2016: The biggest issues and their obvious solutions
are the EU's current priorities, according to its citizens? In April
2016, a survey called "Special Eurobarometer of the European Parliament" was conducted
in all 28 EU Member States. The main results were documented in the
first paragraph of the report
fight against terrorism should be the EU's number one priority followed
by action on unemployment, the fight against tax fraud, migration, the
protection of external borders and the environment, according to the
vast majority of people surveyed in a special Eurobarometer carried out
by the European Parliament.
Read no further. What lessons can we learn from this? How can these
primary issues - these hot topics - be resolved?
I wish to argue that the solutions are simpler than we think. In fact,
they may be staring us in the face, but for some reason we don't see
them. They tend to get suppressed by a lot of distracting talk in the
media. Sensational reports of "breaking news" take the
limelight, while careful discussions of the pros and cons of different
theories and strategies are forgotten.
Interesting political issues are usually complex, of course. But it is
often possible to identify the main
problem and to express it in simple, clear language. On that basis we
can often formulate a simple, clear solution or strategy.
A lot can be gained by trying to get straight to the point rather than
beating around the bush. That is what I will try to do in this little
essay. If I have missed something important, please let me know.
Before I start, we should be careful about accusing other people of
being less intelligent than we are. I often have to stop myself falling
into that trap. The rest of Europe thought the Brits were dumb for
voting to leave the EU.
Ils sont fous les anglais! Europeans think Americans are
dumb for believing in god and guns. Here in Austria we think the far
right is dumb for voting against their own interests.
As I will show, the results of the Eurobarometer survey suggest that
Europeans in general are not very smart, either. Here is my brief
solution-oriented analysis to the EU's main problems, according to its
own citizens. To my knowledge, most people don't see these simple
solutions - or they don't realise how powerful they could be if we only
"The fight against
terrorism should be the EU's number one priority."
What is the main cause of terrorism (e.g. IS)? There are lots of
complicated theories out there about that, but surely the main cause is
obvious. It is the countless violent interventions by the US
and the West, especially in the Middle East. This
state-sponsored violence has been going with staggering intensity for
decades. The Iraq invasion in 2003 was merely the climax.
It can't be repeated often enough that the US has bombed 24 countries
since 1945. This is a staggering level of violence, with staggering
consequences. It's no wonder many people hate the US and hate the West,
and bear that hate throughout their lives. No wonder people are angry.
No wonder people adopt extremist ideologies. No wonder some people go
so far as to blow themselves up for a crazy cause.
When will we realise that and have the courage to talk about it? It
comes down to the good old "military-industrial complex". This monster
must be dismantled, and urgently.
The moral to the story is this: Violent "solutions" just cause more
violence. And if we look with an open mind at the recent history of the
Middle East, we see that what "we" in the West have been doing is far
worse (in terms of numbers of people killed) than what "they" (e.g. the
Arab countries) have been doing.
The solution is to stop supporting state terrorism. Noam Chomsky has
been saying it for decades, backing up his arguments with all kinds of
detailed research. It's finally time to sit up and listen.
The best way to solve international conflicts is with open-ended peace
talks. Never give up the quest for peaceful solutions. We should be
limiting the international arms trade with the long-term intention of
stopping it completely. We should be learning the foundations of
pacifism and applying them.
Christians should read the Gospels. Those are four great little books! Better late than never.
"followed by action on
In a way, unemployment is good: it is a sign that technology is
working, so we have less work to do. Isn't that progress?
The problem is not unemployment - it is the unfair distribution of
wealth. The obvious solution is to combine wealth tax with basic
income. Wealth tax must be internationally harmonized to prevent
capital flight. This is what our politicians should be talking about at
their international summits.
The trade unions should stop clinging to the idea of full employment.
It's a thing of the past. They should stop expecting politicians
to "create" full employment. Politicians are not magicians. The world
has changed, and the unions have to change with it. If they are serious
about promoting the rights and interests of workers, they have to start
fighting for wealth tax and basic income.
