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Pierre Laurent, president of the Party of the European Left and National Secretary of the French Communist Party, International Conference “Alliance For Democracy – Against Austerity in Europe”

Pierre LAURENT
President of the Party of the European Left
National Secretary of the French Communist Party

International Conference
“Alliance For Democracy – Against Austerity in Europe”

Athens, 19th March 2016

Ladies, Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,
Dear Comrades,

It is an historic moment for Europe and for the peoples of our countries. The crisis is not only economic and social. It is political and democratic. The European project of the Maastricht Treaty is coming apart at the seams.

Europe is changing at high speed. But the question is: where are we going? What future are we preparing for generations to come? What meaning will our shared future have – the future of Europeans and the hundreds of thousands of families that are fleeing war, already on the road around Europe, and knocking on our doors? Today’s situation is the result of the financial crisis of 2008 – as yet unresolved – and the model that brings the EU into the fold of global capitalism. It is the result of the social crisis brought on by austerity measures. At stake is the future of democracy in Europe, the future of the European project, the possibility of building a different kind of globalisation.

The European Union that we have experienced in recent years cannot go on as is. Weak in the face of the powerful, hard on the most vulnerable, it has created explosive inequalities. The question is: will we find the path of solidarity to lead us out of the crisis, or will we sink into an even more terrible violence? Both outcomes are possible.

In this historic moment, all political initiatives that encourage dialogue, that seek to find common cause and further progress, are essential. The forces of progress that we represent have a huge responsibility, that of bringing about a new concept, a new paradigm of solidarity and democracy; we need hope for the future, light at the end of the tunnel. This is why I would like to begin by applauding the initiative taken by Syriza and the Party of the European Left, alongside the Nikos Poulantzas and Transform Europe foundations, to bring us together here in Athens with all of the organisations that represent hope for the future of Europe; hope that is sorely needed in these dangerous times.

Yes, Europe today is a dangerous place: too many lines have been crossed.

First of all the violence of austerity policies and serious blows to labour laws, democracy and the sovereignty of peoples.

You need look no farther than Athens to understand me. We have seen the social and human consequences of austerity, and the violence with which the agreement of July 13th was imposed against the legitimate will of the government to respect the voice of the people.
And I would like to applaud the courage of the Greek government, which, in this hostile environment, continues to fight to protect the Greek people.
In my country, as I speak to you, the whole system of labour/management relations is under fire as the government of François Hollande pushes for changes in our Labour Code. Although it has been made abundantly clear that austerity policies and measures that break down labour regulations lead nowhere, the dominant powers will not release their death grip. They have no other model to offer.
The French “Labour Law” is part of the “national programme of reforms” negotiated by our government with the European Commission, in the context of the budget treaty. These policies will never resolve massive unemployment; on the contrary, they lead to greater job insecurity for all and represent a regression of civilisation in all of our societies.

Our resistance movements – I hope that in France we will obtain the withdrawal of the draft law – must now join in shared objectives to develop new economic and social models for new social policies. To unite against austerity is to work together to find a new agreement for development of employment and public services in Europe with a solid funding plan. The fight against unemployment must be a priority in all of Europe and we must open the debate to the new forms of work that are appearing with the digital revolution; a debate on reduced working hours and living wages. Our objective must be for new industrialisation and a new model for agriculture focused on human needs and a transformation of our modes of production and consumption to better protect the environment.

Too many lines have been crossed as European economic, fiscal and monetary policies have bent to the will of major financial groups and multinationals seeking profit.
The European Central Bank continues to distribute dozens of billions of euros to banks, now at a zero lending rate, with no impact at all on the real economy and employment. The steps taken by Mario Draghi last week show that, despite a record of failure, the economic governance of the euro zone continues to be based on support for pointless financial accumulation.
Unfortunately, the economists that are announcing a new stock market crash in the months to come are right. We must give priority to boosting mobilisation against the TTIP, against tax fraud and social dumping by multinationals; for democratic control of banks and the European Central Bank to ensure that they pursue a mission of social and environmental development, and development of the real economy.

