The European political labyrinth

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By GILBERTO LOPES*

There is no more right in Europe (neither extreme nor center) than the liberal right, “extreme” when necessary, “democratic” when sufficient

1.

Let's start at the beginning: the Treaty of Rome, which created the European Economic Community in 1957, inspired by the ideas of one of its architects, Jean Monnet. A controversial character, as we will see, novelistic, coming from the financial world, says professor José A. Estévez Araújo, professor of Philosophy of Law at the University of Barcelona, ​​commenting on the book by British historian Perry Anderson, “The new old world”, a historical study on the origin, evolution and prospects of the European Union. This elegant little man from Charente, Monnet “was an international adventurer of the first order, who juggled financial and political through a series of spectacular bets”, says José A. Estévez.

At that time, he states, there was a consensus around Keynesian policies of full employment and a greater concern with social issues. It was the time of the Cold War. Monnet owed his power and influence to the support of the United States, which at the time was interested in a strong Western Europe that could stand up to the Soviet Union.

For Perry Anderson, however, the scenario was a little different. For him, Monnet was “remarkably free from Cold War fixations.” “He wanted a united Europe that would serve as a balance between the United States and Russia.”

2.

In any case, the Keynesian policies of the Cold War era gave way to others, especially after the signing of the so-called “Single Act” in 1986. This document implemented, at a European level, the market deregulation policies that Margaret Thatcher had applied years earlier in England.

By 1986, the socialist world of Eastern Europe was already in collapse, unable to pay its debts to Western banks. The flow of petrodollars, which fed the economies of Eastern European countries, had been cut off, triggering a crisis that would result, within a few years, in the collapse of their system and the end of the Cold War.

The collapse of the agreements Bretton Woods, with the decoupling of the value of the North American dollar from gold in 1973, forced the European Community to seek mechanisms that would guarantee a certain stability in the value of its currencies. In 1979, the European Monetary System came into force. In 1988, the European Council decided to promote studies for the creation of a single currency: the euro.

The labyrinth in which the European West would find itself trapped was being created. The creation of the single currency provided for the independence of central banks from governments. The objective was to prevent them from being able to finance the public deficit, alter exchange rates or interest rates. The end of the flow of cheap capital, provided by northern banks, placed the economies of indebted southern European countries in the hands of the financial market.

But, above all, international financial institutions conditioned new loans on structural adjustment policies and neoliberal privatization policies. In force since November 1993, the Maastricht Treaty prevented them from regaining competitiveness through devaluation. Greece was the most dramatic example when, in 2009, after a decade of speculative debt, it became clear that it would not be able to meet its financial commitments, especially with German and French banks.

As they had done with the countries of Eastern Europe, it was now up to them to impose draconian austerity programs on the southern periphery and guarantee the recovery of compromised loans to the banks. With Wolfgang Schäuble – finance minister in Angela Merkel's government – ​​at the helm, and a bloc of smaller countries – including the Netherlands, whose prime minister, Mark Rutte, now aspires to the position of secretary general of NATO –, they imposed on Greece a program that reduced the country to a condition of dependence reminiscent of the Austrian bankruptcy of 1922, which gave rise to fascism.

3.

German unification in 1990 and the collapse of socialism in the east had a major impact on the European economy. As Professor José A. Estévez reminds us, German reunification created a mass of jobless skilled workers, the result of the dismantling of East German industries. Between 1998 and 2006, for seven consecutive years, real wages fell in Germany.

The euro entered circulation in 2002, establishing convergence criteria imposed by Germany and some northern European allies on euro zone countries. These were rules that limited public debt, budget deficits and inflation, but did not regulate fiscal policy, nor did they promote a policy of real convergence between countries, nor the creation of a European public debt. The expansion to the east (it would be more accurate to call it “colonization”, says José A. Estévez) made it possible to move production units to these countries, which had a qualified workforce and a salary level much lower than that of Germany.

The single currency, the reduction in wages and the containment of inflation below the European average made it very difficult for peripheral countries to be competitive in relation to German products. Thus, the German economy, instead of acting as the “locomotive” of the European economy, became its “freight wagon”. When the recovery arrived in 2006, Germany was the main exporter in the European Union and was able, from then on, to exercise its dominance in Europe.

4.

NATO began to take shape. Its objectives, as defined in 1949 by its first secretary-general, the English (of Indian origin) general Lord Hastings Ismay, were to keep the Russians out, the United States in, and the Germans below. Ismay doesn't say “Soviets”, he says “Russians out”; not “Nazis below”, but “Germans below”.

They were not successful. Preventing the emergence of a European power that would challenge its interests was a key concern of British foreign policy in the middle of the last century. That power was, of course, Germany. If this aspiration could have made sense after the Second World War, it was no longer realistic 75 years later.

What emerged from the process of European integration – from which the British ended up withdrawing – was a Europe tailored to Germany.[I] Its ties to Russia, particularly through the provision of cheap energy, ended up destroying the objectives enunciated by Lord Ismay. Of the three proposals, only one remained in force: “United States within” (and even this, as we know, faces new threats in a possible Donald Trump administration).

That was not NATO's intention. To prevent the German economy from becoming permanently dependent on strategic Russian energy supplies, special forces, never properly identified, burst the Nord Stream I and II gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea. Everything seemed to be back on track... Everyone was still trapped in the maze.

Perry Anderson speaks of the “anxiety of the French political class not to separate itself from German projects within the Union”, which is reminiscent of “Britain's desperate adherence to the role of aide-de-camp to the United States”. Two regimes – the German and the French – that tried to “bring the rest of Europe into the fold of their stabilization plans”, but that, even at that time (2012), did not seem very lasting, as in fact they were not (especially the French, when Sarkozy lost the elections to the socialist François Hollande lasted a little longer, until 2021). But – Perry Anderson would say, incisively – it is another matter whether the return of social democracy to power in Paris and Berlin would greatly affect the development of the crisis. Or would it help them get out of the maze…

5.

