On Sunday 23 October European Union leaders hold a summit conference where they will try again to patch up the eurozone economic crisis.
Patching up — at the expense of working people across Europe — is about the best they can hope for. The whole laboriously-constructed edifice of the eurozone is in danger of disintegration.
The threatened collapse of big banks in 2008, averted by big government interventions, has worked its way through into a crisis of European states’ debts.
Greece’s government has now long fallen off the wheel of borrowing, repaying, and even more borrowing on which all capitalist governments (and big capitalist corporations, though less so) must dance.
It has become dependent on successive “bail-outs” by the European Central Bank, the European Union, and the IMF. These are actually partial “bail-outs” of the French, German, and other banks which have lent to the Greek government, and they come with demands for drastic cuts in Greece.
All across Europe governments are making cuts. End result: every country’s main export markets, as well as its domestic markets, shrink. The debt crisis worsens.
The successive measures taken since Greece, Portugal, and Ireland fell foul of the global financial markets have not mended the crisis, but instead threaten to spread it to Spain and Italy. Now even France faces the risk of having its credit status downgraded.
European capital has vast wealth. In plain arithmetic there would be little problem with really “bailing out” Greece and the other poorer countries at the expense of Europe’s wealthy classes.
The governments won’t do that, if only because rival national interests and the weakness of political and fiscal (public-budget) integration in Europe preclude it.
The crisis of Europe is a challenge for the labour movements of Europe. If the labour movements stand by passively, or at most each labour movement busies itself with defensive action in its national framework, then the working classes of all countries will be swamped by the wave of the developing continent-wide “double-dip” downturn.
And nationalist and anti-foreigner populist politics will probably fill the gaps left the labour movement’s failure to fight for Europe-wide answers.
The latest declaration by the European Trade Union Confederation declares:
“Nowhere can we see any light at the end of the tunnel... The answer lies in a combination of reducing deficits and adopting investment measures for employment and for a sustainable recovery.
“We have long been advocating the idea of a New Deal where the priorities would be a social Europe and a green Europe. The markets need to stop calling the tune.
“We say that to stop the attacks on sovereign debt, we need a partial mutualisation of the debt, a central bank that can guarantee these European bonds. We need to stamp out speculation; we need to introduce a tax on financial transactions and a fair fiscal system. We need to do away with tax havens and tax fraud”.
All this is too little, too abstruse, too much a matter of declarations made from an office in Brussels disconnected from action on the ground, and too disconnected from any agency that could push it through.
The European labour movement should be rallied and united, in the first place, around a simple programme:
• Tax the rich — Europe-wide.
• Expropriate the banks and high finance — Europe-wide — and place them under democratic control, geared to a workers’ plan for economic reconstruction, again Europe-wide.
• Level up social rights and conditions Europe-wide.