• The European Elections: A Landmark in the Struggle Against Austerity

  • By Pierre Laurent | 04 Dec 13 | Posted under: Elections
  • Never since the creation of the European Union has a crisis had so many repercussions for itscomponent populations. Never before has the collusion of interests between the world of finance, the Commission and the governments of the 28 been so visible.

    Never before have we seen such an unraveling of the social and democratic gains of the peoples who make up the Union – as if the crisis were the pretext finally found for putting an end to the post-war social contract. It is like a wind of class revenge blowing over Athens, Madrid, Lisbon and Dublin. The populations are suffering from this clamp down on their social conquests.

    The rejection of the European Union and the policies it is carrying out or has propagated has reached unprecedented levels in all countries of the Union, even those which have been traditionally ‘Europhile’. How did this space of peace, liberty and justice, which has been maintained and asserted for so long, sink so low? And yet at each important step in the constructing of Europe the same arguments have been used. The Single European Act, the common currency, the Treaty of Maastricht, the European Constitutional Treaty and the Treaty of Lisbon have all been sold by stressing the benefits of the policies being carried out, whose only aim was supposed to be full employment and increased wealth. The balance sheet is disastrous, the European emperor has no clothes. The Union cannot hide the failure of its policies.

    The governments have long since abdicated their responsibilities. They accept, apply and even outdistance the Commission’s decisions. In France, the election of François Hollande could have been – if one were to believe his campaign promises – an opportunity for inverting the tendency and for safeguarding the budget sovereignty of the countries of the EU. But this did not happen. France’s president did not make a move or raise his voice to criticise or reorient the Troika’s decisions aiming at bringing the Greek, Spanish and Portuguese populations to their knees. The disillusionment is great not only in France but also in European progressive circles. ‘France is great when it deals with universal issues’, wrote André Malraux. As a founding country of the Union, France could and should have taken up the flag of rebellion against a European construction that was deviating from its humanist foundations and which now boils down to little more than the sacralisation of the ‘out marché’ (total marketisation).

    France has missed its rendezvous with history. From now on it is up to us to take up the challenge, to work together in the Party of the European Left (EL) to rebuild from the bottom up a European project that has to shift its focus, a European project which starts with the expectations and desires of the populations.

    Yes, free circulation is a gain, but does it operate for everyone? We see how the completely European Roma populations are treated in the majority of the host countries. Yes, if the intention had been to give the Euro a basis other than the one it has, with a European Central Bank assigned tasks other than those given it, the common currency could have been seen as progress. Exchanges, cooperation between equals, the defence of public utilities and social advance should indeed be the heart of European policies.

    All these good ideas will be no more than words from the grandstands as the European electoral deadline approaches next year. European Socialists will speak again of the need for ‘more social measures’ and will dust off their proposals from last election. They will, however, once again choose collusion with the right, as they have done in many European countries, rather than seek constructive dialogue with the range of left forces. The European right will use ‘Brussels’ as their scapegoat, which gets them out of their own responsibilities in the countries they govern. The extreme right, which is making advances in all countries of the Union or nearly so, will work on fear and anxiety as they have done in every great historical crisis by always finding someone who is responsible, a scapegoat on whom to shift the responsibility for the present situation. It will propose an exit from the Euro, then from the Union, as if the return to borders were a solution.

    The extreme right represents an exacerbated competition between peoples and in each country there will be a long list of democratic and social regressions. We should remember that austerity policies are also being carried out in European countries outside the Euro area.

    The ELP is facing a crucial moment in its history because the European Union is at a crucial moment of its construction. If its bases are not reconstructed, if the dogma of free and undistorted competition is not brought down it runs the risk of implosion. Therefore in each of our countries we have to be the ones who openly criticise the austerity orientation, but we also have to propose alternative solutions. ‘You are too weak to change the course of things’, we are sometimes told. And when the crisis peaks we know how difficult it is to make courageous yet necessary proposals on the redistribution of wealth, knowledge and power heard. The simplistic responses that stroke public opinion in the direction of fatalism or individual withdrawal are more audible and, importantly, are better transmitted.

    Still, I see encouraging signs. The populations are vigorously resisting and protesting in the face of these frontal attacks. They are building new solidarities, spreading mutualist and cooperative principles, as in Greece or Spain, in the face of the disintegration of their states. We should point out that the support which the European Trade Union Confederation until recently gave to the European treaties no longer exists. The difficulty of a dialogue between the social and citizens’ movements, trade union organisations and political forces for social transformation no longer exists. The Alter-Summit demonstrated this as did the movement which is emerging everywhere in Europe against the future transatlantic market with the USA. We have to try and bring together a ‘désordre de courage’ such as the resistance to Nazism did in its time in Europe. By the time of the elections we have to show that there can be, that there must be, a face of Europe other than the sinister face of austerity. We must continue to dialogue with the progressive forces which have not yet joined us within the EL but which are also in movement against the policies of social disintegration.

    We need to take advantage of the deadline of the European elections, that moment of politicisation, to create a wave against austerity and for solidarity among peoples. We need to build programmes with bold proposals that, via the fundamental perspective of transformation, forge the contours of the free, democratic and solidary Europe that we want. I am convinced that these objectives, aiming at a refoundation of Europe, can unite, in a campaign, on electoral lists and durably, all the forces which today are seeking a progressive exit from the crisis.

    If our European Parliament delegation is reinforced in the May 2014 elections then the breath of a European Union finally putting the interest of the peoples before that of business will indeed be felt. I trust in the collective intelligence of the peoples of the Union. They must not let themselves be tempted by the dead-end solutions of the extreme right. They must rediscover the courage of the immediate post-war years when reconstruction was also accompanied by great social gains. We are on the threshold of this crucial choice. We can indeed all together be the catalyst of another Europe of peace, justice and solidarity and of progress for women, of another conception of human and economic development, and one that truly takes account of ecological issues.


    translated by Eric Canepa

Related articles