On Spain, Greece, Italy and our plans for a European movement to democratise the EU – Interview: L’Espresso

Screen Shot 2015-12-23 at 20.14.18.png

The English text of the answers I sent to L’Espresso follows. The interview covers the Spanish elections, the latest from Greece’s never ending depression and, more importantly, a foreshadowing of the pan-European movement (not party!) that will be launched in February – with a simple, but radical, agenda of democratising the EU.

 -First, let I ask you to comment on the outcome of the Spanish election.

Our Syriza government’s opposition to a failed Troika program was crushed last summer, and Prime Minister Tsipras forced to accept a new loan that everyone knows is catastrophic, for one reason: To teach the Spanish people a lesson and thus deter them from voting for Podemos. In this context, Podemos did very, very well in the election. As I commented immediately after hearing the results, it was a small but important step in the right direction. A small step that may turn into the large faultline necessary to shatter the Eurozone’s crisis-denial and the Troika’s contempt for democracy.

– Is the success of Podemos due to mistrust of the people towards the party system? Or are we facing the success of populism?

Podemos is not a populist party. Populism manifests itself in promising all things to all people. No, Podemos began as a protest party and is developing into a party that has a go at a New Politics, where spin and power-grabbing give their place to a discourse of openness.

-Will Podemos turn into Syriza? Will it betray the promises made to the voters?

I hope not but we must see if Podemos gets such a chance. I say this because to get to that moment of truth, Podemos must form government first – something that it cannot do given the electoral result. The great question now is: Would Podemos go into a coalition by making fundamental concessions to Eurogroup loyalists, like PSOE?

 -Could you summarize what the new government Tsipras did in these three months in office? For example, what are the worst laws enacted and which you believe will make the Greek economy even weaker?

The main ill-effect stems from the very announcement, last July, of the contents of the new ‘agreement’: The incredible level of austerity announced for the next five years, the associated tax increases (VAT in particular), the absence of any credible commitment to serious debt relief, and the plain reality that the banks will remain incapable of lending to profitable businesses (given that their non-performing loans will not be managed efficiently by a public bad bank) – all these taken together mean one thing: no serious investor will invest serious money into an economy condemned to diminish as a result of these failures.

Now, in terms of particular pieces of legislation already passed (or about to be introduced) that will add to the recessionary forces already at work, these are: the VAT increases, the demand that business pre-pay (during December 2015) 100% of their estimated 2016 profits, the increase in pension fund contributions, and the foreshadowed reductions in pensions.

 -A few days ago our premier Renzi has accused Germany of not being the only country to feed the EU economy and indeed of taking advantage of the Greek crisis to do business, for example, the purchase of 14 local airports. In your opinion are just words or do you think rather than southern European countries are ready to form an array with Renzi head to counter the policy of austerity dear to Germany and to the countries of Northern Europe?

I hope I am wrong but it seems to me that, if PM Renzi were serious in his opposition to Berlin’s policies, he would have refrained from exerting inhuman pressure on PM Tsipras to surrender in July to all these demands that, now, belatedly, Mr Renzi is finding objectionable. It is in the heat of the battle that one’s courage and true intentions are revealed.

Are you aware of the failure of some Italian banks, saving them from the government and the problems had by bondholders who have lost everything? If yes, what do you think?

Of course I am aware of the sorry state of several of Italy’s banks. On the issue of the bondholders who lost everything, there are two things to say.

First, the bank managers who instructed their staff to mislead their customers into buying the unsecured private bonds of the banks (thinking that they were buying ‘safe’ products from their own bank) should be prosecuted immediately using Italy’s legislation meant to protect customers from false description of goods and services.

Secondly, this sorry episode reveals that, despite the propaganda from Brussels and Frankfurt, we do not really have a banking union. German or Dutch private bank bondholders would not have been haircut if a German or a Dutch bank were in trouble – because the German and Dutch governments (that are flush with cash) would have bailed them out fully. So, when the probability of losing one’s bank deposits, or one’s investment in a bank’s bonds, depends on whether one leaves in Italy (where the state is fiscally stressed) or in Northern Europe (where the state has the financial leeway to bail the banks out), it is evident that there is no proper banking union in the Eurozone. The lack of a proper banking union matters because a single currency without a single banking jurisdiction produces capital flight from countries like Italy to countries like Germany, thus ensuring that the crisis never ends.

– Greece is not yet saved. What are the biggest obstacles that the country will have to face?

