The Twilight of the Merkel era – is this the beginning of a shift to the left in Europe?

Today, I wish to introduce you to a very switched on and intelligent fraulein, Sahra Wagenknecht. She has been involved in European politics and has held senior positions in “The Left Party” (Die Linke) in Germany for quite some time. In 2009, she was elected into the German parliament, the Bundestag.

She has been pretty outspoken on a number of issues, including reform in the EU, and so I guess that she is fairly well known in Germany. This is also especially true because I have subsequently seen television clips in which was shown Ms Wagenknecht giving some German politicians quite a hard time in the Bundestag. However, she may not be quite so well known among non-Germans. Sahra first came to my attention when I saw/heard her speaking on the Russian television station “Russia Today”, some months ago. I have to say that I was impressed with what she had to say and the way that she said it. However, at that time, my deeper interest in European politics was only in its infancy and I did not do any further follow up.

Sahra has a website, but unfortunately it is only in German. After reading many of her articles on Europe and the Euro Crisis, it struck me that she presents a superb point of view, from a German perspective, on the issues facing us here in Europe. And to dispel all of the xenophobic rhetoric that creeps into so many discussions about Greece, please remember. These are the words of a very well educated and intelligent person in the German parliament!

“The twilight of the Merkel era – Why the Greek rebellion could be the beginning of a new, socially just policy throughout Europe

Article by Sahra Wagenknecht for clara, the magazine published by the Left Party parliamentary group in the Bundestag, issue 35, 2015 (March 10th, 2015)

Syriza’s election victory on 25 January is an opportunity for Europe. The Greek population is rebelling against a financial dictatorship which has wasted hundreds of billions in taxpayers’ money, driven millions of people into unemployment and poverty, deprived trade unions of their rights, and destroyed the prospects of an entire generation in southern Europe. This rebellion has also resulted in a crack in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s power, since she is primarily responsible for an approach to crisis management which consists of slashing wages, pensions and social benefits in an attempt to close the black holes caused by the bad bets made by banks and hedge funds.

Greece was already insolvent five years ago. If Syriza, the Greek party of the left, had come to power back then, German taxpayers would never have been asked to foot the bill to such an extent. The huge loans to bail out the banks – which Syriza strongly opposed – would never have been made, and private creditors, which at that time still held 90 per cent of Greek debt, would have been punished for their irresponsible lending. Unfortunately, events took a different turn. Merkel called in the Troika – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB) – which concluded an extremely ill-advised loan agreement with the corrupt Greek elite, leading to a humanitarian catastrophe. While Greek millionaires have profited further by the privatisations imposed by the Troika, many ordinary people no longer have enough money to pay for electricity, their homes or food. Almost a third of the population no longer has health insurance; every day, people are dying because they are no longer receiving medical care or because, in despair, they take their own lives.

The German government denies these facts; in fact, it goes so far as to describe the Troika’s policies as a success! Instead of accepting the sensible proposals put forward by the new Greek government, Ms Merkel held her gun to its head in order to force the government to commit itself to the old loan programme and its detailed demands for the minimum wage, pensions and unemployment benefit to be cut, for nationwide collective agreements and protection against dismissal to be abolished, for higher taxes to be imposed on consumption, for public assets to be flogged off, for mass lay-offs to be carried out, and for ludicrously large budget surpluses to be achieved in order to service existing debt. The merciless blackmail by the German government and the ECB achieved the desired effect. The new Greek government was coerced into continuing cooperation with the hated Troika and will initially be unable to keep some of the promises it made in the election campaign. Yet this does not mean the battle against the European policy of austerity and privatisation is lost – the battle is only just beginning! It is clear that Syriza will not be able to force through a change of policy on its own. If Europe’s progressive forces do not succeed in significantly weakening the neoliberal hegemony in the countries of the eurozone, even the new government in Athens stands little chance of pushing through a different policy.

Leftists in Germany have the most work to do, as the German government is clinging with particular stubbornness to the existing policy of pursuing austerity with no regard for the economic destruction caused, and is one of the main driving forces behind the blackmailing of Greece. Merkel and Schäuble are even willing to gamble with billions in German taxpayers’ money and the future of the eurozone, in order to nip any hope of a change of policy in the bud and to demonstrate the lack of any alternative to the neoliberal policy of austerity. Apparently, they are terrified that a government which prefers to tax the rich instead of cutting wages and pensions, and which is even prepared to do without expensive advisers and official cars in order to allow the rehiring of cleaners who had been made redundant, might attract support and be imitated elsewhere. Fortunately for us, they are right to be afraid. In Spain, where elections are scheduled for the autumn, the left-wing alliance Podemos has a good chance of winning the most seats. And in Italy, France and other countries, too, resentment towards the policy of austerity imposed by Germany is growing. By contrast, in the United Kingdom, where elections are due as early as May, the right-wing populist and anti-European party UKIP is on the rise. Europe is drifting apart in political terms. Merkel’s bailout policy is partially responsible for this, as it has turned a blind eye to those who caused the crisis and instead set the populations of different countries against each other. The forces which Merkel has unleashed are now, increasingly, being directed against Merkel herself and against the European institutions, whose inability to identify solutions to urgent problems is becoming ever clearer. Thanks to this catastrophic crisis management, only a minority of EU citizens still have a positive image of the EU and its institutions, and this downward trend is set to continue.

“Pacta sunt servanda”, “The Greeks have to abide by the agreements” – this argument is frequently used to kill off discussion at the moment. But the fact is, the activities of the entire Troika had no legal basis, and the European Central Bank, the European Commission and almost all eurozone countries have breached EU agreements dozens of times in recent years, and are continuing to do so. When agreements are overtaken by reality, there is only one option: they have to be amended. Not just Greece but the whole of Europe needs a new social contract, one which enshrines minimum social and taxation standards instead of being based on wage and tax dumping. The ECB must be freed from its neoliberal straitjacket and should grant countries low-interest loans for investment. Across the EU, the assets of the richest must at last be statistically recorded – as a step towards a wealth levy on millionaires, which would be used to reduce public debt to a sustainable level. However, the EU also needs a new compromise on asylum: it is unacceptable for the Mediterranean countries to be left to deal with growing problems relating to refugees by themselves, while Germany is shielded from the consequences of its policies due to the socially unjust “safe third country” principle.

The Left Party is the party of international solidarity and advocates a social, democratic and peaceful Europe. For precisely this reason, we must further intensify our criticism of the EU’s neoliberal institutions and practices, fight hard for higher wages, pensions and better working conditions here in Germany, and take resolute action to counter the nationalistic smear campaigns directed against the supposedly “greedy Greeks”. We must no longer allow the Greeks to be played off against the Germans, or the Spaniards and the Portuguese against the Greeks. Our common enemies can be found on the executive floors of large banks and corporations, as well as in the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the German Chancellery. And they can also be found in Europe’s most powerful institution: the European Central Bank, which in recent years has elevated itself to the status of ruler over Europe’s parliaments and is now bypassing them entirely as it imposes socially unjust policies. In other words, there are many good reasons to continue to protest against the European crisis-management regime and the policies of the European Central Bank, both within our parliaments and on Europe’s streets!”

It is easy to criticize the “Leftys” in Europe for having some wacky ideas and in trying to drag us all back to the Soviet era. However, I challenge anyone to point out to me what they find wrong or unworkable in the principles laid out in the article above!

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About Peter Smith

A "foot-soldier" in the wider Post Capitalism Movement. First task - keep spreading the words of change, hope & inspiration.
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