Political paralysis in Europe

Political indecisiveness and paralysis is probably the biggest problem in Europe.

It's not a design fault of the EU's imperfect institutions and rules. The very same inability to act or at least react decisively can be seen on the national level in many European countries.

It's not all about resources, either. Sure, mature governments with slow-growing economies and many established vested interests face great difficulties when they need to reallocate resources, for all of the available resources are allocated and very few are being gained even during economic growth years. That still doesn't explain the paralysis on the many topics where very few resources would be needed for decisive and successful action. So it's not about resources, either.

There are some exceptions to the dominance of paralysis, but none seem very promising and applicable in most of Europe at the same time:
  • The Scandinavians and Dutch are rather progressive and willing to experiment, with occasional periods of arresting the development when conservatives take over for a while
  • Some erratic politicians make many proposals for action, but aren't really patient enough to first lay the groundwork for their success (recent French presidents)
  • Some extremist politicians call for decisive action, though usually with simplistic and unimpressive ideas
The German conservatives (now down to about a quarter of the vote in polls, but still likely to remain in power in next year's elections) are actual conservatives. German conservative politicians want to do hardly anything but passing a budget. They pass almost no reforms to speak of*, and the very few exceptions are almost invariably disasters**, which only feeds their disgust for change*. German conservatives dislike change and reform so much, they refuse to acknowledge the existence of problems to avoid accepting a need for action as long as possible. They pretend that no reform would work and staying the course is 'without alternatives' later on when the problem cannot be denied any more.

Other countries who have extremists disguised as conservatives can envy us for our conservatives. German conservatives are a fine alternative to reform-minded parties, usable as an occasional brake when the bus gets too quick. The German problem is that we've had our conservatives in power for about four decades, only shortly interrupted by neoliberals who disguised as social democrats. They broke more than they fixed IMO.

The German paralysis - the inability to muster decisive, successful action against a problem or in an opportunity - is thus a political one. Our voters kept voting for paralysis, it's our own fault. Well, it was always a minority, but a large one - and German political culture says that the biggest party in a governing coalition gets the head of government job and thus becomes dominant. That's how around 25% of our active voters (=less than 20% of our adults) can ensure paralysis even though there are hardly any self-blockade mechanisms in our constitution.

I strongly suspect that the reasons behind the obvious paralysis vary between countries. Some challenges are similar (such as youth unemployment in the Med area), while others are very country-specific. Still, decisive and successful action is hardly anywhere to be seen.
The Russian government can launch decisive action (though it's not motivated to do so on the most severe problems facing Russia), but it falls short in regard to successes.
The Chinese government can launch decisive action and met with many successes, though it needs enormous resources and a tyranny's arsenal to achieve this much.

Many people blame the weirdest things for our societies' prevailing problems, and I consider those bogeymen to be distractions. Our real problem is the paralysis, and handing power to extremists who delve in fantasyland and don't universally respect our constitutional freedoms is not a solution.
We should generally be much more diligent in our voting decisions. People only deserve political power above ordinary level (voting rights) if they respect the constitution and all the rights and protections it provides for everyone (yes, everyone - almost all rights in there apply to humans, not just citizens). Another condition should be that the candidate (or party) can be trusted to act decisively and successfully against problems or in opportunities. Conservatism is only fine in exceptional situations when there had been too much reform turmoil and some other party needs to clean up some failed experiments which the original experimenters won't clean up themselves.

Was this about defence and freedom? Yes it was, absolutely. Paralysis keeps us from proper military reforms, it keeps us from achieving more prosperity and resilience. The extremists who provide a fake alternative to failing parties are a threat to our freedom.


P.S.: Belgium and the UK are special cases and their kind of paralysis by temporary lack of parliament majorities on questions about the nature of the nation state isn't what I'm writing about.

*: CSU not excluded.
**: CSU included with emphasis. 


  1. The union parties and the social democrats both made the mistake of trying to represent everyone, which ended up with them representing nobody.

    The social democrats did this by the Agenda 2010, the union by -amongst other things- sacrificing three formerly sacred cows of the conservatives:

    -ending conscription
    -nuclear power phase-out
    -legalizing same-sex marriage

    And while I think at least two of them to be good decisions -although as usual delayed until it was obviously overdue- this didn't improve their credibility for their conservative voter base.

    So whatever your political opinions are, they are way better represented by at least one of the four smaller parties.

    The last debacle in the aftermath of the election in Thuringia showed this pretty well:

    If the CDU cooperated with the Left, they'd lose some of their right-leaning voters, if they cooperated with the AfD, they'd lose some left-leaning ones.

    In the end, whatever they do, they are going to lose votes in the long term, mostly because a growing number of people are fed up with their inaction and power politics.

    Some people within the union like Merz urge for a push further to the right. If they succeed, I suspect they won't regain any voters lost to the AfD, but instead they won't be able to call themselves a "peoples party" any longer.

    As for the social democrats, they can consider themselves lucky, if they can be the junior partner in a future green-red-red coalition.

