Interview with Miguel Portas, Portuguese Member of the European Parliament, Bloco de Esquerda (Left Bloc), regarding the Pervenche Berès report on the financial, economic and social crisis.
What does the GUE/NGL Group think of the Pervenche Berès report on the financial, economic and social crisis, particularly the analysis of the causes? What are the challenges presented by this report?
In fact, we have two Berès reports. The first one corresponded to the analyses that were put forward during the hearings, which were defined by a plurality of points of view and the inexistence of a dominant and orthodox thinking. The responsibility of financial capitalism and of political power for the crisis was clearly expressed. This is very different from the second version, which was negotiated with the right wing and thus minimises the systematic chain of responsibility that rests with capitalist globalisation, as well as the role of the political powers.
What do you think of the proposals made in the report, particularly the need to reinforce the European level, build the EU’s own competences and allocate a real budget with its own resources? Would this help to prevent or manage crises in the future? What are your Group’s proposals?
The reinforcement of the European dimension is of itself neither good nor bad. It depends on various factors. If the reinforcement is inter-governmental then there are democratic deficits which cannot be ignored. If this reinforcement means – as is now the case – the transnational imposition of national austerity programs, which reduces internal demand and throws millions of people into unemployment and poverty; then we are not interested in this “political europium“. In this sense, the first version of the report was contradictory. On the one hand, it contained proposals for European economic governance which were questionable in terms of democracy; on the other hand, the financial and economical proposals were good, in particular, the expressed need for a reinforced budget with its own resources, which could emerge from a fiscal policy targeting financial capitalism. The aim of this report was still to prioritise the reinforcement of the economy and of employment in relation to the deficit and the public debt. Unfortunately, negotiating the compromise version with the right wing resulted in back stepping on several issues. Even when the final report supports the enforcement of a tax on financial transactions, this is nevertheless intended to help financial interests. For the Left, this tax always had an internationally redistributive function. In the compromise version, this dimension becomes supplementary. This version of the Tobin Tax claims to safeguard the financial system and reduce state deficits. This aim can also be seen in relation to tax havens. In this case, the proposals are even more reduced than what had already been approved by the Parliament this year.
Isn’t the democratic deficit one of the problems? How do you envision democracy on a European scale, the relation between national parliaments and the European level, particularly with regard to budgetary policies?
On this point, the Left doesn’t all have exactly the same view. We all agree that the national budgets should be decided by the national parliaments and reject any sort of “kidnapping“ of democracy by the Council and the Commission. In fact, this is what we have been seeing in the recent decisions from the Council. They stipulate not just a “pre-approval” of the budget proposals. Indeed, the most important governments are to establish for the weakest government the policy and budget to be applied. In a Europe of governments, some are more “equal” than others. Mrs. Merkel will always express her opinion on what Athens should or should not do. But the opposite will not happen. I do not believe that most prime ministers can say to the German government that it should also raise their wages not only the exportations, but the Internal Market should also support the re-launch of economies.
As an economist, I know that the single currency demands coordination between budgetary policies. However, this is not the main problem of the Euro. The Euro tragedy is that the Euro doesn’t have a European budget able to compensate the brutal divergences between the trade balances. Considering this, I believe that it could be acceptable to establish national targets and that many of them should be binding. I do not see any reason why the maximum deficit should be 3% or that the debt should not exceed 60% of GDP. The coordination could be monitored at higher levels such that investments and social rights are not penalised. In any case, every country should establish targets in harmony with the others, and these should ensure the convergence process.
The main discussion between national parliaments and the European Parliament should be the European strategy. The national parliaments should have the right to decide how to meet the targets. On the other hand, it is vitally necessary to introduce new economic targets within a coordinated system – this is the way forward to putting employment at the centre of European policy.