Hello, This is Capitalism

Talk at the Summer University of PCF. – The dilemma of Europe is real. On the one hand, it is clear that Europe cannot continue in the same track, something that Britain’s referendum has underscored; of course, the No targeted not only the EU but also Britain’s political class, thus demonstrating that the failure of the neoliberal model threatens not only the European Union but also its Member States.

It is true that our left, the transformative left, has made progress in a good number of countries – in Spain, in Greece, in Ireland – and that the Party of the European Left, founded only a decade ago, is an important achievement. But a weakness remains – the absence of a common and mobilising project for Europe, without which the left will not be able to change the relation of forces on a European scale, which has repercussions at the national level. The Greek example was the test case.
In the midst of struggle it is easy to be too optimistic about the relation of forces.
However, what the figures show is unambiguous. In nine European countries in which elections were held in 2015 the parties of the radical left scored 11 % while the right-wing nationalist and authoritarian parties received 22 % of votes, and in the most extreme case won the presidential election in Poland.
These results show the polarisation of the political landscape as a result of the crisis and that the strongest dynamic is in the radical right camp – at least at the European level.
In addition, the ascendancy of the extreme-right parties in all four corners of the EU suggests that we are dealing here not with a series of unpleasant, and still singular, events in Austria, Hungary, France, etc. but with a Europe-wide shift to the right, which also affects centrist parties, as for example here in France, and which represents a new quality: All the parties mentioned have in common their opposition to European integration.
We are therefore facing a twofold challenge that cannot be simplified: The left has to cope both with authoritarian neoliberalism, which is once again presenting itself as if there were no alternative (as in the famous TINA), and with the radical right, which is basking in a revived nationalism related not only to individual countries but also claiming to represent a better European order.
How do we position ourselves vis-à-vis this struggle, which is real and is crystallising in a right-wing bipartisanship on the European scale?
First of all, we have to point out that the Treaty of Maastricht and the European Economic and Monetary Union as well as the Budgetary Pact have never been left projects. Why should the left defend a system of treaties and institutions which it has fought from the moment they were established?
However, the European Union is not simply a zone of free exchange with an ill-conceived single currency. It also constitutes a system of international relations established as a result of the Cold War, which in the end was won by the West.
This system is doubtless hierarchical, opaque, and quite undemocratic. But hello … this is capitalism, or imperialism if you like. One can only be disappointed in it if one has let oneself be taken in by it.
What strategic alternatives then are available to us?
My point of departure is to have no illusions about a post-EU Europe. The latter would not be an idyllic place where countries, finally freed from the stranglehold of Brussels, would co-exist peacefully side by side, negotiating and cooperating with each other.
Instead, this ‘new Europe’ would resemble the old Europe of the inter-war years, divided as it was by the rivalries among the Great Powers, which were implicated in the petty conflicts among the small nation-states, especially in Central Europe where the borders drawn after the First World War are still at variance with the multinational composition of the territories in question, for example South Tyrol, German Sudetenland, Transylvania, etc., which makes it absurd to strictly apply the nationalist principle. The civil war in the Ukraine also testifies to this.
Put differently, the dismantling of the EU would only benefit left purposes if we think that the major problems societies have to face could be better managed in a Europe of 28, 35, or 50 national currencies, nation-states, and border regimes. I find this unpersuasive.
How then do we navigate between Scylla and Charybdis, between a naïve pro-Europeanism and assimilation to nationalism?
For me, the question of Europe is first posed in strategic terms and not as an ideological subject. We have less need of a plan for an ideal and prefabricated Europe, in which we run the risk of being divided rather than inspired. That is, either a democratic and social Europe will come out of the struggles of its peoples or Europe will not exist.
To this end what we need are some points of reference for a European strategy. The criterion for this kind of unifying strategy is that it allows us to be sensitive to the political requirements, which are obviously different in different countries and broad regions.
For this my proposal consists of three small points:

  1. We are all agreed that the European Union only has a future if austerity policy is abolished. This is common sense. But how to we achieve this? It requires a debate without taboos. For example, in an article that appeared a few days ago in the Financial Times, Joseph Stiglitz proposed replacing the single currency with a system he calls the ‘flexible euro’, with a strong, say, ‘northern euro’ and a weaker ‘southern euro’. Why not!
    But he adds: ‘Good currency arrangements cannot ensure prosperity; flawed ones lead to recessions and depressions.’ In other words, the monetary system could be changed but the problems will remain because the required changes would necessitate going further and establishing, among other things: ‘A common banking union, most importantly common deposit insurance; rules to curtail trade surpluses; and eurobonds or some other similar mechanism for mutualisation of debt. Monetary policy to focus more on employment, growth and stability, not just inflation’.
    This leads to a second point:
  2. All of this can only be achieved on the basis of strong European solidarity; the left has to promote and reinforce it! All of us need to assume this European responsibility. And we must frankly admit that we were not up to the job at the time of the great struggle of the Greek government with the institutions. Still, the pan-European perspective is not the only possible one. We have to reject a false dichotomy, namely that of European integration versus national self-determination.
    We want a Europe in which a Thessaloniki programme can be enacted by a democratically elected government! A Europe that respects the democratic sovereignty of each people; this is the point! Only in this way could Europe be called democratic.
  3. However, in the face of globalised capitalism, one of whose centres is Europe, popular sovereignty could only materialise if alongside its national expression it also takes on a European character.
    Without oversimplifying, the heart of all democracy is parliamentarism, won through national revolutions but still not conquered at the European level. This European defect is also detrimental to the national parliaments whose authorities disappear in a thicket of national and European bureaucracies typical of intergovernmental processes.
    For this reason I would like to see a left that fights for a fully-fledged European Parliament, a Parliament elected by universal and equal suffrage, which appropriates all European legislative authority and which does not exert its authority to the detriment of the national parliaments but on the basis of a reasonable and transparent division of authority grounded in a democratic constitution.

To conclude:
The fact is that the EU has today been called into question. In the light of the last century and of the problems posed today the left can only be a protagonist of European integration.
However, if the idea of Europe’s peaceful integration is to be protected from growing nationalism it must be reinvented.
The European Union will either be social or it will be useless. The EU will be democratised or it will be discredited; it will be peaceful or it will perish.
In the face of this dilemma we have to dare not to break with the idea off European unity but with the neoliberal and authoritarian framework of the institutions and treaties through which this idea has been actualised.

Translation from French: Eric Canepa