At a public debate about Europe with Slavoj Žižek und Julien Assange the moderator asked Yanis Varoufakis what it would concretely mean to democratize Europe. In his answer Varoufakis focused on three measures: 1) transparency; 2) stabilization; 3) making a constitution for Europe. Interestingly, exactly these three demands appear, democratically decided, in the manifesto of the European democracy movement DiEM25, that was launched in February 2016, under the titel “What must be done? Our horizon”
1) IMMEDIATELY: Full transparency in decision-making
2) WITHIN TWELVE MONTHS: Address the on-going economic crisis utilising existing institutions and within existing EU Treaties.
3) WITHIN TWO YEARS: Constitutional Assembly. BY 2025: Enactment of the decisions of the Constitutional Assembly
The aim of creating a completely democratic Europe is also my goal. Therefore I wonder, whether the demands presented by DiEM25 will actually lead us to our destination. In sequence:
To 1) Of course, transparency is a prerequisite for democracy, because without it, the citizens can not make informed decisions. But the first demand of DiEM25 concerns transparency in the decision-making of undemocratic and even anti-democratic institutions (ECB, Eurogroup, TTIP negotiations). It is not clear to me, to what extent this demand is essential with regard to the democratization of Europe. Could it be, for example, that livestreaming provides these democracy-free institutions with a semblance of legitimacy?
To 2) Without being fundamentally changed, how are institutions to confront precisely the crises which they created in the first place? Isn’t this wishful thinking or worse? And in what way the stabilization of anti-democratic institutions helps to democratize Europe? What am I missing?
To 3) Without a democratic constitution there will never be a democratic Europe. Only, within the existing institutions of the EU this is hardly possible, not even in ten years (possibly too short a time for such a large project), because the unanimity of all member states is required. Even with goodwill, the democratization of the EU within the existing institutional framework is extremely difficult. If one follows the development of the EU in recent decades, it becomes apparent that it shows a decrease in democracy, not an increase.
The whole undertaking of DiEM25 seems caught in the thinking in terms of representation. This can be seen in the language of the images, which are used to promote the movement, for example at the opening event in Berlin and on the website. These images give the impression of a movement with prominent heads but still without limbs to move. Accordingly, the manifesto does not talk of the sovereign citizen, but it talks of sovereign states and a sovereign parliament. “The people of Europe have (…) a duty to transform Europe (by 2025) into a full-fledged democracy with a sovereign Parliament (…).” To this two remarks only: First, here someone puts himself above the democratic sovereign and he also anticipates the result of the constitutional process. However, a democratic sovereign takes no orders; it is self-determined. Second, in the UK there is a sovereign parliament, but no sovereign citizens, that is no real democracy: “Parliamentary sovereignty is a principle of the UK constitution. It makes Parliament the supreme legal authority in the UK, which can create or end any law.” (Source: UK Parliament)
DiEM25, it seems to me, opted for democratizing Europe within the institutional framework of the EU and the euro. That is Plan A. Perhaps, what we need is a Plan B. Let’s listen to what Frédéric Lordon is telling us about it.
Retranscription intégrale faite par Vincent Christophe Le Roux (click to read the transcript in French)
Frédéric Lordon presents what he considers to be at stake with regard to a Plan B for Europe. The following text is a kind of translation of his speech into English, leaving out some sentences, but more than merely a summary, trying to catch what is essential:Listen, I will tell neither very technical things nor very new things. I would just emphasize what I think are the fundamental issues with regard to what one might call Plan B.
And I would like to begin by noting nonetheless that there are breaches of the elementary rationality of learning that are not only intellectual mistakes but almost political crimes, attacks against hope anyway. Hopes, for example, which the lock on the euro destroys and which can only be restored by opening this lock.
A left government – the Greek, in this case – is still looking for what is untraceable and wants what is impossible: the progressive Euro and democracy. She is thus following the Euro-Liberalism, which argues that the euro must not be abandoned, whatever the consequences. However, there is no justification for this position. And if you criticize it, saying that the European construction was a terrible failure, then they refer to all sorts of dangers that would follow should one abandon the euro: the extreme nationalist right would seize power, endemic separatism would arise, nations would struggle against each other, etc.
