Contribution of Panagiotis Sotiris in the event “Crisis and the European Union” organised by Antarsya UK

The Left and the European Union: On the need for an anti-euro and anti-EU position.

(presentation at ANTARSYA UK meeting March 29, 2014)

 

Panagiotis Sotiris

psot@soc.aegean.gr

 

What has been happening in Greece, since the beginning of the austerity packages in 2010 can only be described in terms of a giant experiment in neoliberal social engineering. In terms of magnitude and scope it well surpasses the effects of the notorious IMF ‘structural adjustment programs’, especially if we take into consideration that all these take place within the context of a European liberal democracy and not some Latin America military dictatorship of the 1970s. One might say that it is the European Union’s attempt to prove that it can be more efficient in implementing violent austerity programmes than the IMF.

 

Greek economy has suffered a cumulative contraction of almost 25%, a major economic recession that can only compared to the Great Depression of the 1930s or to the consequences of major warfare. The official rate of unemployment is close to 28% – in reality it is bigger and there a large number of employees who are not paid regularly – with youth unemployment at 60%, a situation of a ‘lost generation’, with a haemorrhage of more than 100,000 young university graduates who have migrated abroad to find work. The average reduction of real wages well exceeds 25%, and in many sectors is even bigger. The dismantling of the public health infrastructure – the last measure being the temporary shutdown of all public primary health facilities except hospitals -along with the health effects of increased insecurity and socio-economic stress have already created the conditions of a humanitarian crisis. A complete pillage of public assets is under way, accompanied by complete disregard for environmental concerns, exemplified in the disastrous projects for gold-mining in the Chalkidiki region, which have been facing the heroic struggle of local inhabitants. On 30 March yet another set of sweeping changes  In the new European architecture Greece is pushed more towards sectors like tourism and renewable energy rather than high value-added sectors.

 

The Greek experiment has also been an exercise in the erosion of popular sovereignty. In all aspects Greece is a country of reduced sovereignty. The representatives of the so called ‘Troika’ (EU – IMF – ECB) actually dictate measures in the name of ‘market liberalization’ and ‘competitiveness’ and no legislative initiative of the Greek government can be initiated without the explicit approval of the Troika representatives. The execution of the Greek budget and the tax collection process are closely monitored by the Troika officials. Without Troika approval Greece cannot receive the next part of the loans agreed with its creditors, thus the Troika actually controls the financial lifeline of a country.

 

However, this is not an exceptional case. Greece represents the extreme social violence but also the deep crisis of the European Integration Process and in particular the crisis of the Eurozone. Austerity in all its forms is the main item in the political agenda in most European countries. The millions that marched in Spain ‘for dignity’ were struggling exactly against the austerity policies imposed as part of the provisions of the European treaties and in exchange for ESM and EFSF bailouts. Portugal has suffered enormously under the EU-imposed programs and the cost of the Irish crisis has also been enormous. In Italy, ever since the Monti government, austerity packages have been imposed as part of an attempt to remain within European Union norms. Part of the anger and discontent expressed in the French municipal elections is exactly the result of austerity packages designed to keep France at the core of the Eurozone and of a growing disillusionment with the ‘European Project’.

 

Moreover, such measures will soon be the rule all over Europe. The current proposals of a ‘European economic governance’, the fact that there are already in place restrictions (and penalty mechanisms) regarding budget deficits (through the terms of the ‘Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance’), and the plans for a Banking Union that would eliminate all forms of national control upon the banking system, all these attest to the undemocratic character of the European project. In reality a hybrid between intergovernmental coordination and co-federalism, it is nevertheless based upon an undemocratic conception of a ‘constitutionalism’ without democratic legitimacy. This is in favour of the forces of capital all over Europe, since it offers the promise of getting rid of whatever gains the labour movement still had and at the same time of guarantying the prerogatives of multinational capital. Moreover, the complex institutional architecture of the European Union means that apart from forms of ‘deliberation’ without much weight, the decision process is tightly insulated against any intervention from social movements and the demands of the subaltern classes.  

