From London to Athens, Europe Is an Empty Shell


Time has come to finally identify the common thread connecting the various failures of the European Union: on the question of refugees, on austerity, on democracy and the erosion of the constitutions in the member states, on the narrower and less democratic Europe which could emerge after the agreement negotiated with London.

 Europe – as a common democratic project founded on the rule of law – was already disbanded in 2013-2014, during the last phase of Greece’s debt crisis. Greece was not even invited [to the meeting of the Balkan states], as if it were not the main subject involved in this dramatic situation.

Greece, a member state, was left alone and without any kind of support in order to allow the continuation of austerity measures and despite  these same measures having proved ruinous, not only in Europe but in the whole world (I refer to the structural programmes promoted by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank ever since the 1980s in Africa, Asia and Latin America).

The Tsipras Government – which revived many of the expectations of the European left – was rendered unable to follow its chosen path and it has capitulated to a third memorandum which was even more confining than the previous ones.

This concession has not led to any positive outcome, since Athens is still threatened with expulsion. Moreover, on the refugee issue, Greece is already effectively excluded from Schengen.

In the past few days, the government of Austria, after having closed its borders in line with the strategy adopted by the Visegrad Group (Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia) convened, on 24 February, a meeting with the other nine Balkan states in order to stop the migrant flow coming from Greece through the border of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Greece was not even invited, as if it were not the main subject involved in this dramatic situation. The Greek Government rightly denounced Europe’s plummeting fall into a system of political governance, “that has its roots in the 19th century”: the old system based on the concept of balance of power.

Vienna and the Visegrad Group have a twofold objective: on the one hand, to cut off Athens once and for all and move the external borders of the Union to Central Europe; on the other, punish the German Chancellor for its welcoming position on refugees.

Currently, Angela Merkel is left completely isolated as far as the immigration issue is concerned, and this explains why she has  created a very dangerous precedent in her collaborative approach with the Erdogan regime.

The Union – precisely led by Germany – is striking what is actually a lethal bargain with Ankara. The harmfulness of this agreement is to be found in the leaked minutes of the negotiation meetings held by the Turkish Government and the European counterpart (Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk), during which Erdogan has been highly explicit about his demands. He threatened to inundate the member states with refugees, if Ankara does not obtain from the Union everything it asks:  money, Europe’s silence on the massacre of Kurds that is currently being perpetrated in the south-east of the country, as well as Europe’s silence on the Turkish bombardments carried out against the Syrian Kurds in the Rojavan Republic. If, after the referendum, the UK stays in Europe, it will also be exempt from freedom of movement for workers and from the social rights that the latter implies. The worst thing about this is that London sets a precedent.

France has registered its disagreement with the decisions taken by Vienna and the Visegrad Group but, on 16 February, Prime Minister Valls refused to accept more refugees as requested. The Italian-French border remains closed, and the “jungle” of Calais is being dismantled without any regard to the distress of thousands of refugees trying to reach Great Britain.

All these earthquakes generate further and no less serious shocks within the Union. One of these is represented by the agreement negotiated by the European Union with the United Kingdom, in order to avoid Brexit. An agreement which is not surprising per se, since the UK has already a very special status: it has an opt-out from the Euro, from Schengen, from the EU charter of fundamental rights, from common policies in the field of justice and home affairs. If, after the referendum, the UK stays in Europe, it will also be exempt from freedom of movement for workers and from the social rights that the latter implies.

The worst thing about this is that London sets a precedent. From now on, any member state that does not want to be part of common projects will be encouraged to negotiate an opt-out. Hungary has already announced its will to follow in Cameron’s footsteps with regard to the refugee quota decided by the Commission in order to relieve the burden on Greece and Italy. Poland could very easily follow suit.

Current_account_imbalances_EN_(3D).svg

***Absolute current account balances/imbalances of Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Portugal, Greece, France, Italy and Spain (1998-2014) | Author: Spitzl | GNU Free Documentation License. | Creative Commons | Wikimedia Commons

Optimists affirm that in the EU-UK agreement there is a positive side: London cannot veto the will of other member states in their pursuit of an “ever closer Union”. This is true, but only formally. What seems to be being covertly planned is a smaller Europe, even less democratic and more oligarchic than the present one.

Which Parliament will control this more “cohesive” Europe, since the current one represents the citizens of all 28 states?

Which opt-outs will be asked for by the other countries?

The new Europe will not consist of the federal and democratic Europe envisaged in the Manifesto of Ventotene during the second world war, nor in the common shield conceived with the purpose of protecting the downgraded sovereign states from the attacks and offensives of the global financial markets.

It is not able to fulfil this purpose today, and will be even less able to fulfil it in the future. It will be just a common market with a bureaucratic governance and, despite Cameron’s assurances a very badly functioning common market.

DiEM25 is not an advocate of the Union’s return to sovereign states (of the so-called “Plan B”). It aims at a radical democratisation of the European institutions, and at a truly trans-national force of the Left. 

Finally, I think the time has come to analyse also the state of left-wing parties in Europe. I am not referring to the socialists or the social-democratic parties: they endorse today a model of Europe which is reduced to a mere market place, while in external policy, they passively follow the strategies promoted by NATO along the borders of Russia or in Libya and the Mediterranean.

I speak here about the European and truly federal left envisaged, for instance, by the movement founded by the former Greek minister Yanis Varoufakis and the Croatian philosopher Srecko Horvat (DiEM25).

The movement is in its beginnings, but its positions are already clear and I fully share them: DiEM25 is not an advocate of the Union’s return to sovereign states (of the so-called “Plan B”).

It aims at a radical democratisation of the European institutions, and at a truly trans-national force of the Left. It invites the present European Left (and its group in the European Parliament, the GUE-NGL) not to fall prey to the illusions of “sovereignism”.

The internationalist and federal left has no easy task, but the task is important and the expectations are high.

A consistent part of the European radical and alternative left seems today captivated by the desire to seek salvation in the delusive return to national sovereignties: a project which is understandable given the sufferings inflicted on the weaker and poorer countries of the Union, but which is profoundly delusory (the global markets will not be reigned in and disciplined in this way) and will consequently and drastically reduce the prominence and influence of the left in Europe.

Another recurring tendency of this nationalist left is to equate the centralization of the European technostructure with the federalisation of the Union, thus leaving the latter being monopolized by and in the embrace of those who aspire to a limited and even more bureaucratic and oligarchic Europe.

If we want to be at the service of European citizens, and at the same time to revive their need for Europe, we should seek to inform them better from today onwards with regard to what is really causing the current crumbling of the European project as initially conceived: i.e. as a shield to protect citizens from dictatorships, from a balance of power which benefits the stronger states of the continent, and from the ever-increasing power of the global markets.

      

About the author

*Barbara Spinelli is an Italian writer and journalist. She has been a columnist for Corriere della Sera,  La Stampa and La Repubblica on issues of international and European politics.

Since June 2014, she is member of the European Parliament in the GUE/NGL group. Her latest book is: “La sovranità assente” (Absent sovereignty), Einaudi 2014. She blogs at http://barbara-spinelli.it/.

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Barbara Spinelli’s article was published in openDemocracy. Go to Original

 

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