Intervention by AKEL Parliamentary Speaker Y. Loucaides in the debate on the Future of Europe
House of Representatives, 28th June 2019
We consider the debate surrounding the future of Europe not just useful, but imperative. We welcome as a positive development the fact that this debate is taking place after the European elections because it conveys the message that European issues and EU policies must be discussed – not just every five years – but all the year around as part of a daily political dialogue. Besides, as it has often been said over the past few years, the majority of the laws that come to national parliaments are decided and formulated in Brussels.
The fact that today both we as the Cypriot House of Representatives, as well as everyone in the EU, are forced to talk in anguish about the future of Europe and what kind of Europe we want, at the end of the day highlights the deadlocks of today’s Europe, of the European Union itself and our continent’s current path of unification. If everything was going so well and perfectly, as certain political forces have been presenting developments for decades, then we wouldn’t have an issue to discuss. The opposite is true however, since this unavoidable debate confirms the assessments and warnings which the Left has been making for years about the EU’s nature and course; warnings that until recently were being degraded as “Euroscepticism” and backward. Furthermore, today this debate is ongoing – not on a theoretical level – but based on the tangible realities European citizens are experiencing and on an extremely negative appraisal, which highlights the refutation of the declarations and promises that were being made for decades.
Instead of “prosperity”, the peoples in the EU currently count 16 million unemployed people, over 110 million poor and 4 million homeless people. At the same time, billions of Euros are being channeled to bailout banks, and funds are being cut from social programs and agricultural policy to be allocated to the arms industries. Control over the member states for their fiscal discipline is draconian and suffocating, but when the time comes for labour and social rights, there are only empty promises for the peoples.
Instead of “democracy and freedom,” the lobby of multinational companies determine EU policies. Elected governments are the subject of blatant threats and blackmail. Referendums are ignored or repeated until the peoples eventually vote in line with the EU’s wishes. New mechanisms for the filing of citizens and control of the internet are due to be enforced.
Instead of “peace”, the EU is constantly developing its militarization, deepening its organic link with NATO, and making a “shift in investment” towards the war arms industry, while the mass selling of arms worth billions of euros by its member states to warring regions and authoritarian regimes is permitted.
Instead of “solidarity”, walls are being built and an army of border guards is being formed to keep refugees out of “fortress Europe”, while thousands are drowning in the waters of the Mediterranean. At the same time, the xenophobic governments of the European People’s Party and the far-right do not only close their borders, but are now imposing fines on those rescuing shipwrecked refugees. The “tap” of the borders is opened only when big capital needs a cheap labor force.
Instead of “progress”, the far-right and neo-fascism, which were crushed by the struggle of the peoples in the 20th century, are again reappearing throughout Europe, while anti-communism and the falsification and distortion of European history is assuming an institutional character. In some member states, far-right forces participate in governments, and the system lets them sow the poison of racist hatred, xenophobia, chauvinism, sexism and homophobia.
Deadlocks, problems, contradictions, setbacks in different and various fields and fronts prevail. However, if we make a deeper and more substantive analysis of what Europe is facing today – from Brexit to the refugee issue, from the far-right question to climate change – we will conclude that there is a common root cause.
Today the EU, in contrast to its theoretical proclamations, was founded by setting the laws of the market, the economic freedoms of the powerful and profit as its supreme principle. This isn’t some subjective evaluation. This principle is included explicitly in the Constitutional Treaties of the EEC and in all the subsequent Treaties right up to the Lisbon Treaty and governs the EU’s key strategies and policies.
This is where the root of the problem lies which deepens inequality – both within member states, but also between them – and by doing so strengthens not the “solidarity” and “cohesion” advertised by the EU, but centrifugal trends and new nationalisms.
This is the reason why the economic interests of the privileged few are put over and above values and principles, which are even put even above the universal obligation to save the planet and to stand in solidarity with humanness on the side of refugees.
It is the economic and commercial interests of powerful member states and their arms industries, which are preventing the expression of necessary and practical European solidarity towards a member state – such as Cyprus – which is facing the aggression on the part of a third country.
So wherever we approach the essence of the debate on the future of Europe, we end up focusing on the socio-economic character which European unification has.
The answer to this bleak European reality for the peoples and working people, we would like to stress again, lies not in the Euroscepticism of the ultra-right, in Le Pen-type reserve forces of the system, Salvini, Orban and all their other shades right up to the Greek “Golden Dawn” party and the Cypriot ELAM party. These forces do not, of course, essentially oppose the EU’s capitalist character and the neoliberal choices it pursues. Moreover, it is now clear that the boundaries distinguishing the Right and ultra-right have become very inconspicuous in Europe, as well as in Cyprus. In some countries they are in government together, elsewhere they vote together for the same anti-social policies and use the same rhetoric. Every day they look increasingly like each other.