 

Today, it is impossible for anyone to claim that criticism of the euro, and the entire financial, monetary, and political architecture of the euro-zone, is unjustified. On the contrary, we can say that the euro represents neither prosperity nor stability. On the one hand, the introduction of the euro, as a single currency, creates something similar to Max Weber’s ‘iron cage’ of capitalist modernization. The governments, even of less competitive national economies, decided to surrender their monetary sovereignty, in order to take advantage of the constant competitive pressure for restructuring and neoliberal reforms. On the other hand, the euro created the conditions for a new form of imperialist hegemony within Europe. The single currency was an advantage for the leading economies of Europe, and in particular Germany, since it offered not only currency stability and a broad space for exports and investment, but also the extra advantage of a constant competitive devaluation against less competitive peripheral economies.

 

In this sense, we can say that the imbalances of the euro as a single currency are structural and inherent to the project from the beginning. During periods of relative stability, these imbalances could be tolerated, especially since even peripheral elites could profit from cheaper credit and imports fuelling debt-driven consumerism and real estate bubbles. But during a period of crisis and recession these imbalances could become destabilizing, especially since less competitive economies were lacking crucial economic policy tools, because of the strict terms imposed upon them by the European treaties. In this sense the Greek crisis or the crisis in other countries of the European South is not a simple manifestation of the global economic crisis, nor the product of national particularities (exemplified in the almost racist stereotypes regarding ‘lazy’ Greeks or Spaniards); it is also, the direct result of the crisis of the Eurozone.

 

Despite the continuous efforts by EU propagandists to present it as a paragon of democracy and human rights, in reality the EU is becoming increasingly authoritarian, racist and imperialist. Apart from the constant erosion of popular sovereignty already discussed, we have the institutionalized racism of European anti-immigration policies. The official policy of ‘discouraging’ immigrants from arriving to Europe, is in reality a policy that in a conscious and planned manner leads to the repetition of tragedies such as the one at Lampedusa, at Farmakonisi etc.

 

At the same time, the ‘foreign policy’ of the European Union also represents the openly imperialist character of the ‘European Project’. For the full support to the aggression against Yugoslavia to the current plans for military interventions in Central Africa and the open support for reactionary and fascist elements in Ukraine, the European Union never stood for peace or the rights of people.

 

In light of the above, it is obvious that we need to get out of the vicious circle of austerity, recession and unemployment. We need a program of radical – and at the same time urgent – measures to fight social devastation, a program that requires a strategy of an exit from the Eurozone and of a rupture with the European Union.

  • The necessary immediate stoppage of debt payments and the annulment of debt implies a break with the European Union, which is now of the main creditors of Greece and the same goes with getting rid of the entire series of neoliberal laws dictated in the terms of the loan agreements.
  • There can be no increase in public spending and no social protection against the systemic violence of international capital flows without an immediate exit from the Eurozone and regaining monetary sovereignty.
  • Necessary immediate measures such as the nationalization and placement under democratic social control of the banking system and strategic enterprises, imply disobeying European treaties and regulations. Consequently, it is more than obvious that there can be no radical, progressive or socialist alternative within the economic and political constraints and limits imposed by the European Union.

 

Therefore a rupture with the monetary architecture of the Eurozone and with the institutional framework of the European Union in general, is also a necessary democratic step, an attempt towards reclaiming popular sovereignty as a process of collective ‘social self-determination’ by a broad alliance of workers and other popular strata.

 

At the same time such a process can open up the way to think about a new socialist perspective, an alternative ‘social paradigm’ in sharp contrast to the logic of the market and capital. This should be conceived in terms of an experimentation with forms of worker’s control, self-management, non-commercial distribution networks, and democratic planning, based upon the experience and collective ingenuity of people in struggle.

 

However, there are many on the Left that insist that ‘European Integration’ is a an objective and irreversible historical process that offers no possible strategy for the Left other than trying to ‘change it from within’ through a change of balance of forces in favour of progressive politics.

