Poland, the rising of the far-right and the responsibilities of the Union

Speech of Barbara Spinelli, shadow rapporteur of GUE/NGL, during the group meeting
Strasbourg, 18 January 2016

Versione italiana

It is already a long time that we are discussing, in the European Parliament, on what the Union should do when facing with clear violations of fundamental rights in Member States. We already raised this issue with regard to Hungary, and we are now considering it again talking of the new Polish government. We ask ourselves if the Union will be able to deal with this situation, considering that it did not get much in the past; if the rule of law mechanism, triggered in these days by the Commission, will really work; if article 7 needs to be revised, since the procedures provided therein are complex and unlikely the Member States will unanimously apply it against one of them. New mechanisms for the protection of the rule of law are currently under discussion.

This analysis is undoubtedly appropriate and necessary but, in this context, I would like now to focus on something different that goes beyond the procedures and their content i.e. the roots of those phenomena and the rising of far-rights movements. The absence of a strong left-wing representation is equally a matter to understand. Having often frequented eastern European countries during the communist period and the transition, I will try to expose some ideas on this issue.

First of all, what is happening in Poland is neither an isolated incident nor an unwelcome surprise falling from heaven. The economic crisis, together with the refugees’ crisis, has uncovered a reality which the European élite wanted to hide for long time. The entire eastern European area seems on the verge of collapsing from the point of view of the principle of democracy founded on human rights and separation of powers (including the fourth power i.e. the independence of the media): I am thinking of Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, the ethnic and russophobic closures in the Baltic countries, and of Poland, where the xenophobic and nationalist right-wing won for two times in 2005 and today with Jarosław Kaczyński – the brother of Lech, who was President and died in the plane crash in 2010.

Why the system is collapsing in this way? In my view it is happening because the transition from communism to constitutional democracy did not work, the enlargement was misconceived and the Polish liberal élites ruled the country without considering what their society demanded or suffered. Some speak of misunderstanding: the old Member States and the European Institutions did not clarify, during the accession negotiations, that the European project is not a merely neoliberal economic project based on an unbridled market. In reality, rather than misunderstanding we should speak about a deliberate strategy, carried out on the basis of a conscience which believes to be correct but, on the contrary, does not perceive its own limitations and deficiencies: a false consciousness, quoting Karl Marx. Europe, in the last thirty years and more, has intentionally reshaped the idea of Union as a neoliberal single market, with the result that the transition moved from the communism to the market democracy – as Clinton named it in 1992-93 – rather than from communism to the rule of law and a constitutional and inclusive democracy. Some argued that a victory against communism had produced an End of History, which means: the social issue belonged already to the past two centuries, the class struggle too; the rage of those left apart could be ignored.

The reality was and is completely different. The economic policies adopted by the Polish liberal élites, abiding by the Union’s central doctrine, still produce social anger. The class struggle is far from being dead – after all it is intrinsic to capitalism and not to communism. If denied – and especially deprived of its social-economic nature – the class struggle tends to appear in any case, following however spoiled and destructive dividing lines. It will express itself along nationalistic or religious or even moralistic dividing lines, as well described by the sociologist David Ost.[1] As long as social inequalities produced by neoliberalism increase, the anger falls in the arms of the far-right, which converts it into hatred towards the different, into research of a scapegoat: hatred for the ethnic, racial, religious, moral “Other” (for instance, think about the unemployed described as “morally lazy”). This is what happened in the “Eastern front”. But it is also what is happening for decades in the Western part of the Union. We cannot hide this.

How to explain the absence of a strong left-wing, capable of representing the interests of workers and of those who have paid a high price as a result of the choc therapy (the so-called Balcerowicz Plan) adopted in Warsaw after the ’89? The answer is that there was a basic agreement between the leadership of Solidarnosc and the Communist Party to move towards a “market democracy”. Additionally, the heirs of the Communist Party were occupying entirely the left area of the Parliament and were completely in favour of the “choc therapy”. There was no place for another left wing.

Long before 1989, the leadership of Solidarnosc – I refer particularly to Adam Michnik and Lech Walesa – was convinced that the country needed ultra-liberal economic reforms. For them, the greatest danger was represented by the class struggle and an independent and demanding trade union. I would like to quote what Walesa said in ’89: “We will not catch up to Europe if we build a strong trade union (…) We cannot have a strong trade union until we have a strong economy”. [2]

According to some analysts, including David Ost, the “round table” negotiations with the Communist Party in ’88-’89 was possible precisely for these reasons: Solidarnosc had preliminarily decided to commit suicide, abandoning its nature of trade union. I remember some conversation I had with representatives of Solidarnosc just before the ’89: many of them did not hesitate to sing the praises of the economic policy of Pinochet. That seemed to be the model. During the same period, I heard similar arguments concerning the “Chilean transition” in Hungary and in the Baltic countries. The Polish liberal élite is a child of Solidarnosc, albeit one thing must be said: Solidarnosc has many children, including the Kaczyński brothers.

