Getting to know TINA
By Ole Aabenhus
The EU was never structured to facilitate the redistribution of wealth, but for the sake of more economic cooperation based on one single market, where goods, capital, services and labour can move freely across borders. This is the background for the problems we are living with today, said Bernard Naron, who became the most talked-bout speaker at the Dutch My!Europe conference at the Kontakt der Kontinenten Conference Hotel in Soesterberg outside Amersfoort.
Bernard Naron was an MEP-candidate on the PvdA's (Dutch Labour Party's) list for the 2014 European Elections. Today he is a banker, working with a Dutch international bank in Luxembourg. But for a banker, he is surprisingly critical, when it comes to neo-liberalism.,
Neo-liberalism is an ideology, he said, based on the idea that markets are self-regulatory, so the more you leave to the markets, the more prosperity there will be for all. Consequently, Government is to be mistrusted and cut down as much as possible. But less government means more externalities to people. And what would "externalities" mean? Well, he explained, if I have a factory and I produce medicine, there may be some toxic waste. Now, if I dump it in the river, because I have the right to do so, then someone else - someone "external" to my production - has to deal with the pollution of the river.
TINA - There Is No Alternative - was a favourite term of Margaret Thatcher's, used to mock social democrats who stood for redistribution, equality and welfare, and it was seen by most as self-evident after the fall of the Soviet Union.
But actually, capitalism is not self-regulatory, Bernard Naron said, pointing as an example to the year 2008. The economic crisis started rolling, because banks had sold toxic products (bundled sub primes with no value, ed.), and there were no controls to stop it.
After the polder
In the post-war period, politics in the Netherlands had worked on the "polder model" (a polder is a group of people living together in an area surrounded by dikes, ed.), where consensus and cooperation is carry the day, despite all differences.
"In The Netherlands we were amazed when neo-liberalism came", said Bernard Naron. "In the 1980's we started to really believe that the problem was the state, so we privatized ports and all sorts of infrastructure, expecting that this would give you maximum gain to fund the welfare state. Even the political left started to believe in this".
In the present situation, Bernard Naron felt that the Wallonians were right to protest against CETA, the "Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement" between Canada and the European Union. "CETA is still TINA", he said, "it is about lower rules and about economy of scale, and about investments across the Atlantic. - But how about workers? And to which degree will it protect society against externalities?"
In The Netherlands there is a group collecting signatures for to demand a referendum on CETA, hoping to stop its ratification in the Dutch parliament. They now have about two thirds of the signatures needed.
This will be very different from the referendum, we saw in April this year against a EU trade agreement with Ukraine, Bernard Naron said. The Ukraine referendum brought together all sorts of protest, - against the government, against inequalities in society and against the uncertainty that follows with that.
No one says: let's help them out
What people see today is that companies merge, merge and merge. Social coherence weakens, and so does democracy. The original promise of EU - prosperity in a democratic environment - is replaced by TINA, including a set of budget rules that a country's annual deficit must not exceed 3 per cent a year, and 60 per cent in total (of GDP, gross domestic product). In times of crisis, the government that would normally use public funds to counteract the push for new development and create jobs, is prevented from doing so by the inflexibility of EU rules, said Bernard Naron. Government is not seen as a solution, but as problem.
He went on to say that you have a similar problem at the international European level: The real problem in Europe is not that some countries are poor, but that you have huge imbalances in import/export, with Germany running huge trade surplus.
"No one says: let's help them out, and cut some debt, so they can compete again. And why not?
We are under the misconception that it's the government that is the problem. It's not, it is exaggerated free trade".
Has the euro made Europe stronger? The euro has created a weaker Europe, said Bernard Naron, and a loss of trust in Germany by other states. We now see an increase in euroscepticism, but still there is "no alternative".
About his own people he said that the Dutch have become more provincial, more inward looking. We do not see ourselves as global any more. There is a gut feeling that we are being exploited by a lot of clever people.