IN THE RADICAL PRESS / IL MANIFESTO
The joint action in southern Europe this week teaches us that no one can save themselves alone. The movements that are opposed to neoliberalism must seriously address the ‘Mediterranean question’, says Tonino Perna
Not all days are the same, there are some special days that are remembered because they have marked the course of history, have qualitatively changed the flow of time. November 14 is one such watershed, in my opinion. It will be remembered as a passing phase, what in analytical geometry is called an ‘inflection point.’
For the first time since the financial crisis hit Europe and the dismantling of the welfare state and the widespread ‘social butchery’, there was a revolt that involved, at the same time on the same day, all the countries of southern Europe. For too long we have seen solitary revolts by the Greek people, the Spanish or Portuguese against the austerity policies of the EU and their national governments.
Each government of the so-called PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) has decided to save itself through gruelling negotiations with the Troika: the IMF, the ECB and the World Bank. All the governments of southern Europe have accepted the bitter medicine of Brussels, hoping to save themselves – alone – from bankruptcy, and focusing on better times.
This has only precipitated the crisis, impoverished the majority of the population, sending unemployment shooting up and debt too, from 78 per cent of GDP on average in the PIIGS in 2008 to over 110 percent today!
In the 1930s, the prestigious economist Irving Fisher synthesized these insane policies that led to ‘debt deflation’ with a famous phrase that ‘the more the debtors pay, the more they owe’.
Students and workers who took to the streets of southern Europe this week have understood this: the heavy sacrifices imposed on populations are not only useless, but harmful too. And they have also understood the need for unity of purpose, a clear and strong solidarity between students and workers of all countries of Mediterranean Europe. In short, they raised the question of Mediterranean Europe as a counterpoint to our old ‘southern’ question.
There is, in fact, a ‘Mediterranean question’ at the heart of the construction of the European Union that the financial crisis brutally revealed, but that had been brewing for some time. Despite the EU funds for territorial cohesion, the gap – in terms of productivity, value added per capita income, etc. – among the countries of Europe’s south and much of central and northern Europe began to grow with the advent of Euro. The single currency has prevented the weaker Eurozone countries using the competitive devaluation of national currencies, benefiting countries with the most technologically advanced industry, notably Germany.
There is a second handicap, less known and evaluated. Over the past twenty years, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the EU’s enlargement policy has been sharply focussed towards Eastern Europe, encouraging the expansion of the economies of Central and Northern Europe (Germany in particular), cutting out the countries of Southern Europe. In terms of economic and cultural exchange, and especially politicians, the EU has abandoned any interest shown in the past (who remembers the meeting in Barcelona in 1995 ) to the countries of the south-eastern Mediterranean. The peoples of the Mediterranean are now seen by Brussels either as a threat to “security” (read: non-EU migrants) or as a threat to monetary stability (read: the peoples of southern Europe) casting us as idle and wasteful.
We need a political debate on the future of the EU, the eurozone and the countries of the Mediterranean. Some propose two currencies and a two-speed Europe: a Euro A for the Scandinavian-German countries and a Euro B for the countries of southern Europe. Instead there are those who, in addition to a section of the political forces (especially the extreme right) in the countries of southern Europe, propose simply to exit the euro and return to national currencies. Finally, there are those, including myself, who think that we must strengthen the social and political ties between the PIIGS and go to sit together in Brussels to renegotiate / restructure the debt. Or otherwise exit the eurozone together and start immediately the construction of the Euro-Mediterranean economic area, involving the countries of the south-east, beginning with Turkey that was kept out, stupidly, by the European Union.
But it is not only an economic issue, there is a need to break the wall that divides the West from Islamic fundamentalism, to create a large area euro-Mediterranean area of peace and cooperation in which all real people, and not only the goods, can move freely, an area in the centre and in the heart of a ‘Jerusalem delivered’ from Israeli occupation.
Utopia? Sure, as long as you remain bound and enslaved by debt, what someone has the courage to call ‘sovereign debt’!
The message of the great mass events of November 14 is clear: fight together to cut the debt and save our societies, our values, the rights of students and workers. Unfortunately, a political translation of such mass popular mobilisations is lacking. Especially in our country where we debate ‘pigsty’ electoral reforms, and political alliances, and are devoid of any political force able to articulate a clear word about our future, about our place and role in the EU and the Mediterranean.
I think Alba [Alliance of Labour, Public Goods and the Environment ]* and organizations / associations that are combing together in order to create a non-reformist / non-minimalist alternative to neo-liberalism, must seriously address the ‘Mediterranean question’, taking themselves out of a stifling parochial political debate.
For the lesson learned from this unique event that was 14 November is that no one can save themselves alone.
Tonino Perna is an economist and sociologist, professor at the University of Messina
Translation by Revolting Europe
*A new political formation launched by academics, writers, laywers, trade unionists and others to the left of the Democrats: check out their website (Italian)