European Union

Austerity Measures: Can They Be Justified?

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By Viktor Persson

 

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In the aftermath of the 2008 banking crisis that incurred a massive economic destabilization on a global level, the neoliberal concept of ‘austerity measures’ have now reached the western hemisphere, with Greece and Spain as its more notable victims. In particular, the Greece bailout, which is allegedly a saving package, has imposed a myriad of conditions and restrictive measures on the Greece economy. The purpose of these structural restrictions is apparently to empower and stabilize the Greece economy, however, the opposite has happened, as has been documented in several high profile investigations.

The concept of austerity measures ranges back to the 17th century, and have more recently been adopted by the neoliberal economic doctrine as a way of dumping market failures on the state and indirectly, on the public. That austerity measures has the capacity of causing detrimental effects for the general public has been proven in Greece, and there is a history of failures with the so-called Structural Adjustment Programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund as part of their lending to developing countries, due to the conditions of austerity that these loans impose on the debtor.

Several independent sources indicate that austerity measures, such as cuts in public spending in the health, education, and other mechanisms of social security, creates human suffering on a widespread scale. With Greece, we have been given the opportunity to closely observe the social catastrophe that is created by austerity. The Truth Committee has noted that, unemployment has gone from 7.3% in 2008 to 27.9% in 2013. Youth unemployment reached a staggering 64.9% in may 2013. Due to cuts in public health expenditure more than 2.5 million persons, or one fourth of the total population of Greece, are without health insurance. Furthermore diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV have increased, and mental health problems have ballooned. Pensions have been reduced by 40 %, which have caused 45 % of Greece pensioners to fall below the poverty line. 500,000 people lives in conditions of homelessness, insecure or inadequate housing. To put it mildly, there is a humanitarian crisis in Greece.

What have been left out from the discussion on austerity measures are human rights, primarily the economic and social rights established by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This convention is binding on the contracting states – and Greece together with the Eurozone countries has all ratified the convention. You would hence think, that in detailing the Memorandum of Understanding between Greece and the Troika, that contains the austerity conditions imposed on Greece, there must have been a discussion on the potential impacts on Human Rights that the austerity measures could create. However, there has not been such a discussion. Instead the EU member states, the EU commission, EU central bank and the International Monetary Fund have displayed a disregard for how the austerity policies would affect the Human Rights of the people of Greece. Court rulings by the highest Greece court that have ruled the pension cuts as unconstitutional and as a breach of Human Rights, have in the 2015 Memorandum of Understanding been referred to as ‘fiscal risks’. Such a use of vocabulary when referring to the Human Rights is nothing short of remarkable.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has adopted the Guiding principles on foreign debt and human rights in July 2012. According to paragraph 56 ‘Debt relief efforts must not compromise the provision of basic services. In particular, debt relief conditions that may adversely impact the realization of human rights or undermine development in the beneficiary State must be avoided’. The UN General assembly has in September 2015 adopted a resolution (A/69/L.84), which defines nine principles on how a debt restructuring process should be directed. Among these principles is the principle of sustainability, which implies that sovereign debt restructuring should lead to a stable debt situation in the debtor state, preserving creditors’ rights while promoting economic growth and sustainable development, reducing economic and social costs, ensuring the stability of the international financial system and respecting human rights.

Not surprisingly, these principles were adopted by vote and not by consensus, with the developed countries claiming that Human Rights should not be a consideration when it comes to debt and debt relief. However this position cannot be accepted as legitimate. Obviously Human Rights is and must be an important part of economical decisions, because the very foundation of economics is Human Beings. The consequence of separating economics from Human Rights is such perversities as slavery. Possibly, this is what the new era of austerity and debt has become, a more refined form of slavery, which is free from the moral constraints of its predecessors, because it is now justified with the slick vocabulary of neoliberalism and market economy. Though, when scrutinized, austerity measures are a soulless machine working for an anonymous creditor, fueled with the accepted belief that this is the way things must be. The debt must allegedly be paid back at all costs… because… well because, the market wants it that way.

