By Florent Marcellesi
Martin Luther King said that every crisis brings not only opportunities but also dangers. So far, the European and national policies of austerity cuts have shown us the particularly dangerous face of social, ecological and democratic crisis.
They have led to misery and unemployment for millions of people, mainly in the southern European countries. They have humiliated entire countries like Greece with the unprecedented and liberticide closure of television and public radio.
In Spain and Ireland, they have socialised banking debts that are private, and partly illegitimate. They have reinforced the inequalities between the richest – who are taking advantage of the crisis – and the vast majority – who are suffering impoverishment. These policies have allowed unbridled capitalism and the financial lobby to shape globalisation to lower wages for workers and boost profits for multinationals.
Environmental crisis has relegated to the background the idea of a clean, low-carbon Europe. A dangerous gap between the citizens of southern Europe and northern Europe has given further oxygen to the far right. The responsibility of the Troika (European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) and national governments (through the European Council) is overwhelming.
Spain’s Socialist-Popular Party Pact
Of course, we are getting into even more dangerous waters with the pact between the ruling Popular Party and the opposition socialists to present a united front to other European leaders, behind the backs of the rest of the Spanish parliament, and light years from any semblance of citizens’ participation.
First, this agreement is a joke in bad taste. How can these two political parties pretend to ask the European Union to boost ‘the role of social partners, enhancing their consultation and participation […], to ensure a high level of social protection, labour rights protect and promote public services as health care and quality education?’ How can they allow themselves to so deeply offend common sense when in Spain there’s no ‘social dialogue’, we are facing privatisation of health and education, the dismantling of public bodies (such as Consejo de Juventud de España, the Youth Council of Spain), implementing regressive labour reforms, criminalizing the anti-evictions campaigners, the Platform of People Affected by Mortgages (and, as a result, the European Parliament), and have just approved an unsustainable coastal law while ignoring the anti-fracking and anti-nuclear movement?
Second, because this pact between the Socialists and Popular Party includes a very dangerous point of agreement: the promotion of free trade agreement between the US and the European Union. This trade deal is worse than the Multilateral Investment Agreement that was halted a few years ago through social mobilization. This new agreement – as well as being negotiated with absolute opacity – seriously threatens European standards, whether they be social, ecological and cultural, public services, labour markets, intellectual property or agriculture. It further strengthens the role of multinational corporations (mainly American) and does not take into account energy shortages and climate change.
Stop bad, over-production
It’s time for a social and ecological transition of the European economy, that is, an orderly exit from producing a lot (and badly), and from competition and the law of the jungle, to another economy which prioritises sustainability and quality, cooperation and solidarity. Specifically, as a pillar of this transition, the EU can and should make a clear commitment at a political and financial level to boost those sectors that can at once:
1) progressively reorient the production model towards sobriety and alignment with the ecological limits of the planet.
2) fight efficiently against large-scale unemployment in a society where the absence of paid work often leads to economic and social exclusion. The net impact on employment of the transformation of Europe into a low-fuel, low- carbon fossil is clearly positive. Green and decent jobs in restoring buildings, renewable energy and energy efficiency, organic farming, waste management, the environmental industry, sustainable transport, social and alternative economy, or the social care sector, can have many benefits. These green jobs will minimise the impact on the environment, are more numerous than the jobs in the “brown economy” (ie those that very capital, energy and carbon intensive but sustaining few jobs), are high quality and they promote the real, local economy.
New green Jobs
For example, if we were only to meet the emission reduction targets of greenhouse gases of 30% by 2020 in the European Union we would create 6 million additional jobs in Europe and easily offset the 300,000 jobs expected to be destroyed in the coal sector. This is not to deny jobs will be destroyed in unsustainable sectors or sectors which cannot adapt to new energy policies and climate change.
Conversely,green public policy anticipates the social and ecological developments, while protecting those most disadvantaged. It is a policy that plans – in a participatory fashion in dialogue with social partners and labour, and generally with the public – the quantitative and qualitative changes of jobs and the skills needed in this new framework (active policies orienting training towards sustainable sectors). At the same time, because it is a policy committed to the future and social justice, it focuses on youth (with a “European Youth Guarantee” for example) and provides the basis for real protection and social security in Europe.
Moreover, for this environmental transition of the economy to be serious, we must prioritise funding. According to the Green European Foundation, the ambitious and highly necessary version of this Green New Deal would cost up to 350 billion euros a year (ie 2% of EU GDP).
This is certainly a high figure but this amount is only a third of what is spent on activities that harm the environment, such as the use of fossil fuels – or less than the money European Union countries spend on defence.
Financing the transition
To finance this investment equitably and sustainably – and at the same time regulate the markets – the following proposals are key:
• The long-term commitment by the European Investment Bank (EIB) via the provision of “green credit” and the mobilisation of private capital. In particular, any banks rescued with public money should be obliged to finance the social and ecological transition, as determined democratically
• A tax reform in which those who have more and pollute more, pay more. This would be achieved through a financial transaction tax in Europe, as approved by the European Parliament, and a carbon tax to internalise the real costs of CO2 and to tax all emissions not covered by the Emission Trading Scheme.
• An end to tax havens which resutls in a loss of 1 billion euros for the public coffers at European level, ie 2,000 euros for every European citizen per year!
Along with this shift in the production model, we clearly need, on the one hand (re)distribution of wealth through a rebalancing in favour of labour, as against capital, and the establishment of a basic citizenship income and a cap on incomes. On the other hand, work sharing is, as proposed by the International Labour Organization, a measure to temporarily relieve powerful crises and create permanent employment,
quality of life and sustainability. Finally, the democratic regeneration of Europe and its different countries is central: hope and change will come from the citizens.
There are no quick fixes but some are better and more compelling than others. The social and ecological transition of the economy fits into the latter category, and is a path that Europe has to travel with enthusiasm and willingness to achieve a fair and sustainable twenty-first century.
Florent Marcellesi is Coordinator of the Spanish think-tank Ecopolítica, member of Spain’s three-year-old radical green party Equo and author of “Adiós al crecimiento. Vivir bien en un mundo solidario y sostenible” (“Farewell to growth. Living well in a supportive and sustainable world “)
Translation/edit by Revolting Europe