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France, presidential elections : ten proposals to beat the European Union

It is again clear from the current election campaign in France that a large proportion of the population wants left-wing radical solutions to exit the crisis. The impressive number of people attending Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s rallies and joining his movement La France Insoumise is evidence enough as well as poll survey results on voting intentions. This is indeed good reason to rejoice. Such upsurge of support for left-wing radical proposals to turn away from European treaties is a positive signal. Two other left-wing candidates, Philippe Poutou and Nathalie Arthaud, also benefit from a large-scale sympathy. Philippe Poutou’s attack on François Fillon and Marine Le Pen during the 4 April 2017 television debate also prompted a lot of interest, in and outside France.

by Eric Toussaint , Teresa Rodríguez , Miguel Urbán Crespo , Angela Klein , Stathis Kouvelakis , Costas Lapavitsas , Zoe Konstantopoulou , Marina Albiol , Olivier Besancenot , Rommy Arce

Part 2

Considering the experiences of 2015, it is fundamental that those who have no illusions about the European Union or the eurozone, and are proposing authentic ecological and socialist perspectives in rupture with the European Union, as it exists, be reinforced. It is clear that neither the European Union nor the eurozone can be reformed. It was demonstrated that it is impossible, on the basis of the legitimacy of universal suffrage and democratic debate, to persuade the European Commission, the IMF, the ECB, and the conservative governments in power over most of Europe to agree to measures that are respectful of the rights of the Greek people, or of any other population.

The July 5 referendum, which the European institutions fought tooth and nail by means of blackmail and coercion (such as forcing the Greek banks to close for five days preceding the referendum), did not bring them to make any concessions. On the contrary, totally ignoring all democratic principles, their demands became considerably more oppressive.

Certainly, there are many measures that could and should be taken at the European level to stimulate the economy, reduce social injustice, make the debt sustainable, and invigorate democracy. In February 2015, Yanis Varoufakis, while serving as Greek minister of the economy, presented proposals in this sense, suggesting that Greek debt be exchanged for two new kinds of bonds — either growth indexed obligations or “perpetual” obligations — which would never be reimbursed but would be paid out, interest only, perpetually. These proposals, although moderate and perfectly achievable, had no chance at all of being accepted by the European authorities.

This is the case with many proposals aiming to ease Greece’s and numerous other countries’ debt (joint debt recognition, euro-denominated mutual bonds, etc.). Technically these proposals are all viable but, in the present political context and balance of power in the European Union, the will to put them into practice is lacking. A progressive government cannot hope to be heard, respected and, even less, assisted by the European Commission, the ECB, and the European Stability Mechanism.

The ECB can paralyze a eurozone country’s banking system by cutting off its banks’ access to liquidities. The ECB’s arbitrary power and the banking union reinforce the coercive powers the European institutions can use to counter any experience of progressive policy in Europe.

The treaties have become extremely restrictive on matters of debt and deficit. The European authorities, in control of policies, could easily decide to derogate to these regulations by taking into consideration the state of crisis (actually they do this for “friendly” governments), but they clearly had no intention of doing so.

On the contrary, all the negotiating parties fiercely fought the Greek government even though it gave proof of great moderation (to say the least). The mainstream media and numerous European leaders treated Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis as rebels, or even as radical anti-Europeans. Between January and July 2015, the troika launched a fight against the Greek government, in order show to the peoples of Europe that there is no alternative to neoliberal capitalism.

The capitulation of the first Tsipras government was not enough to satisfy the IMF or the European leaders. Pressure continued to be laid on the second Tsipras government to apply ever more neoliberal policies, especially attacking public property, the welfare and retirement systems, and assisting big capital through the introduction of further judicial and legal frameworks favoring privatization and fundamental structural regression. All these new measures lead to increased injustice and precariousness.

If the creditors agree to a new restructuring of the debt, it will be under the condition that the same kind of policies be continued. In this case, a reduction of the debt will not at all be a victory or even a consolation. It will be no more than a measure to ensure continual reimbursements while seeking to dampen any arising social struggles.

This is the first lesson: unless they take strong sovereign and unilateral measures of self-defense, the people and the governments they bring to office to break with austerity programs cannot put an end to the human rights violations perpetrated by the creditors and the big corporations.

Some would argue that should a leftist government come to power in Madrid, it could use the weight of the Spanish economy (the fourth in the eurozone in terms of GDP) to negotiate concessions that Tsipras was unable to obtain. But what would be those concessions? Relaunch production and employment through heavy public spending and deficits? The ECB and Berlin along with at least five or six other capitals would oppose such policies! Taking strong measures against the banks? The ECB, with the support of the European Commission, would reject such policies.

What is also certain is that if the radical left entered the government of a country like Cyprus, Ireland, Portugal, Slovenia, or one of the three Baltic states, they would not have the weight, facing an unyielding European Commission or ECB board, to convince these institutions to let them renounce austerity, stop privatizations, develop public services, and drastically reduce the debt. These countries will have to resist and take unilateral measures in the interest of their populations. Could several progressive governments of eurozone countries form a common front for renegotiations? It would certainly be very welcome if this could happen, but the possibility is remote, if only for reasons of electoral agenda.

Should Jean-Luc Mélenchon win the upcoming presidential election in France, and his coalition win the following general election, could a French left-wing government achieve a reform of the euro? Mélenchon and the staff of his campaign believe so. It is reasonable to have doubts about this possibility. Let’s suppose that Mélenchon does win and forms a government intending to introduce social policies and to reform the euro. What would be the options?

It is quite likely that a French government could afford to disobey the current treaties, but it could not achieve a far-reaching reform of the entire eurozone. To do this would take simultaneous progressive electoral victories in the major countries as well as in peripheral countries. That said, it is clear that a government of a defiant France, and its allies, taking measures in favor of the French population and the peoples of the world (for instance, by abolishing Greece’s and developing countries’ debts towards France) could have a positive effect throughout Europe.

Having said that, the way out of the crisis is not of a nationalist nature. As much as in the past it is necessary to adopt an internationalist strategy and aim for a European integration that brings together the peoples opposed to the present form of integration, totally dominated by the interests of big capital.

The weak links in the inter-European chain of domination are to be found in the peripheral countries. If Syriza had adopted a correct strategy in 2015 it could well have been a turning point. It didn’t happen.

Other weak links where the radical left may gain power in the not-so-distant future are Portugal and Spain, and perhaps Cyprus, Ireland, and Slovenia. A progressive move ahead would depend on the capacity of the radical left to learn the lessons of 2015 and thus make anticapitalist and democratic proposals that will trigger popular support. Without doubt, the force of popular mobilization will be a decisive factor. If the pressure for real uncompromising change does not invade the streets, the neighborhoods, and the workplaces, the future will be very dark.

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