Can Europe Make It?

The European Union and the radical Left

What should the attitude of the European Union be towards the rise of the radical Left?

George Sotirelis
3 April 2015
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Alexis Tsipras and Pablo Iglesias. Demotix/Czuko Williams. Some rights reserved.Recent political developments in Greece and Spain bring to the fore, more forcibly than ever, the crucial question: what should the attitude of the prevailing system of the European Union be towards the rise of the radical Left?

The answers attempted so far are disappointing. They highlight an emerging mixture of surprise, bewilderment and aversion, accompanied by displays of intense paternalism and proprietary notions. This leads to a demeaning and dismissive attitude towards any criticism articulated vis-à-vis the European construction.

It is true that the European Union is currently facing two forceful tendencies of political contestation. These tendencies, however, have entirely different origins and divergent targets.

The first tendency encompasses the euroscepticism of the nationalist and populist Right. This cannot, by definition, be incorporated into the European process since its guiding principles, intensified by the financial crisis, consist of rigid isolationism and a panicky regression towards the national state at its most conservative and beguiled.

This is a blindfolded and unhistorical escape from reality, favouring not only the revival of antidemocratic ideas, but also the further weakening of the nation-state, as such a connived attitude allows it to be exposed to the erosive forces of globalisation.

The second tendency of contestation, that of the radical Left, is moving in an entirely different direction. This case is not about  euroscepticism (with the exception of the "orthodox" Communist parties) but is instead a radically critical approach, encompassing both the inherent problems of the European Union and its   inefficient approach towards the eurozone crisis.

The aforementioned criticism is, in fact, justified to a large extent. The European Union was structured badly from the outset, not only due to the lack of democratic organization and the apparent undervaluation of social rights, but also due to an inflated, poorly legitimised and ideologically biased executive power. In addition, the judicial power was largely oriented towards the protection of economic rights.

On the basis of what has been mentioned, the European radical Left seem to have identified the problems of the European Union right down to its roots. And yet these imperatives are often proclaimed  notably in my own country of Greece - in ways that can appear dogmatic, demagogic and naive.

If we focus on the essence rather than on the rhetoric, it becomes obvious that these positions do not constitute a denial of European integration. Instead, they bolster its pursuit by a different route which is ultimately, and despite any obvious ideological maxims, simply the route for the traditional values ​​of the European legal and political culture.

This very route is rightly associated with the abandonment of the current politically and economically biased model of the European Union. This ensures the required balance between the national and supranational level (in addition to the balance between stronger and weaker memberstates).

It also organises the indispensable institutional counterweights against the oligarchy of the markets. Both targets are dictated by the longstanding European democratic and “rule of law” traditions and are in line with the rich historical heritage of the political and social accomplishments of the Left itself.

In this field, where the primacy of the “economic” versus the “political” space is questioned, the European radical Left meets the genuine Europeanism of all political tendencies (and especially those belonging to the political space of the tottering, but existentially reflective, traditional social-democracy).

This alone renders the aforementioned political stance, by default, strategically embeddable within the European integration process. Moreover, for those not hindered by the deforming glasses of the past, it is more than evident that the European Union is prospectively the only area where national and popular sovereignty along with social justice may be mutually rescued  at a higher level, i.e. with a single European "municipality" and with democratically legitimised and powerful central political institutions.

Further on – and this should be carefully considered, above all by the influential actors of the European Union who do not turn a blind eye – the radical Left may constitute a precious reserve for overcoming the European crisis, by enriching the European ideal with new vivid tones. Any myopic response, based on circumstantial, petty or brinkmanship considerations of the current European status quo equals to a direct undermining of “Europe of the peoples”.

It also hurts significant aspects of political and social pluralism, which may decisively contribute both to the necessary paradigm shift, in terms of institutional architecture and economic policy of the European Union, as well as to disengaging the European institutions from deep-rooted ideological and political bias.

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