Mark Argent
Creativity design composition spirituality work with organisations

Politics:: articles since 2015 General Election
Has the EU just come of age?

15 July 2015, first published in Liberal Democrat Voice

Asking whether the EU has just come of age sounds a daft question, given the number of articles critical of the solution to the Greece crisis which have been appearing in my Facebook and Twitter feeds, but things are not always what they seem. Looking at unconscious processes in organisations, the things that people act out without naming tend to be the really important ones

My sense is that we might just have tipped into the space where the EU functions like a truly federal entity — albeit with a deep faith in subsidiarity — and the griping is the griping one has when a government makes a difficult decision, not when it is seen as illigitimate.

What first sent my mind in this direction was the Greek referendum. Far from being an “in/out” referendum, this was one that assumed Greece was inevitably part of the EU, woven in so tightly that this bizarre stunt could not cause them to leave. The “no” vote was strong, but so was the desire to remain in the Eurozone and the EU. For Alexis Tsipras to have made such a fuss about democracy, and then ignore the referendum could seem bizarre, but it makes more sense if I compare it with the antics of a 1970s-style shop steward garnering the support of the workers as a negotiating tactic, or the rebellions of Liverpool City Council at the height of the Militant Tendency. In both cases, quite extreme behaviour is possible because people assume an underlying unity — the shop steward does not want their members to lose their jobs, and Liverpool was not going to cease to be part of the UK. As with Greece in the EU, the strong behaviour is possible because they feel they belong.

The angry comments in my Facebook and Twitter feeds have also been fascinating. One went: “Could someone slip a note to the European leaders about the scale of anger and disbelief building up across the continent? #ThisIsACoup”. This is feeling like anger towards a government as if “the European leaders” have become “the government”.

And is it a coup? Not really. Some of the changes Greece is now required to enable are market liberalisation change which have been promised for ages. They make sense both for the Greek economy itself, but also in the same way that all harmonisations of the Single Market were there to develop the economies of the whole of Europe.

The tight timetable for new legislation ahead of money becoming available has been read as a foreign takeover of Greece, but given that the Syriza government has managed to destroy the growth that was happening when they came to power and lead Greece back into recession, this could equally be read as reality re-asserting itself.

In psychoanalytic terms, a reckless anti-austerity programme makes total sense as a withdrawal from reality into a fantasy world. Although they are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, both UKIP and the Greens strike me as something similar in the UK. There is a parallel with someone regressing to early childhood, where there are parents who can contain their fantasies to limit the possible damage. For parties with no chance of being involved in government, that “parental” role is taken by society itself in not electing them. For Syriza in Greece, it has been possible to push some extreme positions because the EU has taken on that parental role.

In the recent crisis, the EU has stepped into functioning as a federal state, dealing with a recalcitrant region. It is no coincidence that Angela Merkel has been so prominent: she is Chancellor of the most successfully federal nation in the EU, and well used to brokering compromises between regional and national governments.

I suspect we have just seen a really important turning point, when the EU starts to be treated as a federal government. David Cameron’s referendum is a side-show — another regression made possible because a “no” vote is unlikely. The task for us as Europeans will be to continue the discussion and engage meaningfully in the next European elections, stepping up to our role as citizens in a federal Europe.