What if the European common debt were an opportunity for workers to seize?

We should certainly be wary of celebrating the proposal for a recovery fund, i.e. the first debt ever endorsed by the EU as an entity,  made by Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel for the revival of Europe taken up by the Von der Leyen Commission too quickly. Indeed, it could be nothing more than a simple test, or a demonstration of solidarity limited to a beautiful idea smashing against the rejection of the rest of the Northern “frugal four” — Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. However, it would be just as obtuse not to seize the fantastic political opportunity that the two leaders have given those of us who know that social progress requires international solidarity.

The European Union is a political space where, for the moment, only the financial elites are winning by gradually strangling the workers and the populations of Europe through austerity.

This gradual reduction in public spending and pressure on wages is imposed through the governments of all countries, united within the Commission. Sometimes big governments twist the arms of small ones, but in the end they all find solutions to satisfy shareholders and bankers in all countries, at least in the short term. This situation can only lead to the self-destruction of the union.

Let us be clear, we utterly disagree with the nationalists, on the Right as well as on the “Left”, who say that it is time to undo this union, to find ourselves behind national borders, counting suitcases of worthless national banknotes in order to buy a piece of bread, and locked up face to face with the national capitalists. The world is interconnected, as the health crisis has proved once more: there is no national solution to anything, not even and especially not to a pandemic. Only international solidarity will be able to coordinate the development of treatments or of a vaccine. Nationalism just means poverty, and then the graveyard.

The EU is not an impassable horizon, especially not within the existing balance of powers, but the Macron-Merkel proposal forces a wedge into this situation that has been blocked for years. It would be absurd not to take the opportunity to demonstrate clearly and directly what international solidarity means in a federation such as this one.


Yes, federation, precisely if this proposal were adopted and implemented, regardless of its volume or of the earmarking of the money extracted from this common debt. Let us put it simply: the creation of a common public debt is the true foundation of a political federation. The collective commitment to repay a common debt according not to what one has received, but according what one can contribute is the internal operating principle of each individual state. Rich regions repay more national debt than poor regions that have received more public expenditure from the national government. The Paris and Lyon regions pay significantly more in taxes and therefore contribute more to the repayment of France’s debt than they receive in public spending, and the opposite is true for the other regions.

This is what makes France a country, a united ensemble: a budget, therefore in fact a common debt, which is repaid not according to what one receives but according to what one can pay, according to what one produces locally. And without the internal market that France constitutes, the Paris and Lyon regions would gain nothing, so it is logical that they repay more of what France’s public debt allows to be produced at national level. Replace Paris and Lyon regions with Germany and the Netherlands… Yes, a common debt which is repaid not according to what one has borrowed individually as a region or country, but according to what one can contribute to the common budget, that is what makes a country or a federation.

The fact that this logic has not been explained, either by the opponents of the Macron-Merkel proposal or by those who support it, is proof of its immense political importance. The European left, aware of what is at stake at the moment, must take such a statement on board. Of course, the sum of 500 billion is relatively small compared to the efforts of the United States or even of Great Britain, which is now leaving. But that is not the political issue: even if this plan was only one of 50 billion, the very definition of the project is indeed historic; it is fundamental because it is truly federal. To miss that would be like ignoring Cugnot’s steam engine on the pretext that it doesn’t go fast enough or far enough. Even if Macron-Merkel had simply attempted a political coup, without believing for a second in its feasibility, the political function of the true European left must be precisely to say: “Oh yes? We dare you!”

We must seize this logic of collective solidarity, explain it a hundred times, a thousand times, until all European citizens have heard it and are able to position themselves in relation to it.

Are we still locked into a union where rich governments play poor governments off against each other to strangle workers and populations, or are we finally beginning to move towards a federation of solidarity where the rich contribute their fair share? It goes without saying that the wealthy already benefit from a huge, homogenous internal market unified under a single currency. The wealthy European countries are exporters who mainly export to the rest of the EU. They are wealthy because the poor buy their products — and because fifteen years ago they crushed their own workers, making them extremely competitive in an area with a single currency. That Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark paid a little more to repay a common debt would be perfectly fair compared with the fact that Spain and Italy are buying cars and financial products from them.

Nationalists and pessimists will tell us that a federal debt is not a panacea, that the money given to the States will go first and foremost to the large national groups linked to the governments. Of course, because the federation is no more than a political space and politics never end. We could reply that it is precisely around the distribution of these sums that politics could finally begin, at their real, European level, demonstrating that the nation-states are only sub-regions of one of the regions of the world, which is a union still in the process of being built.

This federation in the making is no more intrinsically left-wing or right-wing than a nation-state. It represents a political stake that the left must seize by all the means at its disposal. Trade unions, political organisations and social movements must understand that it is at this level that their future is at stake. Demagogues on the right and on the left make them believe that it is at the level of their nation-states that things can be decided, when they are powerless or powerful only because they rely on others.

Workers must now intervene at the real political level where decisions affecting them are made.

The Macron-Merkel agreement certainly did not act to rescue Spanish or Italian workers ruined by the current crisis, but probably to answer the call of German bosses who are worried about the economic repercussions of a collapse of the continent which they see first and foremost as their enlarged internal market. But what does it matter which cunning of reason is pushing them to suggest to really found a federation through the creation of a common debt, if this federation is precisely the vehicle that workers will be able to divert towards socialism? 

We must recognise a political opportunity when we see one: We dare you, let’s go!

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect DiEM25’s official policies or positions.

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