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PN Member Georgi Pirinski on the Economic Crisis as a Challenge for Solidarity
At the International Conference on European Integration Through Cooperation of the Parliaments, Civil Society and Independent Regulatory Bodies in South-East Europe, held in Skopje on April 15-16, 2013, PN member Georgi Pirinski, President of the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria 2005-2009, shared his vision on the "Economic Crisis - A Challenge for Solidarity of Parliaments, Civil Society and Independent Regulatory Bodies":
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The measures undertaken so far within the Eurozone and the EU as a whole have succeeded in avoiding default of excessively indebted countries and bankruptcy of major private banks. These measures however have proven to be incapable of reviving economic growth and overcoming the severe unemployment crisis. Given the prevailing orthodoxy of austerity, there thus arises the prospect of a “lost decade” for Europe and its peoples.
This prospect entails not one but rather a whole range of challenges to European integration in general and to cooperation and solidarity for its further development regarding the countries of South-East Europe. These challenges commence with considerations as to how” ready” are countries of the region for EU accession, what sort and how much assistance toward that end should they be receiving etc. and eventually impact on the very perceptions regarding integration as such and solidarity as the overarching value guiding the whole process.
One recent debate-provoking discussion of this accumulation of challenges was headlined The Western Balkans in 2013: Too Many Open Issues? The ensuing examination of these came up with a whole range of propositions regarding the situation throughout the region and in individual countries, such as that
- their economies are suffering not simply from the effects of the crisis in Europe, but rather from the consequences of failed structural reforms, thus leading to a discrediting of prevailing capitalist modalities as such;
- the political situation in many of them has seen a progressive erosion of pluralistic democracy and representative governance coupled with the increasing spread of authoritarian practices and policies;
- resurgent national aspirations are creating new challengeя to existing state borders.
Given that such assessments can hardly be dismissed as groundless, there obviously arises the clear and present need to purposefully counter the challenges that they reflect and the wholly negative consequences that the latter entail if left unchecked. In devising the required responses to this end a number of considerations would seem to be of interest.
Economic revival and intensive job creation should be seen as a priority objective of overriding urgency. To this end the following positions taken by the European Movement over the past several months regarding these priorities at the overall European level deserve full recognition:
- as stated in its Resolution on “Lessons from the financial and economic crisis and its implications for the future of the EU” - a long-term strategy for growth and a balanced budget are key elements of a renewed European economic and financial policy but should not jeopardize the European social model, based on solidarity, social protection and democracy; our top priority must therefore remain to create jobs and growth in order to maintain social cohesion and welfare;
- the support for the position of the European Parliament that the MFF 2014-2020 agreed upon by the European Council constitutes a missed opportunity to introduce effective growth enhancing and job creating measures on the European level as well as increased investment in research and education.
Regarding the particular circumstances of the SEE region, the set of practices and modalities known as Social Economy Europe might prove singularly effective. These are generally described as groups of “families” – cooperatives, mutual societies, associations and foundations, constituting a kind of solidarity-based economy founded on a clear set of values – the primacy of the individual and of social objectives over capital; the defense and implementation of the principles of solidarity and responsibility; the joining of members’ interests with the general interest, together with democratic control by members, voluntary and open membership and management autonomy.
Reverting to the political challenges exacerbated by the economic crisis there needs to be a new and vigorous commitment to reviving citizens’ trust and support for the democratic process, for the practices and institutions that it represents. At the outset there should be a clear recognition of the various types of erosion that democracy has been increasingly subjected to – falling voter participation in elections, spreading cynicism regarding politics in general and decreasing relevance of democratic governance at both at European and at national levels.
However this does not represent the whole set of challenges to present-day democracy. Researchers have been increasingly looking into two more sets of such challenges, having to do with the very essence of political legitimacy of institutions, based upon popular vote. One such set are seen to be forms of so-called non-republican representation, namely deliberative opinion polls, citizens’ juries and focus groups, claiming to represent societies’ preferences and choices.
Another and more far-reaching sort of this nature are the range of non-elected bodies invested with effective regulatory power over the functioning of public utilities. An important share of these is taken up by the various authorities at the national level, constituted as outside parliamentary investiture and control and without voter authorization – i.e. the independent regulatory agencies or bodies. Their introduction and spread has been justified by arguments in order to counter both market failure in the case of natural monopolies as well as so-called government failure concerning political and/or bureaucratic interference where objective criteria should prevail. However the general argument in their favor – that they serve the public interest more effectively, has increasingly been seen as essentially naïve in light of actual practices and end results regarding market access, fair competition and customer protection in providing utility services to the public.
In the SEE countries the crisis in public utilities has taken particularly painful forms, such as skyrocketing electricity and heating bills and the corresponding crises in confidence in the supposedly independent bodies regulating private or state suppliers and distributors. Here again the approaches favored by the European Movement provide a sound basis for purposeful action – namely that there is a general need for renewed democratic accountability and transparency.
We thus arrive at the composite challenge of positive interaction between national parliaments, civil society and independent regulators in ensuring continuing European integration encompassing all countries of SEE. It is at this point appropriate to take account of the work done by representatives of the regions’ parliaments towards institutionalizing the parliamentary dimension of the SEECP. The form that has developed in the course of the last two years is of a Inter Parliamentary Assembly with equal representation by national parliaments and dedicated to furthering the European integration of the region.
Given that this process is successfully concluded at the forthcoming annual Speakers’ Conference at the end of May at Ohrid, there arises the task of selecting the priority issues that should constitute its first set of subjects for discussion and resolution. The three permanent committees envisaged, namely – Economy, Infrastructure and Energy; Justice, Home Affairs and Security Cooperation and Social Development, Education, Research and Science - should provide the necessary venues for developing joint approaches to the challenges common to the countries of the region.
The launching of such an IPA should be recognized as a valuable opportunity for effective interaction of parliaments with representatives of civil society and independent agencies in agenda-setting and broad participation in discussing and developing solutions to shared challenges at the regional level addressed to citizens of the participating countries as well as to the European public and institutions. The present Conference should provide a most important initial input to this end.
We all are today called upon to join efforts to overcome tendencies to stigmatize the region of SEE as a set of negative experiences, to revert to perilous past stereotypes. This is of vital interest for each of our peoples; this without doubt is of no less importance for our partners throughout Europe.
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Photo by flo450d.