German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for “completing economic union” and “building political union in Europe step by step”. Urging radical new moves to save the collapsing eurozone, she advocated on 14 November that the European Union’s Council of Ministers be redefined as an upper house of the elected European Parliament, and direct election of a president of the European Commission.
Working-class activists and socialists should want a democratic united federal Europe. Within Europe, “capitalism in one country” — a system of each country managing its capitalist affairs on its own, with only marginal interaction with others — is a dream based on conditions of small-scale localised production which vanished long ago. Under highly-developed capitalism, the economic affairs of different European states are closely intertwined, whatever the political arrangements. Better some political mechanism to discuss and regulate the intertwining than that it be worked out by crude competition on the market or the ultimate arbitration of war.
Merkel’s way to unity, however, would be radically different from ours. Merkel wants unity on the basis of coordinating European capital, the better to impose a harsh neo-liberal regime of perpetual cuts, privatisation, and marketisation on the working classes of Europe.
It would be suicidal for the labour movement to try to help Merkel in her efforts for European unity, carried through in her way. And probably wasted effort.
If the capitalist leaders of the EU could not push through their mildly integrationist draft EU constitution in 2004, in conditions of capitalist prosperity, it is very unlikely that they can agree smoothly and push something much more integrationist through now, in the midst of a deep economic depression, when they will be linking the integration to painful cuts.
The bureaucratic and opaque ways of the European Union have generated deep nationalist resentment in many countries. Britain is exceptional. In the last Europe-wide survey, in spring 2011, it had a lower percentage of people thinking that they benefited from being in the European Union than any other country in the EU: only 35%, as compared to 78% in Ireland, 73% in Poland, 70% in Denmark, and 52% across the EU.
The capitalist leaders of Europe are deeply alarmed, and so ready for radical moves where previously they would have continued with routine. But even in more “europhile” countries, people are hostile and suspicious about further European integration.
A realistic programme for European unity has to offer the peoples of Europe a broad democracy and a generous social “levelling-up” if it is to overcome obvious and deep-rooted national reluctances and suspicions. People like Merkel cannot and will not offer that.
The workers of Greece are not willing to accept social devastation and economic supervision by German bankers for the sake of easing things for the euro. Nor should they. The first step in breaking the European Union from the narrow-minded neo-liberal course which is leading Europe to chaos is for the Greek workers to say no, and for workers all across Europe to support them.
Defiance by the Greek workers, supported by workers across Europe, can force concessions from the leaders of the EU. Those leaders, like Merkel, know that their latest “rescue” plan, decided on 27 October, is not working even in its own terms.
It was supposed to fence off Greece and reassure the global markets that Italy will pay its debts. In fact it has led to Italy having to offer unviably high interest rates in order to sell its IOUs on the global markets.
It was supposed to set up a formidable European Financial Stability Facility. In fact the EFSF is nowhere near raising the desired stocks of credit.
It was supposed to secure the future of Europe’s banks. In fact it maps out only a limited “recapitalisation”, widely thought to be inadequate, whose main effect so far has been to cut back world-wide lending by European banks and thus to deepen the global depression.
The EU leaders will have to devise new rescue plans, and can be forced to admit that these new rescue plans must include concessions to the workers’ defiance. They have sufficient stocks of wealth to make concessions, and they know that the break-up of the euro would cost them more than very large concessions.
They will not make concessions easily or willingly. Defiance by Greek workers may lead to Greece being evicted by the eurozone.
The eviction, of itself, will not help the Greek workers: a euro-exited Greece will still face the loot-lust of the global markets, and from a weak position. But there will be no progress without defiance; and defiance can and will inspire working-class solidarity across the continent.
The labour movement can rise to the event, rally its activists and broader working-class forces around them, and win concessions, only as a by-product of formulating and fighting for its own democratic, revolutionary, and socialist programme for remaking Europe.
That starts with three demands:
• Tax the rich, Europe-wide.
• Expropriate the banks, Europe-wide. End their death-grip on social life. Put them under workers’ and democratic control. Gear their resources to the reconstruction of public services, decent jobs, and social welfare.
• Thorough-going democracy across Europe. Social levelling-up across the continent, to the best level of workers’ rights and conditions won in any part of it.