In Germany, the Left has finally started an open discussion concerning alternatives to the crisis of European integration. The reason for raising this question is whether the exit of countries from the monetary union is making sense or not.
Such an open discussion is urgently needed. It is not enough to simply oppose the resolutions of the Troika, the Council or the Commission with one’s own proposals. The practical value of the Left must be proved by the actual impact it has on options for action. The party DIE LINKE can no longer avoid this discussion. Danger will only arise if these open discussions are triggering an internal power-struggle within the party. A completely different scenario would be if the practical value of the party manifested itself by its being able to enter a leftist public dialogue that showed exit strategies from the continuing neoliberal policy from above by slightly altered means.
So far, the existing differences within the party system regarding the European crisis policies have been rather marginal. With the Alliance for Germany a national-liberal alternative has now been introduced. At its core there is an economic nationalism that at the same time is aimed at protecting “top performers” and “core groups” operating from Germany against the costs of the crisis. A left alternative is less evident. That is why it should be the object of a debate conducted in a strategically open and fearless manner. An exit scenario requires the disclosure of premises underlying the possible answers. There are two reasons in particular that could influence the Left not to engage itself with a different policy within the EU and the monetary union but with a policy directed against the EU and in favour of an exit.
Let me make a clarifying remark in advance: An option to leave the monetary union or rather actively urging other actors to exit it is at the same time an option directed against today’s EU. The EU and the Lisbon Treaty, the orientation towards integration based on competition as well as the refusal of a social, democratic and ecologic union with minimum standards and corridors leading to competition for better social services are all inextricably linked to the project of the monetary union. The latter is aimed at monetary conditions that help constructing a globally competitive, export-oriented core-Europe.
What are the two reasons that speak against the EU as a space for political action of the Left? Firstly, it is the assumption that the EU with its fundamental institutional set-up principally prevents acting from below, from the left and with goals of solidarity and democracy in mind. Anything that is impossible for those in power to accomplish on a national level would be enforced on a European basis. Through the EU, power relations have irreversibly been shifted in favour of the ruling circles and the dominant oligarchies. In order for people to regain agency, the EU itself must be abandoned, if it is to be more than a space of positive democratic basic values. To this there is an opposing double experience: Firstly, Great Britain has just made it clear, that the ruling finance capital oriented circles of the “Island” are not submitting to the dictates of Brussels. Seen with a perspective from “above”, Brussels has never been an efficient obstacle. Secondly, using the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) as an example, it has shown that strong resistance in important countries is capable of making governments give in. So who thinks that there is a possibility to influence national governments’ actions sustainably, can proceed from the assumption that these are followed by consequences on a European level as well. Even unilateral actions such as moratoria of EU-resolutions through individual Member States make a rejection of the implementation of neoliberal directives possible as long as there exists appropriate consensus. There are several examples of that already. It is not that national parliaments or governments won’t have any real space for agency but they are not willing to use it in favour of social, ecological and democratic requirements.
Furthermore, there is the assumption that an exit from the EU or rather the monetary union would empower (economically) weaker countries and their populations. Giving in to the resolutions of “Brussels” would then no longer be necessary. Only, the question is whether this strategy would work out or not. The real economic conditions would definitely remain unchanged, at least for the foreseeable future, while formal potentials for agency within the European institutions concerning the governments of these countries as well as the citizens involved (if we only think of the freedom to choose the place where we work and earn our incomes), would cease to exist. In consideration of the little real economic agency a deprivation of these countries and their peoples of any institutional co-determination within the EU whatsoever and thus of the possibility of blockades could significantly and negatively outweigh the formal sovereignty of an existence at the periphery of the EU as well as the gains from the devaluation of the re-introduced national currencies.
It appears to me that therefore it is not a question of exiting from the monetary union, let alone the EU, but that it is necessary rather to develop agency on the local, municipal, regional and national levels and to accomplish this through establishing networks, which is equivalent to developing European agency from the Left. Regarding actual leftist governance the courage of Thatcherism to say “no” is also required. Most of all, we must ask ourselves why agency from the Left as a whole is developed so little and why there are not any strong leftist governments who are able to say no and for that have the full support of their citizens. If we were capable of changing that, we could confidently ask, if not another, a social, democratic and ecological union with forms of agency guided by solidarity in the world were the better option for the 21st century.
17 May 2013
Michael Brie is a philosopher and director of the Political Analysis Department of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and has been the official representative of the transform! europe network until 2009.