Can Europe Make It?

European elections, European democracy? Part I

Lotta Tenhunen Adrià Rodriguez
15 May 2014

The last time European citizens voted for a European Parliament was in 2009, five years ago. Since then quite a few things have happened, which have changed the European conjuncture widely. The first question we should ask ourselves is whether it's enough to vote only every five years? A minor question, but one that steers us towards the waters of real democracy: to consider what are the deep political and institutional changes necessary at the European level in order to assure social and economic justice on the continent.

We'll try to give a general overview of the major changes we are facing after years of multiple crises. In the second part, published next week, we'll try to lay out some proposals in order to face it.

The last five years have been characterized by an increasing destruction of the European project. The core elements of post-war Europe – overcoming the war as an endemic condition and relieving, if not overcoming, the framework of the nation states – have been dismantled by neoliberal policies and competition between territories and social groups. This competition is active in almost every sector of the society, from career planning to care services, from education models to public debt.

What we have as a consequence is the German press saying that Greek people are lazy and unproductive; violence against migrants in Greece; media blaming unemployed in all of Europe; an increasingly scornful glare at the southern populations from the northern countries; rising hate against Germany in the south; the explosion of euroscepticism, etc. These are all effects of the competition between territories, nationalities, ethnicities and social groups, created by austerity and the artificial scarcity of wealth. 

The issues that we would like to address in regard of the European Elections, arising from this conjuncture, are the following:

– There's a clear and unstoppable fall of the bipartism of the two main political groups that emerged in the post-war period, the conservatives and the social democrats. This decline is not specific to these elections, but rather a tendency linked with the structural crisis of representation, of labour and of the Fordist institutions. It implies that the new deal between capital and labour will be increasingly broken, and new governance mechanisms will be needed by the elites in order to assure governability.

– Very linked with the first issue goes the rise of ultra right-wing parties. The major reason for this is, in our opinion, neoliberal austerity politics. They provoke increased competition between social groups: employed against unemployed, unemployed against migrants, etc...

– The European Left coalition, led by the charismatic figure of Alexis Tsipras (SYRIZA) has risen moderately. In spite of this rise that undoubtedly derives from the cycle of European struggles against neoliberalism and the Troika, the coalition faces a clear glass ceiling. It won't be able to serve as the electoral articulation of the huge refusal towards neoliberal Europe if it remains within a merely leftist framework. That's why we consider fundamental the emergence of new electoral forms of expression capable of a more severe dissociation (and the then indispensable, yet always unforeseen production of new ways of doing things) from the classic party form.

– There's a detectable emergence of that kind of formation, mainly Spanish Podemos and Red Ciudadana-Partido X, but also the Italian 5 Stelle movement, the Pirate Party and – finally, in a certain way – the Greek SYRIZA. These are parties - some of them more than others - but parties that are somehow challenging their internal structure and their relations with the composition and the demands of the movements.

This is the overview of the major changes and tendencies that we are expected to see in these elections.

What will happen then? Would there be a vast majority of parties such as these who have set their agenda against neoliberalism, advocating the demands of the movements? Would they be able to divert the course of the continent's future away from the Strasbourg seats of power? How would they receive and due to what mechanisms would they be bound by the demands of European society (not to talk only of citizens) and the social movements? What accesible, effective democratic mechanisms of distribution of power and resources are there? How to guarantee their use as well as the possibility of their continuous regeneration by the needs of civil societies?

Let's see. What we mean is simple: the European Parliament could create a debt pool and schedule the unpayment of a part of it, for example. Still the defense and imposition of this measure would be required. We mean to say that democracy doesn't reside in the parliaments. Counterpower and a deep regeneration of the mechanisms of political participation – or, better said, change in the structures of the political institutions – are needed in order to duly defend social wealth and distribute it in the form of income and social institutions, to guarantee rights from below and to build #Europe4the99.

Expose the ‘dark money’ bankrolling our politics

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