Just a few days ago, after a long stretch of abstinence, I watched some television There, as I was flicking through the channels catching glimpses of depressing news items and reality shows, I got a passing view of a report that mentioned something about Convergence.
I must admit that I did not watch it because I was distracted by an old episode of The Simpsons, but the wording triggered a distant memory from the early days of the EU when politicians of vision and stature dreamt of improving the standard of living, education, health and welfare for all the people of a much smaller Union.
That was before the EU turned into an expansionist empire moving east, wanting to annex more and more countries that used to be in the sphere of influence of the former Soviet Union, just to make a political point while at the same time opening up cheap labour markets for the economic powerhouses of western Europe, under the auspices of free movement of people.
At the time, the prospect of catching up with Western European living standards was one of the major attractions of EU membership to potential candidates. To have convergence, a member state needed, with help from the EU itself, to grow faster than the EU average, in a sustainable way. And the system was chugging along to a certain extent and with a certain degree of success – even though the sustainable part was not adhered to completely. At the time however, the gap between rich and poor EU countries was not as wide as it is today, and the club had a lot more rich countries as members than poor ones. And everything was fine, up to the point when the Maastricht treaty came along, and the EU took a decisive step towards Economic and Monetary Union.
Unfortunately, over the years, the treaty and its successor Pacts have killed the notion of convergence. The new European ideals that took priority over it are to protect the stability of the euro, and the European banking system from overexposure to debt from member states.
Europeans are beginning to accept the new European values. The principles of a two, or maybe three-speed Europe, of Austerity – with anyone who opposes it dismissed as a ‘populist’ – of deserving Europeans and lazy Europeans, and the complete lack of solidarity chiefly demonstrated by Germany in its relationship to Greece.
The new European values introduced a new kind of democracy among the member states. You can have whatever government you want as long as it imposes austerity. Elections no longer allow the people to change their country’s economic policy.
Furthermore, it has become acceptable for ‘Establishment’ governments all across Europe to avoid explaining to their electorate the real reason why they do not get the prosperity and happiness promised by their (non populist) politicians before the election and why the quality of their public services is suffering, their roads are badly maintained and their taxes are increasing.
Instead, they fall back to a modified form of the anti-immigration ideology they criticize in their extreme opponents and offer a few modifications in immigration and asylum policies to keep their voters happy.
I guess this too is a kind of convergence.