I would like now to provide you with some data regarding the socio-economic situation in Poland.

Today, Poland is characterised – even in a period of economic growth – by a very high rate of inequality, widespread poverty and a serious lack of social protection. Less than a half of the working population has a stable employment, 27 per cent of the workforce is temporary (ten years ago the percentage was 15). 9 per cent of the young population under 18 lives in absolute poverty. 19 per cent of the active population works for paying, through its own income, social insurances, and only 16 per cent of them receive unemployment benefits. In the private sector, only 2 per cent of the working population is member of a trade union. The State has abandoned and practically liquidated key sectors (welfare, rail system, health care, postal services). What strikes me with regard to some Eastern European countries is the opinion that liberal élites have about trade union’s actions. These actions are from their point of view something to fear and hide, and never essential ingredients of an inclusive social system that need to be listened and integrated.

In this case too, the Union does not give any support: the welfare state is experiencing, even in the rest of Europe, the same process of dismantlement, and trade-union representatives are equally perceived as a hindrance. With regard to those States which joined Europe after the transition, the truth is that they acceded almost without any welfare system. In this context, far-right movements have been able to catalyse the anger caused by the austerity policies promoted from the beginning of the ’90, and to present themselves as the spokespersons of the most oppressed citizens.

The European Union appears to be concerned by this involution but – in my view – has actively contributed to the demolition and distortion of the social conflict, even favouring such distortion. The Union was itself the primary promoter of an idea of democracy bent exclusively to the free market, and the main conditions that the Union has created for the accession of new States were based, substantially, on neoliberal features. On one side it is true that Europe has demanded the respect of some rule of law’s criteria – the so-called Copenhagen criteria – in the process of accession but, on the other side, its concept of democracy was minimalistic, i.e. merely procedural.

All of this applies to some Eastern European countries which have been considered excellent pupils for implementing austerity policies.

Now, both the Commission and the President of the European Parliaments seem outraged by these developments, but they have done little to safeguard a European project including the social question and even the social conflict ad an essential ingredient of the project. Nor did they make the effort to abandon the false consciousness of an “ended history”. In other words, the victory of the far right in Poland and Hungary should not be considered an anomaly: “it is rather rooted in the practice and ideology that have dominated over the past quarter of a century”.[3]

The Union made also another mistake i.e. leaving the issue of peace and war in the hands – both from a conceptual perspective and partially in its management – of its front-line States, namely the Eastern and Baltic countries (the same happened during the Cold War with regard to the Federal Republic of Germany: it represented the bulwark of the West). Consequently, Hungary has chosen to strengthen the partnership with Russia while all other States have decided to place their trust more on the United States and NATO than on the European Union.

The above fragmentation originated from the continuous unwillingness of the Union to develop a real and coherent policy with regard to Russia; a policy aiming to become independent from the strategies adopted by the United Stated and NATO. This failure led to the revival, in the Eastern part of the new enlarged Union, of the “bulwark mentality” – in an anti-Russian perspective – which characterised the borderlands of the ancient Community during the Cold War period.

The recent request of the Polish government of establishing a permanent NATO and US troops’ presence in it’s own territory, to ward off security threats coming from Moscow, represents just the latest example in that sense.

I would like to conclude by recalling that in Poland there are left-wing forces which strongly oppose the policies adopted so far and criticise the far-right as well as the liberal élites who ruled the country in the last years. I am referring particularly to the Razem (“Together”) movement, which is inspired by Podemos. It is a small force, not even represented in the Parliament. It could be suitable to invite its representatives to a Group meeting, in order to give them the possibility to explain their positions and the situation in the country, and to support them if we consider this appropriate.

[1]. David Ost, Defeat of Solidarity: Anger and Politics in Postcommunist Europe, Cornell University Press, 2006.

[2] Ibid. pp. 37, 53.

[3]  Cfr. Gavin Rae, http://beyondthetransition.blogspot.be/2015/12/the-liberal-roots-of-polish-conservatism.html

Fighting racial discrimination in housing

14 October, 2015

Hearing on fighting racial discrimination in housing: Forced evictions against Roma.

