Lexit’s Digest is not a press or media review rushing for the most up-to-date ‘breaking news’. Its focus is on highlighting interesting opinion pieces, analysis and background information etc. from different free sources (progressive or not) on Lexit-related issues. By concentrating these in one place – Lexit’s Digest – we hope to create a modest information resource that might be useful for readers of this website.
Lexit’s Digest Special Issue, 16 March 2017
Political Forces in Europe, Geo-strategy after Trump
From about 2012 to 2016, the European Left Party hyped a domino-theory, claiming that a ‘left-turn’ in Europe could be within reach: beginning with the Dutch Socialist Party rising in the polls towards 20 per cent, Syriza becoming the dominant political force in Greece, Podemos and Izquierda Unida in Spain, the Left Bloc and the PCP in Portugal, Sinn Féin in Ireland and the Red-Green Alliance in Denmark to follow. All of them having a stronger say in the formation of national governments, and creating more leaverage for Social Democracy and Greens in Europe to end austerity. We know about the outcomes.
In 2017, the right-wing populists in Europe propagated the same narrative for their lot: after Victor Orban in Hungary, the PiS in Poland, Donald Trump in the US, they equally expected new victories in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Austria, Italy etc.
In a recent article in Le Monde Diplomatique, neo-Marxist historian Perry Anderson provided a very interesting survey on all this. He interprets ‘populist’ strategies of the right and the left as opposing neo-liberalism and its effects from very opposite angles. One might remember Bertolt Brecht: the right- wing alternative boils down to the argument ‘Für alle reicht es nicht’ (there is not enough for everybody); the left-wing alternative to the socially inclusive logic of ‘Alle oder keiner – alles oder nichts’ (all or nobody). Anderson concludes that ‘the system will still win’, and he also explains why this is likely to be so. His advice to the left: “For anti-systemic movements of the left in Europe, the lesson of recent years is clear. If they are not to go on being outpaced by movements of the right, they cannot afford to be less radical in attacking the system, and must be more coherent in their opposition to it.”
The outcome of the general election in the Netherlands on 15 March 2017 seems to prove Perry Anderson right. Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) came in second after Rutte’s Liberals (VVD). But with around 13 per cent obtained, Wilders’ PVV lagged much behind the 17 per cent predicted for them in the polls. Labour, Greens and the SP taken together obtained less than 25 per cent of the votes cast. Wilders’ campaign certainly had an effect on mainstream parties such as the Liberals and Christian Democrats, them further shifting to the right on immigration and also promising ‘less Brussels’. For an overview on the long-term trends of the erstwhile ‘Dutch consensus model’ (written before the 2017 general election) and the difficulties of the left, see an interesting piece by Alex de Jong. Why the Dutch Socialist Party in 2012 failed to become the dominant force for a ‘left turn’ in the Netherlands, see an earlier article by Daniel Finn in New Left Review.
Similar observations – the political mainstream shifting to the right, Marine Le Pen not very likely to become the next President – can be made about France. Here is a quite pessimistic view from Stefan Kipfer (Associate Professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, Toronto) on the legacy of Hollande’s Presidency and the political climate in France before the forthcoming elections. Currently, Hammon and Mélenchon (JLM) could not agree to join forces for the Presidential election (the French Greens EELV now support Hammon). Also, talks between the PCF and JLM’s movement ‘La France insoumise’ on the legislative elections seem to be complicated. On this, see here an interview (in French) with Éric Cocquerel, the co-ordinator of the French Left Party (PdG), who believes that JLM will make it to the second round of the Presidential election. And (also in French), there is a critical assessment of the economic programme of JLM’s campaign by Henri Wilno.
As regards Germany‘s DIE LINKE, here is a provocative piece by Leandros Fischer reflecting on the party’s electoral (and other) strategies. Fischer is dealing with topics such as: how to stop the rise of the right-wing populist AfD, what are the prospects and flaws of the orientation towards a ‘Red-Red-Green’ coalition (R2G) etc.. He also dissects Wagenknecht’s and Lafontaine’s narrative to defend ‘the market economy against capitalism’. In a similar vein like those two – and like them linking his fundamental arguments to the ‘legacy’ of German ordo-liberalisms’ frontman Ludwig Erhard – the former Secretary General of the conservative CDU, Heiner Geißler, insisted for decades that ‘the social market economy is opposed to capitalism’. Fischer’s essay touching upon all this is an interesting read.
Looking at Italy, the split of the ruling Democratic Party (PD) has become reality – and there is perhaps more to come. On Matteo Renzi’s troubles, see an analysis from politico website here. A thorough and nuanced analysis by Cinzia Arruzza on the Italian constitutional referendum and what might follow from this is available on New Left Review. All in all, the Italian ‘traditional left’ (what is left of Rifondazione Communista (PRC); the newly formed social-democratic ‘Sinistra Italiana’, and the current split-offs from the PD trying to create a new centre-left) currently do not seem to benefit politically from these developments.
The rest-PRC is around 1 per cent; Sinistra Italiana going down towards 2 per cent, as many of ‘their’ prospective voters seem to prefer the ‘centre-left’ approach; the centre-left PD-split currently also only between 4 and 6 per cent. Beppe Grillo’s 5-Star-Movement continues to capture a good part of the discontent formerly expressed by that traditional left, currently overtaking the PD in the polls (see here). Also, the polls suggest a fragmented Italian political landscape, no breakthrough in sight for the bloc of the political right (Lega, Forza Italia, Fratelli D’Italia etc.), nor for the PD, the M5S or anyone else.
It might be useful – in the light of all this – to return to history for understanding the demise of the Italian ‘traditional’ left. The PCI (including its ‘euro-communist turn’) was up to the late 1970ies one of the strongest political forces in Italy. Firstly, David Broder on ‘Assessing Togliatti’ (who is held in high esteem by the newly founded but still small PCI, along with Enrico Berlinguer). Secondly, Perry Anderson on ‘An Invertebrate Left’ in Italy (2009) and on the ‘Italian Desaster’ (2014) – pretty provocative, but very scholarly argued background information.
In Spain, the newly installed conservative minority government of Mariano Rajoy (PP) seemed to run safely on support from the neo-liberal Ciudadanos Party (C’s) and the Social Democrats (PSOE) alike – on the basis of mutual dialogue with this ‘official opposition ‘. C’s are attacking the PP on corruption – Rajoy could eventually muster this by compromising on legislation on this issue. However, the PSOE’s leadership contest scheduled for spring 2017 could make things more difficult for Rajoy. The ousted former Secretary General Pedro Sanchez stands as candidate against Susana Diaz, who pulled the strings for his removal. Sanchez complained about the heavy pressure put on him from ‘powers’ during his negotiations with C’s and Podemos in 2016 on forming a PSOE-minority government. He sticks to his ‘No’ to Rajoy and promises to create a ‘Portuguese-style’ arrangement with Unidos Podemos (UP) and others as an ‘alternative to continous PP rule’. In that respect, he updated his political platform to promote the redistribution of wage labour, to introduce a universal social allowance and to envisage a federalist constitutional reform to acclaim the pluri-national character of the Spanish state – all this intended as a clear gesture towards UP.
If Diaz should win, the de-facto grand coalition arrangement in Spain might continue in substance – perhaps bringing about some modernization of the ‘Regime of 1978’ so much attacked by UP. If Sanchez should win, new troubles for the PP (but also for Unidos Podemos) might be on offer. On this still fragile Spanish constellation, see here an article by Jaime Pastor. A critical assessment of the second Vistalegre conference of Podemos by Josep Maria Antentas is available here.
In the United Kingdom, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is again under fire – this time even from Owen Jones, who first called for a ‘Lexit’, then ‘critically’ supported the ‘Remain campaign’ on the Brexit referendum etc. See here for Daniel Finn’s thoughtful rejoinder on this.
Last but not least: what about the trade unions and the traditional workers’ movement in that volatile political environment in Europe and globally? Asbjørn Wahl (Senior Advisor at the Norwegian Campaign for the Welfare State) comments on the notion of a seemingly ‘Reactionary Working Class’.
On geo-strategy after Trump
Again, let’s open this with a thought-provoking piece from Perry Anderson: ‘Passing the Baton‘, which dissects the legacy of Obama and speculates about what the Trump Presidency may mean in different respects.
