by Rodrigo Vaz. Originally published on 2014/04/17
For every progressive living in the EU it has been, for a long time now, embarrassing to witness the lack of resolve by the social democratic parties on the continent – especially since the start of the 2008 crisis, which initially seemed to be the perfect opportunity for the left to take the stage with a bold, unapologetic agenda. Instead, it has become increasingly clear that the centre-left has failed in that purpose.
Being from a Southern European country under ‘financial assistance’, this difficulty becomes even more acute and clear.
A trouble-making, out-of-control financial market that made the economy burst into a deep crisis which led to rising inequalities, growing unemployment rates, even higher youth unemployment, companies and banks begging for state assistance and bailout programmes. What else could progressives ask for? This was doomed to be their time, or so it seemed. One could even argue that progressives had a kind of ‘moral authority’ to take the field and adopt tough measures to hold back unregulated markets.
Quite unbelievably though, nothing of that sort happened. After a brief period of Keynesian euphoria, from the Greek bailout, every European government, regardless of being left or right of centre, simply cut its assistance and stimulus packages to keep the economy afloat, narrowing it down to rescue banks.. Yes, there are tough measures around, but not the ones progressives may have envisioned. A seemingly unstoppable wave of wage cuts and raising taxes swept most European countries, regardless of who was in power. All European governments led by the left followed the same panacea. Austerity became one of the most popular words in the European dictionary.
However, there is a lot of rhetoric around. Especially in the opposition or when commenting on events happening in other countries, European progressive MEPs, opposition leaders, or even heads of government continue to blame unregulated markets, and condemn ‘austerity’ by proclaiming the need to stop the austerity and investment cuts. However, once they find themselves in office, those exact cuts are put in practice. The most caricatured example is the current French President, François Hollande.
While reading ’10 Provoking Thoughts’, a 15-page document published by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, in the anticipation of their ‘Renaissance Forum for Europe’ due to take place next April in Brussels, one finds those thoughts to be anything but provoking. Not anymore, at least. These words have been ‘chewed’ by every mouth in the left for the past 5-6 years, if not longer. ‘Austerity discourse must end’ is something every one of us has already heard, time and again. The same goes for ‘the solution for the European crisis must be European’, ‘European citizenship must become meaningful’ or, to be honest, virtually every word in those 15 pages. We all agree to that. But that is motion, not action. They persist in setting things in motion – stating what needs to be done – but just as persistently they fail to get to action, even when they have the power to do so. It is like saying ‘this house is a mess, it must be cleaned’ but simply not doing so, while continuously stating the need for it to be cleaned.
It is about time the European left stops playing these games. It is about time progressives stop drowning themselves in rhetoric labelled as ‘provoking’ and start acting in a provoking manner. Or else, they will only provoke something even worse than the current scenario: the further rise of the far-right, for instance.