For AKEL, the only real progressive response to today’s challenges is the struggle for another Europe. We never doubted that the idea of the unification of our continent into a common home where peoples, nations, languages, religions and cultures will coexist represents a step forward in history. The big question was and is what kind of Europe do we want and what interests it should serve. We reply very clearly that we want another Europe, a Europe that will serve its working people and peoples because realistically speaking, only a Europe of social equality, democracy, equal co-operation, open multicultural societies, only a Europe of the Peoples can fulfill this vision, and can give a perspective and offer hope, and can move history’s course forward.
In discussing the future of Europe, there aren’t only dilemmas about our continent’s long-term future and the burning question of what kind of Europe we want, for which there are evidently different answers. There are also serious questions raised about the challenges of the present and immediate future. Every political force in the country must give concrete answers to the current issues the EU has before it.
In particular, we have to provide an answer to the following questions:
Who shares the need for fundamental changes in the Treaties themselves in order to make it legally binding that social and labour rights in the EU legal order prevail over economic freedoms and the operation of markets? Who is ready and willing to clash with the powerful economic interests at a European and national level so that we can assert the effective protection of collective agreements and the right to trade union organization, the extension of maternity and paternity leave and paid parental leave?
How will we implement social policies and progressive reforms that will alleviate working people’s position, when the entire mechanism of the EU’s Economic Governance, the European Semester, the EMU and Banking Union, which are precisely those mechanisms that generate unemployment, inequality, poverty and inequality between member states and regions of the EU, remain intact and untouched? How will there be a more social Europe when the European Right according to Mr. Weber says it is the one which – although stating that he wants “more Europe” – strongly rejects the creation of a European fund to provide support for the unemployed, the safeguarding of a minimum wage and a European assurance of people’s deposits?
On environmental issues, which forces share the need for the EU to set much more ambitious and binding targets for reducing emissions, because otherwise Europe and humanity will lose forever the challenge of effectively addressing Climate Change? AKEL joins its voice with the environmental movement and millions of citizens across Europe demanding a bold policy to combat climate change outside the logic of the market; demanding a much more ambitious policy than the Paris Agreement. On the other hand, the EPP (along with governing DISY party) voted against – and fortunately were a minority – a relevant resolution in the European Parliament, while in a series of critical votes on environmental issues and animal welfare, they both took the side of big business interests.
How exactly do we envision Europe using and developing its rapid technological development, scientific research and knowledge, the achievements of the 4th Industrial Revolution? Here too, we have opposing views. For example, the EU budget voted by the ruling political forces specifies that over the next two years EUR 525 million will be allocated for the development of military drones and the integration of artificial intelligence into military technology, while the Left and other MEP’s, on the other hand, table proposals such as the funding of a European scientific program to exploit artificial intelligence in the combatting of childhood cancer.
How do we respond to the major challenges of immigration and the refugee issue – with the racism and xenophobia of the Right and far-right? We support a response based on solidarity. Solidarity with refugees and between member states. This means creating a permanent mechanism for accommodating all refugees across all member states according to the capabilities of each one. But it is the European People’s Party that is blocking this proposal, with the result that the southern Mediterranean states are taking on a disproportionate share of responsibility.
Finally, how do we respond to the danger of the far-right, which of course did not emerge out of nowhere, but was the product of an economic system and the political choices of its political representatives? One wonders, does one combat the Right and extreme right by adopting their own slogans and ideas?
We have witnessed over the past few months during the European elections, a new ideological shift by DISY towards conservatism and the far-right by cultivating suspicion and hostility towards our Turkish Cypriot compatriots. DISY refused to reply to an NGO questionnaire on the rights of LGBTI people. It adopted the outrageous anti-scientific positions of the extreme-right, such as opposition to compulsory vaccination of children. It adopted xenophobic rhetoric against immigrants. It did not understand fundamental principles of modern European culture such as the separation of Church-State and governs by fulfilling all the Archbishop’s requests.
All this has now been recorded in history and cannot be regarded as some vote-catching tactics, but instead as an integral part of DISY’s identity. On the contrary, for AKEL, and we believe for many of our other fellow citizens, with whom we may not agree with on everything, the far-right and fascist forces are combated with the waging of an unrelenting and uncompromising struggle at all levels, by waging struggles for solidarity and democracy, social progress and working people’s rights.
In conclusion, we stress that as the House of Representatives we must drastically upgrade the parliamentary scrutiny of executive power on European issues, as we have repeatedly pointed out in the relevant parliamentary committee. The government must consult, be accountable and be subjected to parliamentary control on the positions it expresses at the Council of the EU and European Council level. We need to make use of the experience of other national parliaments in the EU where the government briefs in advance of its positions in the EU institutions on all issues. Our hope is that today’s debate will continue, because Cypriot society must really be comprehensively informed and know about all that is decided, what is at stake and going on in Europe.
Intervention of Georgos Koukoumas, member of the C.C. of AKEL and the International Relations Department, at the Hearing “Palestine: What’s Next?” organized by GUE/NGL2015-07-1
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