Earlier on (2013), Anderson analyzed American Foreign Policy and its Thinkers, recommended to all readers of this Digest interested in historical background information (it is composed of three parts in a special edition of NLR, the last part can be read for free here. The book version is available here). And also see his Russia under Putin (2015).
So what about the current US geo-political discussions within the so-called ‘expert community’? A pretty informative analysis on this by Conn Hallinan can be found here. And what about the US as a superpower in decline? See a critical analysis on this by Edward Hunt here. Also very interesting on that track: a piece by Michael Crowley on ‘The Man who wants to unmake the West’ – both highly informative and speculative. We shall see what the Trump administration finally does and what it will not do in this regard …
EU leaders and the mainstream think-tanks are very concerned about the EU’s influence beyond its eastern member states. They complain about ‘increasing Russian destabilization efforts’. The ‘Balkans’ have been detected as a newly emerging terrain of power struggles, see here, here and here. Equally, the think-tanks ask about the effectiveness of the EU Eastern neighbourhood policies in drawing these states into the realm of the EU-Empire, see e.g. here. And they worry about more to come from Russia and China (Eurasian Economic Union, New Silk Road Initiative, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation), see here.
On the row between the EU and Turkey (constitutional referendum in April 2017, how to deal with AKP ministers campaigning for a yes-vote for that in Europe), politico website provided interesting information. Christopher de Bellaigue recently argued that Erdogan’s quest for a ‘Presidential regime’ follows in the footsteps of the earlier Ottoman Empire (‘The return of the Sultan’). The authoritarian AKP-Regime in Turkey discusses quite openly about a re-alignment with Russia and China towards a ‘Eurasian perspective’. This rings alarm bells within NATO …
All of them are ‘bandits’, of course. But who pushes things and who reacts in the emerging geopolitcal ‘New Great Game’ – this deserves a closer (historically informed) look.
Lexit’s Digest No. 8, 16 March 2017
EU Council on 9/10 March 2017: EU elite agendas, multiple conflicts unresolved
Bloomberg recently published a graphic about the EU ‘disintegrating’ or alternatively finding ‘a path for the future’. The ‘experts’ consulted by them predicted a ‘muddling through’ approach to prevail in the short term. Not surprisingly, this is what happened at the latest EU Summit.
There was heavy turmoil: the right-wing-populist government of Poland strongly opposed the re-nomination of Donald Tusk as President of the European Council. 27 of the still 28 EU member states governments voted for Tusk (also the UK government of Theresa May). The government of Poland then did not support the usual document on ‘Council Conclusions’ as a first measure of revenge.
The row around Tusk and Poland was perhaps a highly symbolic attempt at ‘rebellion’ within the current EU from a government of the Eastern European Right – reminiscent of Charles de Gaulles’ policy of the ’empty chair’ in the 1960ies. However, unlike the France of de Gaulle at the time, the ‘economic power’ of Poland within the EU 27 is no match against German economic dominance – in that respect, most of Eastern Europe’s economy is simply a sub-supplier-chain for German manufacturers and some others. Despite its nationalist rhetoric, the PIS government does not want to abandon the EU project for economic (they call for more monies from the EU Structural Funds for Poland) and also for geo-strategic reasons (NATO, EU protection against ‘Russian Imperialism) – see here and here. For those interested in a longer-term view on Polish nationalism, nation-state-debate, the PIS-concept etc. see a piece by Leszek Koczanowicz on New Left Review.
Euractiv commented on the Summit’s results: conclusions on the discussion on a multi-speed Europe postponed, no changes to the current EU-Treaties envisaged so far, timelines set for the end of 2017.
Concerning the issue of ‘migration‘ addressed at this event, here is a critical rejoinder by Lee Jones (the current moment blog), and also an interesting piece by Peter Mayo (who believes in ‘Social Europe’).
Discussions on ‘multi-speed Europe’
It seems that the Commissions White Paper on ‘Future Europe’ was not that very much debated at the March EU Summit.
Here is an analysis from the politico-website (mainstream, but nevertheless informative) on the vagueness of most concepts for a ‘multi-speed’ Europe; and here a report from the same source on the current discussions and divisions amongst EU governments about this.
The latter report points out that the governments of the Benelux countries want to discuss with the Eastern European EU member states how to counterbalance the influence of the ‘Big Four’ (Germany, France, Italy, Spain) in going too far in their effort to create a multi-speed Europe. From their perspective, this could lead to a European Union in which they contribute money (in particular the Benelux-countries and some other smaller but richer countries), but potentially have lesser influence on EU decision making. So there might be a cautious rebellion of some smaller EU states in the making. But the bourgeois leaders of those smaller EU member states always were very ‘pragmatic’ (= finally bowing to the bigger ones), when confronted by a dominating ‘EU-core’ (in the last years, this was only Germany).
The ‘Big Four’ are also not so united in their approaches of what a Europe of different speeds should mean concretely. Possibly, the final shots on this issue may only be clarified after the elections in France, Germany (and later on in Italy). This may also depend on whether the current de-facto Grand Coalition (PP-PSOE-C’s) in Spain can achieve more stability.
The current German government of Angela Merkel would certainly be pleased if Emmanuel Macron would win the French Presidential elections in 2017 (and the same goes for Martin Schulz as the SPD candidate for chancellor). Macron supports a ‘Europe of different speeds’ as such, and claims to close the gap in ‘competitiveness’ of the French economy towards the German one by ‘radical’ measures, in order to reconstruct the Franco-German axis on a par. The candidate of the French Socialist Party, Benoit Hammon, surprised with his proposal for a closer co-operation within the euro-zone (arguing for a special international treaty to ‘democratize’ the governance of the euro-zone, to be controlled not by the European Parliament, but by national Parliaments). Thus he is trying to square the circle for ‘more and better Europe’ and ‘enhancing sovereignty’ of euro-zone member states. Francois Hollande at the time pledged to ‘re-negotiate’ the Fiscal Compact – well, we shall see …
The current German government still promotes the pet-project of its minister of finance Wolfgang Schäuble: creating a European Monetary Fund (EMF), which would make the participation of the IMF in future Troika-like ‘rescue operations’ obsolete. In that line of thinking, the EMF would also take over much of the current responsibilities of the European Commission as regards the European Semester (oversight on member states fiscal and economic policies, early warnings etc.). That is a central part of the ‘German’ concept for a ‘multi-speed Europe’. So far, the vision of a ‘Europe of different speeds’ is an embattled ground …
The UK Parliament finally passed Theresa May’s Brexit Bill without amendments. For an informative overview on what will be the next procedural steps on Brexit see here. The European Commission calculates that the UK has €60 billion of charges to settle with the EU budget for Brexit, the UK government opposes these demands. Here is a quite informative policy brief of the Centre for European Reform on this.
As noted before in Lexit’s Digest, conflict with Northern Ireland and Scotland on Brexit is escalating. The SNP-led regional government of Scotland is demanding a second referendum on Scottish independence. After the regional elections in Northern Ireland on 2 March 2017 (see here for results), direct rule by the UK government could be re-installed if DUP and Sinn Féin should not be able to agree on a coalition again. Sinn Féin hoped to outflank the DUP and to claim the post of First Minister in order to launch negotiations on a ‘Special Designated Status within the EU’ for Northern Ireland. However, despite strong gains of Sinn Féin, the DUP came in again as the first party, though by a very narrow margin. Sean Bell analyses the election’s results and predicts ‘exceptional times’ coming for Northern Ireland.
Black Box ECB – ‘Release the Greek files’ campaign
The bank closures enforced by the European Central Bank on Greece in 2015 were part of the ‘Troika’ campaign to subdue the Syriza-led government to a third memorandum. ECB President Mario Draghi commissioned an independent legal opinion whether the closure process was legal and within the ECB’s charter and mandate. The ECB refuses to provide access to this document. Yanis Varoufakis and Fabio De Masi MEP launched a public campaign demanding the immediate publication of Draghi’s legal opinion – see a video of their interview with euractiv here. See also here for the related petition, and here for some background material on that campaign.
