'This question of what draws us and others to Europe is becoming increasingly big' - Our Political Editor, David O'Donoghue, examines the different relationships between European countries and the EU.
In Greece and Moldova they look the same. Shaking, shivering masses of colour and energy, parading through the streets with their flags and banners. In age they skew toward the young and the fresh faced, the optimistic and the visionary. They feel they can urge their country into a moment of transformation, throwing out the old ways and the old order.
Their concerns are the same: economic well-being, national security, functioning and fair democracy. Although the protesting painted faces of these young revolutionaries exude the same energy and excitement, they are on opposite sides of the divide. In Moldova the young and politically aware desperately vie to push their country into the European Union and in Greece the same kinds of people march relentlessly to get out of the EU.
So how can the same body provoke ire in some and desire in others?
Greece has been a thorn in the side of the higher authorities of the EU since the whole Eurozone crisis kicked off. Greece’s has been one of the deepest and most damaging recessions in the entire Eurozone. Greece was the example that bigwig media commentators and political radicals on our little island would constantly point to as they berated the Irish public’s tendency to have a “keep calm and carry on” kind of policy as our pockets were shaken down by the government and our services were being slashed.
The riots, the insurrections and the radicalism were the focus of an unceasing spotlight, where some look on in revulsion and horror, while others viewed the dramatic scenes with admiration and even aspiration. The EU’s implementation of austerity policies of tax rises, pay freezes and spending cuts caused so much anger in the Greek people that parties of the far-right and the far-left, such as Golden Dawn and Syriza, climbed to positions in the electoral leader board that would have been unthinkable just half a decade before then.
Today, Syriza, the far left coalition of Communists, socialists, feminists and environmentalists of all stripes, is the most popular party in the country. The party’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, was once thought of as one of the most dangerous men in Europe for his radical left beliefs on leaving the EU and rejecting bailout agreements. Now that man is preparing to be President.
The Greeks have a lot of the same complaints about the EU that you’ll hear from most Irish people. It makes them feel powerless. Why even bother electing different politicians if all your policies and budgets go to Brussels or Berlin for approval anyway? For many conservatives, Europe is a distant, nagging liberal that imposes its social beliefs on countries with more traditional ideas about subjects like abortion and gay marriage.
For people of a left wing political persuasion, Europe is a domineering nanny that strips us of our political power and imposes harsh service cuts and unfair tax hikes on the poor and disadvantaged. The rise and rise of anti-EU parties of all persuasions, from neo-nazis to traditionalist conservatives to nationalists and Communists, has been remarkable. There’s a lot of political capital in hating the EU today, especially as our leaders seem to jet off to Brussels claiming to be full of fury and righteous indignation and then promptly roll on their back for Merkel to tickle their tummies like good lapdogs.
And yet as the streets of Europe ring with the sound of restless resistance against the EU order, states on the periphery of the EU clamber to get in on what they see as a pretty sweet deal. Former Soviet states tend to be most visible in their desire to get into the ever so exclusive EU house party that so many of us partygoers think is taking a turn for the worse.
Ever since gaining its independence in the early 90s, Moldova has inched closer to the EU like a nervous fella in a bar trying to gather up the courage to talk to a gorgeous woman. Efforts at integration has moved steadily since then, from lingering glances to flirty conversations and now, in Moldovan elections at the moment, pro-EU parties are heavily favoured to win.
So why does a country like Moldova want in to the EU? Well a lot of poorer regions in the east see what has happened to nations like our own due to grants and funding from the EU. Countries like Ireland have greatly benefited from EU structural grants, agricultural payments and trade agreements. Moldova, as the poorest country in Europe, hopes that financial assistance from the EU might improve life for its citizens.
But there are factors other than money matters. Like so many ex-Soviet states there is a bitter division in the population of Moldova between those who want to cultivate ties with Russia and other post-Soviet states, and those who fancy their chances with the EU. This essentially amounts to ignoring the interesting new lady sitting at the bar and drunk dialling your ex with whom you “swear it might work out this time guys!” When your other option for a buddy on the world stage is a power that is increasingly becoming a pariah in the international community then the EU starts looking mightily attractive.
With the victory of radical left and right groups within the EU who want out of the whole arrangement, this question of what draws us and others to Europe is becoming increasingly big. Some see a faceless, dictatorial bureaucracy run for the sake of the powerful, while others see a shining beacon of hope and freedom. Perhaps time will tell what view is more correct.
Photo: Yanni Koutsomitis/ Flickr
Photo: Yanni Koutsomitis/ Flickr