 

This has been the main political line of the Party of the European Left and the parties associated with it or of theorists such as Toni Negri and Sandro Mezzandra who in a recent public intervention insisted on the process of European integration being ‘well beyond the threshold of irreversibility’. One is tempted to compare this position to that of many socialists at the turn of the 20th century insisted on the irreversible and even progressive character of colonial imperialism. It is obvious that what is missing here, is a serious discussion of both the actual economic, political and institutional configuration of the European Union, and in particular of the monetary and economic architecture of the Eurozone, and of the fact that we are dealing with class strategies and not ‘objective’ tendencies.

 

At the same time, there has been a great debate in the European Left regarding this strategy of an exit from the Eurozone and potentially the European Union. Many have accused this strategy of being ‘nationalist’, ‘chauvinist’, or as ‘aiming at increased economic competition’. Nothing is further from the truth.

 

To take the Greek case as an example, such a strategy is not a strategy for increased competitiveness of the Greek economy through devaluation and increased exports. Necessary measures such as correcting the exchange rate are about protecting Greek society from the systemic violence inherent in international capital and commodity flows. It has nothing to do with a cycle of competitive devaluations against other countries of the European South. We know, from the experience of the Euro, but also from other systems of fixed exchange rates (such as dollar-pegging) that a single currency always leads to real wage reductions, austerity measures, privatisations and constant pressure for neoliberal reforms in the name of responding to competitive pressures. Exiting such monetary configurations is not a strategy for ‘isolation’, but a necessary defence against aggressive capitalist policies. Moreover, it would a mistake to accept, in the name of ‘internationalism’, the current form of capitalist internationalization of production, where a product has to travel around the world, go through ‘social dumping’ areas and ‘special economic zones’ and have a negative environmental impact, in order to arrive to our market place. Aren’t locality, environmental protection, relative self-sufficiency, crucial aspects of any potential anti-capitalist alternative?

 

The usual response to these questions from a large part of the European Left, both ‘reformist’ and ‘anticapitalist’, has been that at the European level, through coordinated struggles, it is more easy to have successful struggles and victorious movements. However, the obvious question is: Why is it easier at the European level, with 28 different countries, with different traditions of left-wing and radical politics and different levels of organization of the workers’ movement, with different national economic and social conjunctures, than at the national level, where one can think of particular countries having such a condensation of contradictions and such a dynamic of social contestation, protest and mobilization that could turn them into potential ‘weak links in the chain’?

 

It would be wrong today to identify internationalism with offering our consent to an aggressive neoliberal and imperialist project. Moreover, we must never forget that European integration is a class strategy from the part of capitalist elites, thus there’s no point in fatalistic and deterministic references to its irreversible character. Especially, since such an insistence to the inevitability of European integration can lead to crucial shifts in political direction. It can easily lead to the shift from an initial position from a ‘radical’ position in favour of the ‘dissolution of EU’ through pan-European anti-capitalist struggle to a more ‘realist’ position in favour of ‘another Europe’ and ‘another EU’ without neo-liberalism and democratic deficit, with a ECB aiming at solidarity, with redistribution of funding etc. But his ‘good’ EU cannot exist. One should always remember the refutation of the ‘ontological argument’ regarding the existence of God: the fact that we can think about something or imagine it, does not mean it can actually exist.

 

Today one of the problems of the Left in Europe is exactly its obsessive Europeanism, its refusal to even think about a potential rupture with the ‘European integration’ process. One can witness this problem in the limits of SYRIZA’s strategy in Greece. Taking all the constraints imposed by the Eurozone and the EU as granted does not leave much space for radical politics, other that the demand for a renegotiation of the terms of the loan agreement towards some form of ‘austerity with a human face’ or the demand of a ‘Marshall Plan’ for Europe. In the past months we have seen SYRIZA moving constantly to the right, declaring that once in government they will repay the greater part of the debt after renegotiation and that they will remain within the euro at all costs (abandoning their official position of “no sacrifice for the euro”), trying to forge links with big banks and big business. It is more than obvious that such positions will not lead to the ‘renegotiation’ the SYRIZA leadership is hoping for, but to even more pressure from the part of the EU and the Troika for more austerity measures. The problem with the SYRIZA leadership is not that they are ‘ left reformists’ in the sense that they are not militant enough or in the sense that they opt for a gradualist approach. The problem is that they refuse the necessary political and social rupture with ‘European Union’ as the condensation of bourgeois strategy.

