In the same weekend in which David Cameron casually sacrificed one of the founding principles of the EU – the non-discrimination of EU migrants – in order to save a paltry £30 million by indexing Child Benefits for recipients living outside of Britain, former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis rolled into Madrid to take part in a weekend of speeches, working groups and discussions – a format very much like those organized by RIC – under the provisional name of a movement called Plan B For Europe.
The Madrid weekend follows similar meetings held in Paris and Berlin over the last six months, and its key aim is to establish a common European space for discussion and a platform for mobilization with the aim in mind of democratising the EU and its institutions, as well as the government of the Eurozone and the ECB, paving the way for a radical transformation of the European Union.
Varoufakis was joined by figures on the Left such as Susan George, Alberto Garzon and John Hilary from War On Want, as well as others speakers from almost every European country you care to mention. Speeches and addresses were given in numerous languages, translated by simultaneous interpreters, with calls being made for a debt conference to tackle the fundamental problem of the Eurozone crisis, justice for refugees, and an end to the “neo-colonial” policies of the Eurogroup and the ECB in the south of Europe. David Cameron’s backroom deal on Friday, for its part, was held up as an example of precisely the kind of unaccountability which has undermined the credibility and popularity of the EU across the continent.
On a cold but sunny Saturday morning in Madrid, at the Matadero cultural complex situated on the banks of the Manzanares river in the south of the city, it felt like something new was being born, and that finally, after so much pain and hardship in Europe, and above all its southern flank, an international response was being formulated by like-minded people from a wide variety of political parties, social movements, trade unions, feminist groups, and environmental organizations.
When Varoufakis took the stage and raised his clenched fist in the air, evoking the spirit of the International Brigades and the famous words which will always be associated with Madrid – ¡No pasarán! – you got the feeling that the European Left had at long last found the kind of charismatic and yet pragmatic leader it has so badly needed for so long throughout the grim years of this entirely avoidable austerity crisis.
Needless to say, Varoufakis was greeted with enthusiasm by a packed auditorium and his message was very clear: Europe is disintegrating as we speak; only a democratization of the EU can save it and its institutions from collapse; and the energy for that democratisation process must come from the street, and manifest itself in the squares and avenues and public meeting points right across Europe if change is to come about, with 2025 set as the ballpark date by which the EU must have undergone the radical democratic transformation it so badly requires.
Calling for a grand popular front of pro-European and pro-democratising forces – to include disgruntled social democrats, disenchanted liberals, and even those on the democratic right whose aversion to the EU is based on its lack of transparency and democratic shortcomings – Varoufakis and Plan B for Europe have called a day of action by pro-European democratizing forces all across the continent for May 28th, 2016, the date which marks the bloody end to the radical, socialist Paris Commune of 1871.
Varoufakis emphasised that, while deeply disgruntled with the EU and the way the Euro has been designed – “nobody loathes the EU more than me, nobody loathes its lack of democracy and transparency more than I do” he said at one point– the only choice for the Left is to transform it, rather than simply leaving, which would be the easy thing – and disastrous for Europe. For to leave the EU would hand the initiative to the Far Right – Golden Dawn in Greece, the National Front in France, and UKIP in the UK – allowing such groups to step in and capture the widespread disenchantment which is felt throughout Europe at the status quo, a feeling which arises from shortcomings in vital organizations with no legal status or democratic accountability like the Eurogroup, made up of Eurozone Finance Ministers, who effectively decide the Eurozone’s monetary policy behind closed doors, in meetings in which no minutes are even taken.
The timing of this new, pan-European initiative could not be better for the Scottish Left as it faces the prospect of the EU referendum, and the mass mobilization date of May 28th, not even a month from the referendum, is an excellent potential rallying point for the Scottish Left to position itself regarding the European question. For the problem for the Scottish Left must surely be how to get enthusiastic about a campaign which it never wanted in the first place, and to be caught in the strange circumstance of being on the same side of the argument as people like PM Cameron or Junker, the Head of the European Commission.
But the fact is that neither the position of the UK government, nor the campaign being led by those that want Britain to leave the EU and return to its “splendid isolation” will provide answers to the huge challenges facing European society today: the refugee crisis, a stagnant economy, and a black hole in the heart of the European democracy in the Eurozone, which saw its maximum expression when the ECB threatened to cut off liquidity to Greek banks if the democratically elected Greek government did not accept the deal proposed by the Troika last July, an event which has rightly been characterised as a financial coup d’état.
If RISE and the Scottish Left can tap into the energy which was on display in Madrid, and Europeanize the forthcoming EU referendum by actively working with colleagues across the continent under the umbrella of Plan B For Europe, there exists the real possibility that this referendum may in fact be a blessing in disguise, a crisis which is also an opportunity to Europeanize Scotland and to internationalize our own drive for independence and social justice, and an end to neo-liberal austerity. Such a campaign would allow the pro-indie Scottish Left to align with its natural allies and bed-fellows in Europe, putting clear water between the establishment campaign to stay in the “common European home” – in need not just of some minor repairs, but a full-scale upgrade or its sinking foundations – and equally important, energize a campaign which otherwise, most will find difficult to get excited about.
For just a minute early on Saturday, as the morning haar cleared from the shimmering waters of the Manzanares, a new Europe seemed to beckon and call. The Scottish Left has the chance to put itself firmly on the European map this spring, and offer its own “third way” between a stagnating European project which has lost all sense of purpose and direction, and those who would turn back the clock on European history. It is a once in a generation opportunity which the Scottish Left should not fail to seize with both hands.
* For further information, see the excellent and extensive two part interview of Varoufakis conducted by Spanish journalist Ignacio Escolar for El Diario newspaper during his recent stay in Madrid. The first part, “A Europe that works like this is a wounded Europe” and the second part, “The crisis has not ended, only its symptoms have changed”. Questions are in Spanish but Varoufakis replies in English to each question at length.