• What are we Arguing?

  • Von Gabi Zimmer | 30 Nov 12 | Posted under: Transformationsstrategien
  • The purpose of left politics is to encourage and convince people to work together in solidarity for their interests and for those of the underprivileged. Left politics tries democratically to reduce and solve political, social, ecological and global problems and improve citizens’ living conditions, especially those of the most socially excluded and disadvantaged. This is why left politics are people-centred and directed towards sustainable development – towards structural changes, towards new human priorities and paths of social development.

    What are these politics in the context of shaping the European Union from the left? What does it mean to stand consistently by the side of the weak? What is democratic, socialist, emancipatory and anti-capitalist in this context? With the European Union at the crossroads, the European left urgently needs to reach a unified understanding in order to intervene effectively

    1. The Left and “Europe”

    The issue of the European Union’s identity and boundaries is particularly tied up with the decision on Turkey’s possible EU membership, a problem that requieres a political solution. This decision can either be made democratically by starting with a responsible consideration of the sociopolitical consequences, or be based on power politics which considers only the impact on Europe’s global competitiveness and geopolitical influence. This issue is also relevant for the east, especially for the Ukraine, Belorussia, the Balkans and the states of the Mediterranean.

    According to Greek myth, Europa, Asian daughter of Agenor, King of Sidon, and of the daughter of Telephassa, who was in turn the daughter of the Nile god Neilos, was abducted from Phoenician territory and taken to Crete by Zeus, the father of the gods. It is the sharp boundary between Greek culture and Asian barbarity, Roman civilisation and eastern despotism, Christianity and Islam, the enlightened west and those left behind, which still today defines the distinction between the European “us” and the “others”.

    The European left is faced with the challenge of confronting the EU’s policy of drawing culturally-based borders by putting forward its own position on the territorial objectives of the Union’s expansion. Drawing a dividing line between cultures always means excluding people: Muslims, Jews, and Gypsies etc. An attempt to assert European values of freedom, diversity or rationality and enlightenment is the wrong approach. These ideas are not limited to Europe, but are the common heritage of all humanity.

    The model for the left should be a European Union in which everyone is able to live in dignity and coexist in solidarity and which also actively works to enable those outside the European Union to do the same.

    The left must confront all attempts at culturally justifying the European Union’s borders with one simple political question: what concrete sort of enlargement and what kinds of limiting of the Union will contribute to everyone being able to live their own lives in dignity and in mutual solidarity – in the community, regionally, in each state, in the European Union, in Europe and the world as a whole? The question of Turkey’s EU membership should therefore be answered on the basis of its beneficial or detrimental effect on the desired developments. Above all, there is a need for dialogue between citizens inside the EU and those from the states that wish to join.

    2. The Left and the European Union as a Political Domain

    In addressing political alternatives, the left is confronted with the question of whether to concentrate on developing its strategies primarily, or exclusively, in opposition to EU politics or, whether it can and should at the same time fight for influence at the EU-European level. It therefore must decide whether it sees and accepts the European Union as an entity that leaves room for politics and which can be positively influenced, or whether they see it largely as an obstacle to left politics.

    For the left, the European Union is an extraordinarily contradictory space in which to manoeuvre. In the context of European 20th century history, the banning of wars between the member states is a precious achievement which the left should never disregard. On the other hand, the European Union not only does not use its full potential democratically to solve political, social, ecological and global problems, but has at the same time itself frequently created and aggravated these problems and is continuing to do so. Since the 1980s this tendency has grown.

    Particularly in the core states of the EU and in the Scandinavian countries, the EU has caused citizens, and with them the left, to lose some of their power democratically to influence political activity. Above all, Europe imposes an elitist neoliberal policy. On the other hand, the EU creates significant openings for left politics. There are three possible directions for the left:

    First, a course of ”anti-EU policy“ could be pursued; secondly, a policy of partial re-nationalisation; or, finally, the EU could be used by the left as a space for political activity. Which political course will contribute most to social equality, freedom, democracy, sustainable development and peace? How can nationalism and neo-fascism best be fought?

    3. The Left and EU–European Integration

    In the political debate over the future of the European Union, those in power are arguing over whether the EU is more useful to them as a free trade zone or as an ecological and political union and global player. Here, the left is more than a third party witnessing the arguments put forward by others. The European Union has been shaped by a strong tendency to be a free-trade area. This tendency is strengthened further by an undifferentiated call for expansion. The EU’s wish to be a free-trade area is opposed by many on the left. However, this does not mean that they are unified in their approval of EU-European integration. Many consider it inevitable that EU-European integration will reinforce the tendency of the EU to become a player in neoliberal globalisation.