 

Such a refusal to articulate a political line against the European Union, leaves open a crucial space for the Far-Right to project her own reactionary version of ‘euroscepticism’. Despite, the growing resentment of great segments of European societies against the neoliberal, undemocratic and aggressive character of the European Union, despite the increased hostility against the euro as a single currency, despite the growing disbelief against the EU as such, most parties of the European Left make no particular effort to transform these feelings in a anti-EU, anticapitalist, progressive discourse. Consequently, a political void is created which the Far-Right is currently trying to fill. The necessary ‘Euroscepticism of the Left’ is not there, at the time when it is most urgently needed. In contrast, most parties of the European Party of the Left, but also many anticapitalist tendencies, refuse to take position upon such a crucial question. The French case exemplifies this problem: the refusal of the Left, especially from the part of the French Communist Party, to think in terms of a rupture with the euro and the EU, has made the Far-Right, reactionary (and pro-business) National Front to seem like the only euroscepticist political force.

 

Therefore it is urgent that we open up the debate within the European Left and the collective elaboration of a potential radical anti-euro and anti-EU alternative. Hopefully there are signs that segments of the Left are abandoning their obsessive Europeanism. In France both within the Front de Gauche (Left Front) and the NPA (New Anticapitalist Party) there are voices calling for a strategy of rupture with the European Union. In Greece, not only ANTARSYA, the Front of the Anticapitalist Left and other radical groups, but also the ‘Left Platform’ within SYRIZA have insisted upon a strategy for the Greek exit from the Eurozone and potentially the EU. In Cyprus, even AKEL is slowly changing its position after the disastrous experience of 2013. In Germany, there many voices within Die Linke that criticize the single currency. In Britain, there are still many voices on the Left that insist on a anti-EU position.

 

However wrong it would be to consider the exit from the Eurozone and potentially the EU as a panacea for all social problems, it would be equally wrong to underestimate the importance of such questions. Anticapitalism can never be abstract. It should always be expressed and concretised in particular questions and challenges.

 

Today, within the European Left, the question of the position vis-à-vis the Eurozone and the European Union draws a necessary line of demarcation. Moreover, as the history of the worker’s movement shows, questions that have to do with the articulation between struggles at the national level and the configuration of the international system, always act like points of condensation of contradictions and like litmus tests for the ability of the Left to be really antagonistic to capitalist strategy.

 

At the same time, trying to envisage this kind of alternative, not only in terms of ‘catch-phrases’ about ‘workers’ power’ but in terms of the articulation of a narrative that could be antagonistic to the dominant neoliberal discourse, requires exactly a confrontation with the problems and strategic aporias of most tendencies of the contemporary Left. It requires

  • The articulation of the program (and the basic lines of demarcation such debt annulment, exit from the euro and the EU, nationalizations, redistribution of income, implementation of forms of democratic social control etc)  into concrete radical proposals that take into consideration the experience and knowledge coming from the movements.
  • The insistence on the escalation of struggles and a strategy of a ‘prolonged people’s war’, because it is impossible to have any political change without a strong movement from below, without a broad social and political alliance that is confident about its ability to wage victorious struggles. In contrast, a sense of defeat or powerlessness among the workers and other popular strata can only lead to fragmentation and an individualized fight for survival, a tendency that will undermine left-wing politics!
  • The confrontation with the open questions of revolutionary strategy and the need to elaborate on a strategy that could combine fighting government of the Left, based on the necessary transition programme, with forms of self-organization, self-management, workers’ control and solidarity from below as the contemporary version of a ‘dual power’ strategy.
  • The experimentation with new forms of political organization, beyond both the model of the anticapitalist sect and the electoral front without programmatic elaboration and democratic process, towards a redefinition of political parties and fronts as laboratories of mass critical political intellectuality, as learning process, and sites able to actually produce alternative narratives for societies.