Barbara Spinelli’s speech (Italian version)

The National Roma Integration Strategies provided for by the Commission have been never really promoted in Italy. Italy is the only European Country that has created an “institutionalised system” of Roma and Sinti camps managed by public authorities. It is financially supported by its citizens, but clientelism, corruption and illicit business are endemic and have worsened an already extremely serious situation. In the famous wiretapping that led to the inquiry commonly known as “Mafia Capitale”, Salvatore Buzzi, head of “Cooperativa 29 giugno” – the enterprise which is at the core of the scandal – stated: «We got revenues for 40 million euro and we made all these money and profits from gypsies, housing crisis and migrants; all the other economic sectors end up in balanced budgets»

In 2014 only, the Italian government has allocated 1.315.000 euros to the Municipality of Rome for policies which actually foster a system turning Roma and Sinti people into scapegoats while taking advantage of their segregation.

In addition to that, we are witnessing a policy of forced evictions – carried out by both right-wing and left-wing City Councils – used as electoral strategy in view of local elections.

Less than a month ago, local authorities evicted the Bigattiera Roma camp in Pisa, without providing for any alternative housing facilities: I tried to block it with the support of NGOs, but didn’t succeed. The mayor of Pisa is a leftist politician. Another eviction was organized last Christmas but, at that time, we were able to block it by turning to the Prefect. Similarly on March 18, 2015, we have been able to impede the eviction of the Roma camps of Lungo Stura Lazio, in Turin, and Torre del Lago Puccini, in Viareggio.

The Jubilee is imminent. The rate of forced eviction of Roma families in Rome has increased impressively: 7 evictions in the two and a half months preceding the notice of the Jubilee, 64 evictions in the 7 months following that notice.

The Jubilee could be the very opportunity to demand the adoption of social security and inclusion policies, as prescribed by the United Nations and the European Union, as part of a wider project developed by local communities.

The Union should promote a holistic approach to social inclusion that goes beyond the current non-binding recommendations to the Member States and is founded on article 21 of the EU Charter of fundamental rights, under which any discrimination based on ethnic or social origin or membership to a national minority is forbidden.

Need to help Greece as soon as possible

di mercoledì, Agosto 26, 2015 0 , , , Permalink

by Barbara Spinelli


Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission

Mr. Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship

Mr. Christos Stylianides, Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid & Crisis Management

August 26, 2015

Dear President,

Dear Commissioners,

There are many countries in need of solidarity due to the strong influx of migrants and asylum seekers, but Greece – since years in deep crisis and recession – struggles more than any other country and to an intolerable level to handle the reception of refugees: 160,000 from January to August 2015, as reported by the UN. An increase of 750% compared to 2014. Thousands of migrants are blocked at the border between Greece and former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYROM), violently rejected by the authorities of of Skopje.

The European director of UNHCR describes the situation of migrants in Europe as “the worst” he has seen in thirty years of experience in humanitarian matters. Pope Francis has equated rejections of migrants to “acts of war”.

The European Commission decided in August 2015 the allocation of special funds to assist countries in major difficulty, on the basis of Article 79 TFUE. For 2014-2020, Greece is expected to receive 260 million euro from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), and 195 million from the Internal Security Fund (ISF) [1].

It seems, however, that the first payments are slow to come, as admitted on August 17 by Commissioner Avramopoulos in an interview to Italian newspaper “La Repubblica” [2]. Great Britain has already received the due aid.

We ask:

  • Is the Commission aware of the harm caused by any delay in payment, considering the dramatic situation of abandonment in which refugees find themselves in the Greek islands?
  • Does the Commission consider sufficient the numbers allocated, considering such a high increase in migration?
  • How will the decision taken by the European Council on 25-26 June be implemented, regarding the relocation of 16,000 asylum seekers from Greece to other Member States?

[1] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-15-5483_en.htm.

[2] Dimitris Avramopoulos: “Arrivano i soldi Ue per i profughi ma dopo averli salvati fate di più”

