Marginalising Europe

Europe needs to shed its Eurocentric attitude, argues Marder, but should not undergo “colonisation in reverse”.

Signing of the contract for the acquisition of 21.35% stake of the portuguese energy company EDP by the chinese energy company Three Gorges Corporation
EDP, a Portuguese company that generates, supplies and distributes electricity on the Iberian peninsula ceased being publicly owned, when 21 percent of the state's stake in it was sold to the China Three Gorges Corp [EPA]

An unintended consequence of the current economic and political crises in Europe has been the completion of the continent’s decolonisation, commenced in the middle of the 20th century. As the gross domestic products of developing countries continue to grow, while many crisis-stricken EU economies are contracting, some of the formerly colonised nations, alongside China, are actively purchasing the assets that are being privatised in Europe. 

The Angolan media group Newshold is preparing to purchase the public television channel RTP in its old colonial master, Portugal. 

EDP (Energias de Portugal), another Portuguese company that generates, supplies and distributes electricity on the Iberian peninsula ceased being publicly owned, when 21 percent of the state’s stake in it was sold to the China Three Gorges Corp. 

OPAP, a highly profitable Greek gambling company, similarly received privatisation bids from a Chinese corporation. Piraeus Container Terminal in the famous Greek port is now a subsidiary of the Chinese company Cosco. 

And, in an inverse trend, in 2012 Argentina nationalised the Spanish-controlled oil producer YPF at the same time as Bolivia seized the subsidiary of the Spanish group Red Eléctrica Corporación based in the South American country. 

At issue is not only the privatisation of profitable public enterprises all over Southern Europe, complemented by the nationalisation of companies nearing collapse, such as Bankia in Spain. The above examples amply demonstrate that it is no longer necessary to “provincialise Europe”, as the pioneers of post-colonial studies had recommended, because Europe is doing an excellent job provincialising itself! 

As the internal squabbles among EU members continue and as the crisis becomes more protracted in the absence of systemic reforms and regulation overhauls, Europe risks losing its position of a power centre in a multi-polar world. The zero-sum mentality of the still prospering European states blinds them to the fact that if the countries on the periphery are demoted to the status of second-class members in the Union, the entire continent will be dragged down along with them. 

From a dominant colonial centre, Europe is quickly turning not into an equal partner of Asia and of the states it had colonised in the past, but into their subservient outgrowth. 

The movements of capital are also mirrored by the trajectories of human migration. Emigration from Portugal to Brazil and Angola skyrocketed in the last few years: between 2009 and 2010 alone, there has been an increase of 60,000 in the number of Portuguese citizens registered at consulates in Brazil. 

The number of people, who emigrated from Spain in the first six months of 2012, saw a 44 percent increase, compared to the same period in the previous year. Although 86 percent of these were naturalised Spanish immigrants born overseas, who decided to return to their home countries in Latin America where economic conditions are improving, a majority of Spaniards have expressed their willingness to live abroad, if work opportunities there presented themselves. 

From the post-colonial point of view, Europe indeed requires a healthy dose of marginalisation, which would act as a remedy against the centuries-old Eurocentric prejudice and claims to cultural superiority. But, before celebrating this “turning of the tables” on the former colonisers, it would be prudent to ask whether a qualitative shift has really taken place. 

As the post-colonial era was ushered in, the promise of a more just economic arrangement was far from realised. National capitals simply changed hands from the colonisers to small local elites, often with close family and other ties to the metropole. The vast majority of the populations in the post-colony were denied better standards of living, whilst the natural resources of the newly created countries continued to serve private ends. 

The EU crisis is presenting a distinct opportunity for key players in the emerging economies to purchase public (and quite successful) European companies at relatively low prices. Coupled with the exacerbation of the internal inequalities between the centre and the periphery of the EU, the completion of decolonisation threatens to pass, seamlessly, into a reverse colonisation by purely economic means. 

A weakened, marginalised Europe, however, does not correspond either to the best interests of its citizens or to the stability of a multi-polar global political order. Although a paradigm shift toward the decentring of the European collective consciousness is to be welcomed, this change should be accompanied by a continued insistence on the universally binding ideals of social and economic justice historically championed by continental thinkers and political movements. 

Michael Marder is Ikerbasque Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country, Vitoria-Gasteiz. He is the author of books and articles in phenomenology, political philosophy and environmental thought. His most recent monograph is Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life. His website is here