Lexit’s Digest No. 14, 19 September 2017
Juncker’s recent ‘State of the Union’ address was widely applauded by Europeanist media outlets. For example, Politico was very impressed by the Commission President’s ‘bold vision for Europe’: One speed. One currency. One president. No to a multi-speed Europe, all 27 Member States shall join the euro-zone and the Schengen agreement rather quickly after Brexit. EU enlargement shall continue, in particular with the Balkan states. How the governments of these entities ‘adapt’ to the Greek style ‘labour market reforms’ expected by the EU from such poor peripheral countries – see an interesting interview on LeftEast on this with Aleksandar Matković (a researcher at the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory at the University of Belgrade) here.
In that general context it is interesting to see that Andrew Watt – formerly a senior researcher at the European Trade Union Institute in Brussels and now working at the Hans Böckler Foundation of the German trade unions – was very positive about Juncker’s proposals. Equally interesting, his colleague Daniel Seikel, also of the Böckler Foundation, argues for the opposite of Juncker’s vision: A Flexible Union and an Open Constitution. Whereas Watt seems to believe that the Commission wants to improve the EU’s social policy stance (e.g. by its initiative on the European Pillar of Social Rights etc.), his colleague Seikel provided a scathing critique of that project.
Nobody will be surprised that the governments of the EU’s core do not take Juncker’s euro-vision seriously. Also, the Nordics (Sweden, Denmark) and some Eastern European governments (e.g. Poland, Hungary) have no intention at all to join the euro-zone. On how to reform the euro-zone, Paris and Berlin are still at odds. Other governments of EU member states are concerned about Macron’s ideas for EU ‘treaty change’. Those on the southern and eastern EU peripheries fear to be sidelined by a possible Franco-German core. Reactions to this are both ‘centripetal’ and ‘centrifugal’: some think it is better to align with the ‘EU core’, others think it is better to go for a selective confrontation with the core, simply demanding more structural funds monies for themselves and a further liberalisation of the EU Single Market.
On these issues, the divisions within the Eastern European Visegrad Group (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia) are an illuminating example: the governments of the latter two aim at moving closer to the EU’s core (France and Germany). The current governments of Poland and Hungary, however, insist on their differences with Macron and Merkel – based on a right-wing, authoritarian discourse on ‘national sovereignty’. How to disentangle the Gordian knot on euro-zone reform, multi-speed Europe etc. wished by German and French governments and capitalists, will remain a tricky question for the different national ruling elites in the EU even after the German general election on 24 September 2017 …
Fiscal Money – an alternative to Euro-Exit?
Yanis Varoufakis argues that the creation of fiscal money “would give Italy, France, and other eurozone members much needed fiscal space, and possibly provide a foundation for a revamped eurozone with interlocking domestic fiscal euros, rather than parallel currencies, playing a stabilizing macroeconomic role.” The concept of fiscal money has been strongly promoted by Enrico Grazzini and others in Italy on MicroMega and other left-leaning reviews. What fiscal money is about see e.g. articles by Grazzini here and here. Interestingly, the idea of a parallel domestic currency of some sort has been taken up by a quite unexpected figure: Silvio Berlusconi …
Brexit and the Labour Party
The first of the many expected Brexit bills has recently been approved by the UK parliament. The Labour Party rows back and forth on Brexit: initially, ‘access to the EU Single Market’ was its most important political demand, then in his election campaign Corbyn was very critical of the Single Market, and now again Labour is calling for a ‘soft Brexit’. John Weeks is not convinced and comments: “The belief that the health of the British economy depends on trade policies with Europe or anywhere else comes directly from neoliberal ideology, that “openness”, globalization of trade and capital flows, bring prosperity.” In an effort to counter Theresa May’s strategy to re-invigorate the UK as a major free trading force in the ‘Anglosphere’, Juncker recently proposed fast-track deals of the EU targeting Australia and New Zealand as first priorities. It’s ‘dog eats dog’, as usual …
The centre can (still) hold …
Perry Anderson’s hypothesis about political dynamics in Europe was again confirmed by the results of the recent general election in Norway. The centre-right coalition lost in voter support, but can continue with a reduced majority. Before the election, Jacobin.mag provided two interesting interviews with leaders of Norwegian parties to the left of social democracy: Snorre Valen of the Socialist Left Party (from 4 up to 6 percent, 11 seats), and Marie Sneve Martinussen of the ‘Red’ Party (also up to 2.4 percent, 1 seat).
