"2012 a crucial year for the world", an interview of Franck Biancheri in Dutch magazine HP / De Tijd

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Economy
Written by Fons van Lier (HP/De Tijd), translation Thijs De Wolff   
Friday, 20 January 2012
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2012 will be crucial for the world

A four-page interview of Franck Biancheri 2012 wordt cruciaal voor de wereld in the Dutch magazine HP/De Tijd (week 1 / 6 Jaunary 2012), one of the most influential weekly magazines in the Netherlands. By Fons van Lier. Translation by Thijs De Wolff.

The European Union will have to steer us out of the crisis, says French political scientist Franck Biancheri, because the British and Americans are puppets of their financial sector. Otherwise the chaos will only exacerbate.

► Champion of Europe - Since the beginning of the nineties Franck Biancheri (Nice, 1961) has advised a variety of European institutions and national authorities. Furthermore he is committed to building a European democracy; in 2002 and 2003 he organized 100 citizen conferences in 25 European countries. Therefore Time magazine elected him in 2003 as one of the 20 European heroes. In 2004 he founded the think-tank LEAP (Laboratoire Europen dAnticipation Politique), where he has been research coordinator ever since. Over ten million people from around the world read the monthly LEAP public announcement.

► You anticipated among other things the subprime crisis in the United States, the financial crisis in autumn 2008, and the return of the crisis last summer. When did you first see that something was fundamentally wrong with the financial system?
In 2005 we discovered that the euro threatened the dollars monopoly as international reserve currency, causing the entire global financial system to destabilize. In 2006 we saw that the subprime housing market in the US would inevitably lead to a crisis and that the Federal Reserve had decided to no longer publish the M3 indicator the roughest indication of the money supply in a country, dollars in this case. Then it dawned to us that they wanted to hide something very big.

Why?
To combat the consequences of that crisis, they resolved to print money, very much. They preferred not to have people snooping around that. Add to that the increasingly unstable monetary system and it was clear to us that there was going to be a global financial crisis.

You and your colleagues then foresaw the development of that crisis. Now you say that not Europe, but the US and Great Britain are the problem.
Absolutely. The United Kingdom has been stuck in recession since June already, regardless of what the official statistics may say. Do not forget that London is the only city in the Western world where big scale riots broke out and where houses were burnt to the ground. This shows how stressed people are and how much they are affected by the impact of unemployment and austerity. They no longer see a way out. British politics have been hijacked by the financial sector that is solely preoccupied with its own interests. In the US there is no social safety net as in Europe. Hence, and because of bigger inequalities, to maintain its welfare level the US must have a starker economic growth than Europe. They no longer manage to do just that. President Obama is a puppet of the financial sector, just like Cameron. His government is only concerned that the banks are spared while the US slip further downhill.

But the unemployment rate there is now lower than in Europe.
The American employment numbers are a joke. For instance, they do not take into account people that have been jobless for so long that they quit searching for jobs. I estimate that the real unemployment percentage hovers just under 20 percent. The labor participation level lies at 64 percent, the lowest in 30 years. The county is on the brink of a social explosion; the middle class is exhausted and sees no way out any more. They trust no one in Washington any more, all they can see is joblessness. And they dont see light at the end of the tunnel.

But people here are dissatisfied too.
They are dissatisfied because they do not agree with some developments. If you compare Europe with the US, you note a big contrast. Euroland is reforming itself at high speed. We now have binding budgetary agreements, soon paving the way for eurobonds, for instance. But in the United Kingdom and in the US nothing is happening! The American Congress cannot agree on anything, the two parties are out from each others life. In the United Kingdom you see that enormous budget cuts still failed to bring the budget deficit under control; the economic situation does not improve on the contrary. And unemployment is rising rapidly.

Was the eurosummit of 8 December where most EU member states decided to come to an agreement on budgetary discipline without Great Britain really that important?
I do not use the word historical often, but this was really what one calls a historical event. At LEAP weve been saying for three years already that the crisis will produce various consequences, including the strengthening of Euroland. It can no longer be denied that the seventeen countries that make up the eurozone now pull the strings in the EU. Next to that we have foreseen that the United Kingdom, that always aimed for a watered-down EU with limited competences and free play for the financial markets, would get marginalized. This summit illustrated both trends.

You think the developments in Euroland are encouraging; and yet we will hit recession.
But that is not the same. As a political entity Euroland is becoming stronger. Whatever people may say, the integration is advancing rapidly. There is now an agreement for a mechanism that forces all countries to get and keep their budgets under control. Moreover that recession is now omnipresent, name a big country that is not in trouble. The US are in a recession, no matter what the official statistics claim. For the United Kingdom the same. Brazil has practically come to a standstill and also China faces a slowdown. It is a global problem because the 2008 crisis still has not been resolved.

What should have been done then?
The dollar has to be replaced as a global reserve currency by a basket of currencies and gold, since the dollar has become completely unstable and can no longer function as pillar of the monetary system. Secondly, the financial sector has to be reformed, worthless assets have to be written off and nationalized whenever its needed. The banks have learnt little or nothing from the past few years. Nevertheless governments did the opposite: they have injected trillions of euros, yens, pounds and dollars in a financial system that is totally bankrupt. Thats a waste of money that did nothing to help the real economy.

