Richard North, 05/02/2015  

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It is a given that the European Union is unfinished business. Thus, once the tortuous Lisbon Treaty process was out of the way in 2009, it was only going to be a matter of time before another treaty process started. And, with the eurozone under stress, a treaty to strengthen economic governance in the eurozone was generally regarded as essential – and inevitable.

By early 2012, though, there were hints of serious differences between France and Germany and, by the September, there were extremely strong signs that plans were running into the sand.

Nevertheless, there were still signs a month later that hopes for a new treaty had not died – although these were not to last. When in May last year Barroso failed to fire the starting gun for a new treaty, it was clear that plans had been shelved for the foreseeable future.

Now, effectively confirming that this is the case, we have Die Welt. But it goes further than that. The failure to exploit the hard years of the financial crisis for far-reaching reforms of the eurozone, it says, was a "miscalculation".

In fact, it never was a realistic option. Simply, according to the mood music at the time, a new treaty was deemed impossible – not least after the hostility built up over Lisbon, more than one country might have had difficulty ratifying. And there was always the possibility that David Cameron might attempt to hijack the process for his own purposes.

But, with Alexis Tsipras as the new Greek prime minister on the scene, Die Welt argues that things have got more difficult. And that is indeed the case but, in my view, it would be wrong to attribute all of the EU's troubles to the Greek election. This is just one more stress to add to all the others.

Despite this, Die Welt persists in its view that Germany has wasted its chance, with Merkel delaying too long. The two years just past, 2013 and 2014, should have been "the great years", the paper says.

Now, the reality is different. Greece is lurching to the left after the election, Italy is still ailing, with Matteo Renzi, the third Prime Minister in less than five years, ruling a "weary" land. France is hardly better off. A weak Hollande has not initiated any of the reforms necessary for the economy to pick up, and the financial situation is so bad that Paris has threatened to tear up the EU stability criteria.

For "Europe", therefore, 2014 was a wasted year. In Brussels, there is a new parliament and a new commission. Politically, however, hardly anything has changed. And Europe's economic situation remains dire.

Looking at the year, Die Welt adds, one can not assume that European governments are aware of the seriousness of the situation, anyway. On the contrary, some are making it worse. The economically strongest power on the continent is not doing its job. Berlin is simmering in its own juice and is no longer a role model.

Worse still, economists - both conservative and the left – seem frightened to make a move. "Europe has ceased all efforts to make the currency union robust," writes one expert observer. Instead, they talk about trivialities like the car tolls.

Reforms are not even up for debate, and Germany simply laments that it is difficult to enforce change on other countries. It is no longer even pushing to start the process, and has lost the will to do battle with partners who do not want change.

That is as far as Die Welt goes with the story, but what they are doing its describing the creation of a political vacuum. The politicians know that something has to be done – some of them even have an idea of what must be done. But they are sitting on their hands, afraid, unwilling or unable to do what is necessary.

Enter now Pegida or – more specifically - Verner Patzelt, founding professor of the Institute of Political Science at the Technical University of Dresden. He is making it big in the German press right now, including Die Welt under the headline "Every third Pegida follower is xenophobic".

This is the way the press wants to play it. But the point Patzelt is actually making is that two-thirds of Pegida – the great majority - aren't xenophobes. They are actually "concerned citizens". Elsewhere on an English language site, we see that these people are those dissatisfied with mainstream politics, and feel unrepresented by the political consensus.

Interestingly, they are not so much anti-Islam, as anti-religion generally. They express "dissatisfaction" with the process of immigration because it is felt to be "uncontrolled". Immigration is thus, not specifically or even primarily the issue. Patzelt calls it the "crystallisation point" for indignation.

In this, the more one reads of Patzelt, the more similarities one sees with Ukip supporters. Pegida followers are the same "indignant unrepresented", using immigration as their touchstone – a focus of their anger but not necessarily the cause of it.

For the cause, one has to go back to the bigger picture painted in the first part of this posting – the inability of the politicians to deal with the pressing problems of the day. This is bolstered by the sense that the politicians have "ceased all efforts" to get things back under control. For all that, though, Patzelt believes that Pegida is a spent force. With its emergence in Dresden a volcano had erupted, he says. "It's only raining ashes now". 

The new movement, "Direct Democracy for Europe", Patzelt speaks about favourably. It certainly has "a chance", he says, a man who is demonstrably no great fan of representative democracy.

Those who want more democracy must resort to other means - referendums initiated by citizens, regardless of elections. The problem with representative democracy is that, after the vote, the citizen has no voice. "The most important instrument of political influence between elections", he says, "is the referendum".

However, not all referendums have the same value. If they are top down, they are a tool in the hands of professional politicians. The must work from the bottom up, with citizens deciding on the topics. He who fails to make this distinction will miss the opportunity of making a truly democratic system of government, Patzelt says.

And there is the Harrogate Agenda writ large – out of the mouth of a German political scientist. There may be a long way to go before this doctrine reaches the top but, with Germany in political stasis and "Europe" frozen into immobility, it's time to give direct democracy a chance.

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