Why all the fuss about Europe when Ukip’s rise isn’t because of an over-bearing Europe, but because of globalisation? No one seems to have noticed that Ukip is not an isolated phenomenon. Right-wing, isolationist political parties are on the rise throughout Europe and elsewhere.
Their increasing popularity lies in the inability of national politics to maintain any semblance of grip in our fast-globalising world. With nationally rooted governments comprehensively out-manoeuvred by globally mobile financial markets, and with multinational corporations busily outsourcing jobs to anywhere that’s cheaper, it’s hardly surprising there’s a growing section of each national population that’s weary of low pay and immigration, and looks for simple, isolationist solutions.
But to see Europe as the culprit would be misguided. Yes, much recent immigration has come from Eastern Europe. But what’s happening in Europe is just a microcosm of what is happening in the wider world. Because Europe, too, is falling victim to global markets as the Euro crisis has shown. For it’s not Angela Merkel who determines the fate of Eurozone nations, but global bond markets which set the tune to which all governments–Germany included–must dance. It’s the markets, in other words, that call the shots. As its citizens become increasingly impoverished and unable to make a decent living in their home country, it’s not surprising they come to the UK or to other richer EU countries.
The reality is that a high-cost block such as the EU cannot maintain its competitiveness in a globalised world, any more than it can withstand the pressure of global markets. That’s why Europe will either fall apart, or it will have to consolidate further. Either way, whether nations stay or leave the EU, the result is much the same. For whether you’re an individual nation or within a larger group which itself resembles a nation (only larger), the result is the same: because each nation – whether large or small – effectively stands alone at the mercy of the unaccountable herd-mentality of global markets.
Seen from this global perspective, whether or not Britain leaves the EU won’t, in all probability, make much difference. In or out, Britain, like all other nations, has no choice but to compete for the favours of globally mobile capital – for the vital investment and jobs that determine economic success. Neither we nor any other nation – inside or outside the EU – has any choice in that. Because, with global investors and corporations able to move themselves, their operations, and thousands of jobs easily across national borders, any government that fails to keep its economy “internationally competitive” will lose out. France is a case in point. Francois Hollande has tried to move to the left – to raise taxes on the rich, to maintain tight labour laws, and so on. And we now see the result: France is in recession because it has become uncompetitive. If Hollande fails to adopt the competitiveness agenda demanded by global markets–to adopt a more laissez-faire, low tax, free-market approach–his successor, whoever they are, will have to do it anyway, regardless of what party they represent.
With governments of whatever party having no choice but to follow this very narrow straightjacket of free-market, competitiveness-oriented policies, it’s not difficult to see why voters have lost faith in politics and either don’t bother to vote or seek solace in simple, right-wing “solutions”. All this is what the famous German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, called a “legitimation crisis”; the crisis that ensues when the predominant nation-centric worldview and its national systems of governance cannot any longer command people’s allegiance.
Here, then, we see the contradiction inherent in a globalisation that today remains only half-baked. It’s a globalisation that’s economic, but not yet political. Rather like a canoeist who’s done only half of his 360 degree ‘eskimo roll’, we won’t be able to stay under water for long! Indeed, the paradox is that without an appropriate form of binding global governance, free markets cannot ultimately survive. Like a cancer running out of control, they’ll end up killing the host.
So if we want to benefit from the good things free markets bring while screening out the bad, we need to complement our global market with a form of binding global governance that imparts to the market the needed transnational taxes, global regulations, protections and cross-border re-distributions that will complete globalisation and so make it a win-win for the economy, for society, and for the environment – for everyone. As the prominent sociologist, Ulrich Beck, rightly puts it concerning our world today, “it’s either co-operate, or bust!”