Thursday

14th Dec 2017

Opinion

Europe needs hope

  • On both national and European level, left-wing parties should return to their original causes (Photo: morberg)

The victory of Syriza in Greece is important not only for Greek people, but also the rest of Europe. With the crisis and the rise of far-right all over Europe, a left alternative is urgent.

One of my best friends is Greek. We met during his Erasmus exchange programme in Brussels ten years ago. We had many discussions, but never on politics. It did not make sense, all the politicians were the same, argued my Greek friend. He had no interest or hope in politics.

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  • Figures from all over Europe clearly show that austerity has failed to achieve its goal (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

During the first years of the crisis I went to visit him in Athens. He was living in Exarchia, a neighborhood that is home to many anarchists and radical leftists. None of it had an impact on him. He was working for a company and doing his thing, “enjoying life” as he often said.

As the crisis got worse he had to move to an island if he wanted to keep his job. He was working full time but because of the austerity measures his wage was cut to €500. The crisis was not only affecting him but also his friends and family. The last time I met him in Greece, he seemed worried for his future and was looking for ways to leave the country.

Then, suddenly in 2012 things changed.

My friend and I started to discuss politics and austerity. One of the reasons was the success of Syriza in 2012 elections. He became politicised and, even though Syriza did not win the elections, my friend now had hope and decided not to leave the country.

With the Syriza victory on 25 January, maybe he was right.

Crisis

Meanwhile, Greece is still in crisis. One third of the population lives in poverty. The average Greek became 40 percent poorer between 2008 and 2013. Cuts in the health system are higher than 40 perent. Suicide rates have grown by 60 percent. Youth unemployment is about 55 percent.

The damages caused by austerity policies are not limited to Greece. According to the most recent Eurostat figures, within the EU alone, 25 million Europeans are unemployed. Youth unemployment is at 23 percent and 125 million people are at risk of poverty.

Figures from all over Europe show that austerity has failed to achieve its goals. Europe is currently in crisis because of how mainstream political parties chose to tackle the crisis in the first place.

Furthermore, recent research conducted by Economist Intelligence Unit shows that we are also suffering from a crisis of democracy. Low voter turnout and sharp falls in the membership of mainstream parties are some of the clearest indicators.

Rise on the right

Not everybody suffered from the crisis.

Far-right and populist parties did great business. Golden Dawn, a Neo Nazi party, is the third largest party in Greece. The National Front won last year’s EU election in France getting 25 percent of the votes and polls show that its leader Marine Le Pen could win the presidential elections.

Ukip, an anti-EU anti-immigrant party, won the European elections in UK with ease. The rightist Dansk Folkeparti is on the rise in Denmark. The nationalist Finns Party is the third largest party in Finland.

These parties use migrants as a scapegoat for poverty and unemployment figures. The real problem is that mainstream parties have been parroting the same arguments with different words.

Meanwhile, research by the European Network Against Racism shows that racism and discrimination are on the rise in Europe.

Left alternative

What Europe needs today is a clear alternative from the left, which has been invisible so far.

The past 35 years of social democracy in Europe was based on fear. Fear of the right, fear of losing power. In every European country, it is possible to see how social democracy has shifted to the centre-right of the political spectrum. This is because they fail to set the political agenda and no longer believe in their principles.

On both a national and European level, left-wing parties should return to their roots. This means a stern rejection of all forms of crippling austerity but also the protection (instead of dismantlement) of the welfare state that the left worked so hard to build.

It is possible to set three principles for the left. Solidarity has always been and should remain a leftist principle. Solidarity among people, classes and nations.

A second principle is redistribution. If the left wants a project to tackle poverty and inequality, redistribution of wealth is the answer. The capital is there, but it is concentrated with an elite. According to recent figures by Oxfam, in 2016 the wealthiest 1 percent will possess as much as 99 percent of the world population.

Equality is the third principle. Equality is essential if left-wing parties want citizens to get involved in political decision-making. Equality should not remain a theoretical discourse, but must also take shape in equal rights and genuine equality of opportunity.

The left needs to do what Syriza did to my friend: politicise people and give them hope.

A social Europe which show solidarity, respects the diversity of people and invests in people would without doubt be a better Europe than the one we have today.

Bleri Lleshi is Brussels based political philosopher and author of various books. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Analysis

Syriza: Bearing the hopes of many non-Greeks too

Other political upstarts in the EU will be watching Syriza carefully. Any Syriza successes will become their potential successes. Any failures, their potential failures.

Iceland: further from EU membership than ever

With fewer pro-EU MPs in the Iceland parliament than ever before, any plans to resume 'candidate' membership of the bloc are likely to remain on ice, as the country prioritises national sovereignty and a more left-wing path.

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