 

Because today, at least in the ‘weak links of the chain’ such as Greece, the challenge is not resistance but hegemony. Faced with a severe crisis of hegemony, caused both by the crisis of neoliberalism and an impressive protest and contestation cycle of almost insurrectional character, a hegemonic crisis that cannot be disguised by the current cynical ultra-liberal ‘fuite en avant’ tactic adopted by European bourgeoisies, the challenge for the Left in each country is to attempt to forge a new historical bloc: the combination between a broad alliance of the subaltern classes, a radical program, and new forms of social and political organization. Refusing the ‘European Road’ and the ‘European Integration Project’, namely the main strategic choice of European bourgeoisies since the end of the WWII, is an indispensable aspect of any attempt towards a new socialist perspective for the 21st century.

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Contribution of Yiorgos Vassalos in the event “Crisis and the European Union” organised by Antarsya UK

Of all the imperialist centres, the global crisis of capitalism that started in 2008 hit harder the European Union. This is surely due to its very special institutional architecture but also due to the status of the Euro as a young currency that quickly ascended as the second global currency since 1999. Euro was the first global currency not backed by a specific powerful State but a hybrid organisation, the EU, which is something between a federation and an intergovernmental alliance; the Euro was not even backed by the entire EU, as you know very well here in Britain.

Financialisation and the extensive use of credit was globally the way capitalism chose to circumvent its last big crisis in the 70s and finance was the sphere in which the current crisis was triggered. But indebtedness in the EU had special characteristics, since during Euro’s first steps, starting in 2002, all member countries could borrow with almost the same interest rates as Germany. This served industrial and financial capital in the most industrialised EU nations but also the dominant classes in the internal periphery of the EU, since ruling classes could profitably shift from manufacturing to more services and transport-centered business. But in times of crisis access to cheap credit had to be cut while the question of who will finally pay the debts came to radically shake the institutional balance in the EU. Elites decided to save the broken “too big to fail” private banks socializing the losses of the financialised capitalists. Richer countries could bail out their banks with their own tax payers’ money (the UK, Germany, France, Belgium, etc.). But this was not the case for peripheral countries like Greece, Ireland, Spain, Cyprus, etc. Plus it was not only local banks that needed to be saved but also the banks of the economic core of the EU that had given big loans to these countries and would otherwise suffer big losses. Richest countries accepted to foot part of the bill of the poorer ones but only under the condition that democracy in these countries would get ridiculed and citizens’ control over decisions ruled out while transforming them into cheap labour camps.

The reaction of the EU in the crisis was to accelerate a movement towards a bureaucratic – autocratic federalisation with no democratic basis. This is the political tool needed to advance a triple recipe for overcoming of the crisis from the point of view of the ruling classes:

–          Reduce labour cost

–          Retain capitalist control over financial institutions

–          Relax protection of the environment and destroy welfare state in order to create new profitable markets for capital

EU economic governance

Since 2010, the EU started implementing a series of reforms in order to centralise economic policies in Brussels. New legislation like the Six Pack on economic governance – built on the text of a political agreement called the Pact for the Euro (2011) – was passed in 2012. The Six Pack did two things: 1) it made penalties to countries violating deficit limits much more automatic, thus providing a tool that can force member states into much more radical and quick cuts in welfare and public services. 2) It set a brand new framework of macroeconomic surveillance that gives Brussels the right to intervene in many economic policy fields. The most important tool is capping the evolution of labour unit cost in relation to the GDP. This should not increase by more than 9% for Euro Zone countries and 12% for non-Eurozone countries in three consecutive years. What is effectively banned through this rule is redistribution of the GDP from capital to labour through wages.

The Six Pack on economic governance was followed up by the Two Pack that actually obliges all member states to submit their draft budgets to the Commission and accept its amendments on them in case they are in excessive deficit (which is the case for the majority of member states).  So, the unelected bureaucracy of Brussels acquires one more tool to impose cuts. The Commission has also the right to ask members states in difficulty to request the Troika’s “help”. So, the ECB doesn’t need any more to threaten governments with cutting liquidity to their banks as it did in the cases of Portugal and Italy: the Commission can now formally ask a country to enter the mechanism, and the latter doesn’t have many margins to refuse.