Greece was pushed deeper into the black hole of insolvency by the latest loan agreement. The only obstacle to its recovery is the Troika and the Eurogroup, who insist that the Greek debt is sustainable (when it is not), who refuse to create a bad bank to deal with non-performing loans, and who keep insisting that lowering incomes further (through tax hikes and pension/wage reductions) will bring recovery in a country snowed under debt (that goes up rather than down) and which needs higher incomes to be repaid.

– What is your prediction for your country and for the European Union?

Without a doubt, if we continue along the lines of present policies, that have failed so spectacularly, the centrifugal forces will get so strong that the Eurozone first, and then the EU, will fragment. This time Greece may not be the epicentre of the earthquake, as its Great Depression gets worse and its people are subdued by hopelessness. No one can tell where the rupture will take place. Maybe in Greece, maybe in Italy, maybe somewhere else. Like in the case of the Soviet Union, where it was impossible to predict how its end would come (even though it was clear that it could not last), we know that the present course is catastrophic for the EU even if ignorant of what will trigger it.

– Every day brings new refugees, according to you they are a resource for Europe or a problem?

They are neither. They are fellow human beings in need of our solidarity. If we can prove our humanity by seeing them as an end-in-themselves, maybe we Europeans have what it takes to create the circumstance necessary for them to flourish in our midst and to contribute to a future shared prosperity.

 -How should the EU act to integrate these people?  Will the sharing  system ( quota)  work ?

We should reverse the ‘competition’ between our countries. At present we are competing on which country will accept the fewest. We should change this and begin competing on which will be seen to be more open, more willing to take them in, more generous. Countries should be shamed for wanting to take the fewest. The idea of imposed quotas is repugnant to me, and should be ditched.

– The refusal of the Eastern European countries to accept a fixed number of refugees is a symbol of European disunity and a clear sign of a collapse that will happen sooner or later?

Yes. Eastern European countries have their own past and reasons for reacting the way they do. The problem however is that the mind set put on display by their ruling classes undermines basic European values of solidarity and humanism. If Europe loses its humanist values, and fails to embrace refugees for reasons that boil down to racism and to a ‘not in my backyard’ mentality, Europe will turn into an iron cage for discontented peoples.

– If Britain should leave the EU what will happen?

Nothing much at first. But, just as in the case of a Grexit, once the process of integration begins to unravel, a European Union already in the clasps of the centrifugal forces created by its deepening democratic and economic crisis will face a serious existentialist crisis. As for Britain, it will not be better off either, even if for a few months millions of Brits will have enjoyed upsetting Brussels’ bureaucrats.

– Now let’s talk about you: What are your plans?  Will you come back into the political arena?

The plan is simple: To launch, in early February, a pan-European movement with a single, radical objective: To democratise the EU! To form a movement that seeks to harness the energy of pro-European radical critics of Brussels and Frankfurt in order to prevent the disintegration of the EU. In short, to show that there is a third alternative to the calamitous ‘choice’ between: (a) those who want to return to the cocoon of the nation-state, and (b) those who accept the authoritarian, ineffective policies of the deeply anti-democratic EU institutions.

15 thoughts on “On Spain, Greece, Italy and our plans for a European movement to democratise the EU – Interview: L’Espresso

  1. @ Hubert

    One small thing. What we are experiencing now is not really capitalism but corporatism. Adam Smith’s free market was a market free of rentier and corporate distortion. His special point was that the market should benefit everyone. Exactly the opposite of today, where the great god “markets” is totally rigged, price discovery is impossible, gold prices are manipulated to an all time low against all logic and bank crashes are prevented by Central Bank rigging and government fiddling behind the scenes. And let’s not get started on derivatives! I am no knee-jerk fan of capitalism, but this ain’t capitalism.

    Government + Corporatism = Facism. This is the classic definition and this is what the EU and our old mainstream parties, both left and right, are delivering. To my way of thinking the real fascist threat comes from the Powers That Be, not nasty little thug parties like Golden Dawn and JOBBIK (who too often are “night arms” of the PTB, at least in Greece historically. Just who do you think is bankrolling them?). The small thugs might break my bones but they are not the brains in charge and their power depends on those in charge – if not they evaporate quickly.

    • I think you’re right in that the Powers That Be are facilitating at least some kind of proto-fascism and it was their actions – most of all the treatment of Greece by Germany and the Eurogroup – that helped to create this climate of nationalism and racism all across Europe. Although I do not think that they are doing it intentionally and that just like the conservative parties in Germany back in 1933 they are too full of themselves to understand what they are doing. But anyway, that last point is moot and it’s the outcome that’s important.

