When Syriza’s Alexis Tsipras stood as candidate of the Party of the European Left (EL) for the post of the President of the European Commission in the 2014 election campaign to the European Parliament, he always appealed for an alliance of Mediterranean EU member states against austerity. With Syriza becoming the strongest party in the 2015 Greek election and forming a coalition government, the EL claimed that ‘Greece could be the spark for defeating austerity in Europe’. Yanis Varoufakis toured the capitals of the Mediterranean EU countries to raise support for an ‘honourable compromise’ with the troika (IMF, ECB, EU Commission) and the Euro-zone Council, but such an alliance did not materialize at the time. The rest of the story is well known, the Greek government capitulated, signed the Third Memorandum with the troika and implemented it.
However, after the Brexit-vote in the UK, Tsipras managed to bring together the heads of state and government of Cyprus (Nicos Anastasiades, conservative), France (Francois Hollande, Socialist), Italy (Matteo Renzi, Democrat), Portugal (Antonio Costa, Socialist), Malta (Joseph Muscat, Labour) and Spain’s State Secretary for the European Union, Fernando Eguidazu (conservative) on 7 – 9 September 2016 in Athens to the first Mediterranean EU Countries´ Summit (EU Med).
In preparation of the informal EU-27 Summit in Bratislava on 16 September 2016 the EU Med Summit adopted an Athens Declaration “with the aim of enhancing cooperation” between the Mediterranean countries and “to contribute to the dialogue on the future of the EU”.
This prompted some reactions from Markus Ferber MEP (CSU, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives’ Bavarian sister party) and his colleague Manfred Weber MEP (CSU, chairman of the conservative PPE group in the European Parliament) – but not much else. Ferber and Weber warned off the ‘Club Med’ as a divisive ‘coalition of redistributors’ that would threaten the EU’s financial stability. They worried that EU Med will have a blocking minority in the Council that could prevent all kinds of laws in Brussels that it does not like.
Alas, is the so much hoped for Mediterranean anti-austerity alliance now on the march?
‘Social Europe’ back on track?
Hollande, Renzi and Tsipras – who are under severe pressure at home for their austerity policies – tried their best to sustain this impression: “We need a programme for growth” (Hollande); “Tomorrow’s Europe must be based on the social Europe and the Europe of ideas” (Renzi); “We must collectively agree if we are a European Union or a German Union” (Tsipras).
However, they did not put the Stability and Growth Pact, the Fiscal Compact etc. into question, but demanded to apply the existing EU rules more flexibly and more intelligently. On this, they already had the support of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Commission President Jean Claude Juncker. This approach simply echoes the centre-left’s old arguments that there should be a fair balance between fiscal consolidation and enabling more economic growth – which is not exactly ending austerity policies.
The Athens Declaration calls for “doubling the financing capacity of the European Fund for Strategic Investment (“Juncker Plan”), focusing on key priorities such as digital economy, low-carbon projects for energy, including energy interconnections and transport, infrastructure as well as research and training”. Merkel and Juncker support this. The Juncker Plan aims at stimulating private sector investment and public private partnership projects in EU member states, providing € 21 billion EU public monies and hoping to leverage with that investments of € 315 billion over 3 years. Its approach is strongly criticized by the European Left, which calls for public investment. So far it has not been very efficient, and funding went to the 15 richest EU member states, not to the poorer EU periphery.
The declaration calls for fighting social dumping, combating tax evasion and fiscal dumping etc., which sounds fine. However, such claims may be checked against the actions taken by e.g. Renzi and Hollande on taxation issues (Hollandes ‘Responsibilty Pact’ disburdening corporations; Renzi alleviating taxation on real estate etc.).
On promoting employment, the declaration calls for “growth-oriented structural reforms in order to improve the functioning of markets, enhance competitiveness and create jobs.” The savage de-regulation of labour law by Renzis ‘Jobs Act’ in Italy and Hollandes ‘Loi Khomri’ in France have been justified by exactly such arguments: that these measures will boost growth and employment. Readers may judge by themselves whether the Athens Declaration provides a platform for opposing austerity and neo-liberal structural reforms in the European Union.
Focus on ‘Fortress Europe’ and EU military capacity building
Interestingly, the declaration’s chapter on ‘Fostering Growth and Investment in Europe’ stands just for one third of the text. The great bulk of the declaration deals with issues such as migration, the refugee crisis and EU Common Foreign and Security Policy.
Here are some major examples on the EU Med countries respective policy goals:
- Ensure the protection of its external borders, through systematic controls, necessary technologies, the interconnection of relevant databases and the effective establishment of the European Border and Coast Guard before the end of the year;
- implementing European Council’s conclusions regarding the need to accelerate relocation, which is still advancing at very low rate; pursuing the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement (…);
- Developing our migration policy by fighting against irregular migration, establishing robust readmission and returns arrangements (…);
- (…) taking into account the La Valetta Action Plan and other relevant frameworks, efforts to implement the Partnership Framework on migration and conclude compacts with countries of origin and transit, must be stepped and adequately financed;
- Develop European military capacities and the defence industry with a view to reach strategic autonomy, notably through a European research program and a fund for security and defence and set up progressively a EU planning and conduct capability for European CSDP missions and operations.
Whereas the European Left firmly opposes the EU – Turkey deal, the EU policies to tighten ‘Fortress Europe’ and to increase the EU’s military capacities, the EU Med alliance are very much in line with the respective Franco-German proposals and the policy orientations of Juncker’s State of the Union address on these issues.
The ‘Road Map’ agreed at the Bratislava informal EU-27 Summit consequently focuses on External Security and Defence, Internal Security, Migration and external borders etc. – all in a similar thrust as the EU Med Declaration. Walling off the EU, warding migration, strengthening surveillance and control – these are EU priorities for the post-Brexit era.
Regarding ‘strategic autonomy’ of the EU in military affairs, the Bratislava road map just called for the implementation of the “Joint Declaration EU – NATO” (co-authored by NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, EU Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean Claude Juncker). Its aim is enhancing cooperation between EU and NATO on geopolitical matters, on creating complementary and interoperable defence capabilities of EU Member States and NATO Allies, and stepping up the defence industry and greater defence research and industrial cooperation within Europe and across the Atlantic. The EU Med alliance – including Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras – did not oppose this.
Whether the hopes of the European Left on an alliance of the EU Mediterranean countries pressing for progressive change can be met in the light of these developments, is up to the readers judgement. The next EU Med Summit will be held in Portugal.
 See for example Juncker’s ‘State of the Union’ address: https://www.neweurope.eu/article/full-text-of-junckers-state-of-the-union-address/
 For a detailed critique, see here: http://www.fabio-de-masi.de/de/article/373.juncker-voodoo-warum-der-investitionsplan-fuer-europa-die-wirtschaft-nicht-beleben-wird.html ; download pdf EN Invest in Europe
 For a preliminary assessment, see here: http://www.euractiv.com/section/euro-finance/news/has-the-juncker-plan-really-boosted-investment-in-europe/
 The European Commission works on agreements with countries such as Ethiopia, Libya, Niger, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal on stepping up border controls, curbing migration flows and enabling return and readmission arrangements.
 Full text available here: http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_133163.htm