To create a heaven on earth, it is clear that all forms of commercial agreements, debt contracts accounted for, must be able to be declared null and void if they happen to breach Human Rights. This is how it should have always been, and we must ask ourselves, why this has not yet happened. The United Nations has been around for 60 years, yet still, flagrant violations of Human Rights are allowed with reference to commercial agreements. What is missing; motivation, drive, integrity or compassion? And how come we accept and allow the life of countless human beings to be reduced to numbers on a balance sheet?

Clearly, there is a rift between the reality of our world, and the principles conceptualized in our Human Rights instruments. The process of making these principles a living reality will without a doubt be a challenging venture, yet it will be through the respect for Humans on a global level, that we will be able to create a world that truly worth living in. And let us not forget that there are solutions to these problems. Even though the massive bureaucracy that is involved can make us as individuals feel as if we are small ants facing the enormous Goliath, the system is comprised of individual human beings, like you and me. By standing up, one by one, and supporting a new direction in politics and economics, we will have an impact. In democracy we each have one vote, and that is how we will be able to shift direction, through coming together and unanimously voting for a new world that is best for all.

 

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The Refugee Crisis: A Wake Up Call to the Devaluation of Life

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by Joana Jesus

Je-suis-un-réfugié_No-one-is-free-until-we-are-all-free

A few years ago, I took the decision to voluntarily leave my family and study for a year in France. Later on, I chose again to move and work in the United Kingdom. Within the European Union, such mobility is promoted and there is no need to justify your decision or to have a visa to do so – as an European citizen and within the EU it is my right to establish wherever assists me to develop to my utmost potential, to keep growing, to know a different culture, to speak new languages, and to be financially stable. This makes absolute sense to my generation, however 30 years ago (before the Schengen Agreement) this process would have been much harder to achieve and probably older generations couldn’t imagine such openness. When looking at the refugee situation, the resistance to embrace the newcomers is the resistance to a new reality that needs to be as flexible as the one granted to Europeans. The difference is that this is not a voluntary migration but rather imposed unto people for not having a choice: they either flee or they risk their lives by staying in a war-zone (or becoming the fighters themselves). What would you choose?

Since reaching its media attention this year, I see that the refugee crisis comes down to a crisis of priorities that began long time ago in our world and is affecting our sense of humanity. The shocking images that flooded the big screen in the past months, along with xenophobic comments from the far-right are symptoms of a bigger problem, that is: The Devaluation of Life.

The belief that one’s life has more value based on where one was born reminds me some medieval-like-wars in a Game-of-Thrones-land, almost unthinkable in World Wide Web times. However, this year’s events showed a darker side of Europe where countries started closing doors to those in desperate need, in a clear reflection of barbaric attitude against the “others”. The main difference is that before speed-of-light communications we would not understand how wars happening in the other side could be interlinked with the people on this side of the world.

refugees-are-human-beings-1In today’s reality, in developing nations we have the support of real-time analysis, people’s reports, factual testimonials, whistle-blowers, bloggers and documentaries raising awareness to the needs of the few being paid at the expense of the many. Further down I briefly clarify how the war in Syria and in other countries in the Middle East are directly related to the lifestyle European/Western citizens enjoy. For the moment, let’s look at the mental barriers that hinder us to know the “other side”. Any attempt to blame the “other” for not being able to take care of its own people is a sign that we haven’t yet grasped the interdependency that all countries coexist in, or how world politics and economics really work. The idea that borders separate us from other humans is another illusion but is simply showing the success of economic and political interests in diminishing our inherent value as equal beings sharing this planet.

Similarly to the manifestation of solidarity with the French events, first with the Charlie Hebdo attacks and then with the 13/11 terrorist acts in Paris, it is time to stand equal and one with refugees, reminding ourselves that many of our ancestors have also escaped from war-zones and that we must not accept further wars to break the lives of future generations. Only by standing in solidarity with refugees will be able to demand political action to prevent such atrocities again. That is why I state: I am a refugee / Je suis un réfugié – whatever is happening in this moment in time I am part of it and, as Martin Luther King said “No one is free until we are all free”.

The destructive wars that people in the Middle East are fleeing from are not only killing them from the inside, but also limiting any chances of survival. I have been asking myself: what would I do if I was caught in such a hostile environment? I would most likely do what they are doing to find a peaceful place to live and begin the healing process.