      I have a question though: Is capitalism really just a synonym for a market economy?
      Surely, just as you wrote, what we have now has nothing to do with a free market economy, and I am definitely not an advocate of unfettered markets. But how is this not capitalism?
      When the capitalist class is accumulating more wealth and power than ever before simply because they essentially own all the means of production (i.e. “capital”) – be it directly or via the stock market and its associated derivative markets – while billions of people who own nothing are turned into slaves in order to provide the necessary resources to keep this system running, then what else can we call it?

    • I’m happy to agree with you on this question Hubert. Indeed it is Capitalism gone so mad it can really only self detonate itself in the end. My simple point was that it isn’t the capitalism that Adam Smith imagined – but so what! As I said, I am not a capitalist and money making is neither my interest nor appetite….IMHO it is a tremendous waste of mankind’s creative, inventive, intellectual, imaginative and spiritual energies that could better be used in service of the planet and all of creation.

      Perhaps you have seen that the city of Utrecht is experimenting with a universal salary for all its inhabitants? And that the cost of this is LESS than administering all the different welfare payments? :)))

  2. Let’ s back the, let’s call it D.EU.S. (Democratize EUropean States), movement.

    Now, let me summarize why it will not finally succeed in pan european level, but it may influence things in nation level:
    -Applying or Exporting one’s democracy, with or without quotes, has always failed, because it requires a)long internal (state) processes, beforehand, since everyone belongs to a nation state, b)common civilization basis aka metaphysics, c)Democracy has not the same meaning for everyone. Furthermore democracy has nothing common with the so called representative electoral system and its variations.
    -European real Union also fails for the same reason plus the states are not willing to ceding sovereignty. This is especially obvious when dire financial gales are closing fast, or union attempts are performed such as in Eurozone construction. And of course euro powers as Germany and France and Holland will not accept any level of equality which is a mandate for a democracy either in national or citizens’ level.
    -The refugees and the illegal immigrants can not be integrated for the same reason which is obvious in Germany’s Turks case though these are legal immigrants or third generation ones: the metaphysics.

    -Now, the main result will be to awaken the european people on the fact that authoritarian rather than democratic european union is what it prevails today. This understanding may reverse things in EU towards really equal nation states and in the process each state’s citizen may keep asking for democracy in his nation level.

    References for the above can be found at the books and the works of:
    Prof. Panagiotis Ifestos at his sight
    Prof. George Contogeorgis at his blog
    Theodor Ziakas, some works at antifono

    Best regards, good luck and courage
    George Kakarelidis

  3. I admire your devotion to the cause, but I fear you are already to late.

    I recently listened to a speech by one of Germany’s few economists who still dare to oppose German neo-mercantilism. He was talking about a conference in Italy that he attended, where members of the Italian opposition indicated that they were ready and willing to form a ‘war-coalition’ from left to right against Matteo Renzi in order to defeat the current Italian government and facilitate the country’s exit from the Eurozone. It seems like the Italians have had it with German ‘hegemony’ and Italy’s loyalty to the Eurozone is hanging by a thread.

    On top of that, a few days ago elections were held in Poland. The first thing the newly elected right-wing government of PiS did was take down all the european flags from government buildings. The next thing they did was fire any high ranking civil servants having the wrong party membership and just yesterday they decided to replace all the judges of Poland’s constitutional court with new ones more in line with the party’s nationalist agenda – which in itself has been ruled unconstitutional. They just don’t give a damn any more.

    I find this highly disturbing – to put it mildly. Especially since until recently, when the Polish government started to oppose Ms Merkel’s humane stance towards refugees, Poland had always been described as a poster-boy of fiscal responsibility and economic success through austerity by german politicians and their associated media . (Which was mostly neoliberal propaganda talk to begin with, but is just now proven wrong even to the most devout followers of Mr Schäuble’s idiotic pseudo-economics.)

    It seems to me that nationalism is on the rise all over Europe, with the exception of Greece, Spain and Portugal – maybe.
    But even Podemos couldn’t manage to score a sufficient majority to rule out a coalition with the Spanish ‘socialists’ of PSOE, and we all know what happened to Mr Tsipras’ government.

    Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn, the newly elected leader of the British Labour Party, is facing a massive campaign against his politics and against his very person by many senior officials of his own party and most of Britain’s press, making it highly unlikely that he will get the chance to win the next election and prevent the UK from sliding further into right-wing nationalism.

