Democracy in Europe is a ‘Subversive’ Demand Today

06 Dec
Angela Merkel et Nicolas Sarkozy

Merkel and Sarkozy

The crisis over the Euro appears to have concentrated minds in Europe. It appears that Merkel and Sarkozy,  and the ruling classes behind them, have stared into the abyss, and terrified by what they saw, embarked on a drive to solve one of the basic contradictions of the Euro itself: monetary union in tandem with national sovereignty on fiscal matters. Whether their current plan is coherent or a finished product is doubtful, but it is likely to evolve under the impact of events.

Fiscal union is the logical conclusion of this situation. What form it will take is not entirely clear at the moment, but what is clear is that irrespective of that, the Eurozone’s financial authorities will have the power to overrule national budgets, or even in extremis to set those budgets themselves.

Petty nationalists of every stripe in Europe will scream murder about this of course. Because it points beyond the national state, towards a United States of Europe. One major reason for the Euro’s current troubles is that a single currency without a single state is a major anomaly. It order to have a stable currency, one needs not only a central bank, but also centralised economic instruments such as a budget, instruments of state debt, in short all the financial instruments of bourgeois economics.

The creation of the Euro represented recognition that the productive forces in Europe had long outgrown the framework of the nation states of Europe. It was not the first event that had signalled that, of course. Arguably the two major European wars that spilled over into world wars in the 20th Century were indications of the same obsolescence of the national state.

But the fact that the ruling classes of Europe recognise that economy must overflow national borders does not mean that they are capable of resolving the problems of international economy. This crisis proves it. Apart from the general capitalist crisis that was triggered off by the US subprime crisis in 2008, much of the current problem flows from the fact that the Euro is and always was a half-measure, creating the worst of both worlds, a currency without a coherent state power to back it up.

The new fiscal union, whatever form it takes, is certain to be completely devoid of democracy, even formal democracy. In some ways, the fate of democratic government in Greece and Italy, virtually suspended to make way for technocratic government at the behest of Brussels, not to mention banking interests, shows what fiscal union will be like. Governments will be constrained rigidly in budgetary terms, national-reformist schemes will become even more infeasible within the framework of the EU.

This is not just because of the wishes of the Eurocrats; petty nationalists in all of the states are also uttterly opposed to what is objectively necessary in Europe because they cannot countenance any meaningful measure of even formal democracy that transcends the nation state. So we will get democratic paralysis as long as things are left up to the bourgeoisie, the bourgeois federalists dare not counterpose all-European democracy to what we have now because that would undermine any chance of a compromise with the petty nationalists, and the petty nationalists hate the very idea of an even formally democratic all-European state.

That does give the working class movement a chance, if it was politically prepared for it. We must demand that if a fiscal union is to take place, it must be accompanied by the convocation of a Europe-wide elected constitutional assembly, directly elected by the people in each Eurozone country, to draw up a democratic European constitution where all power at European level is held by an elected parliament and those accountable to it and its electorate. It could be based on the existing parliament with expanded delegations, but what is key is to demand that this elected body, and not the Councils of Ministers, or ECB, or any of these unelected bodies, must hold overall power in its hands.

We must also demand as much in the way of other democratic and social reforms as possible, trade union rights on a European scale; there is a long list of social demands, democratic demands, demands involving the rights of minorities, that should be made that there is no space to elaborate here. Though it is worth recognising that, while the working class movement must put as much of its own imprint as it can on what comes out of this, and must in particular stand firm against austerity and mobilise action on as wide and European a scale as possible, our class is currently virtually leaderless and in a fairly weak position politically.

This needs to be turned around by mass resistance, but also by taking up political questions like the future of Europe and the Eurozone. We need a multi-pronged operation of radical street mobilisations in the spirit of the ‘occupy’ movements, coordinated trade union actions, and political campaigns around democratic demands that provide some handle to deal with the political situation we face.

There is nothing specifically socialist about this demand of course. But not to raise this demand in this context, or to oppose the fiscal union projected in a bloc with petty nationalists, would be anti-socialist in practice. Not to raise demands for fully sovereign Europe-wide democracy would be to accept an undemocratic but increasingly centralised Euroland. Not to raise it would also equal a kind of indirect capitulation to, and strengthening of, the petty-nationalists of whom Britain’s Tory Eurosceptics and UKIP types are a particularly nasty example.

For the working class movement to demand this extension of Europe-wide democracy, which no section of the ruling class dares, would be to strengthen itself quite markedly in political terms and put it on the offensive as the leading force, giving expression to the most forward looking elements in Europe. ‘We cannot accept either the further erosion of democracy through bourgeois fiscal centralisation, or the destruction of the progressive elements of European unity that have been achieved despite the reactionary nature of the bourgeois classes in Europe. No to austerity, no to protectionism and petty nationalism, yes to European democracy and renewed socialism and communism.


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