But do you think this can still happen in the future?
This year the sanitation of the banking sector will happen by itself. The system is bankrupt, many banks drown in assets of no value or far less value than their balance sheets suggest. Hence I anticipate that the next year 10 to 20 percent of the Western banks will collapse. Governments, still very much weakened by the crisis and the 2008 bank rescues, will no longer be able to throw a lifeline to those banks. Moreover, public opinion would be fiercely opposed to that.

That makes enormous amounts vanish into thin air.
One sees that the virtual and the real economy can converge and the financial economy shrinks more and more until all air is deflated. That is a painful but inevitable process.

Coming back to your optimistic vision on Europe: there is much criticism on the lack of unity and stimulation measures. And then there are many economists, like Nobel prize winner Paul Krugman, that the economies are too different to share one currency and that the euro is doomed to fail.
Ah, Paul Krugman. Months ago he forecasted that the euro would be dead within ten days. Nothing happened. Let him worry about the US. He, and many others like him, do not understand anything about Europe and the complexity of its integration process. Of course we must move toward a more balanced Euroland economy, but right now we are still in a phase that sets up a structure for budgetary discipline. Once completed, stimulating elements can be executed. Germany is not opposed to that either. Six months ago one could read everywhere that Germany would leave the Eurozone, that they would kick out Greece Germany did not do that, because it is well aware of what is at stake. Contrary to many commentators in the media.

You even say that the media throw oil on the fire of the crisis.
Then I am talking about the Anglo-Saxon media, notably The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. These newspapers exist for just one reason: to promote the interests of the financial centers of New York and London, respectively. And what is happening in Euroland the past two years is a frontal attack on their position. Because Eurolands goal is to cease being dependent on those financial markets and to place the power of the state above markets again. So they write day after day that Euroland is heading for a catastrophe.

But those problems are real, arent they?
Problems exist, but they are not as catastrophic that they might wind up as a disaster. Italy for instance has a primary budget surplus (here interest payments are not calculated, ed.). My conviction is that these two journals, and the other Anglo-Saxon media behind them, greatly exaggerate the problems in Europe to cover up the misery at home.

Is the situation in the US that serious?
Absolutely. As I said the unemployment rates are very high. Politically, nothing happens. Big industries like the car industry are in a deplorable state. The country has neglected its education system for decades. Now we see the consequences: the space program is down and they need Russian rockets to shoot people into space. In the past twenty years, all complicated military-industrial projects have failed. You experienced that in the Netherlands with the JSF. And yes, they have internet companies that attract much attention, such as Twitter and Facebook. But lets be honest: with that you wont survive as a superpower.

The Netherlands are traditionally a close ally of the US but is also in the Eurozone. What do you think of the Dutch governments policy?
The Netherlands right now is non-existent at the European level. You may complain about the French and Germans being so dominant, but if you do not turn up with good ideas yourself, you ask for it. But the visit of Rutte to Cameron in November, and their agreement to team up, shows that this government does not know which way the wind is blowing. Furthermore the Netherlands will soon be confronted with an enormous problem with pensions. A part of the money that has vanished into thin air is in your pension system. That is because the Netherlands are the oldest and strongest partner on the continent of the US. The Dutch private sector is one of the biggest investors there, too. If something goes wrong there, the Netherlands will be harmed relatively badly.

We did not talk yet about China, though it is regarded as the new superpower.
China faces a difficult period. When it comes to economic development they are now in the frontline, they caught up their lag. But this new position requires a very different policy. They will have to deal with the call for more democracy by the younger generation, the problems of the enormous pollution, the big economic differences, etc... Besides that of course they also struggle with the crisis. It is about very different themes: not only about growth any more, but about resolving internal differences.

In your book The World Crisis you sketch two scenarios for the upcoming decade: one very pessimistic and one moderately optimistic. Which direction will we take?
Both directions are still possible. Crucial will be the end of 2012, because then it will become clear if Euroland will manage to sort out its matters. Euroland is after all the only actor capable to shape a new world order and in doing so collaborate with other actors like China, Brazil, and Russia. The United States succumb swiftly; moreover nobody trusts them anymore. The other countries do not possess the capacities nor trust that Europe has: it is the largest market, the largest trade bloc and it has built up knowledge about cooperating with others through decades-long experience in European cooperation. The Europeans are the only ones who can create new rules for the worlds economy and politics. So if Euroland succeeds in its integration and displays leadership, the others will follow. If not, then we are at the eve of an age of increasing chaos.

Fons van Lier, in HP/De Tijd
2012 wordt cruciaal voor de wereld
Translation by Thijs De Wolff

-> Read Dutch version: '2012 wordt cruciaal voor de wereld' 
itw_fb___de_tijd_060120120001.pdf ITW FB - De Tijd 060120120001.pdf  (6.16 Mo) - HP/De Tijd
More aubout:
-> About Franck Biancheri
-> The book World crisis - The Path to the World Afterwards. Europe and the World in the decade from 2010 to 2020 - ed. Anticipolis
-> LEAP/E2020


Last Updated ( Friday, 27 January 2012 )
 
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In memoriam
In memoriam
After a long battle against the disease Franck Biancheri passed away 30th of October 2012, at the age of 51. A great European, a militant democrat, a wonderful person.
Franck Biancheri was founder of AEGEE and founding fathers of the ERASMUS programme. He also was research director of the European thinktank LEAP 2020. In 2005, following the no of the Dutch and French to the Constitutional Treaty, Franck Biancheri founded the European citizens movement Newropeans.