It is a rather realistic estimate which Reuters put at the beginning of its report on the meeting of the EU-Council: “Europe signs up to German-led fiscal pact. Chancellor Angela Merkel cemented her political ascendancy in Europe on Monday, when 25 out of 27 EU states agreed to a German-inspired pact for stricter budget discipline, even as they struggled to rekindle growth from the ashes of austerity.”
As repeatedly demonstrated, the fiscal package of European states obligates them to introduce a legally binding “debt brake” in their national legislature and sets budget deficits, respectively debts of states, under threat of automatised mechanisms of sanctions. This synchronised austerity politics of member states of the European Union, stipulated by the fiscal package, has recently been questioned even by the IMF-director, Christine Lagarde, as putting the global economy at risk.
Benefits and damages of this austerity politics, orchestrated by the EU-Commission, the Merkel/Sarkozy-Duo, and the ECB are unevenly distributed. In the midst of the debt crisis German exports of 2011 had reached – as announced at the beginning of February – a record high of 1060.1 Billion Euro (11.4% more than in the preceding year).
At the same time, within Germany itself, benefits and profits are concentrated to the highest possible degree. In this vein, Peter Loescher, head of the board of directors of the international German corporation Siemens, declared a record high of operative corporate results for the fiscal year 2011: “Siemens has a strong portfolio and stands for stability and confidence in troubled times.” The total sector’s profit climbed by 36% up to € 9.1 billion, income from continuing operations. That’s why major Trade Unions, ver.di and IGM are this year forwarding ambitious wage claims and are prepared for collective actions.
On the other side of the coin stand privatisation (expropriation)-programmes with drastic reductions of living standards which the “Troika” is pushing through in Greece: Lowering of minimal wages by more than 20 % in the private sector; a reactive cut in pension funds, the destruction of the collective bargaining system; mass layoffs in public services, and so on (see separate report).
In 2011, more than 20 general strikes, strikes in public services and mass demonstrations within a national setting have shown that in all parts of Europe resistance has grown against the destruction of our societies. The first weeks of the new year have seen general strikes in Belgium and again Greece as well as a demonstration of several hundred thousands of people in Portugal. On 29 February the European Trade Union Confederation has called to actions in all of Europe. On 29 March, a big demonstration is planned in Copenhagen on the occasion of the EU-Council. The increasing protest against austerity politics and the authoritarian turnaround in the EU will be expressed in the mobilisation for a spectacular protest action in front of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt planned for May this year.
But this does not sufficiently countervail the offensive of the neo-liberal regime. Energetic attempts of the Left, of Trade Unions, of social movements, and all political forces are needed in order to develop united struggles of a European dimension, and to give voice to existing convergences in relation to alternatives.
On 29 and 30 March, the 2nd edition of the Joint Social Conference, a concerted forum of representatives of large, militant unions, social movements, and NGOs will take place in Brussels. One of the themes under discussion will be the preparation of an Alternative Summit of Citizens of Europe in the fall of 2012. On 30 and 31 March, the Party of the European Left together with transform! europe is also inviting trade unionists, politicians, and activists to a gathering in which the idea of a big “Alternative Summit” will be discussed focussing on identifying the convergences in analyses and strategies of the different forces (programme, time table, place, and registration forms will be posted soon).
Both gatherings are inspired by the same idea: Europe needs another politics, which means also to review the institutions and treaties; not in the sense of a hardening of punitive neo-liberalism, but rather for reclaiming democracy. Alternatives exist. What is lacking today is a balance of power to implement these alternatives and devise political processes in order to bring back the European project on the track of democracy, social, and ecological progress. The alternative summit we call for will be a first step towards achieving these goals.