Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Go Small Part 2 - A supranational cooperative?

Since my last ramble about going small, there have been quite a few regions beginning to demand independence from the larger state entities! Did they secretly read my blog?! Viewing statistics would suggest ‘NO’ but I have a sneaky suspicion the answer is definitely …!

My last argument centered around the need to downsize in the hope that smaller entities would prove more difficult for corporations to buy, that there would be more interest in the politics of your area. This blog post touches on the interesting rumblings emanating from areas like Venice and the Basque Region. I know there are also happenings in Catalonia, Scotland and Wallonia, but for the purpose of this blog I’ll attempt to be concise with my argument. I’ll try to argue for the notion of Venetian independence using the concept of the Basque Region cooperative.

One of my previous points arose from my questioning of central government. I basically asked if we downsized, would that be beneficial to somewhere like Cork? Cork it was announced a while back, has seemingly struck oil; well a corporation has and thanks to deals made in the 1980’s the people will see absolutely no benefit from this. The Dublin government gets nothing except the corporation rate of tax on the profits. Yipee. With the recent abolition of and merging of lots of town councils, the Irish government is going to be even more centralised. There are parts I agree with in this – for example the planning process for developments was so corrupt it had to be taken away from the local councils. But a lot of the councils are now seemingly going to be money collection agencies for the government in relation to the forthcoming property tax. The central government gets to wipe its hands of this dirty business. How convenient. But I digress. My main argument here is that the national resources being utilised by the government are our police force and they’re being used against the people. The corporations by having centralised laws can use those laws to their benefit over both small and large landmasses. What government in one area feels is necessary may not what the locality wants.

Lets look to Europe and assess some examples both of regions who are actively seeking independence from the Nation State or who have unique regional identity and whose independence movements are not yet as pronounced as others. I’ll propose logical reasons as to why I feel going small could work.

The nation state as we know is only something of a recent political concoction. The Peace of Westphalia brought together lots of regions within a defined state border mainly for protection. Europe had just gone through two wars, both ending in 1648 with this Peace. Regions within Europe had been decimated by the Thirty Years War so these small regions sought sanctuary within the borders of a more powerful entity. This entity is what we call the Nation State. I believe that the nation state today has become too powerful, too corrupt and controlled by a minority that dictate to the majority what system we should use to live our lives and what economic situation we have to live in. The variance between states is too great and this variance is what causes people to risk their lives to escape one nation state for another. I do believe however, in an organisation like the EU. Yes it has its faults, but I think a supranational entity like that, run for the benefit of all the EU’s citizens is a way forward. The EU already has a regions policy. It promotes the cultural differences, the positives and the peoples of Europe’s regions. It has a webpage showing just some of the ongoing projects within the different regions and how they are benefiting from being within the EU. I think the world is too small today and wants to move too quickly to merit a move to nothing but totally independent regions. But much like the way the state system we have has ceded certain powers to the EU, for example in terms of trade negotiations, I believe regions could do the same. The EU could become a kind of giant cooperative movement. They have the basic formation of one in place already. Indeed “for one week every year European regions are in the spotlight. It’s called Open Days, lasts a week, and is dedicated to all issues regional and local. From every corner of the continent, thousands of local leaders and administrators come to Brussels to talk directly to EU officials and lawmakers. It is a time of networking, exchanging ideas and passing on information. It is also about celebrating the best of what Europe can produce. An array of local products – foods, wines [and] regional specialities.”  Could this be a way forward with our politics? The answer in my opinion is ‘yes’ and I look to the example of a current cooperative.

We have extremely sad stories coming from the nation state of Spain and most of us have heard about the economic difficulties Spain is facing, Well, despite these extreme difficulties there are success stories and they emerge from communities working together. While Mondragon is a corporation, it is one of the responsible and ethical ones. For “despite its international presence, Mondragon's co-operative structure has kept most of its jobs and production in Spain. It has 35,000 employees in the Spanish Basque Country, 35,000 elsewhere in Spain and about 13,500 abroad.” (France 24 article) I believe cooperatives are the way forward, both socially and financially. They bring communities together and ensure that the power base remains within the cooperative. There are no gigantic wages for someone sitting at the top while the people at the bottom work their balls off for a pittance. Profits are shared and communities worldwide benefit. Even when tough decisions have to be made, look at their methods:
“Most of its workers are partners in the firm, voting to elect the bosses and determine sensitive decisions. In May, for example, workers of its flagship electronics brand Fagor agreed between them to cut their salaries by 7.5 percent and to move workers to different locations.” People do realise that tough decisions need to be made to save business and protect industry. We often hear from governments that people ‘don’t realise that cuts are necessary’ etc. The big one for me at the moment is the bank debt. I wrote about bank reform previously and my belief that personal banks should be run more like Credit Unions (well maybe not Irish credit unions) but a banking cooperative that ensures responsible lending and not only promotes but rewards saving. Local money is used to run them, which again benefits the communities. I spoke last time about calculating interest rates based on the actual need of the loan. The aim of this is to go about reducing exposure to bad debts as people may well be put off unnecessary spending and bad spending practice if the interest for their proposed spending is too high. Easy credit leads to boom and bust cycles. Reducing the size of the banks brings them back to serve the localities they exist within.

Another regional example I’ll touch on is VeniceVenice was a Republic for around one thousand years before the Napoleonic Wars caused its cessation. What was a cause of its end? A powerful Nation State. Now you have the people arguing about things that are important: economics. Venetians argue about the tax they pay Rome and how they have a 20 billion deficit between that which they pay and that which they receive. It’s an understandable complaint when times are tough. What I am attempting to show here is that a lot of our security concerns now are economic. I would argue that Europe is safe from marauding hordes like the Mongols, that future independent regions like Venice are safe from empires such as the Hapsburg Empire that engulfed it as ‘territory’ after Napoleon’s France was defeated. I would argue it’s a safe time to return to regional entities.

I believe that using a supranational organisation like the EU could be the answer to future regional security. Now I realise that while I’m pointing out my belief in downsizing, I’m also arguing for a supranational body like the EU to operate as a gigantic cooperative! My argument for that is rational. I would still have bodies like the European Parliament, who do far more good than they are given credit for, to ensure there is no democratic deficit within this organisation. But firstly, by introducing a more cooperative corporation whereby people see the benefit of voting for bosses, for pay increases and decreases, for benefits – that may encourage people to vote in larger numbers for their representatives in the supranational cooperative that would be my vision of the EU. I believe that the policies of the EU could be carried forward with ease. Freedom of travel, freedom to work where one wishes. I believe these traits are transferrable to any future European Union. I think removing the hormonal Nation State from politics removes one of the scourges of humanity: nationalism. Downsizing society and its organs would not lead to a lessoning of ‘internationalism’. By having the EU promote your local goods globally, the people and their cooperatives can celebrate locally what they both can achieve and helping others would make everyone proud of their and others localities. Seeing your locality thrive on the international arena thanks in no small part to decisions you helped shape and voted for - that surely is a good thing.

The EU is not founded on principles like this. I think the nation state has served its purpose and a cooperative based European Union is what will bring people, communities and their cooperatives forward, together. For the better.

*quick update*
I also believe this can work on a worldwide scale - this is another example of a cooperative movement helping its community

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