The left sometimes has problems in seeing the positive dimension of the news. True, the overall reality of today certainly does not look rosy. Inequality keeps growing, unemployment keeps rising, neoliberalism certainly is not dead. And right-wing populism continues to rise, while even some left-wing forces now seem to be convinced to follow the road of nationalism and protectionism.
Yet, there are signs something might be changing positively.
The research department of the IMF has published some very encouraging results these past years. It started beginning of this century with a recognition of the inequality problem, it continued with the questioning of free flows of capital, ‘not the preferable option in all circumstances’, then came the confession on the errors with fiscal multipliers, and finally several reports on inequality, redistribution, taxes and unionization. In 2016 came the first report mentioning ‘neoliberalism’ that may have ‘risen inequality and in turn jeopardized durable expansion’. All this research has not been translated in new policies, but the facts and numbers are there and available.
At the level of the European Union, the actions of the Competition Commissioner, Ms Vestager, against Apple have to be welcomed. Also, the decision to not sanction Spain and Portugal for their fiscal deficits is very important.
More recently, voices were being heard for abandoning austerity policies and promoting investments. True, not all investments will necessarily be positive and create jobs, many conditions will have to be respected if we want them to be in the common interest of citizens.
But slowly, slowly, something tells us change is in the air, the tide is turning.
The State of the Union of president Juncker of the European Commission this week was rather disappointing. He said we need a ‘Europe that protects’, but started his explanations with his second point, on the ‘Europe that preserves our way of life’… ‘My father believed in Europe because he believed in stability, workers’ rights and social progress’, he said. As if he himself did not believe in these values anymore …
We have to accept that the Commission has no power to change the rules, so we can only hope that the heads of state and governments who will be meeting in Bratislava soon, will have more courage. Juncker was right in saying there is very little common ground today in the European Union, but is it really impossible to take some measures that can bring progress for people?
What Brexit will mean is still very uncertain, it can open doors but may also close some others. Much will depend of what the UK decides to negotiate, and even more on what the 27 remaining heads of states and governments will be able to decide in Bratislava.
The Commission did launch a consultation process on a ‘pillar of social rights’. Its first analysis is not overwhelmingly positive, there is room for improvement. It also launched a consultation on the collaborative economy. Given the rapidly changing global social context with commons and a sharing economy, this can possibly also lead to something positive.
The left does not really have a choice. We have to believe positive change is possible, and we have to do everything we can to make it happen. The rising rightwing populist forces are a real threat. Pleading for a dismantlement of the European project in these circumstances is very dangerous.
For those who think the EU cannot be ‘reformed’: just think of what neoliberals have been doing these past thirty years: treaties, institutions and policies have been shaped according to their wishes. Why? Because power relations are in their favour. What we should do then, is change these power relations in our favour, we will then be as able as they were to ‘reform’ European treaties, institutions and policies. How we can do this? By continuing and strengthening the campaigns, actions and movements that have started, against TTIP, against Barroso, against tax dodging, in favour of the environment … What is still needed to strengthen progressive forces is strong action in favour of social justice. All people are directly worried about their jobs, their pensions, schools for their children, housing, etc. This is where the focus of our action should be, as well as on the necessary democratization. Of course we can win.