The European Parliament elections are taking place at a time when social conditions are deteriorating for many people. Almost half of Europeans say in surveys that they have difficulties making ends meet with their money.
90% fear poverty and social marginalisation. This also has political implications. Fear of the future is feeding the growth of the neo-fascist right, which is knocking on the door of power almost everywhere they are not already in governments.
The fight against the radical right, against anti-Semitism, racism and misogyny, for humanism and international solidarity is and remains a moral and cultural obligation. Shirking and political compromise do not apply.
But defeating the extreme right requires more than liberal anti-fascism is prepared to give, namely the elimination of social inequality and precarious living conditions, that is: living wages, welfare state protection, equal rights for women, affordable, decent housing and efficient and accessible public services, from health and education to public transport.
A fundamental right is also to live in a healthy environment for present and future generations. The consequences of the ecological crisis caused by the capitalist system of production driven by profit and accumulation have now reached the privileged societies of the global North. Apart from the climate change deniers on the radical right, there is a consensus on phasing out the burning of fossil fuels and transitioning to an ecological, nature-friendly economy.
Greening and digitalisation require a radical change that cannot be imposed by avant-garde minorities, but must be accepted by the majority of the populations as their concerns. For this, they must be fair, socially secured and democratically shaped. Ultimately, it is about the interests that are given priority in this restructuring: those of the owners of large fortunes or those of the wage-dependent majority of the populations.
The ruling class is well connected at the European level. It can use the European treaties, the European Central Bank, the Stability and Growth Pact – which is temporarily suspended but ready to be reactivated.
Therefore, the wage-earners and social movements must also organise at the European level to fight for positions of counter-power.
Europeans are not submitting to the deterioration of their situation without resistance. This was shown by the big mobilisations in France against Macron’s pension reform, the strikes and demonstrations in the UK, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Romania and other countries.
The left parties and the European Left Party have supported these mobilisations. They also support the European Trade Union Confederation’s campaign to end austerity policies once and for all and were actively involved in the Europe-wide trade union day of action on 13 October.
The EL and the left MEPs support all reforms that can make people’s lives easier: the demand for a Social Progress Protocol that gives priority to labour and social rights over the freedoms of the internal market. Also Yolanda Díaz’s proposal to measure social indicators at the same level as macroeconomic imbalances within the framework of the European Semester.
We do not underestimate the progress achieved by the MEPs of the Left in the European Parliament such as the minimum wage directive and the directive on salary transparency between men and women. The suspension of the Stability and Growth Pact by the European Commission and the provision of funds for the reconstruction after the pandemic and for greening and digitalisation by the EU were also reasonable. There must be no backtracking on this.
But we are under no illusions. For a social, ecological and feminist Europe, we need new EU treaties, a different construction of the Union that takes employment, ecological sustainability, social security and women’s rights as its yardsticks instead of the freedom of the markets. Achieving this will be a long struggle.
The question of “more” or “less” Europe is wrong. The correct question is: what kind of Europe do we want? Despite an expansion of the European Parliament’s say, the EU is still run by a non-transparent system of bureaucracy and technocracy, at the top of which heads of state and government meet at summits to negotiate weak compromises between the national egoisms. But this is not enough to solve Europe’s major problems. The many avoidable victims of the pandemic and the EU’s inability to develop an asylum and immigration policy that complies with human rights and shows solidarity are proof of this. Remember: the EU will be democratic or not!
All politics in Europe today is overshadowed by the war in Ukraine and its possible expansion. The tragedy triggered by the Russian attack should not make us overlook the wars being waged simultaneously in Palestine, Kurdistan, Armenia, Syria, Yemen and many other places. The Pope was right when he called this state of affairs a “world war in instalments”.
It is always the peoples, the working class, women and men who pay for the wars and the armament programmes of the rulers.
One year of war in Ukraine. Despite hundreds of thousands of victims, millions of refugees and hundreds of destroyed towns and villages, no decision is in sight on the battlefield. Unimpressed by this, Ursula von der Leyen announced in her State of the Union address that she would support the continuation of the war “for as long as necessary”. Weapons deliveries instead of peace initiatives, that was what her speech boiled down to.
The world has turned into a nuclear powder keg. Europe and its neighbourhoods are about to provide the fuse to explode.
Joschka Fischer, former German Foreign Minister and prominent Green politician, recently wrote in an Austrian newspaper: “Now is war. Arming Europe has top priority, everything else must wait: the rehabilitation of public budgets or new social programmes” (Joschka Fischer, Der machtpolitische Nachzügler Europa, “Der Standard”, 6 September 2023).
In his own way he is right. Bread or guns, that is the choice to be made!
The left must state its choice clearly. It demands from the governments and the EU, which are among the main supporters of Ukraine, political initiatives to end the war, for a ceasefire, for negotiations and the withdrawal of Russian troops.
The war has presented us with a clear choice. We can allow Europe to be transformed into a continent rigid with weapons, where hostile armies face each other, ready to annihilate each other at any moment. None of the ambitious goals of a social and ecological transformation will be achieved in this conditions. However, Europe can also take the difficult path of a relaxation of military confrontation in a system of common European security in which the security of each is guaranteed by the security of all. This is the path that the European Left proposes.
Social policy, peace policy, European policy must be put in the hands of those who have to bear their consequences, the wage-dependent men and women and the young people who fear for their future in the face of the environmental crisis.
The gains of neo-fascist parties in all parts of Europe are alarm signals for the entire European left. Now, at the latest, we must realise our responsibility to oppose the neo-fascist right with a strong, solidarity-based, community-based left.
Walter Baier was National Chairman of the Communist Party of Austria (Kpö) from 1994 to 2006. He is currently President of the European Left Party.