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Blog "Reflexiones exteriores"
On Periphery

​"Periphery" has become the standard way of referring to the countries of southern Europe who have suffered or have been close to undergo an intervention by the formerly called "troika", as a result of the Euro crisis (that is, as consequence of the effect of the global financial crisis, exacerbated in some European countries by the imbalances that deficiencies in the design of the Euro had caused in their economies).

​This seems friendlier than the previous PIGS nickname, concocted by the English language press, but is it?

First, it is doubtful that most of those now talking about the periphery are aware of the ideological connotation the expression contains. Center and periphery were two concepts coined by economists Raul Prebisch and Celso Furtado in the late 50´s, in the framework of the theory of Latin American structuralism (dependency theory), and were developed in the 60´s by ECLAC. "Center" in this model refers to the countries of the "North" that monopolize science, technology and advanced industry, and periphery to suppliers of raw materials, doomed to consume technology products form the Center and to be its debtor. As a remedy, Latin American structuralism called for a change in the terms of trade through, among other measures, a (protected) industrialization of the periphery.

Taking this tis conceptual framework as a basis, some explain the recent Euro crisis as a result of a “system”, the Euro, designed to serve the interests of  the "center", as an exporter of technological goods and a creditor, at the expense of the "periphery", disadvantaged in terms of trade (now renamed competitiveness), and consequently a debtor. However, today the word periphery is not commonly used in this vindictive sense, but has become part of a more conventional or orthodox narrative.

Within this narrative, to the geographic description of Europe, in which Germany would be at the center, an economic and political image is superimposed, where the southern countries would remain in the margins. This is further reinforced with an historical perspective by way of which the center would be formed by the founding countries of the European Communities, with two peripheries, east and south [but did European history begin in 1957?].
In this sense, the new center-periphery notion has an opposite connotation to the one used by ECLAC: it is not anymore an analytical tool to help change a reality perceived as unfair, but rather a self-proclaimed description of reality, supposedly without ideological connotations. In this sense the center-periphery binomial is not used as a vehicle for change, but to crystallize a reality presented as historical and therefore as enduring.

The great fallacy that this new duality entails is, therefore, that is suggests that the present economic and political power distribution in the EU is structural, thus ignoring the influence that the deficient form in which the Euro was conceived has had in the asymmetries that have surfaced. The reality, though, is that southern Europe is not economically or politically bound to be peripheral. On the contrary, it is going through an economic convergence process to which most of the affected countries are firmly committed, as  difficult and strewn with obstacles as it might be (obstacles that it would perhaps be interesting to analyze from a structuralist perspective). In this process it would be perhaps worthwhile to rescue the notion of cohesion, which has long been one of the hallmarks of the Union.

Politically, countries such as Spain and Italy are now among the strongest and sounder voices in favour of greater integration, a process that not even during the worst of the crisis has been seriously questioned in countries like Portugal, as has been indeed the case in other parts of our continent, considered to be more "central".

In any case, as far as Spain is concerned, for economic, political, historical and even philosophical reasons, whose development would require more space than is available here, it is clear that our country will never (again) be peripheral in the process of European integration. To the contrary, we are and will be central to any integration process worthy of this name. But it is also clear that the way the recent crisis and its consequences have unfolded require us to redouble our vigilance to make sure that this project does not push us back into any kind of periphery.


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