I am originally from Portugal, a country within the European Union that has been under a tough financial crisis and where there has been a devaluation of Life too. I have been seeing the slow-death of joy in many people’s hearts struggling to survive. Economically speaking, the education, people’s work and the resources in the country aren’t enough to cope the hardships that the economic war imposes unto them, so many decided to emigrate to find a better environment to grow-up, to learn from and to create a better life for themselves.

In a recent interview I run independently in the centre of Lisbon, I asked the Portuguese people how the country could help the current migrants and refugees. There is a common tendency to think that we first need to help “our people” before we can help others. Another perspective was that migrants and refugees wouldn’t be happy in Portugal either because of the poor life standards that the majority of the people have now. Nevertheless, many agree that we must be able to stand as an example and offer as much help as possible, since our problems are far less than the ones that the people from war-zones are experiencing.

By looking at the statement that we can only help “others” after we help the nationals of a given country, we see that the migration crisis is a mirror of what is happening already within one’s borders, where poverty and homeless people have been difficult social problems to tackle. This is an opportunity to finally address the social and economic issues that are preventing EVERYONE from creating their own destinies, and the refugee crisis is simply enhancing the existing non-sustainable social structures where poverty and inequality are still a reality for many Europeans.

If the European countries were all stable and all their citizens lived well, would people embrace refugees, or would there be cultural clashes, fears and other mental limitations used to justify the lack of funding, infrastructure or social support? Systematic changes take time to be understood and accepted by people, especially when people have been educated (brainwashed) to define themselves as the national symbols, and feel threatened by multiculturalism and diversity. But as with the principle of mobility within the EU, global mobility from the East to the West, from the South to the North are a reality that must be welcomed and taken into consideration, not suppressed or punished.

In relation to the interdependence we all live in, we can easily look at our western lifestyles and wonder where prime resources come from to keep us warm, to enable transportation, industries and to essentially make society run. As with any other war, the root of the problem is related to the control and dominion of land and natural resources in specific areas of the world. According to Oil & Gas Journal, Syria was estimated to possess proved reserves of oil at 2.5 billion barrels as of January 1, 2015 and shale oil resources, with estimates of reserves in 2010 ranging as high as 50 billion tons  (see http://www.eia.gov/beta/international/analysis.cfm?iso=SYR).This is what is the ultimate justification for the destruction that is causing people to flee from war zones. Therefore, in the name of our own comfort but also in the name of the comfort of all the other human beings, it is our responsibility to find solutions that consider what is best for all. We don’t need to wait for further revenge or terrorist demands that will perpetuate the perceptions of separation. We all know that the only solution is to mature international relations toward a new level of cooperation, responding to everyone’s needs and fostering peaceful living.

In my perspective, the biggest lesson to learn from the migration crisis is the consequences of our Devaluation of Life. Despite all technological advancements, we haven’t yet been able to come with plans and actions to manage world resources fairly and equally, and to apply political will to consider all peoples of the world. It is also a red flag about the false perceptions we have of “other people” based on specific religious or cultural differences that are deliberately shown by the media as the problem, instead of educating that differences are sources of diversity and expansion.

Additionally, I suggest that this becomes an opportunity to challenge that narrow-minded belief that we can either help “our people” or “the others”, and instead we adopt the possibility of “having both” – this can be possible by creating the funds to address the social-economic priorities of nationals through solutions such as the Living Income Guaranteed, while at the same time fund the immediate needs of refugees through the profits we are making in exploiting local resources, and finally to establish a common ground for the West and the Middle Eastern societies to benefit from shared resources in a sustainable way through fair diplomatic negotiations based on the principle of valuing Life.

Why do we continue to play musical chairs with people’s lives, knowing that this world and our species has plenty of solutions to offer?

I also recommend watching the open discussion on the Refugee crisis organised by the Living Income Guaranteed, where you will hear first-hand experiences about the integration process of refugees in Sweden, Denmark and in Germany. As Anna Brix Thomsen demystifies, we fear that which we don’t know and that is also why many people have resistance to accept refugees in Europe – but once the mental barrier is transcended, a whole new world of opportunities, of personal growth and understanding is available toward a better future for our humanity.

