What Kind of Crisis? By Niccolò Milanese

Via: European Alternatives.

The plague of austerity measures rapidly traversing Europe brings with it the possibility of the radicalisation of a generation, who look likely to bear the burden of national debt the heaviest for the longest period. ‘We won’t pay for your crisis’ is a frequent refrain of protest throughout the continent. The reality is that we will in one way or another pay for the crisis, all of us, and the important questions are in what ways the bill is divided between us, and what alternative ways of ordering society we are willing to work and pay to create. The first is a question of justice, the second is a question of imagination and resolve: society must become more equal following the crisis, and we cannot accept a return to the ‘status quo’.

The words of Jean Monnet, one of the creators of the European Union, are frequently quoted but have rarely seemed more apt: “Europe will be forged in crises and it will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises.” Monnet was talking about the institutions of the European Union. The crucial lesson of the current sovereign debt crisis is that the same motto must apply for the people of Europe. The banner unfurled under the Athens acropolis by the Greek communists in the midst of the protests, ‘Peoples of Europe Rise Up’ is a signal of a beginning to this awareness. But if and when the people rise up they must do so with some alternative propositions for the future of Europe. These have been signally lacking, and for those familiar with leftist movements in Europe this is, unfortunately, no surprise.

The leaders of the European countries have learnt belatedly over the past weeks that their countries are too intertwined for any one of them to be left to its fate without the severest consequences for the others. The German bourgeoisie shouted ‘we won’t pay for your crisis’ as much as the street protester in Greece, although of course the ‘we’ and the ‘your’ in the phrase had crucially different referents. These voices have been shouted down by explaining that the sovereign debt crisis is inescapably all of our crises, that German banks and industry are exposed as well as Greeks, Portuguese, British or Spanish.

The response of the European Union has been to create a European stabilisation mechanism, which will finance up to 750 billion euros of debt. Along with the debt financing comes conditions: and hence the measures of austerity appearing throughout the continent, according to brutal rules of the market. But the opportunity of the European Union is to redefine the conditions of financial responsibility on the basis of justice, equality and democracy, and not be prey to the market’s anonymous inhumanity. Thus the European Stabilisation Mechanism and the way in which it is governed provides a first object of reflection for those of us who want to think of alternatives at a European level to the current status quo: it is a transnational instrument which will be governed by the European community. We must ensure it is governed by all the peoples of Europe in the interest of all the peoples of Europe, not by one country or one class, and that it opens up the possibility for a paradigm shift in our political communities: it is a question of justice, imagination and resolve. Refusing altogether to pay for the crisis is impossible. We should be asking ourselves what kind of crisis we are willing to pay for.

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