The latter background material of DIEM25 suggests that the ECB should be fully independent from the political process (and its actions transparent). Historically, the European Left, the Euromemorandum economists etc. always opposed such independence of the ECB as enshrined in the Treaties. Most of them still call for a ‘democratisation of the ECB’ and the like. It is one thing to claim that the ECB’s operation on Greece in 2015 violated its existing mandate. Also, Draghi should be forced to publish the legal opinion – no doubt. But DIEM25 arguing for ‘real independence of the ECB’ – isn’t that ironic?
Lexit’s Digest No. 7, 1 March 2017
Initially, EU elites planned to agree on a roadmap for ‘Future EU’ at their meeting on the 60th Anniversary of the Rome Treaty, scheduled for 25 March 2017. Now, it seems, the EU postpones clarifying its stance to the end of 2017. After talks with the current governments of Germany and France, Commission President Jean Claude Juncker decided to propose only a ‘White Paper’ on this item. The White Paper examines five different options for ‘Future EU’, and weighs the pros and cons on each. The Rome Summit then shall start a ‘process of reflection’, with conclusions to be drawn eventually by December 2017. The full text of the Commission’s White Paper on ‘Future EU’ is available here. To be further analysed in the Lexit-blogsphere, hopefully, also with regard to what a ‘Lexit-wise’ alternative might implicate.
Wait for the results of the elections in France and Germany (the latter in September 2017), look whether a Franco-German axis to ‘lead the European Union’ can be re-installed afterwards – this seems to be the rationale behind this. As Juncker made clear beforehand, his (and Merkel/Hollandes) current main idea is: a ‘Europe of different speeds’ is the best alternative to tackle the old continents’ economic and social problems, its divisions over geostrategy and the like.
Their concept is a European Union with a ‘core’ (e.g. the current euro-area; but also allowing for closer co-operation in military affairs, technology and science etc. for ‘coalitions of the willing’) at its ‘centre’. This is to be combined with a periphery of EU member states that do not want closer integration (such as e.g. Poland and Hungary), and also selective co-operation with a number of non-EU states (such as the UK after Brexit, Turkey) and others (currently addressed by the diverse ‘EU-neighbourhood policies’, east or south) as the ‘outer zone of influence’ of the ‘EU-Empire’.
This idea of a ‘flexible European integration’ looks like a mix of the old proposal of 1994 for a ‘core-Europe’ by German conservatives such as Wolfgang Schäuble and Karl Lamers, and French President Jacques Chirac’s proposal at the time for a ‘European Union of variable geometries’. Its essence: move towards a Europe of ‘concentric circles’, hierarchically structured, with dominance of the ‘core’ over all of it. Consolidating ‘EU-Empire’ in its economic and geopolitical aspects (including Ukraine etc.) – in an ‘epoch of rising uncertainty’ (regarding the future geopolitical stances of the US under Trump, Putin’s Russia, China etc.) – is central to this.
In that respect, the German government is already very active, deepening military co-operation between EU member states and continuing with the militarization of the EU’s borders. What about the future of NATO in that context? This issue had been hotly debated at the Munich Security Conference on 18 and 19 February 2017 – for a concise critical summary see here.
Worried whether former US ‘nuclear guarantees’ for Europe might be upheld in the future, German pundits are fantasising about a ‘European key’ to the nuclear arsenal of France (and maybe the UK). These discussions have a long tradition in Germany. People from diverse political strands such as the (long deceived) historic leader of the conservative Bavarian CSU, Franz-Josef Strauss (in the 1950ies and 1960ies) and the Greens’ Daniel Cohn-Bendit (in the late 1980ies) argued either for a ‘Europeanization’ of nuclear capabilities or even for Germany building up its own ‘potential’.
For an analysis on what is behind the Trump administration’s announcements to increase and modernize the US nuclear arsenal, see a piece by veteran US military experts Chuck Spinney and Pierre Sprey here.
European Economy, European Semester etc.
The European Commission recently published its ‘European Semester Winter Package‘. It provides detailed assessments of member states’ economic and social developments and shall serve as a basis for formulating ‘country-specific recommendations’ at the official EU-Summit on 9 – 10 March 2017 (compliance with the Fiscal Compact, the six and two packs etc.). Germany’s skyrocketing current account surplus is only regarded as an ‘imbalance’ by the Commission’s services, as usual. However, euro-area members France, Italy, Portugal and Cyprus are found to be experiencing ‘excessive economic imbalances’. In the case of Italy, there are threats that this country should be fined under the ‘excessive deficit procedure’.
The Juncker ‘political’ Commission has no interest in further destabilizing the political situation in that country, as Renzi’s ruling Democratic Party (PD) is heading towards a split. The irony in this is: The European Parliament lobbied for more ‘automatic sanctions’ in the past and a stronger role of the Commission in EU economic governance, and succeeded in that effort in 2012 (six and two packs). But finally it was the Commission refraining from using such powers, out of fear of creating further ‘political turmoil’ in ‘founding member states’ of the European project. Sanctioning smaller member states etc.? This is ok – these had been harshly treated in the past. But the Commission confronting Italy, France, Germany etc. head on with possible sanctions procedures? So far – no way. Never forget about the real hierarchies in this European Union …
Meanwhile, there is not much progress on the Commission’s pet project of a Capital Markets Union. One major controversy on this is about the role of securitizations, which the Commission would like to promote on a grand scale again. However, securitizations in the U.S. mortgage market were a major factor in triggering the 2008 global financial crisis. Rescue packages for banks were what followed after such toxic assets blew up. The Amsterdam based Transnational-Institute (TNI) recently analysed who benefited from that bail out of the banks. It is now quite commonly acknowledged that the burden of bank losses was shifted towards the ‘ordinary tax-payers’ at that time. The TNI report also examines the ‘Big Four’ international audit firms’ role in managing the bail-outs and making a nice profit for them out of that – a very interesting read (full report available here).
EU election year 2017
Let’s start with Portugal – not facing a major election in 2017 (only local ones). For the ‘left-wing’ of the European centre-left, the Portuguese ‘contraption model’ (minority government of Socialists, supported by the radical left PCP and Left Bloc) seems to become a reference point for forging centre-left alliances ‘at home’.
The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) does not seem to be over-optimistic about this models’ mid- or long-term prospects: in December 2016, its Central Committee ‘has decided to carry out a campaign, between January and June 2017, on the release from submission to the Euro which, in conjunction with the demand for renegotiation of the debt and the recovery of public control of banking, clarifies the unsustainability of the constraints and impositions of the European Union, and mobilises various sectors of society for the need and possibility of liberation from submission to the Euro, for production, employment and national sovereignty.’ The Left Bloc is usually more moderate in its public statements on these issues, but likewise is in favour of leaving the euro-zone if no agreement on reducing Portugal’s’ debt can be achieved.
PCP and Left Bloc have important historic and cultural differences and thus attract quite different communities. Together they are representing roughly 20 per cent of voters in Portugal. Both are supporting the current social-democratic minority government of Antonio Costa for one major reason: As long as the Socialists stay on track on preventing a further impoverishment of the lower classes in Portugal and are open for incremental social improvements, this constellation might continue. If not – given the public commitments of both parties – a severe crisis of government may be expected. This particular constellation is different from the usual ‘European model’ of centre-left governments so far, which always implicated submission of the ‘radical left’ forces to the ‘centre’ on austerity policies of any kind, as part of a fixed ‘coalition agreement’ on those issues – already beforehand … We will see what happens in the future …
The last two issues of Lexit’s Digest prominently covered the upcoming elections in the Netherlands on 15 March 2017. Here is our last take (from Social Europe journal) before that national election. Perhaps needless to say: Wilders’ PVV ‘heads’ in the polls over a very fragmented political landscape with a predicted score of 17 per cent (and needing quite a number of ‘coalition partners’ to form a government later on) – is this really the Dutch breakthrough for right wing populism? Culturally, perhaps – as Wilders was successful in shifting the overall political agenda towards his propaganda. In ‘real terms’ – it depends… That the ‘centre-left’ spectrum (Labour, Green Left, SP) in the Netherlands is in misery and may not be capable of gaining a parliamentary majority – no doubt about that … but what would be the ‘alternative programme ‘of such a centre-left?
Similar trends of ‘voter volatility’ are shaking up France and Germany. To start with France, here is an interesting analysis on Marine Le Pen’s Front National from jacobin.mag..
