The nationalistic anti-EU drift of the Italian radical left

By | 14th July 2015
A few days ago I wrote on Yanis Varoufakis’ take on the disciplinarian view according to which the European Union should be based on shared rules before and rather than common institutions.
There is a different view, however, which is starting to emerge within the left – at least in the left opposing Italy’s Democratic Party, which is not a socialist or a social democratic party, although being the largest one in the socialist group in the European Parliament and being a member of the Party of European Socialists. Indeed, the current Italian prime minister and Democratic Party leader, Matteo Renzi, wouldn’t be a member of any socialist or social democratic party under the old Italian party system in the so-called First Republic, as he would probably rather be a leftist Christian democrat.
Recently, the leftist opposition to the ruling Democratic Party has a bit grown, or, at least, has started to organize itself. It is roughly composed of:
As in one of the oldest traditions of the left, of course, these people and organizations will likely disagree on a number of points. However, a view seems to be emerging, and such view is well summarized by a speech Stefano Fassina (IMF economist from 2000 to 2005, economic counsellor of the centre-left governments between 1996 and 2000 and, from 2009 until 2013, of Pierluigi Bersani, the then secretary of the Democratic Party) gave less than a couple a weeks ago in Rome in a meeting with other leftist opponents of Matteo Renzi. He talked, indeed, of «depletion of national democracies and of the associated failure of the pact between capital and labour» and asked a few questions, among which:
Are societies, democracies and economies of the substantally marginalised 99% our destiny? Or does it make political sense to re-establish middle-class national democracies?
(…) Does entrusting the reconstruction of democratic sovereignty to the European dimension, and, in particular, to the eurozone, stop or aggravate the depletion of national democracies and the retreat of welfare society?
These questions have been shelved for so long. The European socialist family, for at least three decades, has avoided them.
More revealing is what follows, most of all are the sentences in bold (it is a long quote!):

Over the past three decades, we ambitiously aimed to revive a Europe-wide democratic sovereignty lost at a national scale. It was a noble attempt. But today the dramatic Greek story confirms, as a last example, that it has not worked. In the cage of liberal mercantilism of the European Treaties and of the euro, we have aggravated the effects of de-regulated globalization, rather than mitigated them as naïvely hoped. We have contributed, often unaware of it – even worse – to create a liberal European constitution in radical contradiction with our Constitution and with the constitutions born out of the liberation of Europe from fascism. We have followed the European Titanic along the unsustainable route of labour devaluation. As convinced pro-Europeans we must recognize: the euro, initially wanted to Mitterand and Kohl to harness unified Germany, has proven itself to be a counter-productive choice. Instead of integrating, it distanced and put in contrast the peoples of Europe. It has undermined the pro-Europeanism of the Fathers of United Europe. We can not go on praising the Europe that should be and the need for the “United States of Europe”, despite our delusion for the nationalist choices of governments and the growing divergence among national public opinions. The Five Presidents’ report for further financial, budget and political integration is worrying. Democratic legitimacy is missing. It means the transfer of national sovereignty to the stronger.

So, we get to the first big question: can a radical change of route in  political and economic culture, in the Treaties and the European agenda prevent the sinking of the single currency and the regression of national democracies? Who calls for the exit from the eurozone as a saving, one-sided, simple shortcut, is mostly in the opposite political field and underestimates the extent of the problem. But we must not close our eyes to the reality of economic, political and media power relations in defense of a single currency which is a factor of depreciation of democracy and labour.

This seems a leap forward (or back) if compared to the traditional anti-EUcriticism of the radical left, which usually advocates change in direction of a “social Europe”. This is different. These words somehow show the way in the direction of a new nationalism – allegedly pro-working and middle classes, progressive, but still a form of nationalism, which, from at least a liberal point of view, is actually not progressive at all. Still, I must concede to Fassina that in the European Union shift of political power is almost impossible. He said:

For a mercantilistic eurozone, alternative governance is not possible. Democracy becomes an empty ritual aimed to give a semblance of legitimacy to decisions made by others and to vent talk shows frustrated and angry viewers. Political subjectivity of labor, an essential condition for the progressive change, is impossible. Trasformismo is inevitable. There can be only one ruling party: in the widespread form in Europe of a permanent grand coalition between conservatives ahead and socialists following them.

This is true. It is almost impossible challenging the political and party forces who hold power in Europe because of its institutional framework and because of the intergovernmental model. In Britain, there can be a Labour or a Tory government. In France a socialist or a conservative president. In Greece, there can be a centre-right-led cabinet, a socialist one or even a radical left one. Instead, power is not oper for contention in the EU. However, in reply to such situation, Fassina seems open to going back to national democracies. This would be a non-progressive answer to the current crisis. He claims that there is only one possible economic governance of the EU and of the Eurozone, that these political spaces are dominated by national interests and, therefore, options on the table are either constitutional change or withdrawal from Europe – with some preference between the lines for the second option, it seems.
Thinking that on the national field it would be easier to challenge the nationalist right might be a bit naïve. Nationalist and far-right forces would maybe have the chance to become more and more popular – and powerful – if the anti-European tide is seconded. If the radical left becomes intrinsically anti-European rather than accidentally as it was, in many cases, before the current crisis, well, the only viable allies for pro-European antinationalist liberals remain those within the borders of what Fassina himself called the European grand coalition – and I am not sure it would be a good thing.

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