Plan B For Europe

planBIn 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.

Comments (16)

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  1. Crubag says:

    It’s not impossible for the EU institutions to be more democratic. The Europan Parliament would need to take primacy, tge Commission to retreat from its activist role, and the Council of Ministers to stop doing back room deals.

    The challenge is we have 27 member states, 500 million people and no common political culture.

    What works for America won’t work for us unless we iron out all the cultural, political, social and economic differences that gave rise to 27 states (and more) in the first place.

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      The DiEM 25 Manifesto charts a way ahead: http://diem25.org/manifesto-long/#1455748951573-1298e273-a7be; and you identify a couple of things that need to be done in your own comments.

      Do you suppose that Vermont and Utah share a common political culture? Alaska and Connecticut? Texas and Oregon? The main difference between North America and Europe is that we have a lot more languages, but the EU handles the language challenges fairly well.

  2. Anton says:

    “The Scottish Left has the chance to put itself firmly on the European map this spring, and offer its own “third way”.

    I agree – assuming the Scottish Left has a “third way” to offer. What exactly would it look like? Or are you simply saying that we should stay in the EU and then work to transform it from within?

  3. Frank says:

    It all depends on what you mean by ‘the Scottish left’? You mention Rise which I find incredulous. To believe that an organisation, which is by and large a product of social media, contesting an election for the first time and with zero recognition amongst the public, is going to play a leading role in politicising the working class about an issue few working class people understand or care about, is somewhat fantastical? The thing that always amazes me about a particular type of left wing mindset, is a complete lack of awareness about the gap that exists between rhetoric and actual performance.

    1. Frank – I’ll let Douglas respond himself but I do know that Podemos came out of nowhere and have transformed Spanish politics to the surprise of everyone.

      RISE are brand new it’s true but we live in volatile times where populist politics (of left and right) are confounding traditional processes.

      1. Frank says:

        Yes, that’s true. However, material conditions in Scotland are very different from material conditions in Spain or in Greece. Moreover, material conditions in Scotland have not produced a lurch to the far left or right but have instead transformed Scottish politics into a situation where everything is filtered through the national question, an issue that was parochial as recently as two decades ago. From this perspective, independence needs to be seen in a context that involves the decline of labourism and the hollowing out of municipal socialism and working class politics in general.

        Incidentally, I was at RIC at the weekend and the irony was not lost on me of comrades who were once a part of the British Marxist left – ex Militant or SWP types, who are now suddenly the biggest tub thumpers for Scottish independence. Now that might be a genuine change of direction and if so I welcome it, but knowing that section of the left as I do, it could also be sheer opportunism. As I have said numerous times before what annoys me about Rise (and Sheridan) is that they no longer have a strategy for speaking to the population at large but instead fish for votes in radical sections of the 45%. In the longer term this does nothing to further the cause of either independence or socialism.

        1. Mark Crawford says:

          Frank, I think the Radical Independence Campaign need to seriously consider changing their name to the Radical Opportunist Campaign – not in a negative sense, but precisely in order to turn opportunism into a virtue. To quote Fredric Jameson:

          “It has often been lamented that Marxism seems to be a purely economic theory, which makes little place for a properly Marxian political theory. I believe that this is the strength of Marxism, and that political theory and political philosophy are always epiphenomenal. Politics should be the affair of an ever-vigilant opportunism, but not of any theory or philosophy; and even the current efforts to redefine mass democracy in this way or that are, to my mind, distractions from the central issue which is the nature and structure of capitalism itself. There can never be satisfactory political solutions or systems; but there can be better economic ones, and Marxists and leftists need to concentrate on those.”

          1. Frank says:

            I like that Mark. Good quote from Marx.

  4. Doubting Thomas says:

    Who or What is the Scottish Left?
    The SNP have stolen Labour’s clothes and are not a naturally left of centre party.
    Far from it they evolved from a landowning centre right membership who whilst benefitting on the one hand from the subsidy culture of the EU do not feel they should be putting their hands in their pockets to pay additional taxes.
    They have occupied a void which has been left by the demise of Labour and which is being held up by populist bandwagon grandstanding.
    I suspect a split is coming between the original rural hard core SNP country set and the new urban labouresque politicians drafted in to win over the socialist vote.
    Labour and other socialist parties will be left as also rans in the next election to the Scottish Parliament however as the realisation that independence is now further away than ever people in the larger urbanisations will drift back to the parties they traditionally supported.
    Then and only then will the Scottish Left grasp the mettle in conjunction with others who prefer to stay and possibly effect change in the EU.