Barbara Spinelli
Molly Scott Cato
Fabio De Masi
Marie Christine Vergiat
Martina Michels
Tania Gonzalez Penas
Kuneva Kostadinka
Kostas Chrysogonos
Julie Ward
Raymond Finch
Liliana Rodrigues
Ernest Maragall
Bronis Ropė
Tanja Fajon
Alfred Sant
Nessa Childers
Ana Maria Gomes
Becerra Basterrechea
Nicola Caputo
Miguel Urban Crespo
Aldo Patriciello
Tatjana Ždanoka
Eleonora Forenza
Edouard Martin
Elena Valenciano
Knut Fleckenstein
Eleftherios Synadinos
Bilbao Barandica Izaskun
Sylikiotis Neoklis
Lola Sánchez Caldentey
Monika Vana
Jude Kirton-Darling
Maite Pagazaurtundúa Ruiz
Josep-Maria Terricabras
Lynn Boylan
Matt Carthy
Liadh Ní Riada
Martina Anderson
Fredrick Federley
Igor Šoltes
Elly Schlein
Karima Delli
Michèle Rivasi
Marita Ulvskog
Anna Hedh
Dario Tamburrano
Ignazio Corrao
Caterina Chinnici
Manolis Kefalogiannis
Margrete Auken
Claude Rolin
Maria Heubuch
Helmut Scholz
Dietmar Köster

Sea rescue: where is Triton?

di sabato, Luglio 25, 2015 0 , Permalink

A somewhat shorter version of this text, titled Migranti salvati in mare, ma dov’è finito Triton? appeared on July 25, 2015 on the Italian newspaper «Il Fatto Quotidiano».

After the shipwreck occurred on April 18, the European Union committed itself to intensify search and rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean [1] and, on May 25, the European Agency Frontex announced the signature of a new plan for the Triton mission aimed at providing assistance – with an increased availability of technical and financial resources – up to 138 nautical miles south of Sicily, almost quintupling its operational area.

Fabrice Leggeri, Executive Director of Frontex, has affirmed that, during the peak summer, Triton will deploy 3 airplanes, 6 Offshore Patrol Vessels, 12 patrol boats and 2 helicopters in order “to support the Italian authorities in controlling its sea borders and in saving lives, too many of which have already been tragically lost this year”. [2]

For a while, it seemed that several Member States, through the deployment of their own vessels, had organised a humanitarian mission – a sort of European Mare Nostrum – and in June no deaths by shipwreck have been registered. However, this commitment was limited to a few weeks. At the end of June, after having saved more than 3,000 refugees, the British Navy has recalled its warship Bulwark I – with the capacity to hold up to 800 people – replacing it with the Oceanographic vessel Enterprise, which can hold 120 people [3]. After June 30, even the German ships Schleswig-Holstein and Werra disappeared.

Since the beginning of July we see again people dying in the sea. At least 12 persons drowned in the shipwreck of four boats in the Channel of Sicily [4] and more than 100 dead bodies have been retrieved by the Libyan Coast Guard off the coast of Tripoli. [5] All that occurred in the substantial indifference of the media. Frontex and the European Union did not take part in rescue operations that, instead, have been carried out by three private humanitarian ships of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), [6] Médecins Sans Frontières and Sea-Watch, together with units of the Italian Coast Guard and the Navy and the few ships remained among those made available by the Member States. It is not clear whether the latter are part or not of the Triton mission, since the official governmental websites specify that those ships have been made available by the single States under the coordination of the operations centreof the Italian Coast Guard. The same ambiguity surrounds the “status” of the Irish ship LÉ Niamh: there is no reference to the Triton-Frontex mission with regard to its rescue operations but, instead, to”joint operations carried on with the Italian Navy”. [7]

The situation described by the crew of the German NGO Sea-Watch – which saved with its ship 587 persons in six days – is worrying: “Not a single day passed out here without a rescue mission […] We would like to thank very much the organizations MSF (Doctors Without Borders) und MOAS, who also do excellent work here, for the fantastic cooperation […] but we do ask ourselves what the ships of the EU mission Triton and Eunavfor Med are actually doing. We have not seen them here! […] The European Union does not seem to take sea rescue seriously […] We feel left alone by the European Union and the Federal Government”. [8]

It would appear that the first of July there has been a hand-over from the Triton operation to the Eunavfor Med mission but nobody is still aware of its details; as far as we know this choice has created an operational vacuum full of consequences – as demonstrated by the today’s shipwreck in which more than 40 persons have lost their lives off the Libyan coast – that in the next weeks could lead to the loss of other human lives. All the warning signals are in front of us though these are ignored by the media:

On July 2, the ship Dattilo of the Italian Navy rescued 904 migrants and escorted them to the harbour of Reggio Calabria. [9]

On July 9, the Italian Coast Guard retrieved 12 corpses and rescued 500 shipwrecked persons.[10]

On July 14, the Libyan Coast Guard retrieved more than 100 corpses of Sub-Saharan migrants in front of the coasts of Tripoli. [11]

On July 16, the ship Dattilo rescued 835 persons – for the most part originating from Sub-Saharan countries and departed from Libya – during four consecutive shipwrecks in the Channel of Sicily. [12]

On July 17, a patrol boat of the Coast Guard, coming from Lampedusa, saved 200 migrants.

