The Left Must Avoid Mimicking the Eurozone’s Divergence

Due to the severity of my concerns about the eurozone crisis and the potential for great division among European nations, I’ll begin with an inspiring letter written to a Greek consulate by a French opponent of austerity:

“Your excellency, in solidarity with your country, I, the undersigned………….. request personally to be counted at heart a Greek, to enjoy the rights and duties of dual nationality, and to express this international citizenship with a view to the establishment of universal democracy in liberty and equality, twenty-five centuries after the time of Solon, Clisthene, and Pericles. Thanks in advance for your response, and in fraternity with your people. ”

It’s a gesture, an important one, to the Greek people at a time when a mythology about their laziness is part of the effort to scapegoat them for the financial crisis sweeping Europe. It may be asked what a gesture can do. Well, a gesture demonstrates understanding, and that’s a first step that can’t be skipped.

At the moment, a great economic schism is widening in Europe largely along north and south lines. The German economy is doing well for itself as Greece and now Portugal go from recession to what is increasingly seen as a depression. All of this in one monetary union. With such a gap in economic experiences, the political gap and gap in understanding between countries, and more importantly their people, can start to dwarf the original economic crisis. And that may, in fact, already be the case. The north isn’t feeling the high unemployment and impoverishment the south is feeling. Their reaction is to dismiss the suffering of the south and expect people in Greece to just will themselves through it. And when the public is unwilling to stick through austerity any longer, the solution has been to simply install technocrats into power in Italy and Greece so that public sentiment doesn’t translate into actual policy.

Within this divergence, the left could easily split in different directions. In the United Kingdom, where austerity has been entirely imposed from within by a coalition government, the dynamics of the European Union and the monetary union aren’t the chief concern. In Germany, the resentment is directed at the financial sector, the ratings agencies, and Merkel. These different priorities in the north risk running into that of the south. Italians and Greeks can’t simply unelect Merkel or Sarkozy, the two people steering policy on the continent. The democracy gap in Europe has never been more evident. Countries are simply being dominated by others within Europe on a creditor to debtor relationship. This is far from the solidarity a pan-European identity was purportedly based on.

It’s unclear how much austerity can be shouldered by the south before the national banners are seized and a struggle for national sovereignty from the Euro-Pact of austerity takes shape. If the north reacts with shock to such an occurrence,  they’ve not been paying attention. This challenges the left across Europe to find a way to merge their priorities within a common struggle.

Where we can begin, without delay, is moving beyond expressions of solidarity. What should follow the gesture I quoted at the start is to ‘occupy’ consulates and embassies. German, French, and British protesters descending on Greek, Portuguese, Italian, Irish, and Spanish consulates would be a significant act. It would demonstrate common opposition to all austerity in Europe, not just at the moment when it is imposed on us. More importantly, such demonstrations at consulates and embassies would surely make headlines in the countries to which they belong. It would remind the Greeks and Portuguese that they are not alone and will not be abandoned by the people of France and Germany as they’ve been abandoned by Merkel and Sarkozy.

This would be but a continuation of the first step. It must be followed by greater coordination to form common resistance to austerity and to reshape Europe away from its current neo-liberal and undemocratic model. The protests must cease to be national protests against a national austerity package. They must become European protests against European austerity packages. Either this is done urgently or individual nations in Europe will be left to free themselves of austerity along entirely national lines.

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