Original Sins: JCU Hosts Book Presentation by Andrew Spannaus

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The Guarini Institute for Public Affairs hosted the presentation of Andrew Spannaus’ book Original Sins – Globalization, Populism and the Six Contradictions Facing the European Union on September 10, 2019. Spannaus is an American freelance journalist and analyst based in Milan. JCU President Franco Pavoncello introduced the book and Guarini Institute Director Federigo Argentieri moderated the event.

From Left: President Franco Pavoncello, Andrew Spannaus and Professor Federigo Argentieri

From Left: President Franco Pavoncello, Andrew Spannaus and Professor Federigo Argentieri

Original Sins – Globalization, Populism and the Six Contradictions Facing the European Union offers an analysis of recent problems that have led to the populist upheaval in the West. The book sheds light on long-term processes behind the growing divide between the population and the ruling class, and discusses the possible future of the European Union. Spannaus argues that globalization became the essential driver of the populist revolt in the West.

From the 1990s on, the financial economy started to dominate the real economy and brought profound change to the international political sphere. Markets were given an outsized role in determining economic policies, and national governments were no longer able to protect their own citizens’ interests in the face of a financial attack. The rush for efficiency maximization has resulted in plummeting wages and worker benefits, and the consequent loss of well-payed manufacturing jobs, which were often outsourced to cheap-labor countries. This led to economic discontent and social unrest among the population. According to Spannaus, the diminishment of the “productive identity” of an American farmer, or a European manufacturing worker, is a factor that cannot be ignored. As a proposed solution, Spannaus suggests that a greater role should be given to national governments and to the instruments that were used to construct the well-being of the Western world in the decades following World War II.

President Pavoncello kicked off the event by giving an overview of Spannaus’ book, and by introducing the concept of globalization. Since the 1990s, globalization has had a tremendous effect on the improvement of the economic situation all across Europe. President Pavoncello argued that the 1992 Maastricht Treaty created favorable conditions for economic prosperity across Europe. He countered Spannaus’ argument on the failure of austerity policies during the Euro crisis, which followed the 2008 global financial crisis. According to Spannaus, the Troika’s (European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) decision to enact austerity policies in order to deal with the crisis proved to be wrong and caused even more recession and social welfare emergencies in countries like Greece, Spain and Italy. President Pavoncello, on the contrary, stated that austerity policies were put in place because several governments were unable to use Euro dividend to restructure their economies in the aftermath of the financial crisis, and instead used it to cover their current expenditures. Therefore, the question President Pavoncello asked was whether the problems of the European Union will be solved when giving power to national governments, who in fact tend to pay more attention to short-term goals in order to ensure electoral success.

President Pavoncello also brought up the populism phenomenon. In his book, Spannaus argues that there is an upsurge of the populist revolt, while Pavoncello pointed out that recent European elections seemed to prove the opposite. President Pavoncello then concluded that despite this divergence of views, Spannaus’ book is “the first attempt to give a bird’s eye view of the elements of crisis in the EU and the Western world, and of the populist response that stemmed from it in recent years since the austerity policies were implemented.”

Spannaus then focused on the political effects of the change in the balance between democratic institutions and global financial mechanisms. In fact, Spannaus stated that the European Union has encouraged a system where financial markets and speculative mechanisms drive policies. Therefore, according to Spannaus, Europe would be better off returning to a situation of pre-Maastricht, where rules on social spending were quite different and financial markets were not considered more important than political institutions.

Finally, Spannaus concluded that populist rhetoric cannot be written off based on the results of the European elections. In fact, when looking at the largest EU countries, the EU-skeptic populist parties are still maintaining the leading positions, as is happening in Italy, France and the UK. According to Spannaus, it would be wrong to think that Europe defeated the populist threat, because the long-term issues have not yet been dealt with, and protests will still occur unless fundamental reforms are made.

(Kamila Sabyrrakhim)