Beyond that, jobs can be "created" by tax reforms that simultaneously
solve other problems. Tax environmental damage and the sustainable
energy industry will grow, creating jobs. But any such strategy is
likely to reduce the amount of employment in other areas. In that case,
please reread the previous paragraph.
"the fight against tax
Of course. Which makes you wonder: If Europeans are so concerned about
tax fraud, why don't they elect politicians who claim plausibly that
they are going to stop it?
The first step is to state one's intention
of ending the era of tax havens, regardless of how difficult that tax
might appear at first. The next step is to work on a global
agreement to agree on this intention, insisting that the truth be told
about the situation, and all distortions of the truth be exposed.
Finally, implement the agreement. Just do it!
I know of only two high-profile politicians with this plausible
intention: Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. What
makes these two stand out is not that they are left or right, but that
they are telling the truth. Which is incidentally the aim of this
Q: Why are politicians regarded as "radical" if they are merely honest
and propose to do what almost everybody wants?
A: Because most politicians are doing neither of those things.
protection of external borders"
The first thing is to remember is that human rights must always be
respected. Human rights are not something that can be voted against in
an election or referendum. They are inalienable - which quickly becomes
clear to anybody whose rights are not respected.
It is no use declaring a "national emergency" just because a
few thousand Syrians are seeking asylum in a country with a
population of a few million, and then refusing to admit any more. This
kind of response, favored by Austria (our motto: "Poor us! Wir sind so
oam"), is implausible. In fact, to my knowledge the "asylum crisis" of
2015-2016 has had no net negative effect on Austria or any other
country. Any negative effect was
small and counterbalanced by the positive effect of new people arriving with a
lot of fresh expertise and enthusiasm. Who is going to finance the
pension system if not enough babies are being born? Exactly. So much
for the national emergency theory.
The second thing to remember is that the refugees knocking on our doors
are symptoms, not causes. They are symptoms of a much bigger problem - not the problem itself.
The only way to reduce the symptoms in the long term is to tackle the
original problem directly.
The refugee problem has been caused, and it will continue in the future to be caused, by
poverty, violence, and (increasingly) climate change, especially in
developing countries. When people realise that, things will become
clearer. The two above-mentioned high-profile politicians
have plausible plans to address these causes or the problem.
(Not sure about the rest.)
Meanwhile the problems of communication and the mutual
misunderstandings in the UN security council that failed to prevent the
Syrian war have not been resolved, so a similar crisis can develop in
another country at any time. And Austria is spending only 0.3% GDP on
official development assistance compared to UK 0.7% and Sweden 1.0% -
and hardly anyone is talking about it, as if the old promise to pay
0.7% did not exist.
"and the environment"
Oh dear. What about solutions? What about carbon tax? Banning fracking?
Banning oil exploration? Stopping coal exports? Divestment from the
fossil fuel industry? Again it seems the same two politicians are
talking seriously about this, and not many others. Why don't we elect
Meanwhile those many Europeans who say environment is a priority are
driving cars around every day as if there was no alternative, and we
think nothing of hopping on aeroplanes. What about personal
The bottom line:
Governments versus corporations
The solutions to the main
problems of the EU, according to its citizens, are surely obvious. The
problems themselves are complex, but the main solutions are not. That
said, we may well ask why the obvious solutions are not happening.
The familiar and usual problem is that corporations and their rich,
selfish (it has to be said, sorry) owners are standing in the way. That
makes the conflict between governments and corporations the defining
struggle of our times. That in turn implies that we should vote for
politicians who clearly state that and pursue realistic strategies to
reduce corporate power and increase democratic power.
The solution to the Europeans' problems is to support the politicians
who are going to solve them! It's that easy. The ones who say: "Here is
a clearly defined problem. What is the most obvious solution? Ok let's
So let's do it and stop beating around the bush. For the sake of our
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