By Thomas Fazi
The outcome of the European elections will be crucial in determining the path that Europe – and especially the Eurozone – will take in the following years. Yet, abstention levels are expected to run high across the continent, as in previous elections. And Eurosceptic parties (mostly extreme right-wing) are expected to gain more votes than ever before – even in non-euro countries, such as the UK, that have been largely spared the pain inflicted upon the citizens of the euro area. This is understandable. In the span of just a few years, Europe has witnessed a social and economic regression unprecedented in its modern history. Its political, economic and social landscape has been radically transformed – more than any other continent in the world. Even though the roots of the crisis lay in the 30-year-long (and ultimately successful) takeover of society and the economy by the financial markets, which was itself part of the wider rise of neoliberalism as the dominant economic paradigm – and which found perhaps its most extreme expression in the architecture of the Eurozone – in Europe the blame for the crisis was subtly shifted from the banks to their victims – the European states and their citizens. While banks received trillions of euros of state aid, the citizens and workers of the Eurozone have been forced to endure a brutal austerity ‘cure’ that can be considered the most violent attack on the post-war European social model in history, resulting in a massive transfer of resources from low and middle-income people to the rich and powerful. This also provided a template for other nations: to varying degrees, all European countries – including those outside the euro area, such as the UK – have committed themselves to ‘fiscal consolidation’. At the same time, democracy on the continent has been dangerously curtailed: unelected institutions (in particular the ECB, the European Commission and the IMF) have assumed growing powers at the expense of national parliaments. Moreover, austerity is proving to be a failure even by mainstream economic standards, with a number of member states still mired in stagnation (or outright recession) – and moving swiftly towards deflation.
It would be naïve to view this simply as a ‘failure’ of economic policy, though, and at this point should rightly be seen as a deliberate attempt to impose an even more radical neoliberal order on the continent and consolidate Europe’s political, financial and corporate elites at the expense of workers and ordinary citizens (and the wider economy). In this sense, it is not an exaggeration to speak of ‘class warfare’. Sadly, the European Parliament has done little to contrast these policies – and has often actively supported them. This has fueled the idea that the EU is fundamentally unreformable, and has led an increasing number of people, even on the left, to believe that opting out of the euro (if not the EU itself) would be the best option. This would be a mistake: individually, no single country stands a chance against the overwhelming power of transnational capital. If we want to tame financial markets and corporate leviathans, political unity is essential. It’s not a question of dropping out of the Europe, but of taking it back from those that have hijacked it. A radical, progressive overhaul of the European institutions (in the direction of a genuine European supranational democracy and welfare state) is technically feasible. This is not to say that reforming the hugely complex (and, to a large degree, intrinsically technocratic) European architecture will be easy, but let’s face it: the main obstacle to change in these years has been the dramatically unfavourable balance of power, at both the national and European levels. Which is why these elections are so important: the presence of a strong progressive coalition in the next European Parliament – led by Alexis Tsipras, head of the Greek radical left party SYRIZA and candidate of the European Left for the presidency of the Commission – will be crucial to stop the failed policies associated with the ‘grand coalition’ model, between centre-right and centre-left, that is now ruling most of Europe. But even more importantly – to quote Aneurin Bevan, father of the British National Health Service – to reignite peoples’ faith in the power ‘of collective action designed to transform society and so lift all of us together’.
Thomas Fazi’s book The Battle for Europe: How an Elite Hijacked a Continent – and How we Can Take it Back is available on the Pluto Press website.
Thomas Fazi is an activist and filmmaker. In 2010, he co-directed Standing Army, an award-winning feature-length documentary on the global network of US military bases featuring Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal. He has also worked as an Anglo-Italian translator of authors such as Christopher Hitchens, George Soros and Robert B. Reich.