Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Confronting Neoliberalism in Europe

Dick Barbor-Might speaks to Sol Trumbo Vila of the Transnational Institute.

August 6, 2014
7 min read

Sol Trumbo Vila is in the forefront of the intensifying struggle against neoliberalism in Europe. He works for the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. We met round a corner from the TNI office, at a café beside a quiet canal. It was mid-summer, a few weeks after the European Parliamentary elections.

I asked Sol why he is so committed. It turned out that he first learned about political economy from his family and especially from his psychiatrist mother, a strong defender of public health services in Spain’s Valencia province. Sol’s family background prepared him for resisting the neoliberal indoctrination that he was subjected to when he started to study economics at Valencia University in 2000.

“From the age of 15 onwards I was familiar with other economic theories, including. Marxism. At University I was expected to defend theories I didn’t believe in, for example, the concept of a perfect market – that doesn’t exist.”

Sol became convinced that as an academic discipline in the hands of the neoliberals economics has ceased to be a science and has become an ideology.

“There are no actual examples of what the neoliberals claim. Their theory does not allow for information and transaction costs or for the existence of monopolies and oligopolies. They set up mathematical models to prove their theory but reality isn’t like that. The interests served are only those of the rich, of the corporations.”

Sol’s six months stint in Ecuador in 2007 awoke his sense of what could be achieved through determined political action. Rafael Correa, an economist, had just been elected to the presidency, and one of his first actions had been to repudiate as illegitimate a large proportion of his country’s foreign debt.

One of the first directors of the TNI was another Latin American, Orlando Letelier, who had been one of Salvador Allende’s ministers. He was assassinated in 1976 by the Chilean secret police. By that time Pinochet’s Chile, prostrated by repression, was serving as a testing ground for the application of Milton Friedman’s neoliberal doctrines. From the early 1980s onwards this process was continued in Reagan’s America and Thatcher’s Britain. The 1992 Maastricht Treaty brought neoliberalism into the European mainstream.

The consequences have been dire. The banks that were responsible for the 2008-09 financial crash were bailed out but this triggered a sovereign debt crisis in the countries of southern Europe and in the Irish Republic. It is these populations that have paid the price as the infamous Troika (the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) has imposed austerity programmes and created recession. For the poorest people the impacts have been catastrophic. In Greece, for example, the programmes imposed by the Troika have shrunk the economy in recent years by 30%. Public debt so far from reducing has actually risen and unemployment has increased to 28%.

In 2011 Sol’s understanding of how social movements could challenge the grip of neoliberalism on the body politic was transformed by the springing into life in his native Spain of the 15-M movement, the indignados. He started to work for the TNI in 2012. The TNI covers a wide spectrum but Sol’s particular tasks have been to track the devastating impacts of neoliberal policies in Europe and to help coordinate the efforts of social movements to work with the most vulnerable groups.

It is not enough simply to understand. In October 2013 the TNI held an important meeting attended by members of social networks and groups from 13 European countries. The leitmotifs were the democratisation of Europe and the protection of the commons – the natural, material and cultural resources that never should be privatised. With the aim of developing a Europe-wide strategy the meeting decided upon an initial four projects.

Four projects

One of these projects was to monitor and publicise the latest moves by political and business elites to force their neoliberal agenda upon the European Union’s more than 500 million people. The TNI recently published on its website the results of its analysis, which it carried out with researchers from Ireland, Austria and Germany, reporting on a proposed European “Competiveness Pact” that is paralleled by another neoliberal proposal, currently being negotiated between the EU and the US for a “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership” (TTIP).

The Competiveness Pact has been well described as a “Troika for all”, a planned extension to all of the Eurozone of what has been inflicted upon countries like Portugal and Ireland. The proposal, strongly backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the business lobbies, is still mired in disagreements between different European governments. As the TNI points out, these disputes are opening up opportunities for citizen-based opposition to the Pact.

Work is not yet completed on another of the projects decided upon at last October’s strategy meeting. This was to create a data base for the thousands of initiatives throughout Europe that are trying to break with the dominant capitalist model, asserting the value of solidarity and actively constructing alternatives. Solidarity economics is a growing force, driven on by the exchange of ideas within peer groups, by the commitment to open source rather than to control and thereby limit the benefits of productivity. Just think of Wikipedia!

The third idea was to set up a “Troika Party”, the satirical notion being that the Troika in a sudden fit of frankness had set up its own political party to contest the European elections, telling the electorate what they really intended. In a world of double talk this ironic campaign was refreshing and revealing – and a lot of fun.

The tribunal

The fourth initiative, conducted jointly by the TNI and Corporate Observatory Europe, (CEO), was a tribunal hearing in Brussels on 15th/16th May 2014 as part of the “May of Solidarity”. The tribunal started on the same day as protesters tried to encircle the Egmont Palace where the elites were holding a “Business Summit Europe”. The police disrupted the attempted encirclement and arrested 281 demonstrators. Three of these were due to give testimony at the tribunal hearing.

This brutal prologue gave an edge to the tribunal, which had been organised so as to provide an opportunity to 18 witnesses and rapporteurs from different European countries to give a public account of the responsibilities for and consequences of the restructuring of labour markets and social policies “so as to favour the business community.”

One of the witnesses was Vicky Donnelly from Debt Justice Ireland. As she advised the tribunal, the budgetary cuts imposed by the Troika were the equivalent of 18% of the country’s GDP. As she later explained to me, the different testimonies told essentially the same story. All the testimonies were accounts – from the perspective of the victims – of the same kind of externally dictated austerity packages.

The judges’ verdict, determined by three senior and respected economists, was an indictment. To itemise:

• the economic crisis had been aggravated by the policies of the European Union resulting in the impoverishment of millions of people, social deprivation: and deteriorating quality of life;

• the policies were unnecessary, being driven by neoliberal prescriptions and particular economic interests;

• the implementation of these policies lacks democratic legitimacy;

• they violate international and European human rights obligations.

One of the three judges at the tribunal was Professor John Grahl of Middlesex University. He told me how impressed he was by what had been achieved by the TNI and CEO in bringing together social movements that operate at the local and national level, helping them to develop a Europe-wide perspective.

At the close of our meeting beside the quiet Amsterdam canal I asked Sol about the future. He sees light as well as dark in the Euro election results. What has been done in cooperation with the social movements will be evaluated before the next stage. And he is hopeful.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going


17