Mr. Nikos Chountis is one of the oldest and most ardent members of the Left in Greece, currently serving as Deputy of SYRIZA-EKM in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. He kindly discussed with us the crisis in Eurozone, the future of the EMU, the deadlock of austerity politics, the European Elections of 2014, as well as the fight of the young Europeans that is necessary to bring changes in the Union.
1. Do you believe that under the current exceptional situation the European Union finds itself, the European Parliament is considered as an efficient representative organ of the European citizens clearly expressing their voice and concerns?
The crisis, currently affecting the whole of Europe, is a multifaceted crisis. It is not just a crisis of the economy, or of one sector of the economy, such as the banking or the public sector. The current crisis has to do with both the economy and the political superstructure, as well as, the modern european societies, the environment, the geopolitical sphere etc. In this sense, the European Union, as a whole, as a Union of different nations and supranational institutions, like the European Parliament, is crucially affected.
Today, in the European Union takes place an extreme, violent and antisocial attack on the European people, planed and implemented by the neoliberal forces, under the hegemony of the German government. Everyday we read in the press for new austerity measures taken by the European governments, that curb labor rights, in the name of “competitiveness”, privatize public corporations and public goods, in the name of “unfettered competition”, cut public spending for health, education, social welfare, infrastructure etc, in the name of “fiscal adjustment”. Additionally, we observe the unfolding of a slow but steady “totalitarianization” process of the EMU and EU frameworks, in the name of an inexistent “fiscal adjustment” which has, as an effect, the limitation of democracy at all levels – both national and European – and the establishment of austerity as the constant economic tool of EU.
Against this tide of economic and social “violence” imposed by the European governments and the EU, the European people react, struggle against austerity and require their dignity back. Unfortunately, the rulers of the EU do not hear the voices of the European people. Neither the European Parliament, since the neoliberal alliance of Conservatives, Liberals, Social-Democrats and Greens, has served as the best ally of Ms. Merkel and Mr. Schäuble’s plans, as, for example, happened in the voting for Economic Governance.
2. There is a growing debate inside the European Union regarding democracy, especially with reference to austerity policies and the increasing phenomena of racism. What is your opinion on these major issues?
The implementation of austerity measures in Greece has led 22% of the population below the poverty line, 26% of the active population to unemployment, with more than half of them being young people, while the cumulative decline of GDP, since 2008, is now estimated at 21.8%. This is a total economic and social disaster that takes place with blessings of the EU, the IMF and the Greek oligarchy.
Such an unprecedented disaster of a european country, could not be achieved without the circumvention of fundamental democratic rights and processes, even of the Greek Constitution. All the Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) that accompany the aid packages to the Greek economy, have been approved via “parliamentary coups”, while at the same time the demonstrations of the Greek people against the austerity measures have been supressed by the violence and tear gasses of the police.
With democracy and its institutions under seize, but also with millions of greek citizens striken by the economic crisis, the far-right and fascist movements find a fertile ground. If the European Union and the european governament are really worried about the proliferation of the racist phenomena, they should take into account seriously the consequences of the implemented austerity policies, unless racism, xenophobia and right-wing violence are part of the dominant neoliberal response to the economic crisis.
3. Has GUE/NGL developed an alternative program in order to combat austerity politics in European level or should we consider austerity as the one and only political roadmap?
GUE/NGL brings together MEPs from Left parties, which are fighting against the austerity policy and for the reestablishment of Europe. For a Europe of solidarity, of social justice and of socialism. Therefore, GUE/NGL opposes the logic of neoliberal one-way road of the dominant economic and political elite. Inside the European Parliament, it struggles to halt the policy that loads the burden of the crisis on workers and youth.
The alternative proposal is based on the denial of the memoranda and the implementation of a development program that will address the unemployment and poverty, the breakdown of social and labor rights, the environmental protection, the commercialization of social goods, the destruction of the environment, for peace and democracy.
