Europe in Common

by Emilia-Romagna Social Centers

We left so …

It’s a while we have defined Europe, conceived primarily as a space of power relations (political and economic), as one of strategic and fundamental fields of intervention in this period. Within this mesh of powers, the European Union constitutes certainly an institutional device that has helped to redefine radically the formal and material constitution of many member states, although it does not encompass the complexity of actors and forces on the field.

We also insisted that the European space is far from flat (no conflicts) or homogeneous (with uniform characteristics and context-independent). Furthermore, we have defined the EU as a differential operator, a device that beyond the legal formalism produces differences inside and outside. Let’s think of the Greek affaire and the so-called migrants emergency. In both cases we have seen a polarization between virtuous and rebels, league-A citizens (those who play by the rules, paying off debts, which have rights) and league-B citizens (those who caused their problems, irresponsible, that have no rights because branded by some blame as being born outside Europe or have inherited a debt of others). The production of differences within the European area has produced a set of lines of conflict, between member states and the EU, but also between anti-austerity movements and recessive budgetary policies (think of Blockupy).

The arm wrestling between Tsipras government and the former Troika had the merit of laying bare the power relations within the EU and, at the same time, of drawing a trajectory of political alternative to the one imposed by ministers of austerity: people democracy, which had taken shape in the OXI referendum, against finance dictatorship and poverty. Unfortunately, the negotiations outcome did not play in favor of those who hoped that from there it could finally open a process of political breakdown and of democratization of the European space. The signing of 11 July memorandum had the indirect effect of causing confusion in much of the European Left, finished strangled between the rhetoric of betrayal and the return of nationalist impulses.

Two things are necessary to be said at this point. The first is that the anti-austerity period, as we have known for the last five years, is outdated; the second is that it’s necessary to rebuild a strategic reading of the European field beyond the sad passions of ideological defeatism or swampy waters of sovereignism. Also because, in the meantime, other events have shaken the foundations of the European area.

A shattered project

There are two events – in the sense of episodes that open new horizons of meaning – that need to be considered in order to understand the centrality of the European space and the changes that are going through. The first is the extraordinary march of dignity that women and men, children and elderly, migrants are conducting across EU borders. The second one is the tragic series of terrorist attacks happened in Paris on 13th of November.

It’s been some months that a steady stream of bodies and hopes is smashing to pieces physical and legal borders of European citizenship. The old boundaries and European standards on the reception proved de facto inadequate compared to a phenomenon of such a force. Although formally the old law of the Dublin II still remains standing, many states were forced to temporarily open their borders, under penalty of flows and territories ungovernability. At the same time many European citizens were mobilized to rescue migrants, defying laws and physical distances in order to practice from below an international true solidarity. A push that unfortunately had been lacking in the Greek crisis. The march of migrants therefore had the characteristics of a real constituent and multitudinous force that pratically spoke of democracy, rights, dignity and equality. EU leading-countries have reacted in a disorganized and contradictory way, opening the borders but, at the same time, elaborating a welcome strategy based on hotspots and rejections that does nothing but outsource more and more borders. The very validity of Schengen has been called into question where the alleged tolerance of „illegals“ (and not austerity policies) was indicated as the cause of the difficult economic and social situation in which many European countries lay.

In addition to migrants, another actor came again on the European stage, Islamic fundamentalism. France again and again in Paris, the same city that instead a decade ago throbbed for banlieu riots when a lost generation was taking back the wealth from which it had always been rejected. This time fear prevailed, which means a state of emergency, restricting freedoms, closure of borders, war and bombs. France has acted alone, seeking the cooperation of other EU states only later, as a minor feature. Without a common plan or shared strategy, everywhere a security and emergency rhetoric has been established in whose name to empty further moments of democratic decision-making in favor of technical-executive power. Meanwhile, governments are preparing to violate a balanced budget to finance defense spending – that means austerity was not a dogma so inviolable.