    Integration of EU member states is essential to unleashing and mobilizing the potential of the European Union democratically to solve social, ecological and global problems. This requires more than just national institutions and coordinated national policies. But what are the chances of this happening? Alternatively, would the left, by adopting a pro-European policy, play into the hands of those who wish to develop the EU as an imperial superpower?

    The consensus on the left is that European integration should not primarily be focused on achieving a single European market and should not be market dominated at all. Rather, Europe should become more social and fair, more united, and more democratic and ecological. But when it comes to the long term perspective the differences once again become clear. If a centralised supranational state is rejected by the left, there is still the question of whether the future European Union should be a union of states or a federation, and the issue of the dynamic development of the relationship between national state sovereignty and the sovereignty of the EU in the integration process.

    Federation, and activities that develop a political identity for EU citizens, has much to recommend itself. This would require clarifying how sovereignty rights will be distributed between the EU-European and national state levels in the next ten to fifteen years. Citizens must be able to know at any point in time who is responsible for which decisions and how they are able to influence these.

    It seems clear that citizens will be most likely to develop an EU identity if they have the experience of co-determining policies and if governing policies are oriented to their needs and the requirements of society. The sovereignty of the EU and its member states should therefore be defined as clearly as transparently as possible. There is a need clearly to list those areas over which nation states decide and those in which it makes sense to delegate responsibility to democratised European institutions. There is still no consensus on the left in this regard. There are also the issues of what the democratisation of the European Union might mean, if and how the European Parliament may be strengthened, what areas of competence the Commission should have, and what possibilities of democratic and active influence (including the introduction of legislation) should be granted to European players from civil society.

    4. The Left and the European Constitution

    Left protagonists must decide whether to completely reject the current draft of the European constitution absolutely and submit their own version, or to influence the present draft in order to effect changes (in particular by axing the stipulation of a neoliberal economic order and the militarization of the EU) and to make accepting or rejecting revisions dependent on the constitution’s provision of democratic flexibility for future evolution.

    The majority on the left surely agree that the current draft of the constitution needs to be rejected. Many on the left do not on general principle want a European constitution, because they reject the EU and/or, as a political minority, they do not wish to participate in the public debate and in the decision to create institutions.

    In the light of the hegemony of radical liberalism or neoliberalism, it is a central challenge for the left to fight for a democratic change of policy that transforms the developmental path on which our society is embarked. It is most important to prevent the obstacles to this strategic objective from becoming even greater in the debate on the current draft of the constitution.

    Most citizens hope that political minorities such as the left do not feel they have obdurately always to say no. They want the left to participate in a democratic and constructive way.

    Besides their demands for a referendum on the draft of the constitution in all EU member states, the left should become actively involved in ensuring that the future constitution of the European Union provides room for political change. A prerequisite of the constitution’s future flexibility is ensuring, in view of changing political majorities in the future, that different political tendencies can play a part in public affairs.

    The current draft of the constitution does not satisfy these criteria. In the economic and monetary chapter of the third part, this kind of flexibility is limited in favour of the “free market”. The European Union’s commitment to armament is destructive.

    The left should discuss fighting together to defeat the third part of the current draft of the constitution. The detailed political aims and parameters can be replaced with clear divisions of authority and codes of practice which enable different policies to be followed. The commitment to armament (Art. 41 I (3)) must be replaced by a clear prohibition of offensive warfare and a commitment to international law; the European Armaments Agency, already in operation before ratification of the constitution, must be abolished.

    5. The Left and the Core of Europe or: the EU of ”Varying Speeds“ and EU Expansion

    In the light of the changes described, the left has the option either of giving up the idea of integrating European countries into a globally responsible EU player or of thinking about specific forms of cooperation, which will initially remain limited to a few EU member states. This may well entail certain amount of “estrangement from Brussels”.

    The history of the European Union is composed of stages in which a few member states developed more or less intensive cooperation with one another, whereas other countries became members later. The question now is whether it is possible to use forms of individual close cooperation within the EU as an opportunity to solve problems democratically and socially in such a way as to prevent the emergence of “classes” of member states.

    The concept of a core Europe has as its aim the granting of rights based on the duration of EU membership and creating a distinction between privileged and discriminated member states. This is what the project of European unity calls into question. It would be different were a few countries and regions to develop special cooperation in individual areas in order better to solve concrete problems in the interest of their citizens and sustainable development. However, this cooperation should not be allowed to discriminate so as to benefit one side and disadvantage the other within the EU. Under no circumstances should this result in further militaristic impulses or an increase in competition.

    It is surely a consensus amongst the left that the citizens in the new as well as in the old member states should both gain from expansion. “Gaining“ here refers to solving people’s everyday social and political problems and those of society as a whole.

