Meeting in Lisbon in March 2000, the leaders of the European Union, on the initiative of its dominant powers, Germany and France, pledged to “make Europe, by 2010, the most competitive and the most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world”. Two decades later, the European Union has instead become the “weakest link” in the imperialist world order.
Economically, it has fallen far behind the US and China. At the same time, the neo-liberal agenda and the anti-crisis policies of the EU, imposed by German imperialism in particular, have increased inequality and unevenness within the EU itself
Within the Union itself, open struggles over the nature and future of the organisation have broken out, including its third largest economy trying to leave.
The introduction of the Euro at the turn of the century, and the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, were aimed at turning what was already the largest market in the world into a common European capital bloc. This would mean nothing less than the political and military unification of the continent under German and French dominance. Its leading politicians stated, albeit guardedly, that they wanted to catch up with the US and to challenge its role globally.
They set out a series of policies to unify the EU economically:
– to complete implementation of a continent wide, neo-liberal agenda, allowing large scale monopolies to take over what had not yet been privatised and commercialised;
– to introduce more “reforms” in the labour market and social services, that is, a programme to slash labour and trade union rights, increase exploitation and reduce both welfare and the “social wage”, thereby creating a massive cheap labour force within both the main imperialist countries and the weaker semi-colonial states of Eastern and Southern Europe;
– to subordinate the entire European financial system, and the member states’ financial and economic policies, to stronger control by the European Central Bank (ECB)
– the unification of security services, the creation of European battle groups, and various steps towards forming a European army.
– expansion of free movement of finance, goods and labour within the EU, whilst sealing its borders via common agreements (Schengen, Dublin, …), to create what has been called Fortress Europe
All this required ideological justification as the creation of an area of “democracy” and “peace”, of progress, social well-being, human rights and, recently, world leadership in addressing the environmental crisis.
These claims were always false. From the Treaty of Rome to the racist border controls of today, the EU and its predecessors were always projects of the major imperialist powers of the continent, initially in close collaboration with the US, but later in an increasingly competitive relationship.
The 2000 Lisbon Agenda, with its emphasis on austerity, “labour market reform” and competitiveness marked not only a clear shift in the policy of the EU, but also a rejection of “welfarism” and Keynesianism by all the European bourgeoisies.
After the great recession, Germany and other, more competitive, countries unloaded the cost of the crisis onto the weaker European economies. They imposed savage austerity on Greece and other states.
The Commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, President Macron and the still central figure of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, are like sorcerer’s apprentices who have called up spirits that they cannot control. By forcing austerity on a series of countries and by ignoring the popular will, as expressed in elections and referendums, they have roused the sleeping beasts of national chauvinism and racism.
The so-called refugee crisis further highlighted the tensions. Immigration, racism, xenophobia have become the means to rally mass forces of disillusioned petit-bourgeois or even backward sections of the working class who have been impoverished or fear poverty. The rise of nationalism and of anti-EU sections of the bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeoisie reflect these growing tensions and inner contradictions.
No wonder, then, that this has led to the creation of anti-EU and right wing populist and racist forces across the continent who try to present themselves as an alternative to a German or Franco-German dominated EU which is about to fail. Clearly, once petty bourgeois forces enter the scene this crisis can and will take irrational forms, the most extreme probably in Britain, where the whole country is stuck with a Brexit, which the majority of the population and of both main classes do not actually want.
In this period, only the working class and the oppressed can preserve and expand the unity of working people across the continent against the racists and those who deliberately sow division and future conflicts.
To do this it needs an internationally co-ordinated policy and programme of action against the ongoing attacks and to present a working class answer to the European crisis. The official leaders of the workers’ movement shy away from this and even coquet with nationalism and populism. In the past they failed to organise and generalise defence against the austerity packages, yielding instead to the competitive “needs” of national capital and to “social partnership”.
Despite the rise of the far right and the forces of reaction generally, there is no shortage of struggles by people resisting austerity and the destruction of welfare, education, public services, the scapegoating of immigrants and the slide towards climate catastrophe. The existential crisis in the EU, the onslaught on democratic rights in member states, has propelled workers, young people and oppressed minorities time and time again onto the streets in hundreds of thousands, indeed millions.
The next recession and the sharpening of inter-imperialist rivalry both economic and military will intensify this. This presents a historic challenge to Europe’s labour movements. This is not an era in which major reforms can be conceded by capitalism except at the point of frankly revolutionary struggles.
The present leaderships of the unions and reformist parties, right and left, and also the ‘left’ populists, have proved beyond a doubt their incapacity to meet this challenge. A Europe-wide revolutionary alternative needs to be built, new mass revolutionary parties united in an International, which rallies the fighting forces from the unions, the workplaces, from the social movements.
Of course, such a process cannot take place apart from seeking to win over the anti-capitalist and internationalist militants within existing reformist parties. Such a party needs unity in action and therefore a programme of action, linking the struggles of the day with the struggle for the Socialist United States of Europe.
A united class struggle in Europe or in major countries, will rapidly pose the question of political power, the question which class rules in a specific country or the continent as a whole. The current crisis of Europe cannot be solved on a national level. Every major question will raise the need for a transformation of the continent as a whole. A socialist federation in Europe, the ” Socialist United States of Europe”, is the solution to the pressing problems facing future generations. If we want to fight the right shift, racism, nationalism and fascism, we need an internationalist and anti-capitalist alternative to the current EU.