BELGIUM – BRUSSELS – 2017 marks a decade since the 2007 financial crisis hit the subprime mortgage in the US, escalating to a global banking crisis in 2008. The countries that entered the electoral cycle in 2008-2009 found themselves in a difficult position of adjusting their political rhetoric to the 21st century austerity pact.
The Eurozone’s most dramatic member state had to be Greece – the only country that is under an “economical adjustment programme” for a champion duration of seven years, since fellow euro area member states and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have started helping Greece to cope with its financial difficulties and economic challenges since May 2010.
It was Germany’s electoral cycle at the time that Greece had to respect, just like an emergency trauma patient waits for treatment at an overcrowded hospital on a public holiday. The patient was treated for the new eurozone epidemic and special medicine such as the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM), which were replaced by their 2.0 version, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the eurozone’s permanent “bailout firewall”.
It took several Eurogroup meetings to fix the new medicine’s formula, while all institutions that were curing troubled eurozone countries were proposing structural reforms as measures that would assist member states to address economic imbalances, tackle social challenges on a “sur mesure” basis.
Member states that came out fresh from elections had to immediately adopt programmes that would lead a part of the society to more austerity, in order to guarantee a more secure future. This is easier to be said than done and even more difficult to explain to people who saw their pensions and wages dropping, through media reports on TV and the internet.
A group of finance ministers did decide for each member state’s “fate” in a setting that was different from each member state’s elected national parliament. The Council of the European Union hosts numerous meetings at a ministerial level that decide on a broad policy agenda, but this did not have to be explained to such an extent before by the media.
Being unable to understand how the EU decision-making tools were working, member states’ journalists were many times unable to understand the mechanism that was traversing the bailout programme. Even being based in Brussels did not always guarantee that a journalist understands or reports the European perspective of things.
So what do they do? They ask for an immediate reaction, a comment, that will make their newspaper happy, as this will either prove that the member state acts accordingly, or a spokesperson will gain instant authority and slam the member state government and parliament through the podium. But even then, this comment may be a really premature reaction of an institution to the vote of a huge bill with tonnes of amendments or a diagonal read of a checklist of reforms, which will almost never be revisited.
Times are then even shorter than a plenary sitting at a national parliament. There is no time for the media to wait to assess the vote, as the translation of the voted bill takes time and news is digested fresh and lively, just like sushi. Dull, brownish tuna remains untouched in the fridge the day after.
But problems are not like sushi, as they resemble more slow-cooking meals. Journalists are asked to serve a five-course meal, while the entrees are just being marinated. Hungry bosses wait for clicks on “newswire” time, but then ask for something more than the tiny news bite that a good reporter would be confident to publish immediately.
National newswires with far less resources than AP, Reuters, and Financial Times end up covering just the surface of the events – an intro to stick another 500 words of local propaganda or an email from the Prime Minister’s office. It is a new type of info that rarely undergoes fact-checking, but is instead sprinkled with clichéd prejudices that form a new type of people.
Societies under crisis always tend to violently politicise citizens, but now things are different. News is not even sushi-like but resembles post-crisis €1 bargain fast food cheeseburgers. Affordable, addictive and cheezy. This is easier for journalists as well, as they quit writing anti-commercial reports on assessing the fast-tracked bill that passed through parliament last week, last month, last year, whenever.
So is there a real problem? Yes. A slower one, invisible in headlines. Just as a seismic creep causes slow and permanent damage at the earth’s crust, while at the same time an earthquake event would break the crust in seconds.
On the contrary, slow disasters’ permanent damage is not always evident, but requires time and patience from the societies in order to be addressed. It is always harder and can be neither pleasant nor interesting. It may last for years, a long and fistful wait for troubled member states’ governments that struggle to stay in power.
The media constantly fail to track changes over time, as all reforms are rarely tracked over time, but it is not just the media, it is everyone. The European Commission’s instruments ability to assess is a brilliant example. “Urgency and political uncertainty may explain the lack of critical analysis underlying the establishment of the Task Force for Greece,” writes the European Court of Auditors evaluation report of the European Commission’s technical assistance programme, that was successfully delivered – boxes were ticked on behalf of the Commission – but “it did not always influence the progress of reforms,” the report adds.
From a national perspective, this task force was demonised from the onset, while details of the assessment never went public, allowing politicians to enter into some kind of monologue, while the deification of half measures and minimal effort keep societies trapped in illusions that feed populism, extremism and radicalisation.
Slow problems continue eroding societies that are still unable to understand their extent and address them as they should, while all sides, governments, opposition, media and citizens are better off broadcasting “easier” content via Facebook, rather than honestly assessing their post-crisis future.