On the left side of the political spectrum, there is a discussion to create a united candidature of the left for the Presidential elections and further on (encompassing the PS of Bennoit Hammon, Jean Luc Mélenchon’s ‘La France insoumise’, and the French Greens’ headed by Yannick Jadot). If these three forces could agree on a joint candidate for the French Presidential elections, this candidate might have a good chance to stand against Marine Le Pen in the second round, so the argument goes. This is based on simple ‘polling-arithmetic’: Hammon, Mélenchon and Jadot taken together stand for 25 – 29 per cent of current voting intentions.
But what about political programmes, and what about securing parliamentary majorities for a ‘renewed left’ in the French legislative elections afterwards? Not so easy … Hammon and Mélenchon quite strongly disagree about Europe. On this and other political dividing lines, see for example a sober analysis from Roger Martelli (in French). Marie-Pierre Vieu (a leading member of the French Communist Party – PCF) argues for the widest possible unity with the Socialists (also in French). This is pointing to older underlying differences over strategy within the long defunct Front de Gauche. Last but not least, a quite pessimistic ‘note on the political situation in France’ from the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA), just to complete the picture of opinions from the French left. Well, have a good read on all that, nevertheless …
With Martin Schulz as its candidate for chancellor of Germany, the SPD has been rising in the polls for some weeks. Germany’s DIE LINKE Party recently spoke out in favour of forming a coalition with SPD and Greens. On the political difficulties of DIE LINKE and how to tackle them, there are diverging views – see here and here.
Daniel Finn (deputy editor of New Left Review) looks into the soul-searching on the British left on Brexit and argues for an independent leftist strategy ‘Neither Washington nor Brussels’.
There is another Plan-B text signed by different authors (e.g. Eric Toussaint , Miguel Urbán Crespo , Stathis Kouvelakis , Teresa Rodríguez , Costas Lapavitsas, Zoe Konstantopoulou , Marina Albiol , Olivier Besancenot etc.) on the challenges of the left in the euro-zone: Ten Proposals to Beat the European Union (for the full list of signatories see here).
See also the study and report by Costas Lapavitsas and others on Euro-zone Failure, German Policies, and a New Path for Greece here, which was presented at the December 2016 EReNSEP meeting in Paris.
Lexit’s Digest No. 6, 10 February 2017
European Union: tightening ‘Fortress Europe’, quarrels about the vision of a two-tier Europe
At their informal EU Summit in Malta on 3 February 2017, EU leaders agreed on next steps to block refugees coming to the European Union. This time the focus was on a deal with Lybia, but there is more in the pipeline along the same approach with other countries on the African continent, see here.
It seems that closing the routes for refugees via the ‘Balkans’ and the Mediterranean Sea, ‘Security & Defence’ and ‘handling Brexit’ will become the main items of the EU informal Summit on the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaty, scheduled for 25 March 2017. This might entail postponing decisions on items such as a deepening the integration of the euro-zone as envisaged by the earlier Five Presidents Report. A recent euractiv analysis points out that “diverging views continue to undermine efforts to forge a common vision” (and a roadmap for the ‘future EU’).
Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel might have hoped to reign in the right-wing populist government of Poland for her plans to move on towards a European Union with ‘different speeds’ (evidently: a core- periphery constellation, with Germany aiming at securing its status as the dominant power at the helm of both). But after Merkel’s visit to Warsaw the leader of the ruling PiS, Jarosław Kaczyński, stated his strong opposition to a ‘two-tier European Union’.
There is a lot of irony in this: US-President George W. Bush’s War on Iraq in 2003 established the notion of ‘Old vs. New Europe’ against Germany’s chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French President Jaques Chirac at the time. A lot of the Eastern European EU Member States (including Poland, and also quite a number from Western Europe with the UK at the helm) participated in the ‘Alliance of the Willing’ in that war effort, while Germany and France abstained officially. Now the rulers of Poland are afraid of Trump, and the leaders of the Baltic States share similar fears. They appeal to NATO for ‘more protection’ against ‘Russian imperialism’. On the other hand, key players of the Visegrad states (such as Hungary etc.) and other Eastern European member states, seek for more economic and political co-operation with Putin’s Russia (and/or China). As a recent example on this, see e.g. Slovenia (here).
What is often not so much noticed by the western European left, are the crises on the EU’s eastern periphery, such as Romania and Bulgaria (see here, here and here), and also in its ‘Balkan neighbourhoods’ (see eg. on Bosnia here, but there are equally ‘failed state’ EU protectorates such as Kosovo etc.). As regards the EU’s Eastern enlargement, there is a combination of economic domination by the ‘EU core’ and ‘internal’ problems concerning corruption, both based on deeper class-based structures. This and the resulting economic and social volatility in Eastern Europe adds to the core EU-elites problems of forging an ‘ever closer union’.
Merkel’s calculation at her recent visit to Warsaw was: Polish fears of a possible ‘détente’ on geo-strategy between Trump and Putin might be turned into a ‘bridge’ for forging an alliance between Germany, Poland and France on the future of the EU, thus trying to build a new powerhouse for keeping the EU 27 together. Concerning France, German elites prefer Fillon or Macron as future Presidents. Both are being regarded as candidates for securing ‘continuity and stability’ meaning continuing with neoliberal reforms, for repairing the German-Franco axis, and for enlarging this with allies in Eastern and Southern Europe. On the propagandistic level, this approach implicates to ‘speak toughly’ to the US, Russia and China, in ‘defence of western values’ and ‘European interests’.
The critical website German-Foreign-Policy.com recently provided some short analysis on how the German government envisages to ensure its dominance within the EU-27 (see here) and also to become an ascending power vis à vis the US under Donald Trump (see here). On the controversy over the skyrocketing German current account surplus mentioned there, there is an interesting piece from ‘The Economist’.
The ‘Club Med’ (EU Mediterranean countries) recently held their second meeting in Lisbon and adopted a ‘Lisbon Declaration’. Hopes (from the euro-left) or fears (from conservatives) that this group – initiated by Alexis Tsipras – would challenge the dominance of the European core are unfounded. The Lisbon Declaration is clear about their support for Fortress Europe, the Defence Union, for the setting up of a fiscal capacity for the euro area etc.. The ministers of defence of France, Italy, Portugal and Spain even called for a stronger presence of NATO in their region. And by the way, there is a also the conservative minority government of Mariano Rajoy in Spain, which (as some other European counterparts) waves the flag towards Trump: We are ready to act as ‘honest mediators’ between the US, the EU – and in that case – Latin America (see here).
Look west, look east in the European Union – it’s ‘dog eats dog’. It is about diverging views of the not-so-rich member states elites on who could be the future ‘master’ with sufficient powers to preserve their respective ‘national interests’ – the US, Russia/China, or Germany – and how to gain room for manoeuvre for themselves in that international hierarchy which is becoming more unpredictable. This was always a feature in the history of ‘European integration’ after World War II, and is very visible now as the EU is confronted with handling multiple global and European crises.
Upcoming elections in the Netherlands on 15 March 2017
There is an interesting opinion piece by NRC Handelsblad columnist Tom-Jan Meeus on the rise of right-wing populist Geert Wilders, also dissecting the failures of the centre-left. Maybe to a higher degree as in other EU countries, the political spectrum in the Netherlands is currently very fragmentized, voting intentions very volatile etc. (so do not take the polls too seriously), and finally 5 to 6 parties may be needed to form any government at all (for an analysis see here). It’s a real shake-up of the former Dutch liberal ‘consensus democracy’ that always provided ‘stability’, whether entrusted to centre-right or centre-left coalitions …
Brexit on track …
The UK House of Commons adopted the ‘Brexit bill’ of Theresa May without amendments – see here. The UK government earlier on provided a White Paper on its Brexit Strategy, based on 12 principles (see the full document here). The Article 50 bill will now go to the House of Lords and is supposed to be finalised by mid March. On the troubles of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, see here. And how some leftist Irish Republicans perceive what is coming after Brexit, see here. So far, the ‘Global Britain’ Right calls the shots. Labour’s position to accept the Brexit vote is democractic, but its message and programme for a radical political alternative to the Tories and UKIP (finally, a ‘Lexit’) is still far from clear.
