Monthly Archives: February 2015

The European Union: what about democracy?

I love Europe. I am a deep Europhile. I made the decision when I was about 12 to not be a French person born in the region of Versailles, rather a European born in the country of France. There are many things I strongly disagree with when it comes to how the European Union is evolving and whence it is going but I do believe in the union.

But right now, it is facing a test that could well undermine my faith in it and its future altogether: Greece. It’s the test of how much actual democracy the European Union is willing to embrace, how much the machine is willing to listen what its citizens aspire to.

I understand that the European Union is first and foremost an economic union. It was built after WWII to make the countries depend to each other to such an extent that none could not break away easily and declare war to get its way. The vision, mainly pushed by the French and the Germans, was that if you force a country to need a neighbour, problems will have to be discussed with words and patience rather than fought with guns and tanks, which is what we did for millenniums. And what we are trying to avoid again in Ukraine. Yes it takes a lot of time and it’s not “news-worthy” but it’s saving millions of lives.

From the 1950s, we first made sure we had to rely on each other for coal, iron, steel, oil, crops then we extended it to the rest of the economy and together, despite the economic crisis, we are still the strongest economy in the world, whether bankers and investors, Tories and Republicans like it or not.

There is now a will for a political union because it is true that it would make things easier. I am very divided and dithering on this issue for I see pluses and minuses in both cases. Although this political union doesn’t exist yet, what does exist throughout the EU, what is written in all founding treaties, what is a key criterion to enter is to respect democracy, to promote it, to protect it, to defend it at all costs.

Now, the Greeks have decided to vote for a left-wing party. It was not rigged, they just went to the polls and actually voted in the true spirit of all democratic elections. It is actually quite amazing of them because in times likes this, people easily stop voting or/and put the blame on everything foreign then have this middle-class reflex of going conservative and choosing right-wing, racist and xenophobic parties. Hence, the rise of Front National, UKIP and all far-right parties in the rest of Europe, including Greece with the Golden Dawn. This is not something new, it happened all across Europe in the crisis-ridden 1930s and whereas France just managed to save its democracy in 1932, nor Italy neither Germany and Spain could.

Nevertheless, the Greeks pulled a French 1936 and went with hope and change. They chose people who were offering something new, they believed in people whose argument was not to go back to some supposedly better times where “foreigners, Muslims and Jews were not here” but to try yet another way, a way that would embrace all the positive values the West is ever-boasting. Everyone in Europe was only talking about the Golden Dawn but they did not win. Greece did not choose fascism, they chose democracy. They chose to put hope and positive change before anything else. And this is why they are now testing the EU. If you listen to what our leaders say to the world, what the Greeks did is the essence of Europe so in the face of such an election, Europe should be proud to be yet again a beacon of hope.

However, I hear nothing but condemnation and scaremongering. Now, I am not surprised that people such as the Tories in England are the first one on the soap box saying that Greece’s vote is threatening the future of Europe. Frankly, no one across their shores take them seriously anymore. Their euroscepticism and desperate alliances with extreme far-right, Nazi-loving, Holocaust-denying parties have rendered them the biggest threat to the UE and no one except for Britain’s electorate is fooled by their Cassandra song.

What I am shocked with is the reaction of the other leaders who jumped to say that the election was not going to change anything. What is that supposed to mean? I know right-wing leaders in Southern Europe are trying to contain what they call “contagion”, as if voting for the Left was some kind of new plague following its usual  path of destruction from the East of the Mediterranean sea to the arctic shores of Norway. I guess for the Right, it is.

However, the reactions from leaders, mainly across Northern Europe, basically means that the voice of the people is irrelevant in the face of economic matters. It doesn’t matter what the people of Greece says, it doesn’t matter how they vote, how we all vote, our fate is sealed: the investors want their money back and they are going to get it. End of! It’s not just patronising, it is plain dictatorial but made acceptable by economic circumstances and definitely not what the EU was built for.

You cannot go and dismiss millions of people democratically voting for a change in their everyday life, for wanting their suffering to stop, just because it disagrees with your way to deal with problems. And if you do, don’t come and complain that people are not voting anymore. The message various leaders have sent for the past three weeks, not just to the Greeks but to their own citizens is: your vote, puny people of Europe, is irrelevant in the face of the economic machine.

Worst still. They try to justify it by saying that the Greeks need to “take responsibility” for the mistakes their leaders made in the past. Greece spent decades having very little to choose from when it came to politicians with a big corrupted clan on the Right and a big corrupted clan on the Left but they voted anyway so now, we don’t want hear anything. You were stupid enough to believe them, you will pay for it. It doesn’t matter if you decided to go for a change, you will still pay for it. Even if it means, you can’t feed your kids.

