As a new financial crisis threatens the world, actors of the radical Left will convene at the fifth Plan B summit to save Europe from the neoliberal regime leading it to the abyss.
Olivier Tonneau is Lecturer in modern languages, Homerton College, Cambridge, Member of La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) and the People’s Assembly Against Austerity
Sophie Rauszer is a member of La France Insoumise (France Unbowed)
Today the fifth Summit of Plan B in Europe began. It brings together actors of the transformative left from around twenty European countries and from all political, associative or scientific backgrounds. This meeting is of significance: according to Hervé Hannoun and Peter Dittus, respectively former Deputy Managing Director and Secretary General of the Bank for International Settlements, we are on the eve of the worst banking crisis in our history. This Franco-German pair that cannot be suspected of leniency towards leftism has drawn a conclusion from such findings which translated into their book’s title: ‘Revolution Required’.
When the French Left Party was founded, more than eight years ago, another Franco-German pair made up of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Oskar Lafontaine had reached the same conclusion. They were not listened to, the 2008 crisis took place and as a consequence Greece was outrageously put under supervision. The first Plan B Summit took place in Paris at the initiative of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Zoé Konstantopoulou in Greece, Stefano Fassina, former Italian finance minister, Oskar Lafontaine, founder of Die Linke, sociologists, jurists and actors of national and European movements. Noting that Greece’s capitulation “was achieved by the closure of Greek banks by the European Central Bank (ECB) and the threat of not allowing them to reopen until the Greek government accepted a new version of a failed programme”, participants agreed on a watchword: to never again let the peoples of Europe be blackmailed! This initiative quickly reached some twenty countries represented at the Madrid, Copenhagen and Rome Summits, and has become the crucible of Europe’s reinvention. The observation made at the first Summit is now widely accepted: “We must escape the inanity and inhumanity of the current European treaties and remould them in order to shed the straitjacket of neoliberalism, repeal the budgetary treaty and reject the free trade agreement with the United States (TTIP)”. These treaties undermine the ability of states to intervene economically and thus force them to delegate their tasks to the private sector, leading to a commodification of the world that has not preserved any aspect of human life – health, education, transport, food, housing and even the land itself. After nine years of austerity policies, even social democratic parties that have helped implementing them are slowly starting to admit that withdrawing from the treaties is needed. Yes, but how? That is where plan A comes into Action.
Some point out that these treaties are not negotiable; they could only be unanimously amended by the 28 (soon to be 27) Member States, a condition unlikely to be met. There would therefore be no other solution than to make use, like the United Kingdom, of the famous Article 50 which triggers the exit from the European Union – all member states being in complete isolation and unable to negotiate anything, since the EU never gives in to anything. In reality, the treaties’ strength is for the most part an illusion. It should suffice to remember that after sinking as far as possible into an absurd and counter-productive austerity, the European Central Bank breached its mandate to flood the continent with liquidity; no one objected, aside from a few single-minded ordoliberals in Germany. Mario Draghi was even celebrated as a great saviour for doing exactly what left-wing economists had been urging him to do from the beginning – except that he did it wrong, since his monetary stimulus benefited private banks which did not miss an opportunity to speculate with public money. Not a single member state has been punished for failing to comply with unsustainable budgetary rules. Germany, whose trade surplus infringes EU rules on excessive imbalances, is all but congratulated for it. Treaties, like promises, only bind those who believe in them.
The European Union is not being asphyxiated by its treaties but by institutions that decide to enforce them when they feel like it. Having said that, it is commonly accepted that the enemy is “Brussels”, a power dominating the Member States. This is another misconception. The European Commission, far from being a European executive body, is not where real power lies. Power is actually at the European Council and the Council of the European Union, i. e. at the heads of state and their ministers. Its official definition states that the European Council does not have a legislative function, but that it is nonetheless a “genuine centre of political decision-making” and “provides the necessary impetus for the Union’s development”, setting out general political guidelines and priorities. In other words, it is the European Council that determines the spirit of the laws later proposed by the Commission and submitted to the European Council of Ministers. For its part, the European Parliament only acts as a recording chamber.
Moreover, the Council is not a supranational body, but a place where states confront each other and where the will of one or more of them imposes itself on others. ‘Brussels’ and ‘Europe’ are therefore abstract entities that merely masks an old-fashioned fight between rival powers. Among these powers, the German conservative government was the one that succeeded most in imposing its will on its partners. It is therefore tempting to consider that the fight for Europe’s transformation is first and foremost a struggle against Germany. That’s only partially true.
