A plan B for Europe: Speech at Plan B conference of the European left

Dear friends,

The question of Europe is a difficult one for the Left. We are divided by the different decisions our respective countries have made regarding membership in the EU and the European Monetary Union. We are also divided by the different positions taken by our parties on the EU and the monetary union. In many countries, these issues also divide us inside our parties.

That is why we are here. The current state of the world creates an enormous need for us to gather and discuss what unites us and to address the demands and the struggles that we share.

For many years, the political right has been addressing Europe as their own concept, referring to “Western values” and the legacy of Europe. By doing this, they have framed Europe to mean the institutions that they have constructed and the policies they have been enforcing. For far too many European citizens, EU and European co-operation have come to mean austerity, wage dumping, unregulated banks and unregulated banksters, protected by smiling politicians in expensive suits, sitting in a parliament far away from your home and your reality.

This has changed. The liberal right is losing its concept of Europe to the right-wing populists. It is the right-wing populists who are emerging with a new European project, which is to close down the borders. They are planning to use an agenda based on nostalgia and an outer enemy to take power in Europe. Instead of the banksters, they are shifting the blame to the immigrants.

It will never be the liberal right that defeats the right-wing populists. It is up to the left to form a vision of Europe that is more powerful than theirs. It is up to the left to learn how to distance itself from the elite without positioning itself in self-marginalization.

If there are any conclusions to be drawn from the successes of the left in countries like Greece, Spain, as well as the developments in the Labour Party and the Bernie Sanders campaign, it is that the traditional themes of the left haven’t lost their attraction. Worker’s rights, banking regulation, elderly care and pensions, fair wages, social security, capital tax – we will not get the people of Europe on the streets by asking them to march behind our red flags, but by asking them to march for these concrete demands, as well as the reduction of poverty and unemployment, better public services, the end of wage dumping, the reduction of climate emissions, fair trade deals and the regulation of the banking system.

I believe these are the themes for strategization and co-operation for the left in Europe. Yes, some of us will work for these objectives within the European Union. Some of us will work for these objectives within our national states and through co-operation between states. As a strategic question, the difference between these approaches is at the moment far less important than we have thought. We can build a common strategy based both on international co-operation inside the EU and between the national states.

Personally, I am not willing to give up the EU to the right-wing, liberal or populist forces. We need a leftist European concept, a positive radical vision of European co-operation, not forgetting a strong critique of the current elite of the EU and the austerity policy. Unless we have a powerful story about Europe of our own, we will face the situation of British Labour in the Brexit campaign, being forced to side with the liberals defending the current European concept, which they have created.

The EU is a political institution, with a strong symbolic value both in a positive and negative sense. When it comes to the monetary union, the situation is different. There should be no symbolism regarding “nationalism” or “internationalism” attached to a monetary union. When it comes to monetary policy and currencies, we should evaluate the structures simply from the point of view of just economic policy. And from this point of view, I no longer see a future for the monetary union.

Separating monetary policy from fiscal and financial policy does not work. It will always lead to situations of great imbalance, similar to the one in the wake of the euro crisis, with great differences in competitiveness and growth between countries, bound together by a common currency and a common monetary policy that they cannot impact politically. It leads to the situation that we see now, with the ECB trying to create growth by quantitative easing, pushing out money on the finance markets, while countries bound by strict austerity and fiscal rules are unable and unwilling to make use of the loose monetary policy to stimulate the real economy and create real growth.

There are therefore two options for the monetary union. The first is one of common European financial policy. That is a step I am not willing to take. It would mean even deeper common economic policy, not only regarding fiscal rules, but also wages, trade market regulation, pension and social security systems. The other option is to start dismantling the current monetary union. A first step would be to form mechanisms for countries to be able to leave the EMU if needed, or the introduction of a parallel currency. What happened to Greece in the beginning of summer in 2015 was one of the most authoritarian moments to ever take place in European co-operation, and we must make sure that it will never happen again.