With the most recent revision of the so-called EU cohesion funds, the EU can also freeze them if countries don’t follow the economic policy recommendations of the Commission. Cohesion funds are supposed to be a redistributive mechanism from richer to poorer countries, albeit still very marginal, since it concerns a very small percentage of GDP. In reality, they just offer more profitability opportunities for corporations without changing the structure of economies in a more sustainable direction. But even this tool is now put under economic policy conditionality.

The Treaty on Stability, Convergence and Economic Governance – which the UK luckily didn’t sign – obliges all countries to integrate a 0.5% structural deficit limit in their primary legislation and puts the EU Court of Justice as their watchdog. The next step EU leaders want to implement is the following:  the economic programs submitted every year by member states to the Commission, even before their draft budgets are there, would, once agreed with the Commission, take the form of a binding contract  whose violation may be sanctioned by the EU Court of Justice.

Since 2010, the EU imposed a de facto mechanism (first the EFSF then the ESM) to effectively subjugate elected governments and practically run itself their economic policies through the Troika.  In the meantime it put in place all this architecture described above that applies to all member states and secures Brussels’ primacy on socio-economic policies in the long term.

Now, it looks like the UK government doesn’t need the EU to impose cuts. But let’s say that you had the possibility to change the government if you wanted and you could through elections. Now, even for the UK the straightjacket of unit labour costs is there even if the tools to enforce it are not as strong as for Eurozone countries. In the latter, even if a political force of the radical left comes in power, which is highly probable with Syriza  in the next months, it would very difficult to follow pro-labour, pro-welfare state, pro-public investment expansionary policies without coming into an all-out conflict with the EU. Result: Syriza already affirms that it will not challenge the policy of striving for budget surplus, since its priority is to avoid in all-out conflict with the EU.

 

Banking Union

With this ambitious project the EU is now trying to respond to the question of who is paying for failing banks. But first of all it shields banks from the prospect of default or real nationalisation under democratic control.

When a bank is considered problematic by a special body of the ECB the following steps will be followed:

  1. Look for other banks that can take it over
  2. Save it through a bail-in of stakeholders and depositors including SMEs, professionals, public organisms and States. Big corporate players will de facto have more information and capacity to move their money out before the bail-in.
  3. National bail-out
  4. In case that’s not enough bail-out through the ESM.

I haven’t looked at the implications that this will have on the British “big 5” banks, but within the Eurozone this will certainly facilitate the concentration of the whole continental financial sector in a few German, or French banks and perhaps a few from a couple of other countries, which will be even bigger-to-fail. All decisions will be taken by an ECB body with each country voting according to its capital in the ESM. This gives 25% of votes to Germany and 21% to France, while 6 countries out of the 17 hold 85% of the voting rights.

Bail-in will probably be able to cover some of the failures of big banks in the core countries but it will certainly not be able to cover the ones in peripheral countries. So, tax payers will continue footing the bill one way or another. In around twelve years’ time a fund is supposed to be created through banks’ contributions that will be available for bail-outs, but that’s a very long time in an uncertain future.

Radically limiting the size of the speculative sphere which makes up the majority of banks’ assets would reduce the risk for banks (and the cost of eventual bail-outs), but EU legislators still try to find new ways to make the wage workers who are the ones contributing most to tax revenues to pay for the banks. Of course, nationalising under democratic control would be the best way to radically shrink the speculative bubble. But this would never cross the EU’s mind, unless as a bad dream.

Constitutionalism without democratic legitimacy: a new concept of sovereignty

The banking union is one of the manners with which wealthier nations acquire more institutional rights in governing the EU economy than the poorer ones.

Net contributors in cohesion funds and States with lower deficits enjoy an increased “moral” legitimacy to talk within the different European institutions. The size of the corporate sectors of each country in global markets also counts. Only countries with a bigger number of corporations having an important global role have a saying in, for instance, global trade policies and influence negotiations like the TTIP, which is right now underway.

