Right wing austerity policies are the problem

At the weekend, I spoke at a meeting in Nottingham organised by Compass, the ideas and action based pressure group.

The Report they published towards the end of last year, advocating a far more radical approach to our present economic difficulties, is rightly attracting attention.

There is no doubt that the Compass “Plan B” is an important response to the economic crisis here in Britain, a vital alternative to the harsh, yet ineffectual, austerity remedies of the Tory-led government.

But let’s not forget that we are not alone in this crisis.  The fact is that recession, (near or actual), growing unemployment (particularly amongst the young), and nil or negligible growth are the harsh realities acrossEurope.

And the statistics elsewhere on the continent are often far worse than we have here inBritain.  InIreland, unemployment is up to 14%, and VAT up to 23%.  InSpain, almost 1 in 4 people are unemployed, while for young people it’s 1 in 2.

And inGreece, in addition to massive unemployment figures, there has been enforced mass privatisation, a 22% cut in the minimum wage for the over 25s, with some 150,000 public employees due to lose their jobs by 2015.

The crisis, and the responses  – in whatever country – show a sad familiarity.   Austerity policies seem to be the only game in town – whether in Nottingham, Nicosia, Naplesor Nantes

But it’s not just individual countries which are making these kinds of decisions; the European Union too is following a similar line of austerity with a whole number of disturbing changes actually being written into the fabric of the European Union.

Take, for example, what is called the Euro Plus Pact.  This is the updated and “reformed” Stability and Growth Pact.

It’s not just requirement of an “adherence to stringent fiscal rules”.  It also calls for a commitment to the deregulation of industry, despite the fact that it was an unregulated, uncontrolled financial sector which caused the mess in the first place.  It calls for the abolition of wage indexes, which protect certain employees pay packets against the adverse effects of inflation.  And it calls for the promotion of what’s called a “flexicurity model” of employment– which while ostensibly lowering jobless figures, actually leaves a lot of people in fairly unstable circumstances.

But how is this actually going to help?   At a time when tax take is down because fewer people are in work, how come we take measures which virtually guarantee even higher unemployment?

Of course we all know what’s going on here.  Behind what are described as “necessary” and “unavoidable” cuts to public expenditure, there is a right wing ideology, committed to a smaller state, with fewer rights for working people.

And the right aren’t even trying to hide the fact!   Martin Callanan, leader of the Tories’ new fringe grouping in the European Parliament, has actually said that  – with these new EU measures –  socialism will be illegal!

It’s not rocket science.  The right and centre right are in power across Europe and right wing decision-makers make conservative and reactionary policies, reflecting ideologies which have failed so often before.

For the last couple of years Europehas been presented as the problem.  But it’s not Europeitself that is the problem.  It is reactionary austerity policies being pushed through by right wing politicians across Europe.

Europe is not the problem, but in this globalised world Europe must be part of the solution.    And while many of the ideas put forward in opposition to the present austerity plans could, of course, be addressed at national level, they would require action at European level to be truly effective.

Indeed, whether it’s reform of the banking sector, the financial transaction tax, or investing in the green economy, EU legislation will be essential for such reforms to be successful.

We hear so many voices who want to take us back to a state of isolation – and not just from the eurosceptic right – but how can that be the way forward?

So let’s not turn our back on Europe.    Let’s make sure that we reform it in a way that improves the lives of working families and gives hope to our young people.

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