    1. The weird thing is that people think we had a nuclear power phase-out. We didn't. There are still nuclear powerplants running in Germany, 20 years after the red-green government was elected and supposed to shut down nuclear power, nine years after Fukushima. It's all been a very fake nuclear power exit.

      I disagree that the problem was trying to build a too big tent. I think the problem was and is that they don't get stuff done. Some parties maintain very large vote shares in some states where they actually get stuff done.

  2. Might be my politics leaking through, but I see a major contributor to the paralysis coming from corporate capture. Some of this may be excused due to necessary protectionism of European industry rather than pure pay for play, but the effect is the same.

    This ties in to (british politics) the blarite acceptance that government is powerless, fiscally constrained and incompetant when compared to mighty companies such as enron, hp, general electric and boeing. The role of government is solely to facilitate change that is directed by corporations. Get out of their way. Lower taxation, regulation and add requested funding multipliers to any ideas these companies may have. Public private partnerships, wave of the future.

    After being trained that that is the role and purpose of government. When the world became more complex, costly and dangerous. Business got scared, got quiet. Retreated under the skirts of the state. The state having being trained and staffed never to lead. Doesnt lead. Nobody goes anywhere.

    Blah, blah, woof, woof. Starting to sound like an Adam Curtis documentary. Did they translate those onto German TV? His last one, "Hypernormalisation" is worth a watch if not.

    1. I suppose the multi-billion fines for such MNCs have shown that governments have discovered they are indeed not impotent against MNCs. Huawei's reaction to the sanctions show that independence from the established technology leaders can be achieved if you have decent resources.

      Those politicians who pretend that national politics are too weak to face off MNCs are either ignorant or deceivers.
      I suppose most of them lie to us because they don't want to do anything. Which brings us back to the inherent refusal to do their job that's so common with German conservative politicians.

  3. In Italy there is a strong sense of European action being impeded by particularly German intransigence, especially when it comes to financial stimulus measures. Lagarde's comments and the usual spread games have only reinforced this perception. We are not expendable, dear Teutons. If we lose faith in the EU and the Euro, we will be badly hurt by the backlash, but your Franco-German scheme of financial-industrial domination will be in ruins. Not taking decisions is an explicitly political move: the German government won't take action because it benefits from the current situation and won't act to change it, even as it gradually loses control over the situation. Moreover the economic forces underlying this paralysis are closely connected to the issue of markets and resources, the German strategy of maximum export volumes as THE measure of socio-economic success, French accommodation of such, the Franco-German financial Uebermacht over Eastern Europe constructed since 1991, and all the attendant consequences and imbalances. Personally, I'm all for splitting the BRD to restore a modicum of balance of power, perhaps an independent Ostdeutschland like Austria post '45. And, since Germany faces recession, I think the IMF and Troika ought to force Merkel to resign and impose an IMF government led by prof. Dr. Monti. Sauces, geese, and ganders come to mind.

    1. A fiscal rule was agreed-on as requirement for the common currency, IIRC. Members are free to leave the common currency if they want to have more than 3% GDP deficit as their normal fiscal policy.

      IMO the Euro is hurting Germany more than it's helping. There's no "financial-industrial domination" plan or scheme. Italy's manufacturing sector is traditionally unimpressive becuase of South Italy's backwardness (to put it nicely). The real motive behind the common currency was the European unification ideology. The involved politicians were too incompetent on macroeconomics and too resistant to scholar advice to understand that a common currency does not unite, but divide.

      The German export surplus isn't so much a strategy as it is the result of the common currency. The surpluses were modest before 2000.

      Personally, I'm in favour of splitting Italy, or at least giving it two different currencies (north and south), for it is evidently incapable of solving its severe economic problems with a national currency.

    2. You blame incompetence of the politicians involved. With politicians like Schauble and financiers like Draghi this is preposterous - they knew what they were doing, Schauble having destroyed the DDR's economic base, and turned it into a colony of the BRD and Draghi doing his bit privatising Italian state assets in the 90's before going off to Goldman Sachs. Let's not be naive, the Euro was designed as a neo-liberal engine of poverty, to "lean the state", prevent stimulus and reform, and transfer of power and wealth to Germany. There were lots of nice promises, like cheese in a mousetrap.

    3. No, Schäuble is really not a bright one. He's really unimaginative.
      And your talk about the DDR is nonsense. The economic future of the DDR at the time of the fall of the wall was practically hopeless. The dilemmas are well-known to macroeconomic research. The technical mistakes in the conversion of Ostmark to DM were within the limits of honest mistakes.
      The DDR's economy had turned from growth to unsustainable and bound to collapse during the 1970's already when the party dictatorship feared another uprising and emphasised consumption over capital investment. The DDR nearly survived the 1980's without a collapse only because of some extremely fishy loans given by the conservative-liberal West German government.

      I am convinced that the Euro currency was an ideological project. The people involved refused to believe the economists who tried to teach them that a common currency equates fixed exchange rates (and it was understood that those are a terrible idea).

