RIC 2013 Uniting Europe Against Austerity: Democracy vs Global Capitalism

Report on Workshop 10 @ RIC 2013  23/11/13

I hope this is a fair and accurate assessment of the workshop. Thanks are due to our guest speakers and to all contributors and attendees.  I hope everyone found it a worthwhile meeting. Comments and further discussion are welcomed. Duncan McCabe

Speakers: Adam Majo (IPTC/CUP), Igor Zulaika (Sortu), Myrto Tsakatika (Syriza), Emily MacIntosh (Press officer EUL/NGL).

Facilitator; Duncan McCabe (Radical Independence Dundee)

 Following a brief introduction from facilitator, Duncan McCabe, the session opened with Adam Majo outlining the current situation in Catalunya, where a growing movement for independence has now reached 52% in the latest opinion polls.  Despite this level of support, Adam made it clear that the situation was less cut and dried than in Scotland where a referendum campaign is in progress and the country has clearly delineated borders.

By contrast, in Catalunya, attempts to hold a unilateral referendum have been described as illegal by the socialist PSE/PSOE and the right wing Peoples’ Party (PP), both parties uniting in the Catalan Senate to defeat Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) proposals. The issue is further clouded by the lack of an agreed boundary for the Catalan nation. The CUP invisage Valencia and the Balearic Islands as being part of a new Catalunya, due to a preponderance of Catalan-speaking people in these areas. There are also areas in southern France which could be similarly considered.

 Adam also made clear however that their campaign for independence was not based on ethnic or language grounds, but rather, as with the radical movement in Scotland, seeing diversity as a positive component of a modern society; protecting the weaker and more vulnerable members of the community; encouraging public ownership; taking measures to end austerity programmes; and replacing the constitutional monarchy with a republic.

He also made clear the importance of the Scottish referendum to the Catalan people who await somewhat anxiously the outcome. A no vote would be a major blow to their hopes and would strengthen the hand of the centralists.

On the question of the European Union, the focus of the workshop, Adam made clear that CUP saw it as “the enemy of the people of Europe” and drew a distinction between the EU and other visions of Europe.

Igor Zulaika , from the Basque country – Euskadi, reiterated Adams last point about Europe stating the “the EU is not Europe” and whilst Sortu, as part of the left/nationalist coalition Euskal Herria Bildu sought independence in a European context they saw the EU as being profoundly undemocratic and pursuing the wrong economic goals. While they would accept independence within the EU they would then strive to build alliances with other like-minded countries and political groupings to force change to the direction of the EU.

Igor made clear that the Basques were further away from independence than in Catalunya and a referendum was not likely in the near future.

Myrto Tsakatika , a lecturer at Glasgow University, is a founder of Syriza Scotland and writes on radical left groupings across Europe. Duncan had in his introduction talked about the values which he felt underpinned the radical movement in Scotland, namely community, co-operation and caring, and whilst agreeing with those she added her own additional value of solidarity.

Myrto then expanded on this idea in the European context, suggesting that bonds of solidarity should be built across Europe by radical groups and ordinary people to challenge the neo-liberal hegemony at the heart of the EU: “an internationalism from below”.

She also discussed the position of the Party of the European Left in relation to autonomist movements i.e. the idea  that the main division remains that between labour and capital,but that autonomist movements are positive and have our solidarity when they incorporate claims for democratic control.

She saw the need for an alternative plan to create a social Europe, building socialism with freedom and democracy and stated that “ globalisation needs a political answer from the left”. She felt that the best way to achieve this was by building bonds of solidarity throughout Europe and thus “refounding the EU in terms of institutions and policies”.

The last speaker was Emily MacIntosh, a freelance journalist and Press Officer for the European United left/Nordic Green Left Group in the European Parliament. Emily outlined the pros and cons of the EU from a radical green/left perspective suggesting that there was a need to widen the paradigm regarding the EU though whether this meant reform or revolution was a matter for debate.

Emily took an in-depth look at currency options for an independent Scotland noting that  “As a member of the EU, even if Scotland was to have full monetary and fiscal independence with a Scottish currency, we would not be free from having fiscal conditions imposed on us: all EU member states, in and out the Eurozone, are bound by the idea that to be ‘fiscally responsible’ governments must reduce public debt, and this is the basis for the EU Stability and Growth Pact which Scotland would be bound by as a member state”.

In relation to the options of a currency union either with Sterling or the Euro, she said; “the fundamental flaw of having different fiscal policies operating in one currency zone without a political union is that you lose the ‘exchange rate’ tool in your toolbox. So because governments can’t use currency devaluation as a tool to make themselves more competitive, they have to devalue ‘internally’ and they do this by lowering wages and reducing pension rights. This results in huge trade imbalances.”

Politically, she suggested that with the right predominating in the European Parliament and across Europe nationally change didn’t look too likely, but the emerging new radical left could make gains in next year’s elections.  There was also the possibility that an independent progressive Scotland could strive to improve the EU where it is flawed and, where it seeks to favour the rights of corporations over people, lead calls to reject the neo-liberal turn it has taken of late. “Can we dare to imagine 15, 20 years down the line an EU made up of radical governments and a Left-dominated European Parliament, with new Treaties to reflect this ideology shift? Could we see a radical Scotland as part of an EU with a budget and a structure that focuses on economic and social cohesion?”

Contributions from the floor centred around whether a radical agenda could actually work in an independent Scotland that was part of the EU due to their insistence on competition, fiscal constraints and ever-increasing economic integration within a neo-liberal framework.  Some contributors suggested that we would do better to seek agreements with countries that shared our social and economic aspirations, including those in Latin America which were attempting to roll back the frontiers of globalisation. The idea of an alternative ‘Peoples’ Europe’ was also aired, though others thought that ideas of leaving the EU were somewhat naïve.

There was also a direct question to our guests from the Iberian peninsula regarding the Spanish PP government’s  threat to veto Scottish membership of the EU. Both Igor and Adam thought this was effectively bluster and the PP had enough problems at home to deal with rather than interfering in Scotland’s claims.

At the end of the session, a straw poll was taken on the question ‘Is the neo-liberal EU reformable?’ Surprisingly given the balance of views aired during the discussion only four people agreed that it was – from an audience of more than one hundred.

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