If the European construction fails, according to its own criteria, then it is based on a misconception. Something was not only poorly thought, it was not thought of at all: namely, what are the conditions for the creation of a political community. The eurozone is dying because it is not a political community. In truth, it never wanted to be one, definitely not a democratic political community. Can it become one? That is our question.
And the answer is no, and after so many lost years, it is time to admit it. Contrary to a legend, widespread by the media, the answer is not that liberalism and democracy are synonyms. The doctrine of liberalism, which serves the ruling powers, is quite flexible. For example, the European neoliberalism has no problem to be a fundamentally antidemocratic political illiberalism. And then came Syriza, Podemos, the Portuguese coalition, still hesitant alternatives that hardly dare to ask the crucial question of the euro, but finally things seem to move.
But they will sooner or later encounter a singular and singularly resistant obstacle, namely Germany.
Can one speak of Germany, without fear of being Germanophobic? For fear of evil thoughts, the left has ceased to think, especially as regards the monetary particularity of Germany. It takes all kinds of explanations before one can afford to analyze and discuss the German question seriously, in the presence of our German friends here. I cannot expand my analysis here and will limit myself to summarize the main points.
1) Undeniably, all Member States, carried through decades by the neoliberal wave, have embraced the ideological principles of the eurozone and are responsible for it, all of them!
2) This unanimity shall not prevent us from seeing that among all the states Germany plays a particular role that belongs only to her because she has inherited it from her history, which is a singular history.
3) Between obsession and conjuration of past trauma and the symbolic reinvestment in a compensatory identity, the German society has forged a relationship with money, which in Europe has no equivalent and which can be called a metapolitical relationship, different from the ordinary ideologies with regard to its nature and temporality.
4) It follows that the adoption of its institutional model, in particular the transformation of the principles of the monetary and fiscal policy into a sanctuary, defined in the inviolable texts of the Treaties, was the indispensable counterpart to Germany’s entry into the eurozone. From then on, the anti-democratic character of the euro was sealed, because one abandons democracy when the basic orientations of the economic policy are withdrawn from deliberation in all parliamentary bodies.
5) It is also true that like any political formation, even if it is of long duration, the monetary belief of the Germans, created through history, will pass to history.
6) And like any faith, this one too is not shared by all in German society. That there are dissidents, like our friends who are here with us, does not contradict the fact that this belief is still deeply ingrained at present. I refer to the following elementary fact of a rustic interpretation of monetary practices: 80% of payments in Germany are made in cash against 56% in France and 46% in the US. A significant number, no doubt. And that the use of credit cards is really socially disapproved. I say this to those who believe that this monetary fixation concerns only the German elites or the German capital and the rest of society is not concerned. This is not the case and there are many more indicators that show this.
7) Knowing where to find the center of gravity of German society in the monetary question, one has to wonder how the options are that it is going to change, how strongly and especially how quickly. If change is, as I believe, a long-term process, then the problem is that there are populations in Europe that can’t wait so long any more.
One can summarize all these elements as follows:
There is in Europe, in general, the problem of neoliberalism, but this general problem has a particular complication, namely the complication of the German Ordoliberalism.
Why do I put so much emphasis on the particularity of German monetary policy? Because that is the lock of the lock and from it I make the core element of a reasonable prediction, which saves us time und leads us through the process of Plan A in order to terminate it immediately. In the end, even if the other difficulties were overcome, the German complication would be, I fear, the final obstacle at which all attempts to reconstruct a democratic euro must fail. Because, if in spite of everything, such a project would gain consistency, it would be Germany – you have to be convinced of it – that would exit the euro, perhaps accompanied by others. Here we have the systematically forgotten hypothesis, the blind spot par excellence, the Grexit! And the paradox of the other euro, the democratic euro, is that it must fail at the very moment when it becomes successful, precisely because it does so.
