What are we to make of Europe? What has happened to the idea that Europe, the EU, would help us construct a fairer society, one in which absolute poverty and exaggerated wealth would disappear?
Europe has, or has had, a model that used progressive taxation to pay for a broadly inclusive health service, free education, rights for women, workers and minorities, and more or less functioning democracies. These were common characteristics of a common market. They saved many from the levels of poverty seen in the paragon of free markets, the USA. They also saved us from wars (in which, as in all wars, the poor foot soldiers suffer most.)
And then came Grexit. A poor country that had been loaned billions on easy terms by the banks, the IMF and member states. Easy terms that did not include, as perhaps they ought, a requirement that Greece strengthen her institutions and, specifically, her capacity to gather taxes. The markets, followed by the bankers of Frankfurt, lost confidence in Greece. The Troika swooped and austerity, the only paradigm in town, was imposed.
In the shadow of the Troika, the questions at the top of this article have started to gnaw at the hearts of people on the left. Janan Ganesh in yesterday's FT described "the left's wrath at Brussels (and Berlin)". Zara Kitson, candidate for the Scottish Green Party in an excellent article in last week's The National wrote about "...the Troika bullies [as] representatives of the neoliberal status quo." "...the vision of the EU as a beacon of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights [is] now under threat of being hijacked for good by free market fanatics." Zara called for the people of Europe to "...stand up for an alternative European project...to defeat austerity and xenophobia, and to promote peace and sustainability, whilst pushing to make the Europe of our intentions become the Europe we're a part of."
Raül Romeva is the lead candidate for Junts pel Sí, the single candidature that is planning to stand in September's elections for the Generalitat, the Catalan parliament. The group is pro-independence, or at least pro- the right to chose independence for Catalonia. Last year he published* "We Are a European Nation (and a tricky dossier)," a collection of essays on Catalonia and the EU. He is a highly qualified commentator, having been an MEP 2004-14 and supervisor of elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1996 and 1997.
In Raül's view the "...current 'EUreality' is a union, but only of states. Peoples and people have become a secondary issue." The debate about Europe has become yes-no , in-out "...while we have forgotten other equally important [variables]...the nuances, the 'how', the 'why' and above all the 'for what'." He argues that we need the power of a Europe that works together if we are to meet the superpowers like the US and China, or the more insidious powers of the mega global corporations. And, drawing a line between Scotland and Catalonia, he argues with Zygmunt Bauman that the European Union or a future Federation of European States offers the best guarantee that the identities of small nations will be protected.
For Raül, the challenge we are facing is ideological, not economic; "...crude neoliberalism is now not only found in the boardrooms of the leading economic and financial entities. It has made itself soul and master of the groups that are directing the main European institutions whether they be in Brussels or the main capital cities."
Like Zara's "stand up...to defeat austerity", Raül calls for a people's mutiny. A peaceful, democratic mutiny to take control of the European ship of state.
Europe links Catalonia, Scotland and poverty. The existence of the European Union as a powerful binding force allows small nations to evolve safely into states (we don't have to create states out of wars in the old way.) Europe, with its protective human rights, workplace and environmental legislation (yes, yes there is not enough of any of it) at least limits the scope of poverty. And the European model, the one that the Troika appeared to break, is the model that limits the greed of wealth and salves the wounds of poverty.
That Europe, the caring, sharing Europe, the Europe in which Scotland and Catalonia could be independent, is worth fighting for.
Time for a mutiny.
Romeva, Raül. Som Una Nació Europea: (i Una Carpeta Incòmoda): Catalunya Vista Des d’Europa. 1. ed. Barcelona: Rosa dels Vents, 2014. www.magradallegir.com.