  5. Douglas says:

    What do I mean by the Scottish Left? I mean those broadly in favour progressive politics, who are pro European albeit a little disheartened at present, and – this is a very important message from Spain – not just political parties, but social movements too, like Women For Independence and CND, and the trade unions. Of course I include RISE in that, there are far too many smart people in RISE to doubt that they are going to emerge as a force in Scotland over the next few years. I would also include people on the Left or centre of the SNP and Labour and Liberals too.

    The Eurozone and the EU is in a deep, deep crisis, with no obvious way out, and, it either takes a massive leap forwards or it starts falling apart. If that happens, Lehman Brothers and the crash of 2008 will look like a storm in a tea cup in comparison. The main problem is with the Eurozone itself, but the effects will be felt right across the world, let alone the continent if we can´t come up with a coherent, pan-European plan for change. In that sense, in the short term, it doesn’t matter what Britain votes in June, whether you are in or out of the EU is no kind of shelter from the coming storm.

    By happy coincidence, Cameron has called a referendum in the middle of this crisis. It is hard to argue with any enthusiasm these days for the EU as it stands, and Plan B offers the energy and the platform to transform the campaign into an agenda for positive democratic change within the EU.

    Somebody asked one of the speakers from Podemos who was on the platform the other day if Spain and Greece were the wellspring of new ideas in Europe, and the reply was, “It’s not a question of that. Here, in the south of Europe, it’s an emergency. We HAVE to change the way policy is being made in the Eurozone”…necessity is the mother of invention, as the old saying goes.

    The people who are insisting on neo-liberal austerity in the Eurozone are the heirs and successors of those who designed the Euro, the people who insisted on pushing ahead despite the objections of numerous economists who argued that the economies in the Eurozone were not sufficiently aligned for currency union, Greece being the obvious case in point.

    Plus, ultimately, currency union cannot really work on the scale of Europe without some kind of fiscal and political union. And yet, as the months go by, we are moving further and further away from that….we are moving away from the solution and, of course, the Far Right are growing in strength as a result of that.

    Plan B, in terms of the EU referendum, is a chance to seize the agenda, with a positive message for change, and actually engage in the kind of pan European politics which, outside the European Parliament, is almost non-existent…

    …the maniacs are at the wheel and out of control. We have to take it back off them through mass mobilization and peaceful protest.

  6. kate says:

    i’ve read numerous business perspectives on the economic detriments & lack of increased independence leaving EU would actually bring britain. EU still holds all major cards and britain must conform. And as a corollary businesses (& hopefully jobs etc) that could well flock into scotland if britain left EU but indy scotland that resulted from britain leaving stayed .i really think its looking a gift horse in the mouth to campaign against britain leaving. let them & then build scotland’s prosperity on the detritus of tory england’s insularity, arrogance & racism. Completely unbelieving of the EU reform narrative, and don’t think that’s where scotland can make its major gains in the near future. The Greek left was trashed remember. Not against britain being part of EU reform just think its a fairytale v. a real & big & imminent opportunity in britain leaving & scotland staying – if can get indy to do it

  7. Elaine Fraser says:

    Thank you Bella for this very useful and interesting piece. As the mainstream media continues its shallow coverage of this important issue folk like me depend on you and other alternative media to help us think through the different issues. Cheers.

    1. Thanks Elaine, its good to have people on the ground in different countries like Douglas contributing.

  8. leavergirl says:

    It would be great to see a deep discussion here about EU, and what’s best for Scotland. It used to be, EU (and the Nordic model) made so much sense, but it doesn’t any more. The model that makes sense is Iceland, who alone was able to deal with the financial crisis. It never would have been able to do what needed done, if they had been in EU.

    Then, look at how EU treated Greece. How they treated Ireland. Look at how EU throws its weight around, no democracy, no accountability, mindboggling wastage of funds, self-preening, and loss of the original vision. Isn’t it time for Scotland to rethink this all?

    What is the point of gaining independence from Britain, and lose it to EU — even more distant, even less democratic, and… crumbling before our very eyes?

    Reform? Ha. You can’t reform an out of control Golem. You can only replace it with something sounder, saner.

  9. If these are his principles, maybe we could all benefit from McAlpine pulling on a suit. Only when people raise concerns about the overtly

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