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We remember what Europe looked like before the EU

Sirio Canós Donnay explains why countries that have suffered the most at the hands of the Troika, like Greece and Spain, are also the most pro-European

June 13, 2016
8 min read

sirioOf course we don’t like the EU as it is

Europe is in crisis. This is a crisis which is not just economic or political, but also social, of values, and of identity. It’s no longer clear what the EU stands for or what the point of it is. It is in fact very difficult not to question it when you think about the undemocratic nature of the TTIP negotiations, or about what happened to Greece: the imposition of draconian, absurd, cruel, and ineffective measures against the democratic will of the Greek people. It is difficult not to feel shame in seeing the EU’s inhuman response to the refugee crisis; the continent that has produced most refugees in recent history letting hundreds and hundreds of people die on its shores.

So I get Euroscepticism, I do. I understand where it’s coming from and what it’s an answer to. But I’m afraid it’s the wrong answer. In fact it’s worse than that: it’s an answer that puts at risk the future of the continent and of its peoples, and of the rights and freedoms previous generations fought so long and hard for.

What’s the point of the EU then?

It often comes as a surprise to people here that it is precisely the countries that have suffered the most at the hands of the Troika like Greece and Spain that are also the most pro-European. I’ve been asked before if this was due to some form of southern European masochism. It isn’t. It comes from a very vivid memory of what Europe before the EU looked like for us. It comes from recognising that the last thirty years have been the greatest period of peace, prosperity, cooperation, and respect for human rights in the history of the continent. It comes from recognising that in the face of a double attack from corporate lobbies on the one hand and of the rise of authoritarian xenophobic movements on the other, more than ever, we need to stand united.

This doesn’t mean we’re blind to the fact that European institutions have been gradually taken over by corporate lobbies and unaccountable elites who look for their own interests at the expense of the wellbeing of ordinary people. We’re only too painfully aware of that, not least because a very similar process has been going on at the national level. But in Spain, since 2011, first from the streets with the Indignados, now from the institutions with Podemos, we’re fighting to take back those institutions and put them at the service of ordinary people. The same needs to happen at the European level.

Corporate capital and financial powers organise at a transnational scale. We don’t stand a chance if we retrench into national boundaries and try to fight them separately.

For two reasons: firstly, because whether we like it or not, we share a continent, and there are issues that don’t recognise territorial boundaries. Whether we’re talking about climate change, health matters, or trade regulations we’ll always need a forum in which to discuss these things. That forum can be a bunch of non-elected delegates deciding behind close doors. Or it can be a democratically elected parliament. We’re sure which one we want.

And secondly, because corporate capital and financial powers organise at a transnational scale. We don’t stand a chance if we retrench into national boundaries and try to fight them separately. We need to organise at a supranational level to counter their power. Most of the struggles you’re facing in the UK are well known to people in Spain. Whether it’s austerity, precarious work, cuts to the NHS and education, tax-dodging, or corruption, these things are only too familiar to us, because they are manifestations of problems common to the whole continent. The Panama papers have shown how the elites organise transnationally. If we are to stop the gradual hijacking of our democracies, we need to stand united in this and fight together. And for that we need tools and democratic forums of discussion. In other words, if the European Union didn’t exist, we would have to invent it.

In addition to the xenophobic use of the issue of migration, which has already been sufficiently discussed, there are two common arguments I hear in Brexit debates which really annoy me. The first one is the constant use of the notion of sovereignty by the brexiteers. Sovereignty is not defined by the scale at which decisions are taken, whether local, national, or supranational; but by who takes those decisions, whether it is democratic and accountable institutions or unelected powers. Thus, leaving the EU wouldn’t necessarily result in an increase in sovereignty, in fact the opposite might be the case, as many of those decisions would still be taken and ordinary people wouldn’t have a say in them.

The second is that the EU is an inherently neoliberal institution and that the ultimate proof of that is what happened last year to Greece. Again: not the case. The EU has constantly been changing throughout its history, taking different political colours depending on the national governments of the member states at a given time. In the late 90s, for instance, it pushed forward a lot of really good legislation on environmental protection, women’s rights and workers’ rights. More recently, as we elected a majority of neoliberal governments at the national level, the decisions taken by the EU also became more neoliberal, unsurprisingly.

As for what happened to Greece last year, I think rather than being an example of why there’s no hope, it’s an example of precisely the opposite. A country like Greece, which is not even 2% of Europe’s GDP, in the worst possible political scenario (with the Troika wanting to set an example so countries like Spain wouldn’t follow), managed to create an earthquake across Europe of such intensity that it forced the European elites to expose themselves, and drop any pretense of caring for democracy or human rights. This opened major cracks in the system, paving the way for the rest of us to get inside them and change the system from within. If a tiny country like Greece managed to do that, imagine what a medium one like Spain (fourth economy in the Eurozone) or a large one like the UK could do.

The times are changing

Additionally, the political landscape in Europe has drastically changed since that awful summer. Now we have a progressive government in Portugal which has successfully negotiated with Brussels. We’re about to have elections in Spain where Podemos and its allies are set to obtain amazing results. In the UK the arrival of Jeremy Corbyn has drastically changed the political scene, and brought hope to the previously bleak political landscape. Now even Renzi in Italy is questioning the Troika’s diktat. People and social movements are also organising transnationally across Europe in an unprecedented way, from housing movements, to campaigns against TTIP. Likewise, some weeks ago, Nuit Debout celebrated 15 May, the anniversary of the Indignados, as a global day of action. People across Europe are realising that while we must undertake our own respective national fights for democracy, it is also crucial that we coordinate transnationally both from the streets and in the institutions.

For all these reasons, so we can keep fighting together, I really hope that on 23 June, the people of this country decide to stay with us. Because on that day, you’ll have a historic opportunity: the chance to be an inspiration to us all, to say loud and clear that a more democratic and social Europe is not just possible but also necessary and already happening; and that the people of this country are going to fight for it.

Sirio Canós Donnay is a member of Podemos London and a supporter of Another Europe is Possible