A daily blog on the thrills, spills, and frequent absurdities of the world's one and only 'non-imperial empire' - as Barroso himself called it - the European Union.

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Monday, 30 May 2011

The European Spring

'We don't want to be a member of the EU if we must pay our children's food as the price'
Too right. 

It's amazing how far someone can move from their ideology and principles when a six-figure salary and one million euros of expenses are on the table. Barroso, now easily the most powerful man in Europe, presiding as he does over the European Union's executive body and the source of all its laws and legislation, is a prime example of this. The man who now lives in a luxury district of the Belgian capital and jokes to world leaders that being driven into the underground bunker of his several hundred million euro head office, by his own personal driver, does not allow him to marvel at the glass structure that towers high above the city's historic skyline, was once a Maoist revolutionary on the historic cobbles of Portugal.

The man who is now the chief architect of the European Union's response to the crisis, drawing up and imposing bailouts and austerity, who has never faced a public vote, was once on the streets of Lisbon protesting against unelected and unaccountable elites making decisions on behalf of the people. He once spoke of removing imperialists from government and the 'anti-popular' ruling classes; now he compares the 'European Union to the organisation of empires,' and attacks people who call for votes and referendums as 'populists.' As said, it's amazing how far someone will go from their original principles when a more lucrative alternative - i.e. the Portuguese government - is on the table.

But Portugal's revolution was one of the most important moments, if not the moment, in his political career. He, unlike most European officials, has first-hand experience of revolutionary fervour and the winds of change. He must look upon the scenes on Greece - men and women waving Maoist flags being hauled off by riot police, and far-left urban guerrillas rallying in city centres - and wonder where this revolution will go.

Although British media has not reported the violence, a poll by the respected Greek polling company Public Issue found that one third of people now favour 'revolution,' and the rest merely want 'major change.' And this is not merely ideal talk in Internet cafes: there are tens of groups with the means and the motive to carry out their revolutionary threats. The far-left has always been vocal in Greece, but there are now literally tens of small urban guerrilla factions with guns, grenades, and bomb-making equipment. The far-right, too, under the leadership of Golden Dawn, has launched a campaign of violence against immigrants in Athens, with the police refusing to respond; there have already been several murders and countless assaults, and even six-year-old children are reported to have been beaten up.

Previously, these groups, although more popular in Greece than in other parts of Europe - especially in the case of the far-left - now have public appeal. The peaceful Greek protestors - which are still the majority - are becoming concerned that one year of protesting, violence, and general strikes has led only to a second bailout, and many of them turn to more violent groups in desperation. Greece is now on the edge of revolution, but what does this mean for a European spring?

Let's make one thing clear: there is a misconception amongst Eurosceptic circles that these protests are against the EU. They are not. They are against the effects of the EU, the bailouts, which most Spaniards and most Greeks still blame on big EU countries rather than the EU itself. The overwhelming majority of Greeks blame their government and the speculators, whereas the Spanish blame the bipartisan political system for not allowing them to vote for a party that would block the bailouts. The EU still maintains a high level of public approval in both of these countries - far higher than in Britain, in fact.

These protestors are also not right-wing. With the exception of Greek neo-Nazis, the right-wing has no real presence in these protests: the Spanish camps are democrats and populists from across the political spectrum, and there seem to be flickers of a loosely-affiliated right-wing talking shop in a few of the larger camps, but there is no organised right-wing faction as yet. However, it would be wrong to think that they are 'left-wing,' either. The voices that call for an overthrow of the government are still a minority, especially in Spain, but they are gaining ground. Most of them want it to be completed peacefully, through peaceful sit-ins in squares and public places.

To quote the manifesto of the Spanish protestors:

'We need a moral revolution. Rather than put money above people, let's bring in the service of people. We are people, not products. I am not a product you buy, the reason why I buy it, nor that in which the purchase.'

And a blogger on tumblr:

'Angry at bad politicians who are stealing their money, angry at bankers asking them to pay off their loans, angry at journalists for being corrupted, angry at “foreign powers” for wanting to destroy Greece, angry at their neighbor for being their neighbor. At some point the reason for all the anger stops having importance and what’s left is the process of setting it free.'


  1. Please help build a better vocabulary for politics. The old 'right' wing 'left' is too small and silly.

    Like talking about the Greek 'anarchists' that want more government payouts - Hello!?!?!

    Try elitists vs common people, statists vs individualists, socialists vs libertarians, heck even producers vs moochers is more descriptive in some cases.

  2. Notwithstanding your claim Durão Barroso "never faced a public vote," he was elected several times to the Portuguese national assembly. Perhaps you meant that in his current position as President of the European Commission, he was never elected by a public vote.