    Citizens of the lower and middle social groups will only profit from entry into the EU if member and newly entering states have introduced or are implementing reforms that are socially fair. Part of this is the redistribution of income and wealth from top to bottom, with the fight against poverty, social exclusion and social division being a priority. Here, the question is where the ”top“ ends, what can be expected of the ”middle“ and what consequences this redistribution will have for economic development. There are arguments within the left over these issues, especially as the fight for a social middle-bottom alliance is on the political agenda in many countries as well as in the European Union.

    6. The Left and the European Union as a Force for Peace

    The militarisation of the EU requires the left to confront the relationship between the EU and the UN and to take a position on the UN-Charter. They can reject the UN Charter on the basis of its history and the current balance of power or they can become involved in making the EU and UN aware of their responsibilities in the current world order and take steps to make these institutions operate more fairly.

    The left is in agreement that the European Union should be a global power for peace, but disagrees on the notion of “power” when this refers to the military potential of EU member states and of the Union.

    There is a solid consensus that EU policies are becoming increasingly militarised, that rapid deployment forces – so-called Battle Groups – are being held at the ready for service worldwide and that increasing military expenditure in the EU is irresponsible and should not be tolerated. There is also a unanimous rejection of the growing single European market for munitions and the increasing export of weapons which intensify conflicts, and which are then themselves used to legitimise peace missions and military intervention.

    Not all who consider themselves to be on the left think the following are responsible alternatives: taking steps towards disarmament to make the EU structurally incapable of waging offensive warfare; disbanding the EU-Battle Groups and the European Armaments or ”Defence Agency“; ending EU military deployment; imposing a stop on the European Security Strategy (ESS); using the weight of the EU to solve international interstate conflicts between and in third countries exclusively in a diplomatic and political way; pursuing a development aid policy intended to help the countries in the global south develop their own potential, and thereby contribute to overcoming conflicts and securing the provision of energy and raw materials in Europe under fair conditions; not providing financial support for military shadow budgets and not paying for EU military missions with of EU development aid funds.; strengthening the UN and being committed to its reforms. If the EU is to be developed as a power for peace then it must take on the responsibility for a world order which is considered legitimate, above all by implementing the UN Charter. Due to their early history and the existing power relations, international law and the UN Charter are often rejected in left discussions as ”US weighted“ or ”imperialistically dominated”.

    Taking responsibility for world order and the UN Charter would, however, mean establishing and justifying military power and the ends to which it is used. Here there are different attitudes towards the ability to act responsibly and the role of the EU as a global player.

    It is highly problematic when leftists assert the need of the European Union to develop military power in order to provide a counterforce to US hegemony, protect the EU from terrorist attacks, when necessary anticipate them and solve military conflicts outside its territory. This sort of thinking does not make the EU and the world a safer place. Neither will these become any safer if there is a call to maintain national armies instead of concentrating efforts on developing a non-offensive EU-European army.

    7. The Left and Asylum Law, the Left and Immigration

    Increasing immigration poses the question for the left of whether it should react with a demand for open borders (usually in reaction to growing xenophobia and violence), or whether it should demand that asylum and immigration be controlled in such a way that restricts immigration to those groups where integration and an improvement in welfare are most likely.

    There is disagreement within the left about adopting a collective refugee and immigration policy that opens the borders of the European Union to people in need and that grants them the possibility of leading their own lives under humane and dignified conditions.

    In left discussions, the following position predominates: the European Union must revolutionise its immigration policy. Its most urgent concern should be to protect or restore the human dignity of immigrants. Priorities must therefore be: an effective and humane immigration policy for immigrants, opening up new paths of legal immigration, fighting human trafficking and illegal employment. Procedures of identity control should take a few days at most and should not take place in reception camps. Every member state should implement national asylum laws in accordance with international agreements and with the highest human rights standards.

    The first step to legal immigration is legalising people’s residence in the EU starting on the day of the deadline. A work and residence permit should also be introduced. The phenomenon of illegal immigration could in this way be combatted and with it the illegal trafficking of immigrants and the plans of those who profit from it. It is in the interest of the immigrants to undergo an official identification process in order to obtain a work permit.

    After their arrival in the EU, many immigrants are only able to secure their livelihood by taking up illegal employment. Present immigration policy abets the illegal employment market and promotes the sinking of wages. Reducing the inequality of working conditions would therefore at the same time also benefit European employees.

    The way foreigners are perceived by the EU-European population is strongly influenced by a repressive immigration policy. As long as immigrants are seen as illegal, there will be no basis for real social integration. A constructive and successful immigration policy assumes a broad and concrete acknowledgement of the social, political and cultural rights of citizens. Citizenship should not be dependent on nationality, but on residence.