Some views from leftists on Trump and on left strategy in the European Union
Leading Russian leftist intellectual Boris Kagarlitzki criticises the US-Left concerning the Anti-Trump protests: “Surprisingly, the majority of “critically thinking” intellectuals turned into an easily managed and manipulated mass, without any personal opinions or will. However, even those who are skeptical about the protests, are not inclined to analyze what is happening in class or socio-political categories.” His conclusion: “The Left has a choice: to promote grass-roots organizations and to put forward significant social demands while defending the movement’s independence in relation to the Trump administration, or participate in the conspiracy of the elites as extras, becoming pawns moved by an invisible hand of the elite on the political chessboard“. For the full article see here.
With regard to Trump’s travel ban against seven Muslim countries, Patrick Cockburn provides an interesting analysis on how this fits in with an evolving strategy of the Trump administration against Iran, see here.
Finally, there is the Euromemorandum 2017 by the ‘European Economists for an Alternative Economic Policy in Europe’ available now. Its core orientation it is still about promoting ‘EU reform’. But there are also interesting analyses on other items such as ECB QE policy, the rise and programmes of the far right in Europe, the EU’s trade and neighbourhood policies etc.. We also hint to an interesting older paper (2016) by a collective of authors from the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM) on how to tackle the banks and the financial sector (see here). It pledges for ‘radical changes’ and a ‘socialisation of the financial sector’ – which is not so prominent in the current programmatic or propaganda of major parties of the ‘radical left’ in Europe any more …
Lexit’s Digest No. 5, 30 January 2017
European Union: Election year 2017
In 2017, there will be important national elections in the Netherlands, France, Germany (and maybe Italy). Insecurity about possible outcomes prevails. The right wing populists recently assembled their forces in Koblenz (Germany) and clung to some kind of ‘domino theory’ – after Victor Orban in Hungary, the PiS in Poland, Donald Trump in the US, new victories are looming for their lot in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Austria, Italy etc.
The Dutch will already vote in a general election on 15 March 2017, and a majority of voters seems to be ‘undecided‘ – an indication of maybe ‘surprising results’ that might come in any direction. The liberal VVD of incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte is adapting to the issues and language of Geert Wilder’s right-wing populist ‘Freedom Party’ (PVV) to survive. Labour, Green Left and the Socialist Party each are oscillating in the polls around 10 – 15 per cent. Whatever the outcome – against the background of an increasing fragmentation of the political spectrum with a lot of ‘new parties’ in the Netherlands: Creating ‘stable government’ might be a thorny task – whether on the right or the ‘centre left’.
There is possibly also much surprise waiting in the wings concerning the French elections in 2017 (presidential elections scheduled for 23 April/ 7 May; legislative elections for 11 and 18 June respectively). Already, with about 3.5 million voters participating in the primaries of the Right (former UMP, now re-baptized as Republicans), Francois Fillon unexpectedly beat his competitors such as Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy. With a much lesser turnout in the primaries of the Socialist Party (PS) and its smaller satellites (1.6. to 1.9 million), left-leaning Benoit Hammon stayed on top against Prime Minister Manuel Valls in the second round (see here). In the polls before the ‘socialist’ primary it looked that Hammon had no chance at all for winning that contest.
A recent French poll predicted that none of the major candidates in the PS primaries could expect to surmount 10 per cent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election. FN’s Marine Le Pen is leading in the polls with a constant 25 % share, Fillon now down to around the same, centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron around 20 %, and radical left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon between 13 – 15 %.
Roger Martelli (a veteran intellectutal of the French Communist Party, who quit the PCF years ago) envisages the end of Mitterand’s PS – with Valls supporters being attracted to the liberal agenda of Macron, and the remaining minority of a leftist electorate of the PS being attracted towards Mélenchon (see here, in French). The future might hold many more surprises and possible re-compositions of forces, however. For the legislative elections, the project of the Front de Gauche seems to be exhausted. There is an open conflict on a joint approach of the ‘Left of the Left’ on this in France between the current PCF-leadership around Pierre Laurent and Mélenchon’s movement ‘La France insoumise’ (see here, in French).
In a well orchestrated surprise move, Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) nominated Martin Schulz, the former President of the European Parliament (EP), as their candidate for challenging Angela Merkel as chancellor of the republic in the Speptember 2017 general election (see here and here). Schulz is posing as the candidate representing the interests of both the ‘hard working’ middle strata and the ‘forgotten lower classes’, promising more social justice: ‘Saint Martin’ confronting the establishment and the right wing populists alike.
During his time as EP-President he was in favour of the European Semester and stronger EU surveillance on economic and fiscal policies (though always appealing for a ‘better balance’ between fiscal retrenchment and growth). Schulz campaigned against OXI in the Greek referendum, criticised Tsipras even more sharply from the right than Schäuble did afterwards, brokered a deal that the majority of the European Parliament supported TTIP (with a few reservations), supported the Juncker Commission etc. – all in all he was a reliable gatekeeper for continuous ‘grand coalition’ policies. ‘Good prospects’ for R2G (a red-red-green coalition) in Germany? It is doubtful in merely numerical terms whether SPD, Greens and LINKE can obtain a parliamentary majority (it was there in the past, although, and what happened?). But on programmatic terms, what is the R2G project?
EU austerity etc.
Commenting on possible EU initiatives on the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, on the election year 2017 and EU rules on deficits, EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici concluded: “If the divisions continue to grow, the idea of dismantling the eurozone may become a more popular one, or even a reality. The euro is a brilliant, historic experiment, but it will always be fragile if it is not able to create convergence.” Indeed – so far the euro created ever greater divergence of its members’ economies, and austerity policies never led to the hoped for convergence. For the rest of the interesting interview, see here.
Moscovici calls for more progress on deficit reduction. For the time being, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal have been left off the hook, but with indications that the EU will come back to some of these later on (see here).
In the case of Spain, the Commission presses for an additional effort to cut its budget deficit (see here) amongst rising fears that internal strife within the Spanish Socialists over the leadership of the party might end the de-facto coalition of the PSOE with Mariano Rajoys conservatives.
On Greece, EU authorities hope to finalise the second review on the 3rd Memorandum to unlock the next tranche of credit by the end of February. However, ‘Whispers of Grexit start again’, so claims the politico website. If the IMF should not stay on board in ‘overseeing’ the programme for Greece, things might get rather complicated for the EU authorities (see also here and here).
ECB – quantitative easing policies
Against the background of rising (oli-price driven) inflation, first demands to end the ECB’s ‘ultra-easy monetary policy’ are coming up (see here). Which business sectors benefited most from the ECB’s corporate bond purchasing scheme in that context? Read a concise analysis from the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) here.
Trump’s fast-track executive actions, the future of NATO
On 21 January 2017 about 3 million people in the US protested against Trump’s inauguration. The now official US-President then quickly moved on with executive actions to demonstrate that he will deliver fast on his campaign promises (see here for an overview, and here for his immigration order concerning ‘Muslim’ countries). Remarkably, Trump planted his chief campaign strategist Steve Bannon (the former head of Breitbart news, a far-right, white supremacist media outlet) in the National Security Council’s principals committee (see here). This raised concerns from the out-going Obama administration. In that regard, counterpunch’s Paul Street takes a critical look at Obama’s legacy, also concerning the ‘deep state’ of the security apparatus and coorporate interests (see here).
Throughout his campaign Trump called NATO ‘obsolete’. After recent talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel both jointly underlined the ‘fundamental importance’ of NATO for peace and stability worldwide and for transatlantic relations. We shall see what finally will be the geopolitical game of the Trump administration. Harry Blain from the London School of Economics however warns that ‘NATO is becoming a threat to Europe’.
Finally, Joseph Stiglitz recently commented on ‘Trumpian Uncertainty’, warning of a trade war with China.
Brexit: Court rulings, Trade deals, ‘Red lines’ for Labour?
As expected, the UK Supreme Court ruled that Theresa May’s government must have a vote in both houses of parliament (the commons and the lords) to formally launch Brexit (see here and here). May’s speeches and comments have been interpreted that her government will go for a ‘hard Brexit’, looking for a special trade deal with the EU (see here) and hoping for a quick trade deal with the US – along her ‘Global Britain’ approach.
In order to keep her timetable to launch the Article 50 procedure for leaving the EU by the end of march, the UK government published a white paper and a short draft bill on that (see here). Jeremy Corbyn said that Labour would not block triggering Article 50, which has lead to renewed resignations from his ‘shadow cabinet’ and discussions in his party (see here).