This is where my faith turned out to be resting on sand for me. I understood Europe as a beacon for democracy and it turns out to be nothing but yet another tool for carnivorous, extreme capitalism where millions of innocent people who are trying to just live their lives, feed themselves and their kids must be sacrificed to protect the assets of a few and allow them to seek and exert revenge. The EU is now accomplice to making its own entire countries, millions of its own people suffer, starve and cry from babies to dying people regardless just because a few want a proper return on their investment.

Now they are even some talks of pushing Greece out. The implications are huge: for Greece itself who will have to suddenly be fending for itself after 30 years in a deeply integrated, continent-size economy, it means having to go back to its own currency after 15 years using the Euro, it means having to rewrite all the treaties…For the EU, it means that a country that has not gone with fascism but chose democracy is being kicked out just and only for not agreeing with right-wing, economic orthodoxy.

Personally, I am baffled by such threats. Not just because they are a million miles away from what the everyday Europeans want but also because other countries have never faced anything like that despite flirting with fascism or threatening the very existence of the EU.

If you take the UK, for instance. The Tory government has spent the last five years claiming high and proud how much they hated the EU, how willing they were to get out of it, launching insults after insults on anything European. Today barely 30% of the UK want to stay in the EU. Their politicians have joined forces with people even the Front National would not consider, they have been vetoing major treaties and decisions that could have saved us time and hassle dealing with the crisis just because “in exchange” they are demanding all the treaties to be revised. They even want to get rid of one of the first fundamental rules of the EU: the right to free movement.

You’d think that such a country would be on the verge of being kicked out. Well, no. Everyone o the continent I have been talking to is willing to have it kicked out. We, continentals, are all fed up with the UK and its school-playground behaviour when it comes to working as a team but all our leaders are bending over backwards, spending hours in pointless negotiations, millions of Euros in specialised lawyers to maybe tweak the treaties so we can us all, 27 countries, find a way to accommodate one of us, who has clearly said he would not work with us. And why? Because the UK doesn’t just agree with the right-wing, capitalist orthodoxy, it created it, it’s promoting it world-wide. The UK is the biggest advocate for the policies the EU is using “to punish” the people of Southern Europe.

Today Greece is on the verge of being kicked out of Europe for choosing democracy over fascism, for putting the suffering of its people first, for daring to ask for a change, for having opened a door to an alternative. Europe must find the strength to remember that this is why it was created in the first place. Forsaking Greece is forsaking every single European citizens, it’s denying that their voice matter when it comes to be, work and live together, it is saying that Europe is not democratic, it is proving our enemies right, it is burning democracy in the altar of the economy. It’s making the 1930s again.

There might be a will in our leaders for Greece to get out but when you talk to the people, they don’t feel the same way. People have empathy before calculation, it doesn’t make them irrelevant or worthless. For me, denying the choice the Greeks have made is indeed the death of the European Union as a democracy but despite what the powerful people say today, History will judge and show that it’s not because of Greece rather because of our elected leaders have betrayed us by making the conscious decision to listen to the people only after serving the interests of capitalist agents.

If they do want to save the EU, they have to put democracy first and listen to the people. Not ignore the economy but understand that it’s supposed to serve us, the people, first. If they did listen, they would find out that there is one way for Greece: to stay and to be carefully listened to. That’s what we, the people, want.

Internet neutrality or the fight to avoid an economic, Orwellian dystopia.

L’autre côté de l’Atlantique est en émoi…ain’t it, though?

Back from holidays and already I am being told emotions are running high on the other side of the Atlantic prior to the upcoming decision regarding Internet neutrality. It’s an issue we don’t have…yet, in Europe for things are done differently. That was my understanding of the problem when I encountered it the first time on YouTube and my first reflex: we don’t have it here, sweet old Europe.

From what I have been hearing and reading, the Internet providers want to be able to decide what content should be completely and utterly available and what should be limited in speed, space and what should be put behind a toll to be accessible. Some people say it is to protect children because obviously the “only thing that will be blocked” is anything paedophilia, and limited is extreme porn.

Tempting but why don’t we have the same here then? And why are major Internet websites up in arms? Why are Youtubers campaigning? Why are Tumblr, Yahoo, Google et al trying to convince us that it will be a very bad decision? Are they all really defending paedophilia and extreme porn? Reductive I feel, but of course it is the first argument raised, shouted and thrown at the face of every opponent by these Internet providers.

