For democratic socialists to win the argument on Europe, they must first acknowledge the EU’s dual character. On one hand, Europe is a force for international co-operation and human rights, yet on the other it is business-centric bureaucracy that forces austerity on poorest and most vulnerable. The challenge for the left it is to be able to criticize the economic and political structures in the EU without playing into the hands of the nationalists. Nationalist groups, including UKIP and France’s Front Nationale, want to leave the EU or abolish it all together, however right-wing nationalists would also happily reinstate the same exploitative top-down structures within their respective countries. Obviously this type of international devolution would go completely against the principals of most progressives, equally however – should the democratic left sit back while the European Union forces abhorrent measures of wage depression and austerity on the working class?
France’s Socialist Party, the British Labour Party and Germany’s SDP, need to push for a progressive reformat of the European Union. The concept of the current European Bank, and its commitment to fiscally conservative monetarism, needs to be challenged without putting into question the fundamental concept of European internationalism. In its current state, all EU countries need to comply with austerity measures – if not, they won’t be able to compete with core countries such as Germany that have purposefully depressed the wages of their workforces. The richer EU nations, by artificially restricting the wages of their workers, have put a handicap on the economic viability of countries such as Greece, Italy and Portugal – which have accumulated huge amounts of sovereign debt as they cannot compete with the austerity programs of Germany, France and the UK.
This situation is manifestly untenable. It brings unemployment, destroys productive capacity and spreads hopelessness across Europe. In Greece conditions went beyond absurd long ago. As the eurozone moves deeper into recession in 2013, social and economic tensions will ratchet up across the continent. The most difficult phase of the crisis is still ahead of us. - Costas Lapavitsas, Professor of Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
This race to the bottom, as Ed Miliband would put it, is fueling nationalist spirit. The wider European left needs to start putting pressure on the European Court of Human Rights to intervene in the current situation of mass unemployment and deprivation – caused primarily by the austerity programs implemented by conservative politicians in Germany. Universally, wages need to start rising. This can be done through nationalisation of big industries, promoting small business and providing government-backed specialist training programs free of charge to the unemployed. Socially, the answer to the current crisis of unemployment is to start building opportunities for those out of work. Unfortunately for the conservative forces of Europe, building such opportunities will require investment from governments. Admittedly, the sovereign debt issues won’t miraculously disappear if governments start spending more money - but the longer-term benefits are well understood by most progressive academics. Europe needs to start taxing big business, especially monolithic corporations such as Amazon and Google, in order to start building opportunities for the impoverished. By enforcing a higher and more progressive taxation on the wealthiest, the EU would be lifting the burden of government debt from the impoverished. Putting an end to austerity and investing in the young will almost certainly kickstart a new wave of continental growth and prosperity – a flavour of economic growth that can be felt by everybody.