 

 

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The Demon in Democracy

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By Barbara Stängl

Democracy

I’m having a look at Democracy here and how we are living this idea of ‘ruling a people’ according to the meaning of the word, where humanity needs a system platform from which it is possible to find and give direction to the basic decisions that have to be made to organize the essentials of this world, the food, resources for heating, shelter, water, territory, health and education.

 

Democracy

Basic decisions require principles which provide directives and criteria, so that a decision makes sense. The platform of Democracy functions on the basis of the principle of capitalism, free market forces and freedom of speech. It is a system that requires money to be able to take part in it, but it does not automatically grant this money to everyone unconditionally. You somehow have to be part of the ruling people, as someone having money, to be able to be heard, have a voice. Having walked the education and career system makes one eligible to be part of the system, as long as you remain competent and competitive. For this, however, you will have needed a ‘good start’ such as wealthy, well-to-do parents and the motivation or at least endurance to take the necessary exams to pass the set standards to survive within this system. Thus the statement can be made that within Democracy one is able to participate when one has education and money, or money as a stand-alone. These principles determine that most are struggling or are excluded from the get-go.

 

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The consequences of history have influenced the way democracy is legally set up and laid down for many countries. The Federal Republic of Germany, for example, strangely has no actual constitution, only a Basic Law that has been decided on, without the vote of the people, which brings forth the question of who / which people is ruling, when it’s supposed to be a democracy? In this case a number of 7 minister presidents have decided on the Basic Laws, which in its fundamentals has been suggested by the allied forces’ war governors that had the sovereignty over what was left of the Weimar Republic after the war. So a democracy and the principles by which it functions aren’t necessarily decided on by the people that are subject to this form of government.

 

Dictatorial DemocracyA constitution was to be enacted when the country reunified, a matter laid down under Art. 146 of the Basic Law. This was never followed up on. The Basic Law in Germany acts as a constitution and has entrenched the principles of democracy, republicanism, social responsibility and federalism, which cannot be removed or repealed by the normal amendment process. So it has come to be that the people of Germany has not given its vote in a free, independent, secret election, it hasn’t even been asked. This overshadows the execution of a true democracy from the very beginning when the process of establishing a fundamental framework for a people, which was to be of democratic nature in that it requires their majority vote, has been circumvented. It can be surmised that the minister presidents held the people to be too biased toward a non-acceptance of the Basic Laws and a constitution that would for the time being exclude a major part of the Germany left over from WWII, the whole 4th sector, the GDR – it being under communist rule – a state of affairs that constituted the dividing of Germany into East and West. The suspected bias was understandable as a written document would be based on the acceptance of the forced separation of families, friends and partners on the basis of ideologies inflicted on each side at the liberty of more or less self-proclaimed leaders in a very undemocratic manner. Is democracy in fact a dictatorship?

 

The Grundgesetz, Basic Law, holds the statute of Democracy as the form of government for the German people, with a majority vote allowing for the formation of a consensus to set the direction of politics in the country supporting the idea one is able to participate in the forming of decisions that influence one’s own life. Reality proves to be different. The German Federal State is constituted of 16 member countries, most of which have their own constitution which upholds the Basic Laws and some kind of allegiance or subjection to the Federal Republic. Thus the representation of a citizen in a country goes along the administrative pathways of the country and the federal state and then through the overhead structure of the European Union for political decisions on that level.

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In comparison to a liquid democracy where the individuals’ voices can be heard in a poll, the system of a democracy of a majority ruling with indirect representation waters down the voting power of a citizen and thus no new solutions and perspectives get to the responsible organs of the government. There is also the law of Federal Law breaks State Laws and Union Law breaks Federal Law, where the Union is able to overrule anything.

