    European projects. He mentioned Galileo, and the specific status of "common enterprise" which is used to bring competitors to work together on such big projects to set common standards, and create services to create the clientele and the market. He suggested to use such "common enterprises" in other sectors, like biofuels, search engines, police security tools (and a couple of others I missed).

He then mentioned France specifically, to say that despite the strong competitivity of its companies and the quality of its workers, was facing terrible difficulties caused by (i) the (apparently misplaced) belief that the State is the only defender of the common interest, (ii) the dominance of the public sector and the bureacracy, (iii) the (apparently misplaced) fear that "flexibility" and precarity are the same thing, and (iv) the obstacles put to reform by "corpocracies" (by which he meant unions). He said that he saw protests against the CPE as "excessive", and concluded that France should not live in fear.

As this was the conclusion of his speech, I jumped in to ask the first question, which was basically as follows:

Don't you think you are a major contributor to these fears with such catastrophist discourse, presenting European economic performance as weak when, over the last 10 years it is comparable to that in the US in terms of GDP per capita growth, and jobs growth (quoting the Economist), and that such selective use of facts is used to push a agenda exclusively geared for the benefit of companies and to lower worker pay and labor protections. what's the point of growth if wages are going down, as pushed by your policies?

He responded by mentioning again 2005 growth numbers, and then deviating into the various programmes he is running in his transport directorate (in a long and irrelevant aside), saying that it was not a catastrophist discourse, but a discourse of "mobilisation".

I did not note all the other questions, but the funny thing was that, as the debate ran, it basically ended with Barrot saying that it was dangerous for France to be so hostile to capitalism and to work, but that it was true that capitalism needed an ethic, and that it needed to be regulated, and rules enforced, and worker's rights to be protected.

In essence, the more he spoke spontaneously and on concrete topics, , the less he was on the official line, but without seemmingly noticing the contradiction. That official line is so ingrained in everybody that they don't even notice that they are effectively pushing the opposite of what they seemingly believe in. It was enlightening.

We have to keep on hammering the simple fact that the "common wisdom" is not wise, and is not even actually shared by many of those that spout it when they actually think about it. We have to make them think!

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(for statistical purposes)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 04:39:26 PM EST
Why do you need a Tip Jar on your own site?

Not saying you don't deserve tips, but just curious why you'd need them.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 05:01:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Poemless, just rate him a "1-Karma Troll" :>
by Francois in Paris on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 05:26:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Simply as a way to measure the impact of, or the interest for, front page posts. There's no other way, as the number of comments is often unrelated.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 05:42:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
According to a scheme I explained once on an open thread, '3' means I agree (in this case, with the statistical purpose).

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:53:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Same here.

I guess I'm a tough grader. :)

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 10:54:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You should see what my students used to think about my grading.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 10:55:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well globilization seems to be working. The neo-con, libertarian nonsense so popular in the US is spreading to Europe.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape
by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 04:50:00 PM EST
Yes, it is "inevitable", and we can join it or be swept way. I forgot to mention "globalisation". How could I? He used the word many, many times.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 04:53:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One was a right wing politician, I think - I just cannot find his name right now, but I think he used to be a known figure in parliament. We talked briefly, and he basically agreed that the current situation was unsutainable, that such despairing speechifying could not lead to anything good, and that the comparison to other parts of the world fed by a massive debt bubble was not useful.

My other neighbor was kind enough to thank me for my question, and to suggest that I speak up more often, as the French are desperate for someone who speaks no bullshit and seems to know what he's talking about...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 04:52:25 PM EST
Jérôme for President!

But for the benefit of France and the EU, get yourself the friendship of a German Russophile politician before getting elected :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 04:56:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jerome for Commission President!

Actually, Ministre d'Energie would be a good first step, followed by EU Commissioner for Energy Policy.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:42:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
is simple repetition. Keep saying the same things until it becomes a de facto fact.

I've often wondered why hypnotizers don't hypnotize themselves. And maybe they do?

