“The European Union isn’t a social union” said Angela Merkel German chancellor in a lyrical musing this past week. The truth of the matter is that she’s right. The current structure of the EU is anything but social, unless social means keeping southern Europe on a social lifeline at the boot of northern Europe.
But things haven’t always been this way. There was a time not so long ago that an ailing Germany had appealed to the goodness in Greeks hearts to come and save them in their time of need. But that period of time has long been forgotten, and a whole “counter-history” of the origins of the EU has been occulted and replaced by a rhetoric that suits the purpose of austerity.
History is written by the victors, so goes the saying, but history unfortunately is only written by the victors that have a pen at hand. The history of the EU that is now taught in almost every educational system in Europe is an economic history: European countries after the Second World War were battered and torn. Europe was all but rubble and ruins, and needed some form of economic structure that would allow a shift recomposition of European society in the face of the Communist threat which was luring to the East.
Thus the European Union was built in opposition to the Soviet threat – a capitalist free market that would contend for the soul of Europe. The story ends in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall with the conclusion of capitalism as victorious. The moral of this story is capitalism is a better system than communism, END.
Since the economic liberalization of the 1980s – which supposedly is the main reason why capitalism was triumphant – the European Union has become the vehicle for neoliberalism on a continental scale: a supra-national neoliberal structure next to none except maybe the International Monetary Fund itself. A tight set of rules and regulations were set as criteria for membership, rules and regulations that resembled in many ways the structural adjustment programs so dear to the IMF and the World Bank.
The idea for Eastern and Southern European countries was that the key to French or German-type prosperity was to join this exclusive club. Once you were in nothing could go wrong. Thus, through European integration methods, public systems of health care, education, etc, were weakened, and labor markets became more “flexible” – a synonym for precarious – and financial speculation was idolized.
For a time being this system seemed to work, and even exceed its targets. Growth in new anointed member states was at an all time high, and slowly but firmly the history of capitalistic glory was ushered in and the social roots of the EU unearthed.
But the cost of this rapid expansion of capital was a brisk rise in inequality and eventually once inequality became too rampant, austerity was summoned to quell any rebellion. For a time being this “economic” union discourse had the upper hand.
But since the economic downturn of 2008 the validity of such a union has come into question by both far-left and far-right elements in the form of euroscepticism. At its inception the European common project wasn’t as clear-cut as the history books might now state. The idea of a social union was actually at the heart of many movements promoting the idea of a union that would banish the wicked demons of nationalism and fascism which had plunged Europe into two reckless wars. What movement better embodied that than the Partisans?
One of the most important chapters in European history is no where to be found in the current official history of the European Union, and next to no space in the official history of WWII. Partisan forces proliferated through occupied Europe during the entirety of the war, using guerrilla tactics in various forms to disrupt the Nazi war machine. After the war many notable Partisan movements took power such as maréchal Tito in Yugoslavia, but because of their too evident ties with leftist politics, they were blacklisted by anti-communist elements who perceived them as Stalin’s fifth column.
None the less these partisan movements such as le Conseil Nationale de la Résistance in France had a social project for post-WWII Europe, a union of the peoples of Europe that would be driven by the will to uphold human dignity and social and economic rights. Unfortunately that ideal was squashed under the hospices of “red fear”.
In these austere times, of great economic distress and the resurgence of a fascist “alternative” that reinvigorates austerity through a xenophobic diversion, this counter-history of Europe is essential. Another Europe is possible, one that doesn’t vivre for the liberation of capital, but for the liberation of its peoples.
A luta continua