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Home / Resources / News / European checkmate: democracy at gunpoint

European checkmate: democracy at gunpoint

European Alternatives Position

“There is no alternative” is an imposture commonly used to cover with a mantle of inevitability clearly partisan economic decisions. Rarely has this false refrain sounded so convincing to so many people as when the governments of Italy and Greece have been given the alternative: obedience or bankruptcy. This blackmail is the result of political decisions not to take an alternative course and to obey the 'logic' of the market. But alternatives have always existed, they just haven't been articulated loudly and clearly enough.

Regardless of the specific opinions on Monti and Papademos and their respective governments, we cannot but remain highly preoccupied by the reduction of political and democratic life in Europe to a contest with only one possible winner. Whether Monti is a valid response or not to Italy’s crisis, the terms of the appointment are an extremely dangerous precedent: at the gunpoint of financial markets and their threat to strongarm Italy into a default.

A group of elites, whether they are the leaders of France or Gemany, the ‘Frankfurt’ group, or the business and bank leaders who profit from the current system, have managed to steal power from the citizens of Europe by a deft employment of the economic crisis to hijack the European institutions and the process of European integration, which now appears more than ever to citizens and politicians in debtor countries like a strait-jacket in which no one can take decisions against an inexorable economic logic.

The pretence of national sovereignty has been broken. European nation-states, in their blind attempts to block moves towards a federal union in the interest of retaining what little remains of their sovereignty, have ended up with consigning this very sovereignty to financial markets and unaccountable elites. This is obvious in the case of “peripheral” countries, but sounds no less true in the case of “core” countries, and especially France, able to independently decide to follow the same recipes of austerity forced on Southern countries, but unable to implement any alternative model against the threat of loss of “triple a” status and ensuing financial chaos. Sovereignty holds for core countries only in so far as it is employed to respond “I am what you want me to be”. But there is no sovereignty without the possibility of being otherwise.

Closing the space for alternatives

Equally worrying is the overt attempt at closing the space for an alternative that had been maturing over the last year through the Arab spring, the pan-European protests of the indignados, the Occupy movement, and the success of a discourse condemning inequality and the rule of the 1%. It is perhaps only a coincidence that the occupation of Zuccotti Park has been stopped by the New York police the same day that Monti has been nominated prime minister in Italy. But it is a telling coincidence, and one that uncovers the desire to physically close any space for a critique of the existing economic and financial model and the responses offered so far to the crisis.

There is a double danger in such situation. On the one hand, the message sent to public opinion is that there really is no alternative to austerity and to further dismantling of the European social model to repay the ills of the financial sector. The good of the banks becomes equivalent with the good of the people, and any policy diverging from the recommendations of the European Central Bank or the IMF is portrayed as impossible and immature. On the other hand, with the near totality of political parties in Italy and Greece supporting the new technocratic governments, the large sectors of the population resisting such equivalence and remaining convinced that alternative policies exist and are viable are left bereft of political representation. A wedge is being driven between Parliaments and large sectors of public opinion. “They don’t represents us”, one of the slogans of the indignados, now risks becoming a reality for a majority of the population, with profound risks for the future functioning of national democracies.

The struggle for European democracy

The central importance of the European dimension in deciding of our future should now have become apparent to all. But there is no opportunity to regain the freedom to choose the course of our societies and to open spaces for alternative politics to emerge if we are not able to demand and obtain a radical democratisation of the European space, against all tendencies to delegate power to elites or market consensus.  The fight for democracy must be therefore at the European level: European politics must become political and democratic, where that means that different political parties and social movements must offer clearly different political programs and have the power to implement them. That means democratic control over the European economy.

A greater harmonisation of decision-making over European economies is unavoidable. De facto these decisions are already being made. What is required are formal institutions which make the decisions, rather than informal clubs, and democratic procedures for the citizens of Europe to take these decisions themselves.

The European institutions and European integration should be precisely what give people the power to make decisions. There must be a long term vision: either it is a vision of obedience and austerity for the many, or it is an empowering vision of European citizens retaking control over the economy and their common future. European Alternatives chooses the second of these visions, and a choice we suspect many of our fellow citizens would also prefer.

The coming weeks and months will be a crucial testing ground for the maturity of the people of Europe to rise up and demand democracy, equality, and transnational institutions capable of guaranteeing both. With these objectives in mind, European Alternatives is calling a Congress for Change in the European Parliament on the 30th November, as the start of a process of political emancipation that will run over 2012.