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What to do in Europe? Proposals from the Left

24 January 2017

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The second Ιnternational Conference of EReNSEP (The European Research Network on Social and Economic Policy), "France and Europe after Brexit", was held in Paris December 2-3, 2016. Videos from the event — including presentations by Costas Lapavitsas, Heiner Flassbeck, Stathis Kouvelakis, and Cédric Durand — are available on YouTube

The collective statement below was drafted following the conference, and signed by 25 academics, writers, and politicians.

via Wikimedia Commons

These are critical moments for Europe. It is clear that the Economic and Monetary Union has irrevocably failed, the economies of the periphery of Europe remain in severe crisis, and the economies of the core lack any impetus. The single currency has become a tool for Germany to implement mercantilism through wage dumping and — with the support of other core economies of the EMU — to dictate “structural reforms," which create economic stagnation, poverty, and unemployment. The big corporations and promoters of neoliberalism are taking advantage of the crisis to intensify their offensive against the social and democratic conquests of the twentieth century.

The capitulation of Syriza in Greece has shown that both the EU and the EMU are major obstacles to any attempt to modify the dominant neoliberal agenda in Europe. Austerity, neoliberalism, and free trade policies, together with the contempt of European Institutions for basic rights and democracy have led to an unprecedented crisis of legitimacy for the EU.

Consider the results of the three last referendums linked to European issues. In Greece, on 5 July 2015, a large majority decided to reject the conditions attached to the third bailout proposed by the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank. In the UK, on 23 June 2016, a majority opted to leave the European Union, and demanded that the process of European integration should reversed. In Italy, on 4 December 2016, a large majority rejected the pro-market and anti-democratic constitutional reforms, despite the declared and unanimous support by European institutions, forcing the pro-EU prime minister Matteo Renzi to resign. The rejection of European institutions has never been clearer among member states of the EU.

Anger and indignation are steadily building up among working people in Europe. Unfortunately the beneficiary until now has been growing xenophobia, the hard Right, and even fascism. The European Left is paying dearly for its misguided adhesion to the EMU, and for the taboo of avoiding rupture with the governing framework of the EU, including the neoliberal mode of integration of member states. If the future of Europe is not to be dominated by neoliberalism and the hard Right the answer must be to break free, at the local, national, and international level, from the iron cage of the policies and treaties imposed by the European institutions.

What should be done by the Left?

Based on the proposals discussed during the second international conference of EReNSEP, and after the last summit for a Plan B in Europe, we suggest that there are three main objectives for the Left to pursue in Europe now:

1. The main priority is to end austerity and create high quality jobs. That should be the core of the economic policy of the Left. However we will not succeed in convincing people of our capacity to achieve this objective if we do not present a concrete strategy that deals with the major imbalances of the economies of Europe, thus setting the ground for an ecological and democratic transformation of industry and agriculture. Addressing the social needs of the people of Europe and dealing with the ecological challenges of the continent are not possible without such a clear and feasible strategy. Above all, it is necessary to have massive public investment to boost demand and to regain power over corporations and banks. This will be the foundation on which to rebuild and widen welfare provision while confronting inequalities of income and wealth.

2. Radical policies require monetary sovereignty. The straitjacket of the European Treaties and the directives and mechanisms of EMU have been built to preclude any strategy other than austerity and liberalisation. To lift austerity it is necessary to regain democratic control over money creation and the banks. Any Left government should begin by disobeying European Treaties and preparing for a sustained confrontation with European authorities, while developing an integrated economic strategy to manage the conflict. The Left should get ready to create new currencies and it should not be afraid to cancel public debt when such cancellation is politically legitimate and economically necessary. It should propose nationalising and socialising banks in order to regain democratic control of the economy. The Left should also propose a new framework to control capital flows across Europe and to manage exchange rates and trade surpluses and deficits among European countries. These are perfectly feasible steps that the Left should pursue with confidence. The key is to develop a strategy that would break with austerity and strengthen solidarity between movements in individual countries, while being rooted in each country's national environment and proposing global alternatives. If we are not prepared to make these steps, on the basis of national realities and supported by an alliance of Left forces in individual countries, breaking free from austerity and neoliberalism would be impossible. 

3. Radical economic policies are also inseparable from the demand for popular sovereignty and democracy. The institutions of the European Union have never been democratic and were never conceived to serve the peoples of Europe. They are part of a political machinery that was designed to implement an economic order favouring transnational corporations, the systematic privatisation of public services and other public property, and the erosion of welfare provision. The neoliberal free trade regime promoted by the European Union, makes any popular sovereignty impossible. It is necessary to break with the free trade agreements and Treaties that have been developed and imposed on the countries of Europe. Confronting the EMU and refusing to apply neoliberal directives and Treaties are necessary means to implement progressive economic policies and to regain democratic control. They are also necessary steps to develop the new political co-operation we need in Europe, based on social justice, international solidarity, democracy, and environmental sustainability. We must support the launch of constituent processes to build authentic democratic political regimes. We should also stimulate popular self-organization and mobilization.

The clouds are gathering over Europe. There is still time for the Left to shape the direction of events provided that it regains its political courage. The Left must renew and sharpen its proposals on economy, society and politics. It must remember that its strength derives from the defence of democracy, popular sovereignty, the interests of workers, and the oppressed. And it must prepare for a radical break with the neoliberal straitjacket imposed by the EU Treaties and the EMU.

Signed by

Josep Maria Antentas (Professor of sociology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain)

Jeanne Chevalier (Parti de gauche, Spokesperson for economy, France)

Eric Coquerel (Parti de Gauche, Co-chair, France)

Alexis Cukier (Ensemble!, National board, France)

Fabio De Masi (MEP, Die Linke, Germany)

Sergi Cutillas (Economist researcher at Ekona Research Center, member of the Platform for a Citizen Audit of the Debt, Spain)

Cédric Durand (Senior Lecturer in economics, University Paris XIII, France)

Guillaume Etiévant (Parti de gauche, former Spokerperson for economy, France)

Stefano Fassina (MP and former Italian deputy minister finance, Sinistra Italiana, Italy)

Heiner Flassbeck (Honorary Professor of economics and political sciences at the University of Hamburg, Germany)

Constantinos Gavrielides (Regional councillor and member of the Economic Committee of the Region of Western Greece)

Marlène Grangé (Ensemble!, France)

Sabina Issehnane (Senior Lecturer in economics, University of Rennes 2, France)

Costas Lapavitsas (Professor of Economics at the University of London and former Syriza MP, Greece)

Moreno Pasquinelli (Programma 101, Italy)

Jean-François Pellissier (Ensemble!, Spokesperson, France)

Laura Raim (Independant Journalist, France)

Patrick Saurin (Sud BPCE, Spokesperson, CADTM, France)

Eric Toussaint (CADTM International, Spokesperson, Belgium)

Aurélie Trouvé (Senior Lecturer in economics, Agrosup Dijon, France)

Miguel Urbán (MEP, Podemos, Spain)

Christophe Ventura (Researcher in international relations, member of Chapitre 2, France)

Frédéric Viale (Doctor of Law, member of Chapitre 2, France)

Sébastien Villemot (Economist at OFCE, France)

Grigoris Zarotiadis (Associate Professor in the School of Economics and Political Sciences in Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece)

Filed under: brexit, eu-referendum, eurozone, france, greece