by Alessio Arena
“I hope that the Russian danger will increase to such an extent that Europe will have to resolve to become threatening and, by means of a new caste reigning over it, to forge a single will, a will of its own, a terrible and lasting will, capable of imposing itself for millennia; Europe would thus finally put an end to the comedy, which has lasted far too long, of its division into small States and its divergent, dynastic or democratic ambitions. The time of small politics has passed: the next century will already bring the struggle for universal domination – the imperative of a great policy“. This excerpt from Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil makes a good measure of what is happening in the European Union.
Obviously, Russia is not the danger today and Conte explained it well in one of the many declarations that marked the interminable meeting of the European Council: the point is to allow the EU to “compete with the United States and China”. In other words, the point is to make a qualitative leap forward in the construction of the European superpower. What Nietzsche called “the imperative of a great policy” is fulfilled and, in a refined interpretation of the dialectical interaction between economic and political relations, this is done using the levers of the economy. The health emergency, detonating a latent economic crisis that was felt to be coming for a long time and that presents the essential features of the one that exploded in 2008, offered a very timely emergency coverage: the imminent threat that actually looms over the European economies, in particular the Italian one, justifies a drastic leap forward. If in February the EU executive institutions had difficulties in getting the Member States to approve a 2021-2027 multi-year budget equal to 1.05% of the Union’s GDP (it was then that the public of the Old Continent heard about the so-called “frugal axis”), today the European Council is launching a dizzying increase in resources, almost a doubling, laying the foundations for an unprecedented fiscal autonomy of the EU.
In these days of negotiations, Conte was very clear about one thing in particular: the Italian position consisted primarily of a strenuous defence of the prerogatives of the EU institutions in relation to national governments. Against the intergovernmental vision defended by Rutte’s Netherlands and the other self-styled “frugal” countries, that of Italy and the axis of which our government took the front line (which not surprisingly included Germany) emphasized the full recognition of the centrality of the European Commission, which emerged as the real, great winner of the negotiations.
Exactly one year ago, when the vote of the European Parliament sanctioned the investiture of Ursula von der Leyen as President of the Commission, we denounced how the assumption of the leadership of the EU executive by Germany, in the person of a former member of Angela Merkel‘s government who is also an unambiguous expression of the physiognomy and ambitions of the German ruling classes, was a prelude to a qualitative leap forward in the “European construction” governed and directed by the leadership of German imperialism. Today there is a plastic representation of this.
Recognising what is happening is an indispensable step towards opening up new fronts of struggle. The EU is not, contrary to what many believe, an economicist project that is having difficulty entering the political dimension. Rather, it is an eminently political project – the “great policy” evoked by Nietzsche – which starts from the economic structure to invest all the superstructures and looks far ahead strategically. Certainly it is not about politics as we think it is because, in the absence of an organized political dimension of class conflict, politics becomes a very vertical matter and exclusively the prerogative of the dominant classes and the more organic blocs they express. In order to be realised, the project must dialectically overcome a number of contradictions at all levels, but this is part of the historical dialectic, which is not only valid when we are the ones who act on it. This is exactly what has happened in recent days in Bruxelles.
The sooner we acknowledge the essentially political nature of the ultra-imperialist “European construction”, the sooner we stop living with mystical expectations about the spontaneous collapse of the EU and the Euro. In recent months, after the German Constitutional Court’s ruling on the legitimacy of the ECB’s Quantitative Easing programme, there has been much speculation among left-wing sovereignists about the possibility that Germany might somehow withdraw from its positions within the EU or the Eurozone. In essence, there are those who expect this monstrous enemy that we have so far been unable to counter, to go away on its own. Let us hope that the agreement reached today in Bruxelles will overcome that speculation, just as we hope that it will, once again, clearly deny the idea – propagated we do not know how much in bona fide even by ‘progressive’ economists like Stiglitz – that the economic construction of the EU has been marked by arbitrariness and error.
The European Union is a human construction, so the error can always be contemplated. But it is time to recognize once and for all how the eminently political design behind all the founding steps of the ultra-imperialist project has some coherent guidelines that correspond to what we can call “long thoughts” in gramscian terms. To curb the States’ political autonomy through the levers of the economy, to reconfigure the continental value chains so that the sovereignty progressively lacks an effective material basis in economic relations, to use the leverage of fiscal and wage dumping generated by the principle of the free movement of capital and people to deal a fatal blow to the ability of nations to make autonomous decisions about their own destiny: all these are just as many passages of a very precise “single, terrible and lasting will”.
