The continuing violent demonstrations on the streets of Paris and other French cities in reaction to economic and other reforms have caused chaos amidst nationwide anger. Similar riots in other parts of the EU as well, provoked by dissatisfaction with government policies, have reflected widespread unrest on the continent.
Against a background of the rise of populism and nationalism precipitated by globalisation that is perceived to have caused economic disparity, together with the damaging effects of mass migration following Germany’s acceptance of a million migrants in 2015 and an increase of anti-EU sentiment, Europe is now beset by division, disruption and discontent. A series of horrific terrorist attacks in various European countries over the last few years, most recently this week in Strasbourg, has served to make matters even worse.
Europe’s history is characterised by constant conflict. Countries have shown themselves incapable of living in peace with one another while religion has tended to divide rather than unite, and competition among European imperialist nations, which by the end of the 19th century ruled over half the world’s population, exacerbated the continent’s internecine rivalries. Thus, the founding principle of the EU was that nationalism causes war, even though trans-national ideologies like fascism and communism have been responsible for the worst wars in the modern era.
After the defeat of fascism and the end of the Second World War in 1945, the benefit from the rebuilding of Germany, France and others under the Marshall Plan was that the subsequent half century saw Europe at its best, with development of economic co-operation and a free trade area in all non-communist countries so that the continent became wealthy, stable, politically liberal and a magnet to the world’s migrants seeking a better life or to escape persecution in their own countries.
To some historians, however, the ambition of an EU elite to bring about bureaucratic centralisation and an ill-defined ever-closer political union in place of a successful trading relationship in a European Economic Community was a mistake because it disregarded the political mood of EU member states who ultimately were unlikely to accept such a single power structure. This has resulted in growing euroscepticism and the election of anti-EU governments in countries like Hungary, Poland and, most recently, Italy. It also seems to be at the core of Britain’s forthcoming departure from the EU despite the strength of the economic arguments for her to remain in the bloc.
While we observe the chaos in Europe, we reflect, by way of extreme contrast, on our own good fortune in living in a well-ordered, politically stable and mainly peaceful country like The Bahamas with its adherence to democracy and the rule of law. While we can rely on our giant neighbour to ensure the security of our nation, we need ourselves to support and protect our democracy and our way of life.
In doing that, it is incumbent on the citizenry to hold the political class to account and expose any wrongdoing. This is a critical function of the Fourth Estate and is also the role of various local organisations dedicated to the protection of civil liberties.
The behaviour of governments in small countries like ours, depends crucially on their leaders who exercise considerable powers. We believe during its first 18 months in office there have been too many examples of this FNM administration’s lack of political acumen in dealing with important issues, in particular determining when and where prime ministerial intervention has been appropriate in bringing influence to bear to resolve differences and competing interests.
A recent example was the doctors’ strike and the need to avoid undermining the authority of the Public Health Authority. Another important current issue is the Non-Profit Organisations Bill. This major piece of legislation has now been delayed to allow incorporation of suggestions by Civil Society, but the Bill as it stands is flawed and inappropriate. It is too prescriptive, gives too many powers to a regulator and the reporting requirements are too extensive and demanding while the penalties for non-compliance are draconian. Apparently, this has been fast-tracked without proper consultation at the demand of the OECD against the threat of ‘blacklisting’. But we would have hoped the FNM leadership could have handled this better rather than submitting too readily to such demands in relation to our sovereign country’s domestic legislation when the OECD and EU seem constantly to move the goal posts.
In a democracy, while elected political leaders should always be held publicly accountable for their actions, the media should be vigilant and vigorous in seeking to curb the excesses of government and how it exercises its powers. We assure our readers this newspaper remains in the vanguard of those committed to this important task.