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Occupy Europe: a supranational front of progressive forces is needed to refund the European Union

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We have not only to replace Merkel, Rajoy, Monti forthwith and encourage Hollande. We have to get rid of Barroso and Van Rompuy as well. Taking fortress Europe is a much more important challenge than winning national elections.

Monica Frassoni
3 August 2012

In the current discussion on the (poor) state of the EU there are a few ‘false truths’ that repeated continually, make the whole discussion very confused and confusing. The first is that ‘the markets’ are imposing choices on democratic institutions, which are not able to answer to them and could soon be overwhelmed. A few evil men in dark backrooms manipulate markets and plunge people into misery. The second is that there is nothing to be done if we reject barricading ourselves in each behind their safe borders; the third is, as John Palmer mentions, “that European democratic accountability is something which can only be exercised through national Parliaments and governments”, either because EU institutions are the mere instrument of the above-mentioned market demons or because they are obviously not able to solve any of the problems Europe is facing today. So it would be better not to give them any more powers.

It seems to me that today what the ‘markets’ need to be ‘reassured’ is rather similar to what we want to see: not cuts in public spending, but a coherent and integrated European political and economic union able to give some prospect of welfare and sustainable economic activity to its citizens. Of course, most actors in the financial markets do not pay any attention to jobs and social policies; they just care about the return on their investments. But it turns out that these elements are much more linked to each other than most people even on the progressive front of the argument wish to see. The simple truth is that in Europe today, even financial stability depends less on the ‘golden rule’ than on the perspective of a sustainable economic development, new and long-term job creation, and a better redistribution of benefits.

We all know by now that the current deep crisis and unemployment are indeed due to the inevitable failure of an economic system based on an unsustainable pattern of the ‘precarisation’ of work forces and gradual delinking of real economic activity from its mirror reflection in the financial Luna Park. The toy broke down, so let us return to reality.

And reality tells us that if there is not a ‘driver’ in the EU seat, nothing will save the euro and thus the EU. So what is missing in Europe is politics and a clear and irreversible recognition that we are not on the brink of retreating behind our borders or our national currencies: and that the EU is here to stay.

Having said that, not just ‘any driver’ is capable of getting us out of trouble, of course. Even if I am convinced that in the very short term the ball is in the camp of the ECB and of those very same national governments and EU institutions which brought us to the brink of disaster - which is clearly not at all reassuring  - we have to actively prepare a real alternative. In short, we should aim at completely reversing the policies of the EU and of most EU member states.

I fully agree with John Palmer when he says that we need to create a “genuine supranational European democratic politics” and EU parties have a role to play there. But we need to create the framework to be able to have enough power to play a role and quickly agree about what to do: thus we have to reform the way the EU operates (meaning the Treaties) and at the same time change its policies.

I am convinced that unless we get parties, associations, trade unions, citizens and groups to understand that their fight to change their own governments and policies must have a European counterpart, we will not procure the necessary strength to ensure that the “deeper” political integration that many people are now talking about is something radically different from the Troika (ECB, Commission and IMF) nosing its neoliberal way into national budget laws: we need a “democratic front” able to unite on a few strong proposals to take  “another road for Europe”.

In other words, we need to orientate some of the energy of the civil society movements and that of some of our best politicians towards the fight for a better EU. We have not only to replace Merkel, Rajoy, Monti forthwith and encourage Hollande. We have to get rid of Barroso and Van Rompuy as well.

Indeed, it must be very clear that “democracy” at EU level will not fall from the sky and that today “the will of the majority” is not always going in the direction we want. We need to build a proposal in which a deep, democratic reform of the EU goes hand in hand with policy changes; and of course we have to get the necessary consensus to actually make them real. Otherwise, we can see ourselves accepting “democratic” delivery in the next few months of a really nice group of governments in the EU Council even more heavily influenced by parties like the True Finns, the Lega, Fidezs or the Dutch Party for Freedom than they are now. And in 2014 there could be a majority of euro-sceptics in the EP: which, combined to the current procedures which leave most powers on economic and monetary policies in the hands of national governments deciding unanimously, could prove a far more devastating situation than the break up of the euro.

There are a few very concrete and useful steps that we could envisage taking in the next few months. First, there is gathering consensus around the realisation that an EU of imposed austerity is a recipe for disaster. But what to do instead? Many parties, movements, intellectuals, citizens are actively working on this issue all over the EU. People and institutions produce hundreds of debates, documents, papers and appeals. But little is done to put all this in a (relatively) common basket; we need to give to all these ideas and faces behind the ideas the visibility of a ‘European’ campaign supported by a large number of people (and voters). We as European Greens are very interested in the building of a large alliance around three simple titles: regulate and shrink finance; a green new deal, that is to say invest in  the ecological reconversion of the economy and society; and political integration of the EU towards an open, democratic federal system (which has absolutely nothing in common with a bureaucratic super-state).

We have to pursue and deepen the work we started with the Forum in Brussels on June 28 “ another road for Europe” and try to build a large European debate about what are the concrete proposals to govern the EU, by linking them to the worries of peoples at national or local level.

At the same time, we have to take the initiative into our hands on the “constitution” of Europe. The June European Council Conclusions say that member state governments are the “owners” of the treaties. They have entrusted Van Rompuy, Barroso, Draghi, Juncker, four conservative men, to come up with proposals of changes to the economic governance of the EU in the autumn, completely bypassing the European Parliament, national parliaments and civil society in the process. We already know what they will come up with: too little, too late and simply wrong.

We should enter this process. The European Parliament has the powers according to the Treaty of Lisbon to come up with proposals to reform the EU, but it seems to lack courage and vision. We have to push it to wake up and act, opening its doors to the ideas and initiatives of organised civil society and working as the defender of the interests of we Europeans. The proposal to create transnational lists [1]for the next EP elections lies forgotten in a drawer waiting for better times. We have to encourage MEPs to adopt a new electoral procedure making it possible to create a real ‘European’ constituency soon: otherwise the calls for ‘European democratic politics’ will forever remain empty words. 2014 advances on us, and we have to make of the next European election campaign not a boring mega-pool on the level of consensus of each national party or an open field for euro-sceptic forces, but an opportunity to counterpose competing options for Europe and to mobilize voters on choices that will assuredly directly touch their everyday lives.

We have to open a debate about the need for a new Convention or a Constituent Assembly as the right way to reform the EU, taking away from governments acting behind closed doors the “ownership” of the European project. It will not be easy to convince many parties and organisations to start acting as if taking fortress Europe would be a much more important challenge than winning national elections. But it is the only chance we have to save the EU, the euro…  and us Europeans.


[1] The possibility that a part of the MEPs is elected on the basis of european lists (Duff report)

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