On July 19, the ship of Médecins Sans Frontières saved 129 persons, among whom there were 13 women and 12 children. [13]

On July 22, the ship LÉ Niamh of the Irish Navy escorted 370 shipwrecked persons to Palermo. [14] A patrol boat of the Italian Coast Guard saved 578 migrants and escorted them to Messina. [15] In Lampedusa, the Italian Coast Guard saved 414 migrants, including 4 infants, who were shipwrecked from four different boats. [16]

On July 23, the German warship Schleswig-Holstein has escorted to Augusta 283 refugees departed from Tripoli who were shipwrecked from three different boats. At least 40 people died. [17]

According to the statement made by Fabrice Leggeri on May 25, the Commission would have “provided Frontex with additional EUR 26.25 million to strengthen Operation Triton in Italy and Poseidon Sea in Greece from June 2015 until the end of the year”, [18] so tripling Triton’s resources. The Commission should clarify what happened with those funds and how have been spent; which and how many ships are currently operating in the Mediterranean and if there is a link with the Triton mission.

Do the activities of Frontex involve also the rescue operations carried out by the Italian Coast Guard and navy units of the single Member States? What relations do exist between the Triton mission and the Eunavfor Med mission in the light of the fact that, according to an “internal and confidential memo made in Brussels”, the new hotspot of Catania will be managed – as far as the coordination of the activities related to reception of migrants are concerned – by a team of four officials coming from Frontex and one from Europol, Easo and Eurojust respectively and will serve as a liaison for the anti-traffickers naval force in the Mediterranean Eunavfor Med? [19]

What kind of measures the European Union will adopt for not being responsible for other human catastrophes in the sea that could possibly occurduring the next few weeks in July and August?

Con decisione del Consiglio straordinario convocato il 23 aprile e successive delibere della Commissione e del Consiglio.

[2] Frontex expands its joint operation Triton, 26 maggio 2015.

[3] Gov.Uk, HMS Enterprise to replace HMS Bulwark in the Mediterranean, 22 giugno 2015.

[4] Canale di Sicilia, soccorsi quattro barconi. Morti almeno 12 migranti, 393 tratti in salvo, SiciliaMigranti, 10 luglio 2015.

[5] Cento morti sulle coste libiche, SiciliaMigranti, 15 luglio 2015.

[6] Voyage of the damned, The Mail of Sunday, 21 July 2015.

[7] Cfr.:
LE Niamh rescues over 360 migrants in Mediterranean
, The Irish Times, 20 July 2015.
Defence Forces Ireland;
Defence Forces Ireland.

[8] Sea-Watch, Situation report of the MS Sea-Watch after: 2nd operation: sea rescue of 587 people and request to the European Union to take over their responsibility for sea rescue, Berlin, 17 July 2015.

[9] La nave Dattilo trasporta 904 migranti a Reggio Calabria, Ministero dell’Interno, 2 luglio 2015. A bordo erano presenti “904 migranti provenienti da Marocco, Libia, Nigeria, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Costa d’Avorio, Togo, Guinea, Siria, Palestina, Tunisia, Pakistan. Tra loro erano presenti 697 uomini, 147 donne (3 in stato di gravidanza) e 60 minori, 27 dei quali non accompagnati”.

[10] Immigrati: tragedia a nord Libia, 12 morti; 500 tratti in salvo, AGI, 9 luglio 2015.

[11] Bodies Wash up on Libyan Shore, Migrant Report, 14 July 2015.

[12] Migranti, 835 soccorsi dalla nave Dattilo nel canale di Sicilia, Il Fatto Quotidiano, 17 luglio 2015.

[13] MSF Sea Rescue.

[14] Mille migranti arrivati in Sicilia, 370 sbarcati a Palermo, La Repubblica, 22 luglio 2015.

[15] Ivi.

[16] Guardia costiera salva 414 migranti, Pupia Tv, 22 luglio 3015.

[17] Migranti, naufragio con decine di vittime al largo della Libia, La Repubblica, 23 luglio 2015.

[18] Frontex expands its Joint Operation Triton.

[19] Gli ispettori dell’UE in Italia contro le fughe dei migranti, La Stampa, 22 luglio 2015.

Martin Schulz should resign

di martedì, Luglio 7, 2015 0 , Permalink

Versione italiana

The President of the European Parliament, Mr. Martin Schulz, should seriously consider his resignation, after the results of the Greek referendum of July 5.