W. Schäuble but also official Council documents say it clearly that national sovereignty is taken away. But the democratic sovereignty safeguarded by most constitutions is basically implemented at national level. What elements of democratic sovereignty do we have at EU level? If we are frank, we need to stop talking about what is called “the democratic deficit” in the EU jargon and say clearly that the political system of the EU is not a democratic one. Only one of the three institutions is elected and that’s the weakest one, the Parliament. The unelected, bureaucratic and corporate-dominated Commission has the monopoly of legislative initiative and the parliament has to negotiate its legislative amendments secretly with the Council of ministers, which is itself the field par excellence of secret diplomacy.

Citizens cannot change the individuals in the top of the EU institutions through elections and barely influence who will be appointed. The Lisbon Treaty rule according to which each political group has to present a candidate for the Commission’s presidency is a joke, since there’s no obligation for member states to name as president the head of the first political group but only “take elections results into account”. The European citizens’ initiative (ECI) provision according to which 1 million citizens in at least 7 countries can propose EU legislation has proven to be just a fig leaf. In the first successful ECI, unions and CSOs have gathered nearly 2 million signatures asking the EU to declare water a human right and stop Troika-led privatization plans. The Commission still refused to present a legislative initiative. The bitter reality is that citizens have no tools to influence EU policies. The EU leadership is even completely immune to street demonstrations and strikes contrary to what can be often observed in the national level.

Democratic control is simply not included in the elements determining the new “shared European sovereignty” that EU leaders have in mind. You can see it in their texts talking about how to achieve legitimacy. Democratic control is never mentioned – only discipline to laws that are not by the way adopted in a democratic way. A text of the ECB even states that since contracts can be enforced and intellectual property rights assured in a certain area, then political union is already there. From our part we can say that this is surely not a democratic political union.

For Antarsya, as a coalition of Marxist organisations, democracy is not something eternal and unchanged in time. Either it spreads to the economic sphere and changes class nature or it disappears going back to openly oligarchic forms. And this is what is happening now unless we manage to achieve big political changes in the age of revolts and revolutions that is opening ahead of us. The EU is the basic way in which the financialised corporate classes, the new form of the dominant bourgeoisies are organising their political oligarchy and autocracy in Europe. That doesn’t mean that dissolving the EU automatically improves the situation in any case, but it does mean that the EU should be seen as a weapon in the hands of the class enemy and not as something that can be reformed and taken over by subordinate classes.

Rights diminishing

There’s a sharp contrast between the new competences the EU has acquired for intervening into national socio-economic policies and its non-responsibility for the repercussions of these policies in human rights. Almost all articles of the European Social Charter and the Charter of Fundamental Rights have been violated in the Troika countries, especially in Greece: from the right to a full-time payment above the poverty line to collective negotiations and the right to strike. Civil rights like the freedom of assembly are constantly put into question. But there’s no institutional way to take action against these violations. According to article 7 of the Treaty on the European Union, a country that doesn’t respect fundamental rights can loose its voting rights but this provision has never been activated. Violations are a direct result of the implementation of EU programs but the EU just can’t be held accountable. Only national governments can, but are politically protected by the EU establishment on that respect.  The Commission is proposing a new pre-article 7 procedure on rule of law violations, in which it interprets the rule of law by excluding in practice human rights’ protection and examines exclusively whether justice is independent in a systemic way. As if formal independence of justice per se could guarantee the respect of human rights. In addition, even repeated cases are not enough to substantiate a violation, but  have to acquire the form of systemic dependence from executive power.

The EU will soon become member to the European Convention of Human Rights. Still, no one will be able to go against it in court. It will choose itself when to enter a conflict when a member state is accused and EU law is involved. In case it does, victims of violations will have to face both the member state in question and the EU in courts. The conclusion is that even the traditional bourgeois meaning of “rule of law”, including respect for human rights, is withered in the EU.

