Hollywood and other sects have made millions of dollars speculating on the eventual end of the world in 2012. However, should 2012 be instead seen as the year of the renouveau? Powerful states will go through a change of leadership next year; as is the case with France, the United States, China, Russia, Spain, India, Mexico, and so on. Within the EU, four EU Member States will go through the process of elections next year: first, Finland (January); second, Spain (March); third, France (May); and last, Slovenia (December). On the other side of the pond, American citizens will vote in November 2012.
Elections have become a central part of the life of western democracies as they take place almost every two years. Elections have been portrayed as the core component of democracy. However, it appears instead of promoting democracy, these numerous races instead limit government efficiency. Instead of changing the political class, it has created a sentiment of fear among candidates of being punished – read not being re-elected – by the electorate. Non re-election has been portrayed as a punishment rather than as a necessary change for the well being of a country. In times of growth, such a problem is quite minor and goes largely unnoticed as the majority of voters simply do not care. However, in times of crisis, as has been the case since 2008, citizens are starting to be aware of the limits of the current political system. However, as underlined by former US President Clinton quoting Mark Twain, “There are only two things Americans should never see being made, sausages and laws.” The fear of not being elected has been considerably affecting the production of new ideas, and debates have become simple pageant contests.
The current situation in Europe, especially in the Eurozone, has proven the necessity of two things: the need for political leadership and a vision. The vast majority of intellectuals, economists, academics have argued that the Eurozone crisis is not a financial crisis, but instead a political crisis, a lack of leadership. As underlined by an expert on an NPR talk show, members of the Euro-Atlantic community are simply trying to survive until 2012, the year of elections. Until then, the political process will be slowed down, in auto-pilot before taking the appropriate decisions and implementing the policies needed- all at the cost of a faster recovery.
In the case of the Eurozone crisis, the European political class must choose between two options: either deepening the integration process, which would undeniably lead towards the reform of the Treaties and the creation of a fiscal union; or stopping the Euro experiment and returning to a post-Maastricht European Union. The choice entails considerable consequences either ways. It is a real lose-lose scenario for the ruling class. So far, European leaders have been in reactive mode. The talk of a common fiscal union, which was a real taboo six months ago, has become part of an ‘acceptable’ narrative. However, if talking of a fiscal union is now acceptable, nothing has been addressed about what it would look like and how it would function. Is the EU on a path to become some sort of federation of 17 Member States of the Eurozone within a Union of 27 Member States? Will a fiscal union create a union in the union? A two-headed monster?
The integration of the EU is one thing, but it cannot be done quickly or without the consent of the European public opinion. The elections of 2012 – and 2013 in the case of Germany – could become the public executions of the leaders calling for more or less integration (depending on the outcome). The execution will only occur if the economic and financial climates worsen. “It is the economy, stupid.” Because European public opinion has not been included in the discussion on the future of the EU, and has not been consulted regarding the different bail-outs, the only way for the public to materialize their voice/discontent is through elections. Elections have been used as a form of punishment by the citizens. In the case of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, a career politician, has no desire to loose in May, and will do whatever it takes for a five year extension. Ultimately, it would be surprising to see Mr. Sarkozy push for an agenda that could undermine his chances of re-election, even though it could be right for the future of France and the EU.
With the limited and slow responses of the ruling transatlantic political class, one question has emerged in the world of academia: could the Euro-Atlantic community become the next Japan? It appears that among the highest levels of European political circles there is a certain consensus that the next decade will be a ‘lost decade.’ If the Euro-Atlantic community is following the steps of Japan, one should expect three things: first, extremely high government debts; second, no growth affecting the rate of unemployment; third, high turnover of heads of state and government.
The financial crisis has reminded global public opinion that the political class is a group of ‘men of influence’ mostly in search of power and relevance, as opposed to leadership and strong policies. This statement can seem naive, but it is a clear reminder that the 2012 elections will be politics as usual; the political debates will be irrelevant and ask the wrong questions. So far the political debate taking place in France around the the socialist party primary has been extremely disappointing and has shown a lack of vision from either candidate. On the other side of the pond, the debate between the different candidates for the Republican nomination has been a complete aberration resembling a pageant contest, not a political campaign.
Movements organized by civil societies such as Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party (in its early stages), les indignés (in France) are an illustration of the disconnection between politics and reality. Let’s face it, 2012 will be no different than 2011.