He spent the last week in campaigning for a Yes-vote, for the fall of the legitimate Greek government, for its “substitution by a technocratic government”, ready to accept the untenable austerity proposals coming from the troika: proposals which don’t contemplate the restructuring of the debt demanded in the last days by the IMF itself. He brazenly called Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras a “manipulator” of its people.

His behaviour has been partial, brutal, obtuse, and it is without precedents in the history of the European Union and its Parliament.

He should resign, even if the results of the referendum had been different.

What is in question, is the capacity of Martin Schulz of representing in its entirety the European Parliament he presides. He already showed the same partiality and the same disrespect on other crucial issues – among them the TTIP – before the parliamentarians even discussed them.

In fact, he is deeply discrediting the European institutions and the office he holds.


Barbara Spinelli (GUE/NGL Mep, Italy)
Eleonora Forenza (GUE/NGL Mep, Italy)
Malin Björk (GUE/NGL Mep, Sweden)
Luke Ming Flanagan (GUE/NGL Mep, Ireland)
Ernest Urtasun (Greens/EFA Mep, Spain)
Molly Scott Cato (Greens/EFA Mep, United Kingdom)
Karima Delli (Greens/EFA Mep, France)
Pascal Durand (Greens/EFA Mep, France)
Michèle Rivasi (Greens/EFA Mep, France)

Grexit and the European sleepwalkers

di mercoledì, Giugno 24, 2015 0 , , , Permalink

Il Sole 24 ore, June 21, 2015 (Versione italiana)

“We can restore the dialogue only with adults in the room”, Christine Lagarde has affirmed, warning Greece on behalf of the Monetary Fund. Ironically, she is right: there are too many careless persons and too many economic experts lacking historical memory and geopolitical awareness in the rooms where, for months, the faith of Europe as a whole, not only of Greece, has been decided upon. When we discuss about the euro and its rules or when we invoke stronger European institutions without questioning the standards that should support the single currency, Europe as such is at stake and not just a single State in trouble.

The IFM has proven not to be fully adult itself in defending, over and over again, structural reforms that the IFM itself has questioned since 2013 for being harmful and counter-productive, hence wrong. Those who raised the spectre of Grexit selling it as an easy solution, spread panic among Greek savers, and gave misleading information about the chaos that would affect the Greek Central Bank, cannot be considered adults either. The Union Treaties and the Statute of the ECB do not provide for unilateral mechanisms designed to leave the eurozone unless the State at risk of bankruptcy preliminarily decides to leave the European Union. The Greek government is not opting for this solution. It is definitely not possible to expel Greece.

During a speech delivered at the European Parliament on June 15, Mario Draghi implicitly revealed the truth when he suggested that the “political decision will have to be taken by elected policymakers, not by central bankers”. He did not propose any real alternative, and reaffirmed that “the ball lies squarely in the camp of the Greek government to take the necessary steps” – thus appearing more political than he wanted to be – but he admitted that an additional failure in the negotiations will push us into “uncharted waters”.

The pressure put on Athens to further reduce public expenditure and pensions – even if these have been already reduced to a minimum level – confirms that the Union is led by powers lacking any sense of responsibility. If those powers were adults, they would invite to the room of negotiations persons with historical sense and, above all, historical memory. These would be persons provided with a central vision and strong inspiring principles, aware of the fact that history is tragic, mindful of the past catastrophes and conscious of the imminent risks, namely the risk for the Union to collapse and lose its attractive force towards its citizens. Sitting at the negotiating table there would be geostrategic experts and all those economists – such as the two Noble Prices Winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman – who have been regularly despised in all these years even though they never proved wrong. We do not see predictive economists among those who are pushing the Tsipras Government to carry out already accomplished structural reforms, but simple politicians who, in order to hold their power, lazily and indifferently keep on following hegemonic austerity philosophies that have already proved their obsolescence. The real gross domestic product of Greece already fell by 27% due to austerity measures, the public debt rose to 180% of GDP, unemployment has reached 27%.

Experts in geopolitics would help us understand the centrality of Greece within a Europe struggling with chaos at its Eastern and Southern borders. A Europe which is unable to face this chaos autonomously – and does not want to tackle it by itself, while, at the same time, keeping the distances from an American strategy that consciously revives the Cold War with Russia and has contributed to create, beyond the Mediterranean Sea, an area of instability from Sub-Saharan Africa to Afghanistan. Greece is at the border of this world, at the crossroads of the Balkans, the Middle East, and Syria. Its bonds with Russia are strong and deep-rooted. The aversion of the Tsipras government to the war on terrorism, and more recently to the project of intervening in Libya to fight against human traffickers, is well-known in Berlin and Paris. Its hostility against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is equally known. Perhaps, someone in Europe would like to “lose” Athens precisely for such reasons, but this loss would be a political suicide.