As regards Germany, the ‘extreme centre’ may also hold. The current election campaign is quite boring, as conservatives (CDU/CSU) and social democrats (SPD) do not differ very much on substantial issues. Angela Merkel’s CDU is expected to be the clear winner. The four lesser parties (the right-wing AfD, the liberal FDP, the Greens and DIE LINKE) are daily changing their rank in the polls, mostly in the 7 – 11 percent range. So mainstream media hype is this: Who will come third? ‘Who whom’ (Lenin) is already settled – Martin Schulz and the SPD will have no chance to become the leading party in Germany and to claim the post of chancellor. The much narrower question ‘Who with whom’ is an open race till the end. The scramble of the lesser parties for third position is also a phoney exercise for some: for the Liberals and the Greens, it is about strengthening their quest to become coalition-partners of Merkel’s CDU. For DIE LINKE and the AfD, it is about the slot to ‘lead’ the opposition in the German parliament against any such constellation of the ‘extreme centre’, from very opposite angles.
If pollsters are right, there are only two options for forming a government after that election: another grand coalition (CDU/CSU and SPD), or a so called ‘Jamaica coalition’ (according to the colours of the Jamaican flag – black for the CDU/CSU, yellow for the FDP, and Green). The German Greens recently demonstrated that they are open to this option, in order to prevent another grand coalition. Anyhow – grand coalition or Jamaica in Germany – this is all about ‘defending the extreme centre’ at the heart of the European Union (meaning the supremacy of German capital as its dominating force). What may these German coalition-options mean for ‘Europe’ and for solving the current woes of its ruling classes (e.g. on reform of the euro-zone etc.)? Sophia Besch of the mainstream Centre for European Reform provided an interesting analysis on this (although one of her scenarios, a possible red-red-green alliance R2G, has not been a realistic option in 2017 from the start …).
Looking at France, Macron’s plans on the reform of French labour-law have been met with extra-parliamentary opposition on the streets – about 500 000 people striking and manifesting all over the country on 12 September 2017, on the call of the CGT trade union and others. This is quite the same turn-out as with the protests against the earlier ‘loi El Khomri’ on labour market deregulation at the end of Hollande’s Presidency. There will be another such event on 23 September, on the initiative of Melenchon’s La France Insoumise (see the comment by Roger Martelli on this, in French). Whether all these social protests will be strong enough to block or derail Macron’s ‘reform’ remains to be seen. Will these actions work as a catalyst to forge the political and the social opposition in France closer together? If so, this might become a starting point for rallying a quite fragmented French left opposition against Macron’s regime.
Next in the ongoing European election cycle (2015 – 2018) will be Austria and Italy (the latter in 2018, after failed attempts to reform its electoral law in order to clear the way for early elections in autumn 2017) – both to be considered soon. After those events, a balance sheet on that cycle (and the supposed challenges of right- or left-wing ‘populism’ to the system) might be drawn …
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) recently upheld the EU’s right to oblige member states to take in refugees. The government of Hungary rejects the ECJ’s judgement. Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgag Schäuble warns against tough sanctions for Hungary. No wonder – in real life the EU is already implementing similar anti-migration policies as promoted by Hungary’s President Viktor Orbán. Macron and Merkel are very busy to set up a roadmap for intensifying border controls in Africa. The EU also plans steps towards the militarization of its development aid.
Against that background, it may be interesting to read the new brochure by activists of Moving Europe, a network on migrant solidarity work, on ‘Resistance along the Balkan route’. In the London Review of Books, Daniel Trilling discusses the present state of affairs and alternatives to the EU’s migration policies: Should we build a wall around North Wales?
History: Greece and the euro-zone crisis
Eric Toussaint of CADTM provides an interesting and extensive review in three parts of Yanis Varoufakis recent book ‘Adults in the Room – My battle with Europe’s deep establishment’, which provides the former Greek finance minister’s view about the reasons behind the capitulation of Tsipras’ government in July 2015. See part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here. Highly recommended, as it is not simply a book review, but a devastating critique of Varoufakis account and his own role in the Greek debacle.
On counterpunch, there is an interesting piece by Leonidas Vatikiotis on Andreas Georgiou, the former head of the Greek statistics office, Elstat. He illegally inflated both the Greek public deficit and public debt figures for the period before the Memorandum of 2010 and was sentenced by a Greek court of appeal for breach of duty in August 2017. Vatikiotis demonstrates: The road to the Greek hell is paved with false EU and IMF statistics.