Corporate rule

Transnational corporations structurally influence all main EU institutions. They participate in expert groups of the European Commission making the drafts of EU legislation. Expert groups with the vast majority of their members representing corporate interests designed the Euro, the main lines of the Lisbon Agenda, which aimed to turn the EU into the most competitive economy in the world, and more. Corporate lobbyists are often the last people whom ministers see before entering important negotiations in the Council.  They even write parliamentary amendments to the Commission’s legislative proposals.

Among the twenty thousand lobbyists in Brussels there’s only one representing unions for every sixty representing corporations. The latter make up 70% of all lobbyists in Brussels. If the Commission has the “quasi-monopoly” of legislative proposal, they have the quasi-monopoly of influencing the Commission.

The impact of every piece of legislation to the competitiveness of corporations needs to be evaluated in impact assessments and any negative effects avoided. The European Round Table of industrialists is asking for a moratorium in the application of any legislation that is not favourable to the growth of corporate profits. Competitiveness is the 1st priority of the EU, carved in stone in the Treaties. And they clearly mean the global competitiveness of European corporations. This legitimises big business to have the first and last word in all legislation and policies prepared at EU level and implemented in the member states.

In the TTIP negotiations corporations are practically the only ones consulted and kept informed on the process. If the TTIP is adopted they will have the right to claim billions from states in private arbitrage courts.

Thus, it is clearly impossible to change the stated strategic aims and working culture of the EU institutions and make them serve society at large and working people.

The evolution of the relation of the EU with the Extreme Right and Fascists

A source of legitimisation for the EU has been that it was portrayed as a bulwark to the rise of “the two extremes” including the extreme right. In 2000 there was a big EU campaign against the participation of FPÖ to the Austrian government. This campaign failed. Ever since, many extreme right parties have participated in governments, including with the Social Democrats in Slovakia in 2006. In Greece in 2011 it was precisely the EU that imposed for the first time since the fall of the dictatorship the participation of a racist and anti-Semite party, LAOS, to the government which was not even necessary in order to have parliamentary majority.

Recent events in Ukraine provide the final proof that the EU is not going to fight the rise of the extreme right and even openly Nazi and Fascist political forces, but only fuel it. In its final stage, the Maidan movement took an armed form and Fascist parties clearly called the shots into it. The EU gave all its political support to the first government in Euro since the end of WW2 that includes around 7 openly Nazi ministers. It is of paramount importance that all Left organisations loudly call this government illegitimate. Bashing, in the same time, Putin’s authoritarianism shouldn’t be seen as a burden in doing so.

Within the EU the far right will increase its possibility of setting the agenda and continue to shifting political discourse to the right.

An internationalist rupture with the EU is necessary

Antarsya puts forward a program of cancelation of the Troika’s debt, nationalisaton of the financial system, energy, basic transport infrastructure and more under workers’ and democratic control. This is the only way to stop social disaster, guarantee dissent living standards for everybody, save public health and education. But we can’t do any of these without simultaneously issuing a new national currency, itself under democratic control. That means radically changing the current central bank model. That means immediately exiting the Euro. It also means not applying the bulk of EU Treaties and legislation. This will inevitably put us in an all-out conflict that can only result in the exit of Greece from the EU.

We think people shouldn’t be afraid of this prospect and that this is the way to go for all European countries. Different socio-economic conditions don’t allow the simultaneous construction of the political subject – the movement – that can overthrow current policies and install radical left governments based in popular movements in most EU countries. History also tells us that this has never happened. In the best case scenario change will be possible in a small groups of countries.

We need to break these weakest links of European capitalism and call other peoples to join us in demonstrating that a different policy is possible. We can then build – step by step – an alternative model of integration based on principles of working people solidarity and social emancipation.

We need to deny the propaganda that portrays all anti-EU positions as nationalist and reactionary. Border controls can be reinstalled for capital, but not for workers. Building an internationalist socialist alternative today necessarily goes through crushing the EU institutions and building an alternative model in Europe in rupture with them.


Event Discussion: Crisis and the European Union. Video Part 2


Event Discussion: Crisis and the European Union. Video Part 1