Firstly because there is an opposition in Germany. Furthermore, the German Conservatives have only been able to act with the complicity of other conservative and social-democratic governments across Europe. They have kept on setting it up as a model while pitifully hiding behind its so-called power to justify their renunciations. The German conservatives have never had an opponent determined enough or prepared enough – but it only takes one. It only takes one precisely because the system is back on the verge of breakdown. Only one link in the chain of systemic institutions needs to break for the whole chain to collapse. This will eventually happen unless measures contained in Plan A prevent such a disaster; the threat of triggering it could cause the ostriches’ heads to come out of the ground.
Bringing a transformative left-wing government to power is therefore one of the issues at stake at the Plan B Summit. However, a government of this kind will have to be able to rely on a large popular mobilisation, aware of what is at stake and ready for a tug of war. There is also the distinct possibility that reforming the European Union by leaving its treaties will fail. Should that be the case, the Lisbon Call for Action has set out as a plan B the invention of “other forms of European cooperation, restoring sovereignty and setting up new mechanisms for the monetary and economic choices of the peoples”. Even if the European Union were to collapse under the weight of its contradictions, this would not be the end of history.
Plan B is unilateral but coordinated disobedience to the European Union. If, for example, a state wishing to introduce an ecological and social tax at the borders of the European Union were to face a wall of rejection by other States, it would introduce it at its national borders, thereby ensuring a knock-on effect on other interested partners. “The point is not to get the best possible results in each of our countries by relying on relative degrees of latitude granted by their respective economic power and demographic weight,” explains Eric Coquerel,”but to work together on a concrete plan B that takes into account the characteristics of each country “, i.e. their political, economic and social realities. Only thus can the catchphrase of ‘another Europe’ be overcome – as the latter has systematically been prevented by the unanimity rule, which de facto enshrines the neoliberal doctrine. On monetary issues for example, there are many policy answers which can vary depending on the context, from an exit from the Eurozone to a common currency or a remodelled monetary system. But all agree with the Portuguese Bloco’s motto: no more sacrifice for the Euro!
Should plan B be implemented, it would be crucial for plan A to have effectively triggered a popular mobilisation. The latter not only aims at equipping States willing to initiate a European re-foundation, but also at bringing to life an internationalist ideal of solidarity which has been undermined by the EU by pitting peoples against each other. This renewed internationalism is an absolute priority. The supporters of the European Union as we know it have in fact deployed considerable means to publicise a teleological reading of the European construction which would achieve an “ideal”. Europe would be the cradle of democracy and human rights, it would have an essential coherence and unity that would have waited for centuries to be politically achieved, and that would be ongoing. Once this myth has been accepted, the European Union becomes a sacrosanct project that must be protected at the cost of all sacrifices: its metaphysical value would justify accepting material disasters and even physical brutality rather than questioning it.
It is therefore worth stressing that the European myth does come with a shred of evidence. There is no precise definition of what ‘Europe’ is. Well known is Charles de Gaulle’s statement about Europe stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals, its natural border with Asia. Yet the Urals are no borders at all: both Asian and Caucasian peoples live on either sides of this low-lying mountain range. The Urals do not separate political entities either, as they cut across Russia. The eastern border of Europe is no clearer: Greece was Ottoman for six centuries. In the South, Europe is naturally bounded by the Strait of Gibraltar, but this natural border has not prevented Arabs from settling in Spain or European states from colonising Africa. The complexity of the continent’s history is, however, not taken into account by the European myth at all, the latter being generally summed up with ancient Greece, the Mona Lisa and Goethe. Endless discussions on the limits of the European Union’s borders ensue as well.
This narrowed cultural spectrum, reduced to a few symbols, could easily be mistaken for an old- fashioned colonialism: the sovereignty deprivation of South European countries came hand in hand with a stigmatisation of their peoples – as was the case for the Greeks, one day honoured as the inventors of democracy, and the next day referred to with infamous stereotypes usually reserved for peoples on the other side of the Mediterranean. To reject the Europeanist myth is therefore also to reopen the horizon of possibilities. If the current European construction turned out to be impossible to reform, all options would remain open to forge genuine relations of cooperation and egalitarian exchanges that our world so badly needs if it is not to fall into the abyss.
It is this hope that the Plan B Summit intends to bring to life. Of course, it still has a long way to go, but it is a space for dialogue and proposals that has never been seen before at European level. It paves the way for social majorities in each country. This 5th Summit in Lisbon will be the opportunity to take a new step forward: to make the structure permanent, to create a unique platform instead of the different websites created for each Summit to allow greater openness, to produce argumentative material – in other words, to federate resistance.