Brexit Would Leave Germany Stranded Against Freeloading South

If the UK leaves the European Union, the members of the free market camp in the EU would be severely outnumbered.

At a cafe in Athens
At a cafe in Athens
Dorothea Siems


MUNICH â€" The countdown for Britain's decision of whether or not to remain in the European Union is nearing its end. And it is not only the stock markets that are jittery. German business leaders are just as concerned. Fear that one of the strongest partners will leave the confederation of nations is quite unsettling. But beyond the turbulence on financial markets or the damper to trade and investments, the long-term consequences for Europe itself are even worse.

If Europe loses the central role played from Britain, with its cultural open-mindedness and liberal economic zeitgeist, chances of rising out its generation-long economic lethargy would be severely diminished. Those who favor a heavy state role, protectionists and labor unions would become a dominant power. The think tank Open Europe warns that the so-called Brexit would leave Germany and its like-minded Northern European partners unable to form a veto minority against such policies.

With that, hope would vanish that the EU would return to the path of economic growth in the foreseeable future and manage to catch up again with the U.S. and the rising Asian powers.

The EU in recent years has been a mix of good and bad news. On the one hand, you have the Northern European countries registering moderate growth, creating new jobs and embracing information and technological innovation. They profit from globalization, trust free trade and, if in doubt, have faith in the power of the market. On the other hand, you have the Southern European states that have been in deep crisis for the past six years, with debts growing ever larger as their industrial sectors shrink.

But it is not just economics that separates these two faces of Europe. It is about a willingness to change. Those who thought that the economic success of places like Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark could convince the Mediterranean countries to follow their example were severely disappointed.

But even inside of Germany, the power-sharing Social Democrats are giving the impression that the country has to deal with a social justice deficit due to an overdose of neo-liberal reforms. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is under enormous pressure at home and abroad to take advantage of the low interest rates to end austerity, take out more loans and increase the national debt. Somehow Germany is supposed to follow the example of France and Italy, not the other way around.

But where justice is in short supply is in states that deprive their youth a future by failing to reform the economy. More and more people in Spain, Greece and Italy are among the long-term unemployed. If you count the people who took advantage of early pensions or those who resignedly turned their back on the job market, you come to the conclusion that nearly every fifth person who is fit for gainful employment is chronically unemployed.

Reform or money?

The recent labor strikes in France show that the population does not want reforms, they want to trust the omnipotent state. And because France has significant debt they have decided to join Italy in promoting the idea of a general European unemployment insurance. They do not want Northern European suggestions on how to reform, they only want their money.

The British are thought to be a barrier to a far-reaching, wider European integration. But it is not only the people of the United Kingdom who have become skeptical in the face of Brussels' regulations of domestic markets. Even Germany, which has long supported an ever closer cooperation with Europe, is starting to doubt its stance. The German domestic banking sector, supported by the German middle class, is vehemently fighting against being held liable for supporting ailing institutions in other EU countries.

More and more family run businesses suspect that the disadvantages of trying to save Europe financially through reforms outweigh the advantages. Although the European Central Bank's policy of providing cheap money helps German exports, the cheap money policy increases the costs of promised company pensions.

The world will not come to an end should the British turn their backs on Europe. But it will become significantly more difficult for the economic liberal camp to exert its influence. Many net payers of EU contributions, such as Finland and the Netherlands, may turn their backs in frustration and follow the British example.

Beyond Brexit or No Brexit, the EU needs to change its ways. Brussels is regulating too many sectors that should be regulated by the individual states. Ultimately, Northern Europe cannot be the headmistress of Southern Europe. But it can't be its paymaster either.

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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