So the big question is, what is Corbyn’s and Labours’ line for an alternative Brexit deal from the Left? On this an opinion piece by Richard Seymour (in the end, interestingly focusing on ‘access to the EU-Single Market’).
Seymor seems to hold the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in high esteem as regards judgements on the European Convention on Human Rights etc. But what about the ECJ-judgements on Single Market rules (mostly neo-liberal from the start) and in particular on the cases Laval, Viking Line, Luxemburg, Lower Saxony etc. curbing trade unions rights to take industrial action, prohibiting any demands from national or regional member states’ authorities that companies employing posted workers can be obliged to respect the usual rules on pay and working conditions enshrined in law or collective bargaining agreements in the EU country where they operate? The ECJ simply ruled that posted workers are only entitled to be paid the minimum wage of their EU member state of origin, anything going further (even minimum-wage-indexation to inflation e.g in Luxemburg also for this group) was prohibited.
So – these rulings (and other effects of the EU’s de-regulation policies) had no effect on the UK labour market? And if a country chooses to open its labour market based on free movement with equal rights and equal treatment – what about its task to expand its social infrastructure to meet and guarantee these needs (e.g. on healthcare etc.) for the incoming working people? In Corbyn’s 10 point programme, there are some indications in that direction. Turning the current hard-right Brexit into a left-wing exit (Lexit) would demand much more programmatic and strategic effort (and its ‘popularisation’) than currently available. Could be an interesting topic for further debates.
‘The future of Europe debate’: soul-searching on the European Left
The debate on how to tackle the obvious crisis of the EU-project has intensified on the European so called ‘radical left’ (in party terms: those forces organized independently from Social Democrats and Greens). So, the more the merrier, there are discourses about the ‘Plan A, B, C’ etc. and their possible interconnections (often in a ‘stagist’ approach).
Here are some links to more recent contributions:
Yanis Varoufakis proposes a ‘New Deal to save Europe’, which his DIEM25 ‘movement’ wants to unveil at the European Summit in Rome in March 2017, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. He underlines: ” Unlike Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s original New Deal in the 1930s, a European New Deal must be realized without the tools of a functioning federation, relying instead on the EU’s existing institutions. Otherwise, Europe’s disintegration will accelerate, leaving nothing in its wake to federate.” Maybe DIEM25 will be mobilising hundreds of thousands of activists from Romania to Portugal to stress this message – we will see. ‘Relying on the EU’s existing institutions’ to that end? Good luck. There was Obama’s pledge at the start of his Presidency for a ‘Green New Deal’ – and he had all the tools of a ‘functioning federation’ at his service. It’s upon readers to judge on the outcome of such rhetoric. So finally, it’s about the ‘movement’ or the underlying relationship of forces that might enforce such a ‘compromise’ – or not.
Conn Halinan (likewise of DIEM25) and citing Varoufakis for a ‘third way’ on ending the impasse (right-wing policy of austerity versus ‘Lexit-wise return to the nation-state’, thus supposedly helping the right-wing populists ): “A pan-European movement of civil and governmental disobedience” to create a “democratic opposition to the way European elites do business at the local, national and EU levels.” On that, he reminds of ‘Rebel Cities’ (such as Barcelona, Naples etc., as he sees it) and ‘continental solidarity’.
Not bad, but this approach had always been practised by the ‘European radical left’ in the past decades and also up to now – regardless of their respective views on EU-integration as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (e.g., the Nordics were always tilted ‘against’ in order to protect the ‘Scandinavian Welfare State Model’, some Communist Parties for other reasons). The parties and other components of the Left in the European Parliament (the GUE/NGL group) contributed strongly to the fight against EU austerity policies, ‘free trade agreements’, ‘fortress Europe’, EU militarization etc. And this both inside Parliament and in building opposition to and mobilisations on these issues outside on the streets (e.g. ETUC demonstrations in Brussels and elsewhere, Euromarches of the Unemployed, TTIP etc.) at national, EU and also at global levels. So why the polemics against those currents on the European Left who do not share the perspective of ‘relying on the EU’s existing institutions’ for ‘progressive change’? When it comes to ‘joint action’ against the ‘enemy’ (civil disobedience, democratic opposition in DIEM25 language), they mostly engage in mobilising forces according to a broad ‘united front’ approach.
A longer essay by Catherine Samaray published on the EReNSEP website claims that ‘No Lexit is possible without an ‘Another Europe’ Strategy – see here. Also interesting in that respect is the recent political document of the Party of the European Left (adopted at its 5th Congress in Berlin on 16 December 2016), which calls for a European Union respecting ‘popular sovereignty’ and broadly promoting a strategy of ‘disobedience’ against EU-Treaties and anti-social Single Market regulations.
Starting from the more moderate vision of a ‘Social and Democratic Europe’, Daniel Seikel (researcher at the German Institute on Economic and Social Affairs, WSI, linked to the German trade unions) reflects on critical contributions mainly from German Lexit supporters (such as Wolfgang Streeck, Fritz Scharpf, Martin Höpner, Andreas Nölke and others). He discusses possible options along that Social democratic approach. He concludes: “It should be noted that none of the proposals made here will be easy to implement, because first the obstacles described (… ) would have to be overcome. Besides, it is doubtful whether there currently exist political majorities in Europe that would implement such reforms.”
See also the contribution of Sébastien Villemot on ‘Does France have a future in the euro-area`, crisply and shortly providing his arguments.
Whatever one thinks of these different contributions – a rational and comradely debate on the ‘future of Europe’ on the left might be useful for all sides, to state the least.
Lexit’s Digest No. 4, 13 January 2017
‘Trumponomics’, the EU and the future of US geopolitics
With only a few days into the inauguration of Donald Trump as US-President, it might be useful to remind of his nominations for important posts in his government. Check the crisp overviews by Ralph Nader (here) and Vijay Prashad (here).
Will Trump’s announced big infrastructure programmes and his opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) mean a break with neo-liberalism? Leo Panitch (co-editor of the magazine Socialist Register) reflected on this in an interesting interview (see here).
Seventeen former leaders from Eastern European EU member states recently launched an open letter to warn Trump of any weakening of western sanctions against Russia (see here). To quite a number of observers it seems that the incoming Trump administration will play ‘Nixon in reverse‘: in 1973, Nixon and Kissinger promoted detente with China in order to weaken the Soviet Union. Currently Trump seems to favour a hard line on China and seeking detente with Putin’s Russia. Patrick Bond analyses the possible changes of US geopolitics with a view to what this could mean for the BRICS (see here) and Pepe Escobar envisages a ‘New Great Game in Eurasia’ (see here).
Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel meanwhile tries to circle the wagons of the EU-27, remarking with regard to US – EU transatlantic relations that ‘there is no eternal guarantee for a close cooperation with us Europeans’.
‘Populism’ and ‘Europe disintegrating’ – Forthcoming EU-referendum in Iceland
In a thought-provoking piece, Alex Callinicos (Professor of European Studies at King’s College, London) takes on the mainstream debate on ‘populism’, examining the constitutional referendum in Italy, the Brexit-referendum and Trump’s election victory in comparative perspective, and also questioning the claim that a renewed ‘facism is on the march‘ (see here). From a social-liberal point of view, Timothy Garton Ash (Professor of European Studies at St. Antony’s College, Oxford) reflects on the recent history of the European Union and seems to be in difficulty on how to conceptualise the ‘new era’ after 2009 (Is Europe disintegrating?) – an interesting read nevertheless.
The rise of Donald Trump has often been compared to that of business-tycoon-cum-Prime-Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. Cinzia Arruzza (assistant professor of philosophy at the New School, New York) provides some lessons from the failed strategies of the anti-Berlusconism of the past for leftist resistance to Trump and similar forces today (see here).
Looking at the aftermath of Matteo Renzi’s constitutional referendum defeat in Italy and the forthcoming reform of Italian electoral law under the new Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni (PD), Roberto D’ Alimonte (of the mainstream ‘politico’ website) quite cynically concludes that ‘many in Italy — and Europe — may find themselves praying that former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia does well enough in the polls to steal support from his right-wing rivals and join the Democratic Party in government’ – see here.
