Stepping Stones

Following CEO's EU in crisis conference, we are sharing contributions from conference participants giving their impressions from the conference. This first contribution was written by Christina Laskaridis.

During the crisis in Greece, there has been a tendency to look inwards within national boundaries, despite the need to move beyond them. This tendency has ebbed and flowed. Often it has felt like the “6 pack” governance rules or the fiscal compact that have brought permanent disastrous changes to the EU’s institutional landscape, are one step removed from the immediate concerns of rapid social and economic disintegration. Week by week parliament dismantles collective bargaining agreements, slashes wages and pensions, civil servants face the sack, hospitals are falling apart, schools are closing, and people are committing suicide.  It’s easy to feel the centrifugal and isolating force of a crisis and feel that Brussels is far away, except of course, when the troika sends in its task force and begins the blackmail.

Along the rocky road of the EU crisis, there have been several moments that have brought us together across boundaries to break with introspection. The stepping stones that have brought us together create a common space to exchange information about the diverse struggles occurring throughout Europe and the ways to collaborate. This weekend in Brussels, we touched base at a very well attended, extraordinarily well organised conference. With the spot light on the ‘permanent austerity treaty’ and simultaneously celebrating its 15th birthday, CEO brought together a wide range of organisations, activists from social movements and trade unionists, to exchange ideas on collective problems, to converge and coordinate on future directions amongst the many varied ways we experience crisis across Europe.

Focus on Action

I found the most constructive part of the conference was the emphasis on action: on building momentum to act together. The working groups met during the second day and collaborated on specific issues, building on work already done, and planned for the future. The workshop on debt and tax brought together analysis and thoughts from Belgium tax justice groups, debt audit groups from Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, the UK Jubilee debt campaign and Belgium’s CADTM. This session built on a previous gathering of euroMediterranean debt groups which formed the International Citizens Debt Audit Network, and solidified the desire for more coordinated moves, with plans for several actions in October and put in place a sturdier framework for information exchange across countries. The most inspiring element from this was the clarification that we need to develop a common analysis of our debt situations, to link up debt on the micro level plaguing households to the macro swamping governments. It seems there is a need to collectively support a moratorium of debt repayments from a creditor country perspective and an indebted country perspective and to find common ways to refuse debt repayments and fight against austerity - not forgetting that debt is a symptom and not a cause of the crisis.

Reform or Revolution?

This age old conundrum of reform or revolutoin seemed to be a common thread throughout the two day conference, as discussions varied widely from immediate actions, mid term campaigns and long term visions.

That debt is a symptom not a cause of the crisis was strongly pointed out in the arguments put forward by Trevor Evans (Professor of Monetary Economics, Berlin School of Economics) on Saturday. The Eurozone is an intentionally dysfunctional system that creates trade deficits in the periphery, financed through capital flows (to the public or private sector) from the core. With this in mind we are up against many contradictions and many difficulties. Can the Eurozone be reformed into something that we want to live in or is its current boot in the face tactic an innate feature? In this light, immediate reform was discussed but also tackling ‘root causes’, which are none other than the workings of capitalism itself.

The conference explored visions for the society that we actually want to live in, and showed us that it is a work in progress, much beyond the scope of reforming current EU institutions formed by elites for elites. With this in mind, much was discussed in the plenary sessions on how to strengthen grass roots initiatives and new forms of resistance. One thing that emerged was that the struggles in each locality are an inspiration to all. The abysmal vision of a Europe based on ‘Greece the guinea pig’ is a case in point. But there is also the strike back that is increasingly growing stronger all over; people are occupying government buildings and ministries; workers running the hospital, journalists printing their newspaper, residents running soup kitchens.

In many ways the feeling I distilled from the conference, is that although our struggles will continue in our areas, we will draw from the strength and support of a much wider group of people, spread across a much larger area. That we now know better who we are, and what is going on outside of our spheres. No one should be alone in crisis, and a more coordinated strengthened network across Europe of a variety of groups and people working on all sorts of issues can reinforce the solidarity that we show to each other.

Thank you for bringing us together!

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