    4. It wasn't just the deliberate act of currency shock but also what Treue Hand actively did to East German enterprises - deliberate undervaluations, misrepresentation of capability, underbidding, selling off to BRD competitors for liquidation etc. etc. etc.
      It's no "conpiracy theory" secret, just shameful - and not unique to Germany of course.

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    1. It appears I need to repeat that I hate lying about political matters.

      Italy did NOT have a budget surplus for most of the time post-1992. It had budget deficits at least since 1995.

    2. I'm sorry, I mixed up avanzo primario and deficit/surplus overall, whereby the former is the amount of money spent minus the money spent on debt refinancing - given the huge amount of historical accumulated debt a rather important measure. It actually ran deficits practically since 1981 if not further out.
      As it turns out this only strengthens my argument that we don't have enough financial manoeuvre room! Actively paying back debt for 30 years only for the debt mountain to keep increasing shows that deep structural reforms are needed for which (unfortunately) also big spending is needed.

    3. From an outsider's perspective, "structural reform" should begin with getting the act together at home.
      The many short-time cabinets, organised crime in the South and many, many details of Italy not getting its act together are more of a problem to Italy than some German politician could be nowadays.

      The Americans are discussing whether there should be reparations for slavery (155 years ago!). Italy should face up the consequences of its irresponsible policies. People like Merkel and Schäuble mess up Germany, they didn't mess up Italy. Nor are they in the way of getting Italy back on a good track. They're merely in the way of the most convenient approaches out of some Italian troubles - and that's in line with their oath to protect Germany.

    4. "Italy should face up the consequences of its irresponsible policies." Which are namely? And bringing up reparations is an *interesting* game for you to play...

      "The many short-time cabinets organised crime in the South and many, many details of Italy not getting its act together." I find this a pretty strange argument. Short cabinets are a feature of Italian political life since 1945, as as result of features of our constitution and parliamentary procedures, even during the boom years. Organised crime in the South is both a deeply ingrained social problem and a lot less significant than it's made out to be, particularly because a lot of the same corruption occurs in other countries but doesn't attract the same attention because it's lacking the mafia brand. Yes, the Italian state has problems, and has made many mistakes but so have many other states, European or otherwise.

      "People like Merkel and Schäuble mess up Germany, they didn't mess up Italy." The two are interconnected, being key bridges betwee neoliberal ideologues, banks, and state and EU policy.

      "They're merely in the way of the most convenient approaches out of some Italian troubles - and that's in line with their oath to protect Germany." Yes, this is the standard way this issue is presented in Germany. In reality German politicians aren't even the biggest thing standing in the way of Italy fixing it's biggest problems - but they do contribute. I see Italy and Germany as being on parallel tracks - you can't and won't escape our fate. We both have problems with natural resource scarcity, low fertility and very old populations, over-reliance on immigrant labour to keep costs low in key economic sectors, very weak strategic planning and corrupt neo-liberal politicians. You merely had the luxury of 20 years of being Exportweltmeister which distracted you from the looming problems - problems of goods, people, markets, maintenance costs, not symptomatic fiscal problems. (That's my opinion - if the Germans wish to believe that their supposedly superior fiscal virtue will spare them, well so be it.)

    5. "Yes, the Italian state has problems, and has made many mistakes but so have many other states, European or otherwise."
      And they bear the burden of their mistakes. To blame foreigners and dark powers for one's problems when one did many mistakes himself is not a reputable approach.

      "The two are interconnected, being key bridges betwee neoliberal ideologues, banks, and state and EU policy."
      Italy is a sovereign country and has been for decades. Its stupid policies are Italian-made, its smart policies are Italian-made. Period. Merkel and Schäuble have no superpowers to make Italians do stupid policy. They're merely in the way of ripping off Germany to Italy's benefit.

      "You merely had the luxury of 20 years of being Exportweltmeister"
      Ah, yes, the gift from god that's got nothing to do with German actions. Just like Italy's problems ought to be solved by ripping off other countries, not by changing the own country.
      Germany has had extreme trade surpluses with the Euro currency because it would normally have had a much stronger DM. That in turn is about competitiveness of the German industries. This in turn is part path-dependent and part the product of policies and sacrifices made.

      Personally, I think we overdo on the export focus and should at least stop the government guarantees for export deals.

      And it's not export surpluses that distract us - it's the demographic change that almost eliminated unemployment without a need for effective policies against unemployment.
      That and the years-long conservative mantra that there are no real policy alternatives are sedating us.

    6. Agree 70 / Disagree 30. Unfortunately we're in this Euro together, whether we like it or not. This state of affairs may not persist much longer, and then we can all go our separate ways and take as much individual responsibility as we desire.
      Below 2 fairly nuanced blogposts whose message I mostly (not entirely) share: https://goofynomics.blogspot.com/2020/04/ein-deutsches-requiem.html


      Google translate will do, if you're interested. :)