The next referendum on EU issues might just be around the corner: the new centre-right coalition in Iceland agreed to have a vote in parliament on whether to hold a referendum on joining the European Union (see here). If that should materialize, a new round of hue and cry about ‘populism’ is sure to follow …
Brexit, Nothern Ireland, Jeremy Corbyn’s troubles
With the resignation of Northern Ireland’s deputy leader, Martin McGuiness (Sinn Féin), new elections to that regional parliament are becoming likely (see here). Controversies about Brexit seem to be the underlying reason for this. An informative analysis from the (mainstream) Brussels based Bruegel think-tank on what is at stake for Northern Ireland with Brexit can be found here.
Sinn Féin is advocating a ‘Special Designated Status within the EU’ for Northern Ireland in the short run, and re-unification with the Irish Republic in the long run (see here and here). However, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) as their coalition partner in Northern Ireland strongly campaigned for Brexit and support Theresa May’s government. Sinn Féin’s is an interesting gamble: Promoting a United Ireland by (critically) supporting the EU … The SNP-led government of Scotland takes a similar approach towards a ‘flexible Brexit’, allowing Scotland to stay within the EU Single Market with some kind of special status (see here). It remains to be seen whether all this might finally trigger stronger dynamics towards an unravelling of the UK state …
Meanwhile German minister of finance Wolfgang Schäuble seems to prepare for post-Brexit-EU-budget rules. If Angela Merkel’s CDU will still be the leading force in a German government in 2019, tighter rules on access to EU-Structural Funds shall be implemented (see here). Already after the latest reform of the Structural Funds some years ago, payments from the EU-budget may be conditioned on compliance with the ‘structural reform agenda’ enshrined in the EU 2020-Strategy. Schäuble thinks about making these even more conditional.
Finally, what are the prospects for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour to eventually turn Brexit into a left exit from the European Union? Richard Seymour critically examines Corbyn’s recent ‘populist turn’ here.
Critics of the Lexit approach
Adam Tooze reviewed Wolfgang Streeck’s ‘How will Capitalism end’ in the latest issue of the London Review of Books, thereby criticizing the Lexit-approach – an interesting read nevertheless, see here.
Also interesting in this respect: an interview with Petros Stavrou (a former economic advisor of the parliamentary group of SYRIZA in Greece), on LeftEast, see here.
Lexit’s Digest No. 3, 8 December 2016
Italy after the referendum: “Il Rottamatore” Renzi – finito
The reform of the Italian Constitution put to a referendum on 4 December 2016 by (now ex-) Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was rejected by an overwhelming 59 % of voters. Finally, Renzi who liked to pose as the strong ‘Rottamatore’ (the demolition man) – sending the old political class back home and overcoming an ‘inefficient’ Italian economic and political system by radical structural reforms and modernization – was scrapped himself by this NO-vote.
The explanatory statement to justify the bill on the reform of the Italian Constitution pointed out – amongst other things – the need to enable the Italian political system to be more responsive to EU-procedures by becoming faster in decision-making:
“The shift of the center of gravity on decision-making related to the strong acceleration of the European integration process and, in particular, the need to adapt the internal organization of the recent evolution of EU Economic Governance (from which descended, among other things, the introduction of the European Semester and the reform of the Stability and Growth Pact) and its stringent budget rules (such as new rules on debt and expenditure); the challenges arising from the internationalization of economies and the changing context of global competition.”
Media attention mainly focused on the reform of the Senate (the second chamber of the Italian Parliament – for a rough sketch see here). However, the reform also would have included the repeal of earlier reforms to devolve powers to regions (e.g. abolishing the provinces). More importantly, the combined effects of constitutional reform and the reform of electoral law (the Italicum) adopted by the first chamber (the Camera) in May 2015 were seen by many as a threat to democracy.
The Italicum stipulates that if a party obtains 40 % of the votes, it would get bonus mandates so that such a party is attributed at least 54 % (340 of 617) of the seats in the Camera. If no party is able to meet the 40 % threshold, a second round shall take place at which voters have to choose between the two strongest parties. The winner will get 340 seats, the rest will be distributed proportionally between the other parties according to their results, see here.
In Italy, the three major parties – Renzi’s PD, Grillos 5-Star-Movement (M5S) and the Rightists of Salvini/Berlusconi Lega Nord/Forza Italia combined – are standing in the polls between 25 to 30 per cent. It is very unlikely that any of those would get 40 % at a next election. So the party coming on top in a second round would get a comfortable absolute majority with gaining e.g only 27 % of the proportional vote. And with that it could e.g. nominate the top of the judiciary (judges of the Constitutional Court, judges of the Highest Court – Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura etc.), the President of the Republic etc. as it would see fit. From ‘Europeanists’ and EU leaders there was not a single word of criticism what these combined effects of Renzi’s reforms would have meant for democracy. They prefer to deplore the rise of ‘populism’ instead, and Juncker called the Italians that voted ‘NO’ irresponsible.
The editor of the renowned left-leaning Italian magazine MicroMega, Paolo Flores d’Arcais, rightly argued that this combination of ‘reforms’ would provide for powers which the whole of the liberal-democratic tradition always considered to be proto-totalitarian, see here (Italian) or here (Spanish).
An interesting assessment of the referendum campaign (and in particular that of leftist forces) written before the vote can be found here. Reflections by David Broder (from the editorial board of the review Historical Materialism) on the outcome are available here.
Post-referendum Italy: financial problems at home and EU Economic Governance
Silvia Merler of the Brussels based (mainstream) Bruegel think-tank looked at the ‘Financial implications of the Italian referendum’, providing recent data on the troubled Italian banking sector. Economist Emiliano Brancaccio argues that Italian banks are indeed in a critical state, but not because of the referendum, and that the situation can be tackled if adequate measures are taken, see here (Italian) or here (French).
After the referendum and with Renzi gone, the Eurogroup is set to take a tougher line on Italy as regards the EU deficit procedure: “We note that according to the latest Commission assessment, Italy’s structural fiscal effort in 2017 will be -0.5% of GDP, whereas +0.6% of GDP is required under the preventive arm. On that basis, significant additional measures would be needed. (…)We recall the commitment to use windfall revenues or unforeseen expenditure savings in 2017 and step up privatisation efforts to bring the debt ratio on a declining path. We take note that in light of prima facie non-compliance with the debt reduction benchmark, the Commission will issue a new report under article 126(3) TFEU.”
Just in case that an Italian interim government may not deliver cuts and as a threat towards possible early elections the EU will come back to this in spring 2017, with the Eurogroup wanting to tighten the screws. The Eurogroup statement of 5 December 2016 on the Draft Budgetary Plans for 2017 can be downloaded here. Also interestingly, the Eurogroup does not share the ‘flexible approach’ on the EU fiscal rules that Commission President Jean Claude Juncker propagates, see here.
Wake up call to fellow Europeans – “May 9 Movement”
Several prominent personalities from EU politics (Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Guy Verhofstadt, Elmar Brok, Alain Lamassoure etc.), from business, arts and education and also trade unionists such as ETUC General Secretary Luca Visentini have launched an appeal to counter ‘anti-European populism’, see here. After Brexit, Trump and the Italian referendum, they fear “the collapse of the EU and the marginalisation of our values and interests” and point out: “We will not have then the power to be heard and to guaranty our safety from the increasing threats coming from all of our borders. Our economic interest and our market position – as first global export power –will become harder to defend while protectionism temptation rises everywhere.” They demand: “the time has come to adopt a genuine European foreign and defence policy.”
It’s notable that centre-left ‘progressives’ are so openly calling for strengthening the EU as a potential global ‘superpower’, including its military and geo-political aspects.
They should not worry: With its Bratislava-road map (and preparations long before), the EU is already on track. The Commission proposed an EU Defence Action Plan (including that military spending should not be taken into account when calculating budget deficits), and the European Parliament approved the first pilot projects on that line with the adoption of the EU budget 2017, see here. There is more on the wish list: A European Defence Union and some practical steps in preparation, see here.
It’s only the usual suspects – well-behaved NGO’s perhaps are now also ‘populists’ – who are campaigning against this supposedly ‘benign’ EU-imperialism, see here.
Iceland after the elections 2016
Iceland has been viewed by quite a number on the left and heterodox economists as an example of how to better tackle the 2007 – 2009 financial crisis, in particular by not taking over the debts of the financial sector. Árni Daníel Júlíusson reflects on popular movements in Iceland since then and the outcome of the recent elections on 29 October 2016 and further prospects, see here. For an older but highly informative analysis of Iceland’s centre-left government (Social Democrats and Left Green Movement, 2009 – 2013) after the financial crisis, see here.