    8. The Left and the Working Out of Alternatives – A Personal Commentary on the Current Debates and Positions Within the Left

    The question is whether or not one considers oneself a member of society, whether to make one’s personal position within society the basis of policies, whether to tailor these to a concrete implementation of citizens’ and human rights and thereby make societal institutions the main emphasis of one’s own politics.

    It is particularly the work being done on the ”Charter of Principles for Another Europe“ that reveals one of the above-mentioned points of dispute. Particularly problematic is the fact that many on the left tend to be unaware of, and not to reflect on, public debates over EU-European policies which influence the thinking and behaviour of millions of people. In addition, they tend to fasten on concepts emerging from these debates, e. g. “values and identities”, and use them uncritically.

    This is often reflected in an instrumental treatment of human and citizens’ rights, even though the political opposition is often, quite rightly, accused of such treatment. A particularly complicated example of this is the demand for a multicultural life without a consistent regard for individual civil liberties.

    The left should never mistake a tolerance and respect for other cultures and cultural identities with the tolerance of culturally justified oppression of people and violence against women, children and those with different attitudes and lifestyles.

    Equally dangerous are the more or less carelessly expressed demands for the self-determination of ethnic minorities which mistake the individual right for a self-determined life with the right to ethnically justified privileges, discrimination and even changes of borders.

    Necessary and therefore politically correct as it may be for the left to oppose the discrimination of people, in particular those of an ethnic minority or immigrant background, it is nevertheless equally erroneous to ignore discrimination within these immigrant societies.

    The demands for autonomy of areas with a high proportion of ethnic minorities may not necessarily and automatically comply with the majority interests of this ethnic minority, or lead to greater cultural wealth and solidarity in society. The right to self-determination of national minorities should never be interpreted or articulated by the left to legitimise the oppression and discrimination of individuals and least of all the right to the use of terrorist violence and to change state borders.

    On the one hand, the left’s penchant for simple solutions and its ignorance of problems becomes apparent in the tendency to think of Europe as the Europe of the fatherlands and/or the ethnic groups instead of the Europe of the people. It also becomes apparent in the marginalization of social rights, the problems of particular groups such as people with disabilities, in the avoidance of concrete problem solving and political strategies, as well as in the ignorance of the issues involved in shaping societal and political institutions.

    At the same time, the left is quite right to lament the democratic deficit of the European Union and in particular the dominant role of the markets, above all the emphasis of current policies on winning positions in the world market. In the European Union different left parties, together with many other political forces and non-governmental organisations, have always been involved in repairing the democratic deficit of the EU and strengthening its democratic legitimative basis. They advocate that at the European Union level the principle of division of power be enforced, the exertion of parliamentary influence and control be secured and above all that the direct participation of citizens in the European decision-making process be encouraged.

    Much as they criticise and reject the current draft of the constitution, they welcome the inclusion of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the introduction of European citizens’ initiatives, the principle of participatory democracy, the development of the European Parliament’s areas of legislative authority and the commitment of the Council of Ministers to public legislation, the improvement of the subsidiarity principle and the strengthening of the rights of participation and control of national parliaments.

    They do not at all accept the near total lack of parliamentary influence and control over the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), and in particular the Common European Security and Defence Policy (CFSDP). In rejecting the use of military violence to solve conflicts, they consider it unacceptable that even the military deployment of EU response forces does not require parliamentary approval.

    Left parties and many individuals on the left think it indispensable that non-governmental organisations, citizens’ initiatives, trade unions and other societal forces and organisations be included in the planning processes and the decision-making activities of EU institutions. The economic and social committee, with its advisory status that, according to law, must be heard prior to the legislative process, should in their opinion remain an important instrument of civil society.

    In the opinion of many on the left, regulations governing European Parliament election are far from adequate. It is particularly important that the European Parliament be elected in all EU member states uniformly on the basis of proportional representation and without restrictive clauses. The right to vote in the European elections should not continue to be restricted to Union citizens. It is not acceptable that people from third states who have been living legally in the European Union for many years should be denied active and passive voting rights.

    Transparency of decision-making must be established for all EU institutions, authorities and agencies, especially the Council of Ministers. The increased outsourcing of EU administrative authority to European agencies that are equipped with decision-making powers is undemocratic and counterproductive. This further hinders the European Parliament’s political control.

    In the European Union decentralised administration must be encouraged.  Last but not least, this requires an increase of funding. Decentralised administration, however, should not lead to a reduction of supervision and legislation by the European Commission and to the abolition of the Commission’s political responsibilities. The European Ombudsman’s authority should also be expanded.

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