In April 2009, at the end of the G20 meeting, Gordon Brown said: "Today the whole world gathered to fight against the recession, not with words but with a plan and a clear timetable." Four years have gone by since he announced a worldwide consensus to do "whatever is necessary" to restore growth and employment. "The old Washington Consensus is over," he said, a consensus that for decades maintained that the market would solve all problems by itself, no correction by the state being needed.
What happened to that speech - those promises of growth with solidarity, of struggle against tax havens that drain off income that rightly belongs to the state? Gordon Brown was no fanatic of the left, nor was he ignorant of economic matters. At that time he was Europe's most experienced social democrat, the man who proposed the first plan to deal with the "worst economic collapse" in recent times, and whose voice was most heard in international economic forums. In those same forums his speech is now politely termed "grandiloquent," but when he made it Brown was the EU politician with the best economic brain, and a pragmatic one: he believed this was the fairest, clearest road out of the crisis.
Perhaps if Brown had carried more political clout, the world would be better off today. But Brown was unable to go through with his plans, and surely not for lack of political dexterity alone, but because his project was at odds with interests too heavy to overcome. Brown is now, at 62, a mere backbencher in the UK parliament and a UN ambassador for education, concerned with improving the schooling of children in Asia and Africa.
It is amazing how cheerfully the president of the Eurogroup has talked about dipping into the bank accounts of small savers
Four years have gone by, and the spotlight is now on Cyprus, which, as a tax haven, is not in the same league as Luxembourg and Liechtenstein, not to mention the Cayman Islands, a British overseas territory. Now that we are hearing so much about the disproportion between the financial sector of Cyprus and its real size, we ought to look at the vicinity of Germany. It is true that Luxembourg is not on the blacklist prepared by the OECD, because it has signed some cooperation agreements, but it is still on the list of the Tax Justice Network, and is under investigation by the European Parliament.
It is amazing how cheerfully the president of the Eurogroup, the Dutch social democrat Jeroen Dijsselbloem, has talked about dipping into the bank accounts of small savers. The vice-president of the Commission, the social-democrat Joaquín Almunia, also enlightened us about the need for "citizens to contribute, as depositors, shareholders or taxpayers," to paying for the bailouts. Are they not paying already? Have we not seen a hike in VAT, wage and pensions cuts, co-payment for healthcare and suppression of student grants? What more do they want? Half the savings of small depositors? We are not to worry, says Almunia, because Cyprus is an "extraordinary case."
There are other "extraordinary cases" in the EU. In Spain, for example, there are already three million people living in extreme poverty, according to a recent Foessa report. This is not the fault of Brussels. To abandon this sector of the population to its fate has been a decision of the Spanish government, which is ignoring all the warnings about the cost and the time it will take to reinsert those now excluded from the system. As the recession burns on unremittingly, we are now witnessing hardship of a sort unknown since the 1950s.
What happened to Brown's social-democrat ideas about growth? Who now voices and defends them? Needless to say, not the European Commission, or the Eurogroup. Were they buried by the overwhelming comeback of the single thought system? By the German right wing? It has to be acknowledged, at least, that his proposals were perfectly viable. But that road was not the chosen one.