Lexit’s Digest No. 2, 14 November 2016
US Presidential Election 2016
Both surprisingly and shockingly for leftist and mainstream commentators alike, Donald Trump won and there is an absolute majority for Republicans in both the US Congress and Senate. Australian commentator Tad Tietze of the blog ‘Left Flank’ was among the very few who saw this coming already in January 2016 – see his analysis here, the links he drew between the result of the Brexit-vote and the right wing version of anti-politics in June 2016 here, and his comment on the final outcome in the US here. Still interesting stuff, as the mainstream media just are starting the debate why their predictions of a Clinton victory and earlier assessments of the ‘Trump phenomenon’ were so utterly flawed.
It seems however that Hilary Clinton won the ‘popular vote’ in the US (61 million to Trump’s 60.4 million votes) – just like Al Gore did in 2000 against George Bush. On this and the flaws of the US electoral system, Daniel Lazare (author of The Velvet Coup: The Constitution, the Supreme Court, and the Decline of American Democracy), commented on jacobin.mag – see here.
EU Economic Governance, the European Semester and austerity
France, Italy, Spain and Portugal have been on the radar of the European Comission on deficit targets and compliance with EU fiscal rules (Stability and Growth Pact, Fiscal Compact etc.) for some time. For different reasons (no open confrontation with the EU ‘heavyweight’ France – support Hollande against the challenge of a rising ‘Front National’; wait for a stable government in Spain under Mariano Rajoy, which the PSOE finally enabled in late October 2016 by abstention etc.; don’t fuel up the EU’s problems after the Brexit-vote and so on) the Commission chose to take a ‘flexible stance’. Earlier on, it granted France, Italy and Spain more time for reaching the deficit targets. Lastly, the Commission refrained from imposing fines on Portugal and Spain (as ‘automatic sanctions’ in force under the six pack and two pack would have to be applied).
It is highly likely that the Commission will do nothing as concerns France and Italy, and also look for a ‘flexible compromise’ as regards Spain – all this in order not to further destabilise an already delicate situation (Presidential and Parliamentary elections in France in 2017, Referendum on constitutional reform in Italy on 4 December 2016 which might dump Renzi, and providing more time for Rajoy, PSOE and Ciudadanos to consolidate their de-facto bloc in Spain).
But what about Portugal? The Socialist minority government still thinks it can avoid further austerity and comply with the EU fiscal rules in the near future. The Left Bloc and the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) – both tolerate that minority government – are sceptical, but supported the 2017 Portuguese draft budget. See their respective views on this here (Bloco) and here (PCP).
Will the EU continue to apply ‘fiscal flexibility’ as regards Portugal, the only EU country so far that revoked earlier austerity measures? As regards SYRIZA-led Greece (formerly hailed by the European Left as ‘the spark to end austerity in Europe’), Tsipras’ recent cabinet reshuffle (after his party’s free falling in election polls to 15 per cent) is a clear signal of further appeasement to the troika.
Silvia Merler of the Brussels based (mainstream) think-tank Bruegel-Institute assessed the legal and political implications of the UK High Court ruling that triggering Brexit via the EU Article 50 procedure should involve the UK Parliament (‘Brexit and the law’), see here, quite informative. However, the Labour Party already announced to vote in favour of launching the Article 50 procedure. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn first demanded certain conditions for a positive vote of Labour – amongst them ‘guaranteeing UK access to the EU Single Market’, but then Labour clarified they would support launching the procedure also if these conditions should not be taken on board by the current government. Access to the Single Market entails compliance with numerous EU liberalisation directives – not so easy if Labour wants to re-nationalise the railways, water companies and so on. On the other side of the Channel, EU ministers press for an interim deal on Brexit.
Here is an interview with Leonardo Mazzei on the constitutional referendum in Italy and the overall political situation there. Mazzei is one of the spokespersons of Programma101, an incipient political organisation which has developed from the “Leftist Co-ordination against the Euro”. Furthermore, here are some reflections by Christophe Ventura on some strategic issues for the left after Brexit.
Lexit’s Digest No. 1, 28 October 2016
Post UK-Referendum Brexit Debate
Early in October 2016, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced that her government will most probably trigger the negotiations in March 2017 on the UK leaving the EU. What Brexit could mean for the EU, the UK and the global political landscape has been addressed by some essays of left intellectuals earlier on. Here we point only to two examples.
The editor of New Left Review, Susan Watkins, provided a remarkable and nuanced analysis on the referendum (NLR 100 July/August 2016) which can be read or downloaded as a pdf-file for free here. Alex Callinicos, the editor of International Socialism, reviewed the political landscape in the UK after the referendum and the prospects of the left after the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader in IS 152 here.
Mainstream ‘Europeanist’ think-tanks are discussing possible alternatives to reduce the ‘economic damage’ of the Brexit-vote for capital – both concerning the UK and the EU-27 (Single Market) relationship. The information provided by them about the ‘options’, ‘difficulties’ and ‘technicalities’ of Brexit might be useful for those interested in a deeper understanding on what is involved with the coming negotiations and the search of EU-elites to contain ‘contagion’ from that.
André Sapir from the Brussels based (mainstream) think-tank Bruegel (‘Beyond hard, soft or no Brexit’) provided an informative overview on the respective (institutional) options here. Sapir co-authored a proposal for a ‘Continental Partnership’ agreement between the UK and the EU 27 (much discussed amongst the ‘expert community’) with – amongst others – Guntram Wolff. How Wolff perceives the speech of UK Prime Minister Theresa May at the Tory Party Conference early October 2016, can be read here (‘Is Europe drifting towards a hard Brexit?‘).
Earlier on, Charles Grant (Director of the Centre for European Reform), pointed out the difficulties concerning trade deals etc. linked to Brexit, which can be read here. His analysis of May’s line at the Tory Conference and the reaction of the EU 27 is available here.
Finally, in an opinion piece of 19 October 2016 on the EU-critical blog ‘The Current Moment‘, Philip Cunliffe and Peter Ramsay argue that current debates on ‘hard’ vs. ‘soft’ Brexit are misleading, obscuring the real choices to be made (see here).
EU democracy and so on
Several recent pieces by different authors might be interesting for the Lexit-debate on this.
Firstly, a polemics by Lee Jones criticising Varoufakis’ DIEM 25 approach as ‘Fantasy Politics’, see here.
Secondly, a longer essay by Catarina Príncipe dissecting the ‘Nature of the European Union’ and it’s potentialities for ‘democratic reform’, see here.
Thirdly, Michael Hudson reviewed James K. Galbraith’s recent book ‘Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice. The Destruction of Greece and the Future of Europe’ (New Haven & London, 2016).
Galbraith is Texas University Professor and arguing in the footsteps of his famous father, the Keynesian economist John Kenneth Galbraith. He worked as advisor to Yanis Varoufakis during the latters’ term as Minister of Finance in Greece. Based on James’ essays on the unfolding of the ‘Greek debacle’, Hudson is pointing out some uncomfortable lessons about ‘EU democracy’ and the link to a policy of ‘economic warfare’ lead by German capital, see here.
Future of the EU, the euro-zone, economics etc.
From 15 – 17 September 2016, the Euromemo-Group held its 22nd Conference on Alternative Economic Policy in Europe in Coimbra, Portugal. The outcome of this is the 2016 Euro-Memorandum, more information on that here. This group considers itself as assembling heterodox approaches to economic and social policies in Europe, and it is obvious that there are different views about strategic issues within that group (‘Europeanists’ vs. ‘EU-sceptics’ is only one strand of it).
However, Cédric Durand (of CEPN Paris XIII – CNRS) provided a remarkable input for the final discussion on policy alternatives from the left at this meeting, see here. Durand and Sébastien Villemot (from OFCE – Sciences Po, a French economic research institute) recently published an interesting Working Paper on how to tackle the redenomination into national currencies in the event of a possible break-up of the European Monetary Union – see here.
Also, and interestingly, many (mainstream) economists are very concerned about Germany’s ever bigger current account surplus putting a threat to the sustainability of EMU – see here.