IN THE RADICAL PRESS / MEMOIRE DES LUTTES
By Bernard Cassen
For supporters, neo-liberalism is not an ideology. This project is a natural and obvious fulfillment of freedom. But there is a hierarchy of freedoms. Some – those relating to economics and finance – are much more important than others, and that is why, in its treaties, the European Union (EU) qualifies them as “fundamental.” These are the freedom of movement of capital, goods, services and people (it should say the workforce …). All with the guiding principle of “free and undistorted competition”. The EU has thus become the first inter-state entity organized to include in its legal foundations the neoliberal utopia, namely the hegemony of markets – primarily the financial markets – and the disarmament of the State.
The creation of the euro, the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, was a further step in this direction: it installed at the heart of the EU a financial fortress, the European Central Bank (ECB), with considerable powers and removed from any democratic control. The ECB thus realizes the fantasy of any central banker: to be totally independent of political power, or to dictate its policy. It must be remembered that the pre-euro Bundesbank was not completely autonomous from the German government nor is the Federal Reserve with respect to the White House today.
This device has been complemented by the creation of the “troika” which, besides the ECB, comprises two structures that are just as “independent”: the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). They are the true masters of Europe, and they hold sway over nation states that, one after another, come under their tutelage and are reduced to the status of protectorates. This is already the case in Ireland, Greece and Portugal. This will be probably soon the case for Italy, Cyprus, Slovenia and Spain. And others will follow … In what would have been unthinkable a few years ago, the President of the ECB, Mario Draghi can dictate to governments, without causing general indignation, the detail of the steps they must take to ‘benefit from a ‘rescue plan’. A European version of structural adjustment plans long imposed on countries of the global south by the IMF and World Bank …
In its monthly report issued on 9 August, the ECB demanded lower wages (especially the minimum wage); easing, if not dismantling, of laws to protect workers, the end of the indexation of wages to inflation in the countries where it still exists; legislation favourable to business, and the removal of barriers to international competition, etc.. It does not matter that these recipes that have already been applied in whole or part, in most countries, have only caused rising unemployment and public debt, and a recession that is in the process of generalizing. Hidden behind the pretext of the crisis, the real objective is different: it is to destroy the welfare state established in Europe after the Second World War and to restore the omnipotence of capital.
It is naive to simply lament the failure of these policies, even if the failure is total with respect to goals officially displayed. Thanks to the EU and the euro, we can instead talk of a great success in the implementation of the neoliberal project. For now …
Bernard Cassen is General Secretary of Memoire des Luttes and honorary president of Attac
Translation by Revolting Europe