In both cases, the EU has proved unable to be on the top of these challenges that have arisen, breaking itself into a collection of special interests regulated at the end by survival of the fittest. What is shattered is the European project, that of an area of freedom, peace and universal rights. The austerity policies and the authoritarianism of executive power are shrinking more and more space to share the wealth and collective decision. All this ends up feeding the new Rights, under the illusion that greater state sovereignty and national identity can save us in a world that is globalized (in the flows of goods, ideas and labor force) and subjected to financial capital blackmails.

Opposite poles

While we have to notice the gradual normalization of austerity – in the sense of being a life-rule now fully integrated in everyday social practice – on the other side we have seen the growth of mobilizations that put into question the liberal policies on a transnational scale. As just said, we have seen migrant struggles interweaving solidarity from below developed in Europe in the last year; but we must also mention the demonstrations against the TTIP and Climate Change that have been able to bring thousands of people to the streets in major European cities.

From the institutional point of view instead other countries, such as Spain and Portugal, they followed the line drawn by Greece, that of a vote that has dealt a blow to the traditional parties (popular and socialists) in favor of new line-ups characterized by pro-European and anti-austerity program. The outcome of December 20 elections in Spain has created problems to the system of alternation and promotes the Iglesias party thanks to a campaign based on a simple, attractive and confident communication and thanks to the local roots of municipal experiences that have been able to weave social movements and the city government. Exactly from the cities – particularly Barcelona – started the purple remontada, sign that a current and different leftist politics is possible where it can include and throw on vertical those experiences of resistance and self-government that practice immediately an alternative to neo-liberal policies.

And what about Italy? Unfortunately, our country remains the negative anomaly on the European scene. Mobilizations as those around the TTIP are pretty much non-existent, while the Capital-Life conflict remains tied to territorial disputes. The social gap widens more and more, the wealth is concentrated in a very narrow segment of population as more and more social levels are condemned to poverty. Yet sparks of political innovation are present here too. We could highlight two. The first are the experiences of worthy welcome from below that have flourished in Italy. These are projects of cooperation and social inclusion opposed to the business of migration set up by cooperatives and institutional agencies. The latter are neo-municipal trials that are emerging in some Italian cities. In a pyramid scheme that goes from top to bottom, from Europe to the municipalities, it is precisely in the territories that the major effects of austerity policies are discharging; it is here that the Democratic Party reveals its management inability to hold in together cuts and welfare, balanced budgets and rights. This disconnect between social fabric and delegation has led the way in the trial of civic coalitions from below that bring together those who every day confront and fight the crisis, in order to take back the city government.

These different experiences in the European space share the need to regain institutional spaces to implement and strengthen counter-power and to open spaces of negotiation, with the awareness that certain games cannot be won if there is not also and above all a social pressure for the change.

Building a new universalism

It is not easy to navigate in this shattered Europe, but we try to give three suggestions for courses of common action.

First of all we have to deal with the process of normalization of austerity and with the simultaneous occurrence of conflicts that are different but related to the first. Fight against liberalism needs to be interwoven with other struggles, those for democracy, citizenship, climate, work. We must try to imagine a new universalism, made of common values and practices to oppose to the policy of differential levels fielded by the EU.

As second point we must stress that the bet of coalition is far from over. A chart of common purposes for the new Europe can not be written in an abstract and generic way. We must reverse processes of social fragmentation, individualism and the sad passions, which are the worst enemies of the desiring multitude and of its potentialities. To do this, we need to weave those experiences and those persons who are already practicing here and now the alternative to capitalism, starting from the territories.

Third and last element is the European projection to give immediately to the single experiences of counter-power and coalition. Although at the moment it seems difficult to identify a immediately general plan for European mobilization it must bring together and create a dialogue between the different breeding grounds of alternative within a common narrative that speaks of combating poverty and of wealth redistribution, of new welfare and social cooperation, of socially and environmentally sustainable development, of new citizenship, democracy and rights.

If liberal Europe implodes under the blows of his own recessionary and competitive policies, a new Europe can begin, a Europe built from the bottom by free men and women, a Europe in Common.