Can Europe Make It?

European elections, European democracy? Part II

Lotta Tenhunen Adrià Rodriguez
23 May 2014

In the first part of this article we asked whether the European elections had anything to do with democracy, and whether there is any capacity in the European Parliament capable of ensuring real democracy in Europe. Faced by an answer in the negative, although we are convinced of the importance of the European political space, we have set out to sketch some of the keys needed to unlock that real democracy in Europe.

We shall start by departing from the conviction that no democracy is possible other than by means of parliamentary representation. A strong counter-democracy (following Pierre Rosanvallon), a continuous flux of forming and reshaping the antagonistic constituent forces of the continent are the condicio sine qua non for a Europe capable of continuously regenerating its institutions and therefore its democracy.

There is no space for ideological disputes between one revolutionary current or another: what we need are structural changes in order to assure a real democracy in Europe. We consider that a quest for this must start from the everyday practices of survival within precarity, debt slavery and the repression of social, political and economic rights – not from theory nor from ideology.

How can a European democracy constituted by these struggles be possible? What are the necessary structural changes? And if we detect some subaltern elements reflected in the election sphere, which are these?

First and foremost, we must call for the unpayment of a debt illegitimately generated by governments allied to the banking sector. The European Left and some Social Democrats talk about the necessity of a debt pool in order better to distribute the burden of debt among all the countries.  Some of these parties or coalitions – such as SYRIZA – consider that a debt audit is needed and that a part of the debt has to be nullified. But what surprises us is the difficulty, for most of the parliamentary left, of even openly talking about the unpayment of that debt. Yet, as a mechanism of distribution of wealth but also of power, this is the most fundamental step that can be taken in the recovery of democracy in Europe. If debt is a mechanism of governance, defying this governance involves the unpayment of the debt, by confronting the blackmail and the threat of financial power.

Defying debt governance then inevitably brings up, once again, the urgency of a challenge present ever since May, 2011: that of inventing new forms of autogovernance for and between "the many different" – a class if you wish to describe it as such, but one of such a heterogeneous composition that it has on multiple occasions become almost completely unrecognizable to any eyes seeking a new simple class composition, similar let us to say to previous formations of factory or creative labour. The New Deal and the Fordist as well as the feeble post-Fordist social pact are over. Struggles to defy debt are not yet connected enough either to forge new pacts beneficial to them, or to demand new rights and create new institutions.

But this is no time for sadness, only for looking for new weapons to deploy... a combination of local community organization processes, various types of disobedient practices designed to be inclusive and easy to participate in, situated knowledge production and technopolitical campaigns to guarantee the horizontal connectivity and the necessary contagions for a truly European political framework, a charter or various charters of social rights, broad alliances for destituent electoral strategies etc. These are needed in order to bring about equality and hence democracy in Europe, as well as to define the post-national and post-Fordist conditions of today’s workforce.

A few of the central questions that follow from the above are the implementation of a universal and guaranteed basic income, the abolition of borders and of national citizenship combined with establishing a new open European citizenship, the recognition of mobility and telecommunications as new fundamental social rights, the reconsideration of already existing social rights such as education and health in a really inclusive, accessible and thus democratic process, without forgetting the question of the sexual division of this reproductive labour within patriarchal society. All this becomes possible after the unpayment of the debt.

Major structural institutional changes imply the necessity for a new treaty or treaties. The Maastricht Treaty (1992) shaped up a weak and unequal institutional framework for the EU as well as serving to reinforce the neoliberal agenda. It could well be said that the Maastricht Treaty produced the conditions for the development of the current financial and political crisis. It erased the possibility of real cooperation and union among European societies.

What we now have instead is a multiplicity of spaces of power (the nation states, the ECB, the European Parliament, the European Commission, etc) none of which is democratic, all working under the market logic of competition. A new radically democratic institutional architecture is needed, and this means changing all the old institutions as well as the relations between and within them. There is a necessity for democratizing the already existing institutions, establishing mechanisms of permanent participation, to that end redefining a directly European framework of participation and creating a roadmap for redefining the European space in a democratic federalist sense, beginning with the local level.

The reconsideration of the property regimes in Europe has become indispensable. As we write, the two dominant property regimes are private and public property. For many years this has been the mechanism of governance: by giving two unique solutions for owning and managing resources and services, whichever of these regimes did not have the upper hand always passed relatively unnoticed. Austerity measures have served as a transmission of property from the public regime to the private, a double blind which makes sure that a fair, democratic and equal distribution of wealth and rights is out of the question. That's why the issue of the commons is reemerging not just in the global South but also in Europe.

The big challenge today is rethinking the management of the resources and services on a large scale, in common and for the common good. What is clear is that if we seriously reconsider the current functioning of European institutions we need to go beyond the framework of the public – always related with the state and its centralized structures – as well as the private – which exists and functions for the profit of the 1% – and try to figure out new institutions managed and owned and at the service of the 99%.

This is what we consider the big challenges for a real democratic Europe today. This is our vote for #EU2014.

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