Europe cannot give up Greece if it wishes to stop being a puppet of the US administration, to avoid a new cold war and to properly analyse the Ukrainian situation – while recognising that Ukraine moved from a pro-Russian oligarchy to another kind of oligarchy linked to russophobic right-wing extremists. Europe cannot manage without Greece on immigration issues either. The newly elected Greek government is facing an influx of migrants and asylum seekers much heavier and sudden than the Italian one and it is dealing with it without evoking xenophobic instincts. The hypothesis of a Grexit is not only outrageous but even dull if compared to the silence that, at the same time, surrounds the Hungarian plan – announced on June 17 – to erect a 175 km long wall along the border with Serbia in order to stop the flow of refugees and migrants into the country.

Finally, negotiations lack of persons with a basic level of general knowledge. In an article published on June 16 by Die Welt, the commentator Jacques Schuster warned the Germans that Tsipras is proving to be one of the most skilful and astute European politicians: he is capable of exploring the deepest recesses of the German soul and of using guile and cunning in order to take advantage of the “weak nerves” of Germany. It cannot be otherwise: “the Greeks are a nation of sailors”, and the sailors “are used to fluctuate in the waters and swing on the edge”.

Such worrying articles are reminiscent of pre-First World War language, charged with psycho-ethnic allusions to the “nerves” of single personified populations. The distinction between Land and Sea – theorized by Carl Schmitt in the Thirties and Forties – comes back: on one side, lawless people that are used to fluctuate in the oceans and, on the other side, cultures rooted in the mainland and thus able to create the nòmos, namely the law and all the needed rules.

The European Head of States appear to come from those ages. They seem monarchs who, as drunkards, let themselves be tempted by such bellicose lexicon without realising it. The future of Europe is too important to be entrusted to sleepwalkers who only base their expertise on defunct economic theories. Being an adult in Europe means having the ability to recognize not only uncharted waters, but even the muddy ones into which we risk to blunder.

Athens, Europe

di mercoledì, Giugno 3, 2015 0 , , , Permalink

GUE/NGL study days in Athens 2th – 4th June

Tuesday, June 2ndPeriphery Debts: Causes, consequences and solutions

3rd panel: “Standing with the Greeks for a European Alternative

Barbara Spinelli’s speech (Versione italiana)

Ever since the crisis has affected Europe we got used to say that the Union has utilised Greece as a guinea-pig. (This is perhaps the reason why the term “Pig-countries” is used…) The guinea-pig needed to be subjected to an intensive therapy of austerity measures and the treatment had to be administered by a powerful oligarch – the trojka – which presented itself as a European entity, even federal, despite its inter-national nature due to the inclusion of the Monetary Fund. The existence of a “Greek laboratory” has been fully confirmed by the negotiations that started between Syriza on one side and the Union and the Monetary Fund on the other side, since the party won the elections on January 25.

Now it is time to examine in depth the current situation. We need to understand the root causes that generated this five-year “experimentation”, its purpose and what it can tell us about Europe. The aim of the experiment is getting clearer: a technical-political oligarchy is currently using Greece to enhance its own disciplinary power in the Union, by testing a specific – de-constitutionalised and de-parliamentarised – model of democracy. I would like to focus on this de-constitutionalisation, in order to understand why these experimenters continue to support not only the need, but the effectiveness of their test, while being aware of the fact that the effectiveness of the cure is more than dubious and that the Union is actually falling apart. In 2013 the Monetary Fund for the first time confessed that its estimates regarding the effects of austerity on growth and occupation were wrong, and yet the IMF too is sticking to its doctrines.

From the point of view of EU authorities, the experiment has been successful since it reached its primary target. Democracies and national constitutions are gradually eroded and, most important, universal suffrage is becoming an annoying variable that can be bypassed or sacrificed. In the hierarchy of priorities, effectiveness and governability are replacing representativeness, and this coup de main is made possible by the identification of national sovereignty with popular sovereignty. As a consequence, the ever-increasing loss of national sovereignties since the two world wars drags citizens’ sovereignty into the abyss. This collapse of national sovereignties is generally presented as a precondition for a federal development of the Union, but a Federation is far from being a reality. Therefore, sovereignty simply evaporates and the powers which rule globalisation – hastily called markets – prevail.

