Tracing an Alternative Plan for Europe

A Comradely Debate without Taboos is Necessary! – Statement signed by representatives of transform! europe.

The background of the multi-faceted crisis of the European Union is the austerity policy carried out jointly by both national governments and European institutions, which have bled societies in southern Europe, destroyed hopes for an economic and social catch-up process in the east, and even destabilised societies in western and northern Europe. The neoliberal model established with the Treaty of Maastricht and the European Monetary Union has failed. To the extent that this failure is not admitted, and the prevailing policy is carried out by authoritarian means, European integration is in danger of being strangled.

Syriza’s electoral victory in January 2015 demonstrating the perspective of a left perspective was welcomed with enthusiastic hopefulness far beyond radical left milieus. The attempt by its first government to find a bearable solution for Greece in the months-long negotiations and in so doing create a European example of an alternative path ended in the imposition to Greece of a third Memorandum. Our view is that this defeat has been a consequence of the unfavourable balance of forces in the EU and the weakness of the Left in Europe (the Greek government was alone against the governments of all EU countries, the European institutions and the IMF), but also of the EU’s architecture created by the European treaties: Maastricht, Lisbon, the Fiscal Pact, etc.
An extensive discussion is taking place in Greece, in Europe and all over the world on the lessons to be learned from the Greek experience. We are willing to participate actively in this discussion but we refuse to take part in the Syriza-bashing carried out in some quarters, which is inappropriate especially in view of the failure of movements and left parties in other European countries to change their governments’ negative position against the Greek government. In this context, it is evident that what is urgently needed is the change in the balance of forces in as many EU countries as possible, as well as the development of a broad European movement against austerity and for real democracy.
This conclusion applies also to the debate in Europe over refugee policy, the centre of which again is Greece. The arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees from war, crisis areas and regions of ecological disaster has added another aspect to the crisis of the EU and aggravated it. The EU is in danger of foundering on this humanitarian challenge. It is not only a question of the logistical and financial tasks that could be jointly tackled in a solidary manner by the Member States. What is more important is the self-conception of the EU, which while participating in the neo-colonial division of the world through trade agreements, wars under NATO’s patronage and destruction of the environment is at the same time deaf and blind to the needs of the people who are consequently uprooted, driven out, and turning up at its borders; it is an outwardly directed Eurocentric egoism that corresponds to the growth of national egoisms within the EU. To compel the sealing of the EU’s outer borders, ministers of the interior are even going as far as to limit the freedom to travel domestically. In the end, this can only lead to further destruction of the EU’s credibility.
At the same time, there is a counter-tendency for an alternative politics, as seen by the fact that Syriza is still in government in Greece striving to reduce the effects of the new Memorandum, the end of the two-party system in Spain, the left majority in Portugal’s parliament, the possible victory of Sinn Féin in Ireland, the British Labour Party’s new leadership …
However, this is far from being the tendency determining the dynamic of a situation in which the political centre, in particular as represented by the social democratic parties, is eroding. In the elections held in nine countries in 2015, radical right parties received twice the share of votes as radical left parties. The increase in votes for the radical Right is the expression of frustration and insecurity that is growing on a European scale within all population strata, and especially in the lower middle strata due to mass unemployment, precarity, and the dismantling of the welfare state. But the frustration is also a political one. The grand coalition governing most countries of the EU is continually less able to respond to the needs of their people and especially those who have suffered most from the crisis, while in many countries the radical Left is unable to present a credible alternative in this deteriorating situation.
In this aggravated situation of an economic, social, and political crisis, the various actors of the radical Left, social movements, trade unions, the academic Left and political parties, in each country and in Europe as a whole, need a debate carried out broadly and critically.
In this debate, even an exit of a country from the Euro or the EU is not taboo. There are comrades in Europe who support the view that in individual cases and under certain conditions this exit could in fact increase the political room for manoeuvre. However, as a programme of the whole European Left this could help the movement only if the major problems facing societies today could be better solved without institutionalised, international cooperation. But this is irrational, and it never was a left outlook.
The obvious failure of neoliberal integration must not mislead us into any ambiguity in terms of European unity. What relationships between European countries do we consider to be the most appropriate for tackling the big problems – the economic crisis, solidarity with the refugees, climate change, security, etc.? A Europe of 28, 35, or 50 national currencies, nation-states and border regimes in which the most powerful countries compete with all their means for supremacy? Is that the way we imagine the international environment in the single countries for social progress and transformation?
Can anyone believe that we could compete with the Right and the Far Right in the field of nationalism? Aside from objections based on principle, historical and contemporary examples show how hopeless such an attempt would be.
However, the fact is that the EU itself has now been called into question. If the idea of Europe’s peaceful integration is to be protected from growing nationalism, then its meaning has to be redefined.
The European Union will either be democratic, social and peaceful, i.e. it is radically changed, or it will perish.
The radical Left must reject the false dichotomy of European integration versus national self-determination. It is indeed so that under conditions of globalised capitalism, national self-determination can only be exercised where space is created for it by democratically institutionalised, transnational cooperation. But it is equally true that the only kind of Europe that can be considered democratic is the Europe that links supranational democracy to the respect of national self-determination. It only makes sense to think of national and transnational democracy as reciprocal conditions.
In the light of the experience of two world wars, and still more that of today’s problems, the radical Left can be nothing less than a protagonist of European integration. However, between today’s EU and a European integration on democratic and social foundations there is a political and institutional chasm. If the demand for a re-founding of the European Union has a meaning, then this meaning is that of discontinuity.
We in transform! want to contribute to the now evolving debate about an “Alternative Plan for Europe”. Our network does not use the term “Plan B” employed by certain segments of the movement, since we believe that there must be no confusion with the “Plan B” of a part of the ruling elites in Germany, France, the UK and other EU counties, which in fact consists in Europe regressing to nationalist egoism. This reactionary “Plan B” will lead to nationalist competition between countries deploying all possible means. It is no coincidence then that in the Far Right’s populist discourse nationalism, racism, and anti-Europeanism fuse into an amalgam.
But slogans and words are not our concern. We participate in the debates organized by all initiatives in which participants can discuss in a comradely way their views regarding the working out of a realistic and independent left position in Europe. We want to help these initiatives to not enter in competition with each other, but to find ways of communicating among themselves in the spirit of the good old days of the alter-globalization movement and develop what is common in their theory and practice, especially in the unfolding Europe-wide struggle against the transatlantic free trade agreement (TTIP).
February 2016
Signed by: Walter Baier (Vienna), Maxime Benatouil (Paris), Marga Ferré (Madrid), Angelina Giannopoulou (Athens), Haris Golemis (Athens), Cornelia Hildebrandt (Berlin), Jiří Málek (Prague), Hugo Monteiro (Lisbon), Roberto Morea (Rome), Barbara Steiner (Vienna)