What you describe, J, is the classic way of dealing with obsessiveness and phobia. Introduce new concepts gently and slowly. Ask a a few questions - contrast the 'official' view with common sense.

In a world of soundbite socialism . how do we persuade people to understand the arguments such that 'one man one vote' has real meaning?

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 05:26:28 PM EST
Good job Jérôme, and I'm sorry I couldn't read this diary earlier (I've been too busy ever since the DADVSI debates restarted).
by Alex in Toulouse on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:47:49 PM EST
In essence, the more he spoke spontaneously and on concrete topics, , the less he was on the official line, but without seemmingly noticing the contradiction. That official line is so ingrained in everybody that they don't even notice that they are effectively pushing the opposite of what they seemingly believe in. It was enlightening.
You know, Jerome, you keep making very important points buried in paragraph 11 of your stories.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 07:00:10 PM EST
I went to a lecture last night about immigration into the U.S. from Mexico. It was an acceptably left-wing discussion with all the appropriate anti-Bush sidebars, but the main point was that the big problem is the dumping of subsidized farm produce (mostly corn/maize). That puts the Mexican farmers out of business and they look for work in the U.S.

The European approach was used several times as an example of "how to do it right." One example was Portugal, with a poor economy that has been subsidized by the rest of the E.U. Also mentioned was the freedom of labor mobility between countries in the E.U. In contrast, NAFTA allows the movement of capital but prevents labor from moving, which causes the illegal immigration problems.

So the bottom line was that globalization itself is good, but you have to do it right--like the Europeans. That's the message from the left in the U.S.

by asdf on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 11:23:56 PM EST
Well, I would basically agree that the EU arrangement gives more stability than NAFTA and indeed it is better for the "poor partner" than NAFTA by a long way.

Not sure it's a model for all of globalisation though, so far it works best on a more local scale. It's not going to be the right approach to solve US-China trade anytime soon.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 02:37:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On repetition of catastrophe talk till it becomes conventional wisdom, I just heard (on French national radio) François Baroin, minister of Overseas territories, say in support of the CPE and against today's student demonstrations:

Nous avons 25% de nos jeunes sur le carreau, contrairement aux autres pays européens.

We've got 25% of our young people out cold on the floor, unlike the other European countries.

As Jérôme has gone to great pains to point out, 22% (not 25%) of the active population between ages 15 and 24 is unemployed, not 22% of the total population. In terms of the total population in that age group, the unemployment figure is 8%, (and is not greatly different to the number for comparable European countries).

Baroin (who was trotted out to communicate on a topic that is not in his ministerial brief, presumably because he is young and a plausible little shit) is just perpetuating (with some embellishment) the false but increasingly widely received wisdom.

Predictably, no journalistic comment or correction was to be heard.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 03:07:46 AM EST
I saw Libération (read on the plane) make the exact same mistake today.
Few people seem to understand what the "unemployment rate" means.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 04:07:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Slightly off topic, but here is a report on the policy of "tax cuts pay for themselves", which is another neo-con axiom.

http://www.cbpp.org/3-8-06tax.htm

The simple fact is that the US spends half its federal budget on militarism and the EU doesn't. The EU can thus provide social programs that the US can't afford. Keeping this truth from people on both sides of the Atlantic is the objective of much of the economic and sociological misdirection that passes for "theory" these days. When the theory doesn't obscure things well enough then the next step is to deny or distort the statistics.


Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 08:34:39 AM EST
There is one piece of common wisdom I would like explained. Digby Jones of hte UK confederation of British Industry said that every job exported saves the economy £16000 or so.

So basically making somebody unemployed  and making them a drain on the community rather than a contributor saves the economy as a whole money.

How does that work ?

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 11:55:20 AM EST
Well, I think Digby meant it saves his friends who run various British companies £16,000 or so...
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 11:59:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I suppose it depends on what "the economy" is supposed to be, and who it's supposed to belong to.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 02:01:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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