Within the left wing of the Left, there is much debate about Europe and the euro. Should we exit from the euro? Should we secede from the European Union? Many claim that any action within the Union is doomed to failure.
Some explain that from now on the only possible transformative strategy is one situated within the national framework. This is the position taken by the economist Frédéric Lordon in his recent book, La Malfaçon. I agree with the radical criticism of the Union made by many who represent these positions but I do not agree with the conclusions they draw.
1. The structure of Europe is the result of the Cold War. There is no need to discover the moon: It is by its very nature capitalist and liberal. It never ceased to be so. And, we should add, no European country has ceased being capitalist and liberal. Even in 1981 in France, when Pierre Mauroy’s government enacted considerable reforms in the spirit of a common left programme, François Mitterand and his associates stubbornly rejected what they then called ‘another policy’, that is, the open contesting of the dominant economic norms. The fact remains that if the European Economic Community and then the European Union have not broken away from liberal logic they have long acted in the framework of a liberalism tempered by the mechanisms of the welfare state.
2. What has changed in the last thirty years is the disappearance of this limited restraint. The ‘pure’ liberal consensus is now at centre stage. However, it is not Europe that first established this consensus but the countries themselves, more or less under the influence of Ronald Reagan’s and Margaret Thatcher’s Anglo-Saxon examples. Let us not be fooled by myths. European ‘federalism’ is a discourse, not a widespread practice. The European Parliament intervenes at the margins; the Commission performs an orienting and preparatory function, but it is the Council that really makes the decisions. In the last analysis, the decision-makers are the countries. They have not ‘capitulated’ to Brussels – it is their very logic and that of the relations of force among them that shape European space. Falling back on them will solve nothing; on the other hand, making use of their contradictions could be useful – only if, of course, there is the will to do so.
3. History is not immobile. The nation has not always existed. Why should it exist forever? For a long time the world had an ‘inter-national’ and ‘inter-state’ structure. The inter-state aspect is still dominant, but the relationship between territories, on the planetary and continental level, has taken an increasingly ‘supranational’ form. The ‘world’ is no longer an abstraction, even beyond its dominant financial form. The handling of the major issues (the environment, famine, pandemics, water, etc.) can therefore no longer be thought of only in terms of the relations between nation-states. The nation remains a privileged framework of democratic politicisation; but its effectiveness has become relative as regards large-scale regulations (relative does not mean insignificant). There are now major problems that are transnational and which can only be handled with a supranational approach. There is no point in waging rearguard battles; it is not that we have to deny the relevance of the latter but to question the way in which these are carried out.
4. What is the explanation for the current impasse of the Union? The fact that it is too federal? Or that it is not federal enough? The answer is neither. The core of the problem is that the decision has been made, in Europe as elsewhere, to deal with the supranational and the national simultaneously according to the combined logic of competition and governance. However, this logic spares no territory, either national, supranational or ‘infra-national’. My argument is: There was an attempt to change Europe from within, and it failed; let us therefore move away from this framework in order to act within a more limited but more manageable one. Yes, we could just as well say that for years we have tried to change national reality and have not succeeded. But what conclusion should we then draw? Should we create experimental mini-territories and leave the vaster areas to ‘serious’ people, that is, to liberals and social liberals? It is easy to see how this logic of the internalisation of failure can lead to absurd conclusions.
5. On its own, no state can overcome the obstacles of capitalist globalisation. But the Union has the capacity to do so, if it wanted to. However, it can do nothing of the sort unless it breaks with its currently dominant logic. Reforming it around its edges does not make sense; the only reasonable option is to work towards refounding it, that is, to completely redefine the architecture of the European treaties.
We have to want to stay in the EU because it is necessary. And in staying there we have to use all available means for changing it completely. We stay in it to fight the Europe of finance and technocracy, to not accept Europe being just a market or a power. We stay there to ensure that Europe becomes a society, a citizen. Is this difficult? Combat, as we have said, is no easy matter inside countries. But if it is difficult it is nonetheless indispensable. The left wing of the Left will accomplish nothing by returning to the mirages of realpolitik or the illusion of a ‘break in one country’. After 1917, in many instances in the word, this illusion became too expensive for us to continue to cling to it.
6. We cannot shrink back from prolonged combat within the space of the European Union. But there is no single, exclusive approach to be adopted; the problem cannot be dealt with in one blow, as if by magic. It implies rejection: Nothing prevents us from imagining that a state can decide not to apply the rules of that it considers incompatible with social, ethical and environmental requirements. The United Kingdom has done this for many years from a neoliberal point of view; why can the same thing not be done from the opposite point of view? However, if a state decides to act in this way it must assume responsibility for the conflict and internalise from the beginning the need for long and complex processes in which the impulse of Europe’s social movement and the concerns of individual states have equal weight. The European Union has to be built as a citizens’ community, capable of constructing shared projects; in aiming at this it would be absurd and dangerous to destroy the existing political communities, that is, the nations. The supranational and the national are not in opposition to each other; they need to be conceived in their evolutionary diversity, within the relations of forces, which are themselves evolving.
7. The battle is hard, not because one or another territory is too vast to wage it but because it is a long-term struggle for an alternative. We must not shrink back from any terrain, either that of the nation or of the European Union. Let us stop getting bogged down in the endless and ineffective controversy of ‘Europeanism’ and ‘sovereignism’ and of ‘federalism’ and ‘confederalism’. What is the use of exiting from Europe, or of prolonging the federal avenue if it means maintaining the scourge of competition and governance? Let us use all instruments – those of the states, especially if they have the means, those of the national and European social struggles, and those of critical thought – to push back the prevailing logic everywhere.
We must not leave historicity to the forces that decree what history is today, whether they are on the neoliberal or social-liberal side. They do not have the legitimacy to embody the nation, not to mention Europe, or supranationality in general. We must not, contrary to what Lordon proposes, initiate the ‘de-escalation of interdependencies’. On the contrary, in my opinion we must take up globalism (which is the basis of the community of the universal destiny of human beings) and thus fight the globalisation that restricts it and suffocates it. We need to respect the nations but articulate them – starting now and not just in a distant future – within a horizon that goes beyond them.
Translation from French: Eric Canepa