NATO’s idea was to keep “the Russians out.” But in November 1990, with Germany newly unified, Europe signed the “Paris Charter” with Russia, the first words of which stated that Europe was “freeing itself from the inheritance of the past.” “The era of confrontation and division in Europe is over.” Thirty-four years later, it is clear that none of this was true.

But it was not Russia that took its troops to the Polish, German, Finnish or Baltic borders. It was the United States that brought its weapons and soldiers, 15.000 kilometers away, to the Russian borders. It was the European countries that moved to the east, more than 1500 kilometers, an iron curtain that they intended to extend from the Barents Sea, on the Norwegian border, to the Black Sea, on the Ukrainian border.

Wasn't NATO's advance towards Russian borders a provocation? Are those who deny that the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops were a response to this provocation right? What did the United States do when the Soviet Union tried to install nuclear weapons in Cuba? Wasn't this a response to a provocation?

In 2007, Vladimir Putin referred to the world stage in an important speech at the Munich Security Conference. He spoke of the risks of a unipolar world, his concern about the dismantling of the network of treaties designed to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the United States' intention to install an anti-missile defense system in Europe. He criticized Europe's decision not to ratify the treaty on conventional armed forces and warned of NATO's decision to expand its forces eastward, which had nothing to do with its modernization or ensuring Europe's security.

On the contrary, he said, “it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust.” The West has not responded to any of these concerns. You don't have to be a supporter of Moscow to understand what was at stake and what, 15 years later, exploded on the Ukrainian border and led to the current crisis.

The Russians once again saw troops approaching their borders… (in the 40s, the German invasion had cost them millions of deaths). What were the objectives of these new troops? The only possible explanation is the defense of their political and economic interests, of the labyrinth carefully constructed over the last 75 years.

As can be seen on the website Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), “the oldest think tanks of the United Kingdom on security and defense” (as they present themselves), the confrontation between Russia and the West is not just about the security of Ukraine; it's about the entire strategic tangle built after the Cold War, about Russia's attempts to divide the continent into new spheres of influence, “something that Europeans spent three decades trying to avoid”.

An architecture based on the same interests that gave rise to the war in 1939. Or did Minister Schäuble represent some other interest when he crushed the Greeks, with the support of his European colleagues, especially in defense of German (and French) banks?

6.

I would like to suggest that there is no more right in Europe (neither extreme nor center) than this liberal right, “extreme” when necessary (let us remember Pinochet), “democratic” when sufficient, today organized for war against Russia, as the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

I would like to suggest that, today, the most accurate definition of this right is that it pushes the iron curtain to the Russian borders, that it tries to prevent anyone from escaping the maze, a process that has led to an inevitable confrontation, global in nature.

If this is so, there is nothing to the right of the president of the European Commission, the German Ursula von der Leyen (social-Christian like Schäuble); nor the Polish Donald Tusk; nor the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, the “green” Annalena Baerbock; neither from Biden nor from Sunak. Not even the “Populares”, the largest political group in the European Parliament. They are – all of them – representatives of a right that is always ready for extremes.

It seems to me that Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTI, anti-abortion, etc. positions do not define either the right or the left. In these groups there are people on both sides, even if they are more on one side than the other. As I once said, if the civilized world does not tie the hands of these savages (who have already led the world to two great wars), they will lead us to a third, which they talk about as if this could be anything other than a nuclear war. .

As for the left, lost in its path, trapped in the labyrinth, it did not find a way out. It has lost the ability “to represent discontent with capitalism”, said sociologist Wolfgang Streeck, author of the book How capitalism will end. As part of this “left” gave up on this task, lost people's trust and ended up being reduced to marginal parts of the electorate. This leaves a large space to the right. That's why they vote for Le Pen, or for Macron, who “cuts social expenses because he does what Germany asks of him”.

In France, with early elections called, the left presents a unity program to confront the “extreme right”. Under the title “Promoting French diplomacy in the service of peace”, it proposes a war against Russia in terms even fiercer than those reached by Ukraine itself in its recent meeting in Switzerland. It proposes to “make Vladimir Putin's war of aggression fail and ensure that he is held accountable for his crimes before international justice”.

No word about a political solution, about meeting Russia's repeated concerns about its security, threatened by NATO's advance; to which, for example, the governments of Brazil and China refer. “What most destabilized Europe was the expansion of NATO,” said President Lula's advisor, Celso Amorim, in August last year. More recently, in May, he presented, together with Chinese foreign policy chief Wang Yi, a six-point proposal for negotiating a peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine.

None of this interests the French “New Popular Front”, which aims to “defend without fail the sovereignty and freedom of the Ukrainian people and the integrity of its borders, delivering the necessary weapons…” War! A theme that, as we suggested, today makes the difference between a right that is reminiscent of the same right that has already led us to two world wars, and the civilized world, which is trying to find a way to tie the hands of these savages.

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). Author, among other books, of Political crisis of the modern world (uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

Note


[I] On Germany's role in the euro crisis and the imbalance in the eurozone, the bibliography is abundant. I suggest some readings: Quinn Slobodian. “We all live in Germany's world”. Foreign Policy, March 26, 2021; Juan Torres López. “Europe doesn’t work and Germany plays with fire”. Public Journal, March 27, 2021; Adam Tooze. “Germany's unsustainable growth: austerity now, stagnation later”, Foreign Affairs, v. 91, no. 5 (September/October 2012), pp. 23-30; Wolfgang Streeck “El imperio europeo se hunde”. Interview carried out by Miguel Mora, director of CTXT. Published by CTXT on March 13, 2019.

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