    Worst of all, Madame Le Pen could only be prevented from taking over some of France’s Departements in the recent regional elections by the French ‘socialists’ handing over their votes to Mr Sarkozy’s conservatives, which strongly indicates that, even if the Front National doesn’t win the next general elections, there will be a much more conservative and nationalist government in France next year.

    To sum it up, the European Left has utterly failed to come up with a credible alternative to the devastating rule of germanic austerity that doesn’t involve a backlash of nationalism, racism and worse throughout the European Union. And the worst thing about it is that people like Mr Orban of Hungary or the recently elected puppets of Poland’s Mr Kaczynski have all come into office by democratic elections.

    So, while I personally would love to see a leftist-liberal ‘movement’ for democratizing Europe succeed, I seriously doubt that it will reach the hearts and minds of ordinary people all across the EU – and even in Germany – who are already in the process of being pushed over the edge by right wing populists, demagogues and outright fascists, who are so much more successful at selling their supposedly easy solutions to the crowds.

    • Sorry Hubert but for the last six years Merkel and Schauble did nothing but systematically spread the seeds of anxiety and fear in all the lands beyond Germany. And now harvest time has come and the forecast is that it would be plentiful. You reap what you sow.

    • @Dean,

      Yes they did. and it’s a crying shame. And not only did they spread the seeds of anxiety and fear in all the lands beyond Germany but also within Germany itself, and the refugees in german camps who have been the victims of over 850 violent attacks by german fascists this year alone are now among the first to enjoy the fruits of this bitter harvest.
      The question remains though – can this be undone yet, by any supra-national movement to revive democracy in the EU, or is it already too late?

    • I have a feeling it is too late too. Events have progressed too far. By which I mean the EU’s war on sovereignty, war on democracy, its flouting of law, its purposive destruction of nation states, its robbery through fake economics, its war on human rights, on labour and welfare, on the dignity of man and the dignity of nations, the EU commissions extraordinary corruption: in summary its war on everything we might claim as positive and civilized to come out of the otherwise violent and predatory west. Things that transcended the west and were gifts to the world. These are being systematically and purposefully destroyed in their place of origin.

      On top of that, it is not entirely clear who exactly is behind this. We have well understood that the EU (because EU is not all of Europe) is entirely subordinate to the United States; “our” politicians 100% subordinate to Washington. We see the same happening in the USA – the gradual unravelling of their constitution, corrupted elections, loss of habeus corpus, total disregard for international and even domestic law, militarization of police. So as USA goes, so goes the EU, which is “occupied” by NATO -AND- US bases. Occupied countries are not really able to close their borders. And of course propaganda on an astounding scale.

      Yes, the people of Europe should stand up to this rapidly descending darkness, even now that it is really too late and they have all the weapons. And they do. Just not the numbers. But to my mind we can’t afford stupid divisions of fake left & right anymore, but a united front. No more holding one’s nose over “ideological” splits when Dieudonne, Alain Soral, Marine Le Pen, Victor Orban are saying all of the above. Sorry.

    • @ elenits,

      I think putting the blame on US Imperialism is a dangerous oversimplification. One that is constantly being used, by the way, by all of europe’s nationalist movements, in order to present their followers with a large and easy target.

      I may sound like a broken record here but in my opinion, capitalism is still the real culprit. And of course, the United States is running the largest capitalist economy in the world, and the EU has become the embodiment of neoliberal corporatism. But ultimately it’s a system – not one particular state or government – that is to blame. Unfortunately, many people still do not understand how this system works, because it is very complicated and we are all part of it.

      I think the current situation is looking more and more like an inverted version of what happened in the 1930s. Back then, German capitalists and many of their european colleagues thought that they could save themselves from the ‘communist thread’ by supporting Mr Hitler and his fascist party. Many of them clearly thought that they would be able to control the Nazis. As we all know, they were utterly mistaken.

      Today, the hopelessly defeated and more or less defenseless european (and american) left is clutching at straws and some of their followers are starting to think that their only chance of fighting the ‘capitalist thread’ is to ally themselves with the extreme right.
      We should not make the same mistake by supporting neo-fascist movements all over Europe. Once those come into power, they have a tendency not to like sharing it with anybody else.

      I fear the old saying that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” does not apply here.

  4. The only way to solve Europe’s problems is to kick Germany out of the eurozone. Unfortunately there is no other credible way. Attempting something different would turn out to be a total waste of time.

  5. A movement to fight for the obvious for the very ideals that supposedly formed the EU in the first place (While the EUZone is another story), sad but nevertheless necessary. I would like to join as soon as it is formed.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s