It is this conclusion that prevents the process most safely, but already the emergence of this process is very unlikely. For to start a showdown in the eurozone much more is needed than a sympathetic progressive European party. It would be necessary that a sufficiently large number of truly left governments would join forces and act in synchrony. But how long one had to wait in Greece until the first real political alternative in the EU emerged? And how big would be the probability of such an alliance of planets, which I have just evoked? It is close to zero and everybody here knows that.
Among the many intellectual errors of internationalism, the imaginary internationalism, there is the error to wait, the weapons at our feet, for a continental revolt to happen. If we wait for that, then the euro has a good time in front of it with opponents like us.
From all this we can draw only one conclusion. The conclusion of real internationalism. The real internationalism consists in coordinating the European left in order to work everywhere for rupture and exit and then to push those who first have the opportunity to make it, without having to wait for the others.
The real internationalism rejects the absurdity to measure all relations between the people in terms of monetary integration, or the circulation of goods or capital. Rather the focus is on the weaving of all kinds of possible and imaginable relationships – scientific, artistic, cultural, students, technological and industrial etc. etc. The real internationalism means no longer to be intimidated by the nationalists of the extreme right, or, more precisely, by the group of liberal Europeans, which has only the threat of the extreme right in stock.
Without a doubt, the extreme right is abominable, but it is convenient to stigmatize all those who want to step out of the iron cage as “xenophobic nationalists”. If the National Front would not exist, one would have to invent it.
The worst is that there exists a left that is stupid enough to let itself be terrorized, and sometimes even contributes to this infamous argument. If the National Front came to power, it would not exit from the euro. And it is here where intellectual errors turn into political catastrophes. The intimidated left, without a fight, leaves an alternative to an enemy, which would not even use it. What a beautiful result! And of which alternative we speak? Of the only one which actually could make a radical difference, one of those differences for which the social body is thursty, because the so-called governing parties will never offer it. That is why the politically dead hungry people are jumping at any difference that is offered to them, even the worst, the most mendacious, presented by the vilest demagogues, because after all it is a difference and they have the feeling of being able to breathe somewhat.
Without fear of its own shadow, the left could be the carrier of a worthy political difference: the difference of the exit from the euro; the difference of restoring democratic sovereignty; the difference of opening the lock that blocks all progressive politics; the difference of real internationalism.
If Plan B gets rid of all imaginary prohibitions and all inconsistencies that so far have burdened the question of the euro, then Plan B has no other meaning than the one of being the carrier of this historical difference. And where we are now, this needs to be emphasized, the only possible restorer of democracy.
The ideas have to be clarified; the pusillanimity of Tsipras must be overcome, which brought all the sacrifices, all the defeats and finally all the humiliations.
Having clear ideas means that you know why you are on the move and for what you fight. If it wants to be more than a little game, Plan B must aim for the maximum target which is actually the minimum allowable: the goal of complete democracy.
Complete democracy means to fully de-constitutionalize all economic dispositions and to transfer the political economy back into the realm of ordinary political deliberation. But that exactly is radically impossible, just like the democratic euro represents a reality that is as real as the squaring of the circle. To be convinced of this, one would have to ask the German voters whether they are willing to accept that the following issues are discussed and decided by the European Parliament: the statute of the central bank and its tasks, the possibility of monetary financing of deficits, the level of these deficits, the amount of debt, the possibility of debt relief. And that the German positions on these matters could be overruled. For a first approximation, that’s democracy. Well, the answer would be given quickly … and it would not be the answer that the friends of a democratic euro would wish to hear. (…)
Of course you can, as did Tsipras and others after him, delay as long as possible the moment when the contradictions become apparent: an end to austerity and at the same time remaining within the eurozone; having the euro and democracy. Such promises are untenable, because they are contradictory, and even more so because there is no compromise possible. If the left wants to free itself from being insignificant, it finally must learn to want the consequences of that which it wants.
Does the left really want democracy? Then it can not stay in the eurozone.
One can not win anything if one disregards the fundamental principles of politics; nothing was ever won at the price of democracy.
In general, before one goes to war, one should know ones war aims. Collecting cherry stalks is of no interest except for lovers of herbal tea. The left of Plan B needs to know whether she wants to drink herbal tea and then “good night” , or whether she has finally found the taste of real politics again.