World politics is about money and who controls money, because those who are in control of money are also in control of everything else. This lies in the hands of very few who through their standing within these vast amounts direct nations on the level of the unions, the United Nations and the European Union, where regional, country and national representatives of the peoples are simply overridden by creating events that seemingly justify measures that lie outside of even the European constitution, let alone that of countries and states. Such events and justifications constitute the designation of an enemy or an imminent danger as for example communism after the second world war through the placing into the public awareness through media the polarity of democracy and communism, the former being the state of freedom, the latter one of totalitarianism; or after the reunification of Germany and the breaking down of the communist block, there were oil and financial crises, the 911 tragedy allowing terrorists to be generated as a general threat, also the Moslem Brotherhood threat – all in turn allowing for vast constitutional breaches and thus Orwellian privacy transgressions and enslavement on all levels.

 

orwellian_governmentThis goes to show that the true meaning of democracy – of the people ruling – is quite in reverse as everything else in the world. People one doesn’t know and hasn’t voted for determine the policy of the country, the elite, those with the vast money have the power. They make decisions that aren’t based on the principle of best for all people and manufacture a mock choice that is presented in form of two bureaucrats like Schröder and Merkel or Bush and Carey who represent the same ideas, so it is actually not relevant who one votes for, because they actually represent the guys pulling the threads, the Bilderbergs, the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations.

Democracy is just a label for one pole of the polarity that is upheld in order to maintain conflicts in this world and has been laid down in the Truman doctrine after WWII where the US makes it constitutional for herself to protect the Democracy as the liberty of a people and wherever a threat to this is manufactured, a conflict/war zone can be created and resources and people exploited and more power usurped.

 

Solutions

The Solution to this is definitely to get the media out of the hands of those controlling it by supporting free journalists and investigators, sites that are able to see and present the full picture and solutions to this demise, individual presentations of what we are allowing and accepting here. Equally it is to see that there are two fronts to work on – oneself within/as the allowance and acceptances within the polarities that are reflected on the outside in the world events and creations and walking towards establishing a platform for true equality starting with equal opportunity to receive money, food, housing and clean water for everyone and actual education, where this must be completely revised and restructured. This will require bringing awareness of the situation to the people and what can be done by each individual to make it count on a grand scale.

 

Education Kindergarten KidsWith respect to Human Rights and the right to Life, the establishment of ‘ LIG’, a Living Income Guaranteed, is principal. Considering the implementation of nationalization, the redirection of military budgets and changes toward indirect taxation as a solution to be able to use the profit and savings for the common good, such as providing for one’s direct and basic needs as having dignified housing, clean water, food, health services and education, by way of a provision of an actual ‘living income’ for each eligible citizen as a reasonably sized financial security on an as-needed basis.

As an incentive for those who are able to, guaranteed minimum wages are being suggested of double the living income for people who actually work, produce and create added-value. Doing research on this to see what works and what doesn’t from history, why or why not, to remedy what crystallizes from this and implement what is supportive are essential steps toward a change that serves the principle of best for all equally for a democracy where people/living beings – vs. corporate entities – are at the heart of the system, where their interest and well-being are at the center of focus. A means toward this aim can be a party that promotes the conceptual basis for open source democracy/ liquid democracy and the support of transparency in public affairs.

 

The benefits are obvious: The allowed separation from one’s own self-responsibility with respect to government and self-government will gradually be worked out and walked within/as self-authority by implementing a method /a system, where one can be heard, because money is not the pre-requisite, as it’s provided unconditionally from the start.

iraqi-kids-by-adamhenning-via-flickr

 

One will be able to have better relationships due to competition not being at the heart of the system as necessary part of survival, where one can stop analyzing what the other has that I haven’t and focus on simply enjoying the presence of the other and be with them and allow creativity to flow into the time and space of togetherness. Thus, peace, freedom and trust is given true potential with this external structure and one will also have more time for the development of self-honesty within self-investigation to undo one’s separation on a more individual level.

The benefits also include actual self-expression or a process thereof, without the fear of disadvantages. Herewith a movement from survival to Life can be initiated. We are able to bring Heaven to Earth, with clean water, luscious and abundant nature, resources for all with a system that represents who we are as self-empowerment and self-responsibility, a Democracy that is based on the living principle of what is best for all equally.

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Photo Credits

‘Power to the People’
‘Hands’
‘Dictatorial Democracy’
‘War is Peace…”
‘Iraqi kids…”