In a truly federal union, the negotiations between Athens and the European Union would rest on a totally different basis. In an European “agorà”, the arguments presented by the Greek government would count, and prevail on the power of each single State. In a Federation, a Member State would not be punished for its debt by way of its exclusion from the federal institutions and their currency. Federations do exist in order to avoid precisely this risk.

The fact is that Europe is experiencing an extraordinary regression and this is the real ongoing experiment. The Greek case is used in order to question the post-war idea that Europe could prevail on the old balance of nationalist powers – a balance of power which caused the world wars of the last century – in two ways: first, by creating a permanent solidarity bond among the States, while preserving popular sovereignty as the basis of constitutional democracies and, second, by turning the fight against poverty (Welfare) into the cornerstone of the new Community. The new oligarchic Europe, which is flourishing through the crisis, is led by a “postnational federalism of the executives” – quoting Habermas – and this Directory is responsible for the entropy we are facing: Parliaments are progressively disempowered and European unity is gradually losing its political dimension, if not disappearing.

The entropy of the European Union is not a new condition. It started in the 70’s, when the Trilateral Commission entrusted three political analysts with the task of drafting the vademecum of the de-constitutionalised democracy in order to make democracy “governable”. I am speaking about the report written in 1975 by Michel Crozier, Samuel Huntington e Joji Watanuki, titled «The crisis of democracy ». Today there is much debate on managed democracy, talking about Putin’s autocracy. The truth is that we ourselves are living under forced administration. What we are facing is a revival – that’s the reason why I spoke about an “extraordinary regression” – of the nineteenth-century aggression against universal suffrage which raged when Great Britain decided to gradually extend the right to vote. Such extension was the enemy to destroy, since it jeopardised the old establishment. Approximately at that time, the same approach was adopted against the first hesitant attempts aimed at introducing Welfare rules which ought to stem social damages created by the industrial liberal revolution. Both enfranchisement and welfare did represent a threat for the “protected” élite and, consequently, for the authority of governments.

The Greek case reveals that Europe is not in construction but, on the contrary, in de-construction. The orthodoxy on which the de-construction is grounded remains untouched, since it represents a political theology: no single element of the dogma can be be questioned without contesting the power apparatus which enunciated it. The infallibility of the dogma is intrinsically linked to the permanence of that power apparatus. For this reason, something is rotten in the State of Europe.

Finally, something is rotten in the creation and management of the euro too. And once again we find the same mistake: Europe decides to unify an important sector – the currency, or one day the defence – without creating at first a political unity as well as a democratic constitution which allow citizens to exercise control over the newly deployed super-national sovereignties. Despite its ongoing failure, the model is proposed over and over again by Europe, which deems it the most “pragmatic” hence the most effective. It is actually the most destructive model, as already stated in 1971 by the economist Nicholas Kaldor – repeatedly quoted by Yanis Varoufakis – when speaking about the economic and monetary union (the so-called Werner Plan) proposed at that time. His words are prophetic: «Some day the nations of Europe may be ready to merge their national identities and create a new European Union – the United States of Europe. (…) This will involve the creation of a “full economic and monetary union”. But it is a dangerous error to believe that monetary and economic union can precede a political union or that it will act – in the words of the Werner report – ‘as a leaven for the evolvement of a political union which in the long run it will in any case be unable to do without’. For if the creation of a monetary union and Community control over national budgets generates pressures which lead to a breakdown of the whole system it will prevent the development of a political union, not promote it».

His words should be reminded to those who like to imagine the future European “governance” while congratulating themselves for the current political choices. I would like to mention in this context the speech delivered on March 26 by Mario Draghi at the Italian Parliament. Quite rightly, he asserts that the original flaw of the common currency has consisted in the creation, as a first step, of rules – economic and financial, fatally ignored as he says by the majority – instead of common institutions (I assume federal institutions). Hence his wish: “replace a system grounded on rules with a different system based on stronger institutions”.

At first sight, his wish echoes Kaldor’s words. Actually, it doesn’t echo them at all. For the ECB President, the economic and financial rules did in no way cause the “breakdown of the whole system” as predicted by Kaldor; in fact, he still has an extremely high opinion of them. That’s why he concludes his speech by stating that if we want a more political union “we must, in the first place, abide by the rules currently in force”. Here is the vicious circle that preserves the status quo. The “stronger” institutions are apparently supposed to legitimise and glorify rules whose effects have already and in the most conspicuous way proved catastrophic: «Only by respecting rules – in the words of Draghi – we can build the necessary mutual trust for establishing future institutions». The relationship between Greece and Europe has extensively proven that such vision of things is not so much delusional as it is deceitful.