4. Why do you believe we do not have deeper political integration in the European Union?
In my opinion, the European Union is being integrated deeper and deeper, though in a neoliberal, undemocratic and antisocial direction. The “unifying base” of this integration is the failed and unjust neoliberal model of economic development, under the hegemony of the German Government, which limits labor rights, strengthens the powers of capital and dehydrates the democratic processes at both, national and European level. Therefore, for the Left, there is a growing concern for the fact that the EU is moving away from the fundamental democratic principles and the tradition of the “social contract”, despite any delay in the realization of the political project of European federalization.
5. The European Union is spending unlimited funds for the purposes of its Neighboring Policy. Should this policy be reconsidered as far as we cannot even have a mutual agreement on how to allocate and gather the necessary funds for the member-states?
The European Union, as a supranational institution, has the duty to defend, by its acts, the values of humanism and peace. To support, for example, peoples and countries that are being torn by food and humanitarian crises and wars, not only in its neighborhood, but also around the world. This need, however, must not cover particular imperialist interests that are served through the assistance to the third countries.
6. What is your opinion upon Dublin II Regulation and the restrictions it creates to migrant flows inside the European Union?
The European Union needs a new progressive immigration policy in contrast to the Dublin II Regulation, which has to change radically. Unfortunately, the ongoing debates show the exact opposite. The EU leadership and the majority of governments are dealing with the migratory flows towards Europe, with the neoliberal logic. At the same time, they do not take up any international initiatives that could possibly reduce any new outbreaks of immigration flows and tensions in the near region.
7. Greece is consistently spending much on defense budget. Is there any actual threat the country has to be protected from?
For many years, Greece has been spending huge amounts on armament programs, ranking it first in the rankings of NATO and European Union, as a percentage of GDP. This fact is mainly justified by the attitude of the neighboring country of Turkey, especially after the military invasion and the occupation of northern Cyprus. Nevertheless, this is not the way to justify these expenses, which have significantly contributed to the current, extremely high, level of government debt. The inflation of the armament programs cost comes as a result of the overall NATO requirements and the so-called “diplomacy of armaments”, as many military purchases were made in order to ensure the political support of Germany, France and others. Our suggestion is to achieve a large decrease of military expenditure, since it does not ensure the actual defense needs. At the same time, we politically promote the mutual reduction of military expenditure in Greece and Turkey and the subsequent transfer of these funds to social policy programs.
8. Do you believe that Eurozone will survive?
What I can say is that the structural errors and the functioning mode of the EMU are being exacerbated by the ongoing neoliberal policies that expand regional and social inequalities inside the Eurozone. The global economic crisis has a particular ferocity, intensity and depth in Europe, and as a result it brings forward your question in the daily agenda.
9. Is there any way to address European Youth and make them get involved in European Affairs? What is the vision you could personally give them?
The austerity policies implemented in the European Union alienate the european people from the political and democratic processes. The same happens, maybe to a greater extent, with young people, who face huge social problems, such as unemployment especially for those who live in the countries of European South.
Young people in Europe are no longer envisage any sustainable future life. Even the well-advertized EU-programs, such as the Youth Guarantee, that combat youth unemployment, are a mere farce, since their budget is only 6 billion for the 2014-2020 period. Furthermore, even these EU financed programs, will create jobs without ant substantial insurance or any other labor rights, as they re-inforce the so-called “flexicurity”.
European youth must respond and fight against the neoliberal regime. They must be coordinated in order to ward off further attacks from the austerity programs and the new structure of the EMU and the Euro. They have to fight for a new political direction for Europe, for a new Europe of the people, of solidarity and peace.
10. What you consider as the most important topics that European Elections 2014 should focus on?
There are two issues of high importance that will have to be discussed on the way to the European elections in 2014. The first has to do with the austerity policies implemented by the EU countries, under the guidance and hegemony of Germany. The second important issue is the very course of the EU and EMU, in particular. That is, to what extent the structures and processes of the EU, by imposing extreme austerity programs and limiting the scope and power of democratic institutions and labor rights, keep up with the will of the majority of European citizens, who are seeking for a new European direction, towards solidarity, development and cooperation. I believe that in the forthcoming elections, the forces of neoliberalism, the forces of austerity, unemployment and poverty, the forces that patronize the extreme-right and fascism in Greece and elsewhere, will receive a powerful message from the peoples of Europe.Dimitris Rapidis