Progressive responses to European austerity

Progressive responses to European austerity

Date: 8 May 2012

Participants at the EU in Crisis conference

Among the many participants at Corporate Europe Observatory’s EU in Crisis conference this weekend were a host of WDM allies – people we’ve campaigned with against water privatisation, on climate justice and on debt cancellation. This time they were coming together with other organisation and movement representatives to debate the Eurozone crisis and organise against the dead hand of austerity and corporate capture which is gripping the continent.

A new pan-European network was formed out of the conference, which aims to oppose the EU’s ‘austerity treaty’, officially known as the Fiscal Pact, and the related imposition of privatisation and cuts across Europe.

According to Kenneth Haar of Corporate Europe Observatory: “The treaty and the policy it represents are hitting the poorest in Europe the hardest. People in Greece, in Portugal and Spain are paying a particularly severe price, but these unjust polices will lead to more inequality, more poverty and disenfranchisement throughout the continent. It is time to stop listening to banks and big business. Low wages and social cuts are not going to rebuild Europe – it is a race to the bottom and destroys everything we value.”

But what was WDM doing there? Although we campaign on issues that affect primarily the global south, we do so in an EU context, and our campaign issues were actually at the centre of the conference. One session discussed how to stop the banking lobby watering down proposed banking regulation (including reining in speculation), while another brought together environmentalists and others to problematise the EU’s so-called ‘green economy’ agenda – something WDM is working with networks in the global south to oppose at the UN Sustainable Development Conference (Rio+20) in June.

The impact of Europe on the rest of the world more generally also came up repeatedly in the debates. Participants opposed the neoliberal direction of Europe and its attendant inequalities, privatisations and destruction of welfare provisions. But there was also an understanding that we couldn’t simply return to the post-war settlement which produced Europe’s welfare states, built as this was on the back of the exploitation of the global south. A just relationship with the rest of the world must be the basis of Europe’s economic recovery.

It was also pointed out that the austerity packages currently being imposed in every EU country bear striking similarities to those which have been opposed on Africa and Latin America during the last 30 years. And while Europe suffers nothing like the absolute poverty of the global south, the conference brought home how the days when ‘third world issues’ could be separated from domestic or European ones are now well and truly gone.

In fact we’re seeing this not just in the way that economic policies affect us, but in the movements that have grown up to impose injustice and the alternatives they are proposing. Food sovereignty has as much relevance in the global north and the global south, while the global federation of small-scale food producers’ organisations, La Via Campesina, is dominated by the global south only because the majority of the world’s population lives there.

While we will continue to work primarily in solidarity with campaigners in the south, and work with them to win our campaigns, the existence of strong social movements in Europe will be crucial in building a sustainable and just world. We have a responsibility to be involved.

Or to put it another way, it is only when another Europe is possible, that another world will also be possible.

Video from the conference is available at