Eurocrisis: a clash of old (long term) and new (opportunistic) political thinking

These days I'm trying to get my head around the current developments in international and European markets and politics. There's a real flood of former politicians emphasizing that Europe is the solution, rather than the problem (see for example the statement by the Council for the Future of Europe). And here in the Netherlands we had former Prime Minister Wim Kok as well as former Minster of Finance Gerrit Zalm explaining to us on television that we need to remember the benefits of Europe and use it as a road to the solution. And I fully agree. As a whole, the eurozone is not doing so bad, but we do have a serious internal management and discipline problem.

Leadership today may be far more difficult than when the euro was formed..
Many commentators outline that now is the time to show leadership, based on a long term vision. And that is most certainly an important element of any solution. But I sense there may be more to it. There are some tectonic plates moving beneath todays politics. And the theory that I'm forming right now, is that most commentators are overlooking the movements of those plates as they are standing on those plates themselves (and incorrectly assume that they're not moving).

My theory is that, due to these slowly moving tectonic plates in the political environment, it might be much harder for todays leaders to exhibit the same leadership as their predecessors. So the solution to the eurocrisis is not just about leadership, but requires an appreciation of those fundamental trends as well.

What are the fundamental trends that now constrain our leaders?
The slowly moving 'tectonic plates' that constrain our leaders are:
1- a long period without war and a fading memory of bad economic circumstances,
2- a growing mastering of technology, leading to a shift in risk-sensitivity and a new control-perspective on the ability to control developments,
3- less religious attitudes, loss of self-discipline and focus on individual welfare,
4- electoral behaviour that is no longer focused on full political vision or ideology but can be seen as short-term shopping behaviour; the contract term of citizen and politicians decreased considerably,
5- the rise of the internet and social media, leading to increased scrutiny by the public, less margin for politicians to implement long term solutions and to oversimplification of complex problems in the public debate.

So what am I saying is: 
1- In Europe, we have forgotten how rich we really are and where we came from. So the financial and geopolitical benefits of Europe (income, peace and peace of mind) are taken for granted. And as we grow older, this individual and collective memory fades more and more.

2- The advancing technology incites a sense of control into the modern human being and people are less inclined to accept the limitations of life; we are used to demand more, get more, expect more, demand more and so on. The succes of technology also provides us with a sense that we can control more than we really can. And it shifts our risk-sensitivity. Risks that in former times were acceptable or considered an act of God, are now subject to preventive and containment measures, with the people seeking a culprit if insufficient measures were taken. Essentially technology makes us become spoilt brats that don't want to bite the sour apple for our health if there is a sweeter alternative around the corner.

3- The increased welfare and growing economy allow for the realization of many wishes. And the traditional religions slowly lose ground to an economic religion in which there is little place for self restraint or group thinking and solidarity.

4- In the political domain, the economization also occurs and voting becomes more an act like shopping than an act like determining which church/religion you wish to belong to. The lifelong committment to ideologies fades away and needs to make place for opportunistic electoral behaviour. In turn, the political parties need to focus more on short term issues and popularity to survive and represent the interest of their electorate.

5- Whereas in former times some leeway in government and politics could be created by controlling and restraining the flow of information, the rise of Internet and social media make it almost impossible to create time/intellectual room for debate/solutions. These media also allow for collective intelligence and feedback which is very much quicker than before. So politicians can no longer design political solutions which do not work in practice or contain design-errors. Similarly they cannot decide or choose open-ended solutions, hoping that some underlying fundamental problem will be solved by time rather than politics.

Thus, in order to solve the Eurocrisis, we don't just need leadership, but also:
- increased awareness about the benefits peace, peace of mind and economic growth that Europe has brought us and brings us,
- the ability to bite through a sour apple rather than postpone solutions,
- the awareness that we're in it together, even if it doesn't feel like that,
- politicians with the leadership to appeal to the publics desire for stability and growth and the fact that only with their prolonged loyalty can the public expect a better long term outcome,
- consistent solutions to the technical, financial and political issues at stake; any backdoor or design error will get back at us within a years time-frame.

See also the Dutch version of this post here.