With 2014 upon us and the Eurozone crisis showing no sign of abating five years in, Europe is in danger of separating into two broad blocs: an economically stagnant north, and a economically contracting south. Eurozone periphery countries such as Portugal and Spain have, after a brief burst of debt-based mass affluence, reverted to their historical role of labour exporting, while nations such as Greece are experiencing profound existential crises about matters as diverse as state capacity and even their very identity as ‘Europeans’. Perhaps most vitally, a generation of young people across much of Europe are confronted with a future of severe uncertainty – and possible poverty.
It was with this background in mind that our Creative Director & CSO looked again at a long-forgotten political document, 100 proposals Ségolène Royal (‘the 100 Proposals’). Royal – a doyenne of France’s Parti socialiste (‘PS’) – ran for the French presidency in 2007 against the eventual winner Nicolas Sarkozy. Six-and-a-half years on from that election, Sarko has officially retired from political life and Royal’s career at the top of the PS is fading into memory – but at least some of her 100 Proposals deserve further, present consideration.
Written before the so-called Great Recession became an inescapable reality, Royal’s document is in many senses quite visionary. It tacitly recognises that even in the mid-2000s there were serious structural problems with the French economy, and that something had to be done to alter the bloated nature of the French state: in the words of proposal 6, which addresses reforming the state, ‘a euro spent must be a useful euro’.
But the 100 Proposals does not advocate an ideologically-driven slash-and-burn approach to economics (permanent austerity) or printing the hell out of the currency (quantitative easing or its lighter forms). Rather, it contains a number of concrete, workable ideas as to how to address some of the biggest issues facing the European economy, both then and now.
Targeted investment in innovation and research (a 10% annual increase for five consecutive years) is the first point in the manifesto; the creation of a National Agency for Reindustrialisation the second. Encouraging youth entrepreneurship through direct engagement with young entrepreneurs (proposal 5), giving monetary incentives and guaranteed market share to SMEs (proposal 3), incentivising corporate reinvestment and generosity (proposal 4) and preparing for a post-oil future (proposal 60) are all brave and necessary steps for the European economy. They are also as distant as they were back in 2007. But this crisis of imagination is a luxury that no major power bloc can afford.