On the Question of “Europe”

One of the things we have heard quite a few times since arriving here (and especially among some Italian circles) is that of tackling how to engage “Europe “. How should social movements, and especially autonomous groups in this case, act in the light of the transformations happening at the EU level- network with other groups, articulate demands etc.-? NO light matter and no easy answers. Just a couple of brief notes on this.
This is by no means the place to do an institutional or critical history of the EU, those are out there, and we’d recommend taking a look at the book by Ramon Fernandez Duran on the subject (upcoming in English) “La problematica construccion de la Europa Superopotencia. After the European Steel and Coal agreement and the formation of the WEU (Western European Union ), you have the Rome treaty in 1957 – the first major step at integration and still considered one of the most important docs- establishes the EEC. Zooming over other milestones to more recent stuff. It is with the final agreement, around 85, on the Single Market that the (proto) neoliberal shift becomes clear- a convergence of economies along the line of the increasingly hegemonic global paradigm and with the pressure of newly formed European level lobby groups (like the ERT (European RoundTable of Industry ). Maastricht treaty of 92 solidifies things even more but adds a new twist- this is the first treaty that begins to hint (timidly) toward more overtly political and military integration. Though this had been attempted (i.e. through the WEU) it had not been within the larger and deeper economic process. At the Lisbon summit of 2000 the goals of much more economic restructuring are honed- the idea of becoming the “most competitive knowledge economy” are placed on the table. ‘99 The Euro begins to circulate in markets and in 2002 it is the daily currency of 12 out of the then 15 countries. Prices jack up across the continent. 2004 10 new countries come in and 2 more in 2007. With such huge expansion and an increasingly strong currency that some suggest could work as a global reserve currency as the dollar does- the initiatives towards increased political and military integration speed up- a strong currency needs solid political and state power behind it after all- if you’re going to denominate your savings in that currency (or so the argument by IR folks goes). Enter the ECT (European Constitutional Treaty)- it passes in many countries but is nailed in France and Holland through referenda. A mini crisis emerges- but in the 2007 June summit the “Reform Treaty” is agreed upon which will replace the ECT while maintaining most of its features (it primarily ceded in symbolic terrain and in allowing some member states more maneuverability for the time being- it has yet to be passed by member states though). The story goes on and lots was overlooked there. Besides the initial stages of the political and military integration- the EU is now clearly an economic project oriented towards more competitiveness defined in corporate terms, a retreat of social police of the welfare era, privatization and neoliberal policies in many aspects, like any good wannabe imperial power its all about open markets as long as they work in the EU’s favor as understood by the EC and its different Directorate Generals.
Different critical understanding of the “European project” But it is also much more than a neoliberal project- or so it is hoped by many. There has been much confusion of what to make of it on the part of critical and left parties, as well as social movements, unions, and other actors as these-wasn’t the EU there to solidify the vision of a “warless” Europe? Given the horrors of WWI and II isn’t that a victory? How can we go against that?-for countries such as Spain, Greece Portugal and others- isn’t Europe equal to and development? Coming out of dictatorships shouldn’t we be running to embrace Europe as an idea and project? For much of the liberal left in those countries Europe (always a mythical other place yet to be achieved) was the land of human rights enlightenment, freedoms, and had to be emulated-wasn’t the confederal/federal structure at work something promising? That could bypass overly centralized nation-states? For minorities in EU countries (especially historic ones) wouldn’t the EU be a new promise of rights and a defense against overly nationalist central-states? couldn’t we use the integration of EU countries as a platform for struggling for more rights? In the same way that corporations were benchmarking market-friendly policies across the EU, couldn’t we look at the social policies of member states and push for the best policies to be implemented across the board via the mechanism of the EU (this was part of the argument of the “Social Europe” slogan as opposed to “the Europe of Capital”). What about institutions like the Euro Court of Human Rights, the EP (European Parlament) aren’t these incipient institutions helping solidify a new level of democracy and rights in the region? Isn’t the EU providing funding we need for our underdeveloped region (particularly in some rural regions of the EU)> Why would we want to bite the hand that feeds us? So quite a bit of hope has been laid into the EU project by many critical activists, politicians, intellectuals, etc. but this has also left them unable to attack and critique those aspects which were not so or has left any critical discussion and analysis of the EU in diapers. The positions above may or may not be correct or tenable positions but what has become clear is that they have contributed to a veneer of legitimacy of “Europe” that can sidestep potential critique before it’s even articulated. By no means has resistance been absent though. One could look at the anti NATO movement in Spain in 1985-86 as partly against a particular idea of “Europe” but more clearly by the early to mid-nineties explicit resistance to the UE became more and more visible. On the day following the Denmark referendum on the Maastricht treaty the roughest rioting in Danish post-war history occurred, rougher than anything in ‘68 and only approached by what has happened after the eviction of the Ungdomhouset this year. On that day in 93, 11 people were shot and even the police were pretty wounded after the intense rioting. By the mid-90’s EU summits rotating around the cities of the respective country holding that semesters presidency were sites of mass mobilizations and protest. By ‘99- the EU summits became clear targets of global resistance movements- the famous Gothenburg (2001) protest were at an EU summit, and the protests against the EU summits of Barcelona in 2002 were/are the largest- numerically speaking-, at a summit against a ‘global’ institution (around 500,000 people). The idea of coordinated protest across targets in Europe began to develop: the unemployed Euro-marches in the mid 90s; the Renault strike in the late 90’s; the farmers’ tractor caravans toward Brussels; in a more spontaneous way the fuel protests of 2000; etc. And more increasingly the emergence of European spaces of networking: the ECN (European Counter Network), PGA Europe (People’s Global Action), the ESF (European Social Forum), EuroMayday and other more sector related: migrants, unions, etc… And Now!…? This resistance has for the most part been oriented towards a particular protest- towards signaling that a critique of Europe is possible (and does not imply one is from the xenophobic right)- but these different efforts had not really deepened or engaged with the questions of how to deal differently with Europe.

How do you engage this amorphous thing?

Some Italians are saying: “come on let’s do it! This is some of the most important potential stuff going on!” Others folks in Spain are saying: “it’s still to distant, doesn’t relate well to the everyday” “realities are still lived within the state and movements still operate within that framework- but more and more is resonating in common: policies enacted in one country are also enacted in a slightly different form in another, policy trends are moving in the same direction, etc.” “What if we don’t have a Euro wide network when we really need on?” The PrecarityWebRing project in its general and in its current phase is to engage in a research/mapping project that could inhabit/take advantage of that “European” space. Currently many participants feel there is a crisis of EU-wide networks: such as the ESF, EuroMayDay Euromovements? How are movements to inhabit space and interact with, fight, different processes? like: Bologna; particular EU policies; common strategies of struggles (maybe for fighting similar policies being enacted in different countries); etc… There are different ideas on how to deal with this though not too much that seems to be working over a period of time- language and travel issues are a factor- difficulty of maintaining communication outside of a specific action calendar, etc. But this was the goal of a project like PWR a way to grow and politically mature the EuroMayDay process.