Too many lines have been crossed in the implementation of policies based on waging war, security crises and stimulating fear.
Not only is Europe not playing the role of peacekeeper in the world, as it should, but it has a share of responsibility for the increase of armed conflict. Europe has been silent for years on the question of Palestine; we have not stood behind the democratic forces in Tunisia. France brought Europe into the war in Libya, then in Syria after the ISIS attacks. For the first time, by virtue of the “mutual defence clause”, a majority of European countries participated, in one way or another, in the military intervention in Syria. Where does Europe stand on peace? Is not peace the very foundation of our union?
Europe has kept silent while racist and xenophobic forces advance in Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia.
We have let countries close off their borders with northern Greece, but remain inflexible in regard to enforcing bank laws.
Faced with the emergency of refugees seeking protection in our countries, faced with war and terrorism, the Europe of peace has become the Europe of fear. The decision to send refugees back to Turkey, the decision to close borders and leave Greece on its own to handle the flood of migrants, is not only inhuman, it is ineffective and dangerous. In France, the government agreed to welcome 24,000 refugees. Only a few dozen have been admitted legally.
What perspective? Turn the country of Greece into a holding camp? Let Erdogan have his way when we see that his authoritarianism and politics of violence make Turkey anything but a safe haven?
Together, we must stand up for the construction of a responsible joint policy on welcoming refugees, shared by all. On a continent that is home to more than 500 million people, we should be able to make room to welcome a number of people that corresponds to 0.2-0.4% of the total population.

Yes, too many lines have been crossed, too much is unacceptable. We have reached the end of a cycle.
The European idea is no longer a desirable one. The reality of Europe appals more and more Europeans. European leaders themselves are aware of this. They openly speak of “dislocation” and “decomposition”.
Governments that apply austerity measures have, one after the other, been sanctioned in elections. Rejection of the idea of the European Union is on the rise. The ruling classes of Europe fear disintegration, that is clear in their response to a potential “brexit”.
But either they have not understood how to avoid it, or they are incapable of doing so. Mired in neo-liberalism, they would go forward on the same path, turning a deaf ear to the needs and expressions of the people.  This is the reason for the very troubling development of the extreme right and populism.  The neo-liberal establishment, through its incompetence and outdated ideology, because of its inhumanity, has released the beast from its cage.
It would be irresponsible to allow disintegration. We cannot accept the perspective of the dislocation of Europe. Our joint project must be, more than ever, a project for a Europe of cooperation, solidarity and peace.

We assume our responsibilities here, in front of the people of Europe, in front of all the women and men who hope for a positive resolution to the situation of hardship that is upon us.

In all European countries, there are political forces, trade unions, social movements, intellectuals and citizens who have a strong resolve to prevent Europe from drifting into chaos. Yes, there is a way forward. There is an alternative. We won’t fall for that obtuse slogan: “Europe as it is: love it or leave it”! It is here in Europe that we will find the forces to create a different union! It is within Europe that we must come together to create a new plan. The alternative is taking root in the youth of my country and among workers who have been protesting the draft labour law, with a motto: “We are worth more”. A wide-scale strike is planned for March 31st. We can see the alternative demonstrated by the inhabitants of the Greek islands, people of modest means who have generously welcomed families in exile fleeing war. We see it in associations trying to help welcome refugees in Germany and around Europe. We can see it in the way the Greek government has tried to reason with its European partners, as it is convinced that there is no real solution without a joint policy on welcoming refugees, one that is shared and humane; because it can see that austerity and negation of popular sovereignty can only lead to chaos. We see the alternative when the Portuguese government adopts anti-austerity measures and increases its quota of migrants. We see it in Ireland and Spain, where the people have spoken out against coalitions that have implemented austerity. Many economists, researchers and intellectuals are thinking about alternatives to neo-liberalism.

There is a movement for change in Europe and it is our duty to shepherd it, to enhance it, to bring hopeful perspective to the struggle.

For many years now, the Party of the European Left and my party, the French Communist Party, have sought to build a democratic European model, that respects the sovereignty and the will of the people; a model based on solidarity; a Europe where sharing and development of the commons are more important than competition. We are standing on a threshold. It is the only way out of our current crisis.
We are not under an illusion of federalism or nationalism. We believe that it is possible to build a form of cooperation that allies the respect of national choices with convergence on useful projects, convergence on the major challenges facing Europe and the world.
France can play a key role in this regard. Unfortunately, our government has not chosen to do so. Certainly this will be a key issue in the elections to be held next year. We are ready to join with all willing forces to engage a political battle for defining a popular mandate for French European policy in 2017. We wish for France to be seated at the Eurogroup table as soon as possible, alongside Alexis Tsipras, because clearly one country alone cannot change Europe.

Now is the time to work for alliances for change, within our countries and across Europe.

In conclusion, I have a proposal to make. After this conference and others to be held soon, I suggest we initiate – as in Latin America – an annual forum of progressive political forces and governments, as well as trade union and social movements that wish to join, to foster a regular dialogue and participate in a European front to lead us out of austerity and build a future for the Europe of tomorrow.
We must come together and struggle together; we need one another. Let us go forward and make room for change!

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