With grand rhetoric about the values of ancient Greek democracy, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, welcomed his audience in Athens on the hill of Pnyx in September this year. He told the crowd that after everything the Greek people have had to endure, he would bring “democracy, sovereignty and trust”- statements that are as vague as they are untrue.
After praising the Greek prime minister Tsipras’s austerity reforms, Macron assured the Greek people that they can finally begin to look at the future with hope! But hope is the last thing the French president was taking to the Greek working class. Accompanied on his visit by entrepreneurs, businessmen, and banking executives, the French president’s intention is to build the future of French business in Greece. Specifically, his immediate aim is to gain control over the two biggest water supply companies in Greece; EYDAP and EYATH, with market share of 11% and 23% respectively.
Tsipras, who formerly was a passionate advocate of the idea that water is a social good and was very vocal against its privatisation, was nodding in agreement despite opposition from several members of his own party, Syriza.
At the same time, supporters of the leftist party, Popular Unity, gathered in protest at Macron’s visit and his proposals for the sale of state assets. Their slogans were ‘Greece is not for sale’ and ‘Workers are not slaves’. They clashed with police and the authorities who had banned demonstrations.
Illusions in the EU
At the same time Macron has been making a series of proposals for increased EU integration. His proposals are to create a eurozone parliament, a common budget, and a finance minister to promote centralization and give greater power and control to the European capitalists. According to Macron, the way forward for Greece is greater integration into the EU. “We should aim for better unity and leave our small differences aside” he said. But as far as the Greek workers are concerned, this is nonsense. Macron’s proposals are nothing but a reassertion of the interests of French capitalism, in competition with Germany. The French are going for the water infrastructure, the latter has taken over the airports and this looting will accelerate if things are left up to Macron.
The original call for unification of the European market was not a progressive one. It came in the 1950s, at a time of imperialist crisis, when the European bourgeoisie was struggling to contain working-class and colonial movements on the one hand and trying to compete with US imperialism on the other. By forming a common market, the European capitalists hoped to drive down wages, create a bigger market for their commodities, and ultimately make themselves rich at the expense of the working class.
Similarly, today, there is nothing progressive about Macron’s proposed reforms to encourage greater integration, which go far beyond just calling for Greece to be more closely integrated with the EU, and which only cater for the European elite. Macron put this idea forward in a recent meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Frankfurt, but with the current government crisis in Germany and the far-right AfD party breathing down Merkel’s neck, such a proposal isn’t realisitc.
Meanwhile, within the eurozone, workers’ rights are still being severely attacked. ‘Internal devaluation’ (a euphemism for austerity) is the only tool left for a euro-based economy to use to improve competitiveness. Capitalists in the past were able to temporarily overcome economic crisis by devaluing their own country’s currency. This is not an option for eurozone countries, whose currency is shared by many different, competing groups of capitalists and so cannot be devalued by just one national capitalist group. Thus, the only alternative is to bring down the cost of production. This is done at the expense of workers’ wages and living standards, as we have seen in Greece, and are also witnessing now in France as Macron launches plans to weaken labour laws.
Greece is tied to the chariot of the imperialist bloc that is the EU. Under capitalism, subjugation to the powerful economies of France and Germany will always be the fate of weaker economies like those of Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. This will be graphically illustrated if Macron’s plan is carried out – low paid Greek workers will be earning profits for French capitalists.
“The old order is collapsing, and old alliances are collapsing” proclaimed the French president. He claims to be proposing new economic relations. But there is nothing new in what he has to say. The EU has always consisted of agreements between capitalists who share the wealth at the top. The whole system is based on back-room agreements, that the European masses don’t get a say on, and which are ratified in the European Commission, in which only Heads of State and top ministers participate.
This is the ‘democracy’ that modern capitalism offers us. It’s all a carefully conducted game, in which rules created by the few make sure that the many don’t get to decide on issues that have real meaning for them. What people often call the ‘democratic deficit’ of the EU is in fact its very essence!
Macron’s proposed reforms offer nothing to the Greek working class, nor to the European working class in its entirety. They are the product of Macron’s desperate attempt to help the French capitalist class carve out a bigger slice of profits for itself, and, in the decades long tradition of the EU, promise only more misery for workers across the continent.
Which way forward?
Marx said that accumulation of wealth at one pole is, at the same time accumulation of misery, slavery, brutality, and mental degradation at the opposite pole, i.e. on the side of the working class. While capital is concentrated in multinational monopolies working hand-in-glove with imperialist states, people at the opposite pole are seeing their living standards go further down. This is inevitable in the era of monopoly finance capitalism, which is the highest stage of capitalism. The misery and poverty that the Greek workers have to go through today is a clear example of the brutal domination of monopoly capital over the lives of millions of people.
Emmanuel Macron doesn’t really want to offer “hope” or an end to austerity. To end austerity, we must break with capitalism. For this, we must also break with the rule of capital, including through the imperialist bloc that is the EU. However, it is important that this isn’t done on the base of nationalism and protectionism – nothing will be solved by breaking from the EU on a capitalist basis.
We shouldn’t rely on nationalist politicians or promises of a “better capitalism” outside of the EU. The only people we can rely on is ourselves – the international working class – to make a fundamental change to improve our lives. The socialist unification of Europe, a union capable of guaranteeing real development of the economy and our standard of living, is possible only on the road of a revolutionary struggle against national barriers and private property.
By Erin Maniatopoulou, Norwich Marxists