From what I have been reading more carefully, and the reason why we don’t have the debate here, is the nature of these very providers. In Europe, if you want to access the Internet, you call an telecommunication company like Orange (formerly France Telecom), T-mobile, Free, BT or Talk Talk. They are companies dealing with telecommunications. Some of them like Sky are also television and media companies and some of them will belong to bigger media companies (like Bouygues Telecome who owns TF1 and produces films) but they are few and far between. In the US, however, if you want the Internet, you will go and ask Time Warner for instance. I thought I misunderstood when I heard an American Youtuber mentioning his Internet provider so I asked a friend of mine living over there. She confirmed that it is quite the normality for a big film corporation to also be an Internet provider.

What she also explained was that, behind the wishful thinking of blocking nasty content, they are very annoyed with the rise of Internet-based media like Youtube or Netfix used by the younger generation and spreading fast to more and more users, therefore diverting their potential customers away from traditional TV and cinema where these companies do most of their business. The problem is that the bridges between the entertainment industry and the media industry were built before they could do it themselves, this via the Internet. It went too far too quickly for them, they did not foresee this and they are trying to do some damage control by gaining access to the what they think is the source of their problem: the Internet, the land where media and entertainment merge with the word “free”, in all it meanings.

If the law passes, Time Warner would be able to put some kind of speed toll on Youtube or Netfix, whilst making their own content (films, shows they produce) very easy to watch, free and high speed. They can easily make their customers request and pay for some completely neutral content to be unblocked on their account. Anything can be off limits if it doesn’t serve the purpose of the company, which is to make profits above all. I know I sound like a communist but the general assemblies where ever-growing results must be announced in front of shareholders are not the place to talk about the weather and what the company can selflessly do to save the poor children of Africa…It’s all about the money and how to make more.

Now, I don’t know what it means for us Europeans. In the UK, I know what it means, yes. If the law passes, two weeks later, it is rushed through Westminster.

The question raised in the US by every opponent is of course to know to what extent their life will be made impossible and one-sided by these companies seeking control of the Internet. It’s not just about movies or downloading porn, it’s about accessing information, being able to express yourself freely and have normal access to the everyday things we have been accustomed to do. What if the next CEO of Time Warner is a homophobic, sexist, Republican? Will Time Warner allow its customers to access anything LGBT-related in any way, shape or form? Will people like me be able to write about feminists issue without being blocked at the last minute by their Internet provider and told they are breaking the rules thus cannot upload anything? Will left-wing newspapers be forced to censor themselves in order to avoid being blocked by their provider? Will people be able to access articles, information that criticises Time Warner? Will people be able to access neutral, genuine, varied information about their town, city, countries, the world or will it be filtered through the cable?

“You cannot access these articles that say the war in Iraq has been killing more than 500,000 people because we don’t agree with it and we think you should not as well.”

What if one these companies decide to create a banking branch? A supermarket branch? Will their customers using Internet banking with another bank be able to access their accounts without the whole thing taking hours? Will people be able to shop on the Internet to a different (cheaper, better or whatever supermarket) without having to restart four times before the speed is so slow that it fails everytime they try to save their cart?

There is a genuine worry, the practical and ethical worries. What I don’t understand is that within the arguments used by the opponents of this law, no one ever mentions the double standard. I know American are very bashful and sometimes it feels like they would not even criticise their country on the day of being unlawfully executed but is everyone that blind?

The US are parading the whole world pointing its finger, naming and shaming every country where the government is restricting access to the Internet for whatever reason. This is “anti-democratic”, it’s “authoritarian”, it’s “1984 again”, it’s “betraying their population” and first and foremost, it’s ridiculous because it is inapplicable. When the Chinese government blocks access to Google , when Iran cracks down on social media used by the young dissidents, when Russia blocks some content, the US are up in arms denouncing dictatorships and brandishing its fist in the defence of all oppressed. However, when private companies are openly trying to reduce access to the Internet, it’s fine, it’s a fair democratic process. They even have endless arguments to defend every bit of it.

Is it because I am getting older and am becoming more aware or are they really getting completely insane?

My mother always says that some people are always quick to spot the lash in someone’s eye but cannot see the beam in their own. That is not beam the US have anymore but a fully-grown redwood tree.

It’s the double standards that drive me up the wall, like the childless Pope saying that not having children is selfish. When politics is involved, it’s a shame! When economics is involved, it’s perfectly acceptable. The message the US are sending to the world is that, if you want to control access to the Internet, do not do it as a government. It’s 1984! It is an attack on democracy and Washington, which will ipso facto be  your enemy.

If you wish to control the Internet access to millions, its content, its message, be a private company, abuse the democratic system, make yourself a saviour or even just justify it through the economics. Say it’s about money. Say it’s about survival, that jobs are at stake and it’s only fair game in the capitalistic jungle. Washington will grant you its time and efforts.