For German imperialism, all this constitutes the only possible solution to the secular theme of the “living space”, whose denial has stifled its expansive ambitions since the proclamation of the Bismarckian Reich. In spite of the workshop mentality that the productive classes of Bavaria or the Rhineland may have, the German ruling classes have always cultivated an expansive and imperial vision of their place in the world; they will never withdraw from their function as the engine of the EU, because European construction is the possible space for the realization of that ambition. To borrow the words used by the former Finance Minister and current Bundestag President, Wolfgang Schäube, in an article entitled “Politics is the lesson of the possible” which appeared on 7 April 2015 in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: “We Germans make European politics, not German politics”.
The negotiations concluded today in Bruxelles were, in this respect, exemplary. It revealed a contradiction between two visions of the EU that was not the subject of compromise but of dialectical overcoming: the concessions to the position of the so-called “frugals” did not affect, but rather strengthened the political core consisting of the exponential growth of the multi-annual budget, the emergence of an autonomous fiscal profile of the Union and the unprecedented strengthening of the role of the Commission. In this passage, the proposal to link the disbursement of funds to ‘respect for the rule of law’ has even allowed Germany to force the Visegrád countries, which in general represent a major line of interference by the United States in an attempt to influence, delay or prevent the forging of the European ‘single will’.
But above all, and this is the element to underline more than any other, the agreement reached today makes it possible to bind all twenty-seven member countries to the realization of a plan of reconfiguration of the economic structure that looks ahead in time over the decades and that not only aligns all contractors on an ordoliberal perspective but, through the constraint of conditional disbursement to reforms and the underwriting of long-term debts of the States with the same EU, guarantees the mobilization in that direction also of the resources collected autonomously by the individual countries and therefore the mobilization in a strategic key of the immense European economic potential.
The Conte government, which in recent days has been the first line of attack by ultra-Europeanism in Bruxelles, is now proclaiming its victory. And indeed, if we assume that the aim of the government and the ruling classes in Italy was to chain us to a strategic vision of “European construction” that declines ordoliberalism according to the demands of the birth of an imperialist superpower of continental size and new type, Conte has really won. And he also won in the search for an economic justification for the strategic option exercised, because the response to the crisis triggered by the coronavirus will really require the investment of huge resources that Italy alone could have achieved only in part and at a very hard price. We cannot rule out the possibility that, in the short term, this will also have a positive impact on the electoral consensus of the government forces, especially in view of the fact that the arguments in favour of the recourse to the ESM are becoming very weak, with all the symbolic charge that this entails. Certainly, the rift that has intervened in the right-wing camp between Forza Italia, which, beyond the formal declarations, confirms its pro-European choice and, in fact, is a candidate to act as a crutch to the current parliamentary equilibrium, Fratelli d’Italia, which, in substance, assumes a sort of intermediate position so as not to definitively antagonize any strong power, and the League, isolated by the roughness of its proposal and by the inconfessable character of its motives, contributes to keep open to this majority the prospect of holding on until the end of the legislature. What is most important, however, is that even at this historical crossroads Italy has taken a direction that is almost impossible to reverse, in the context of European integration, which no pro-US government to come will have the concrete possibility of deviating from.
For those like us who pursue the political independence of the working classes and work to give them the prospect of a struggle for power, the defeat that lies ahead is very heavy. The new wave of ordoliberal reforms that will hit the country in the coming years and that will impact in favour of the ruling classes on all aspects of the country’s life, will make the labour force fall further back, in Italy as in the whole EU. The existential condition of all of us will continue to change, and in an accelerated manner, in the direction of total submission to the paradigm of social subordination and precariousness. The geographical areas penalized by the process of European integration, including our southern Italy and the islands, will sink more and more into their hell of social desertification and subjugation, while the Central European “metropolis” that drives the economy of ultra-imperialist Europe will continue to give birth to new forms of social exclusion and exploitation. The hegemonic ambitions represented by the EU are weighing more and more heavily on our future.
Of course, there is still the possibility that the agreement reached today may hit a snag in the ratification process by the Member States: a surviving dimension of political antagonism on the part of the popular masses against the disappearance of democracy among the watertight compartments of the EU oligarchy. This is, however, a remote possibility, which, among other things, would favour a delay in the disbursement of resources, the short-term social consequences of which, however harsh for the grassroots classes, would almost certainly be capitalised on in terms of consensus by the extreme right and conducted on a dead end.
What we need to do, therefore, is to measure the extent of what is happening and, patiently, to set about building an alternative. Denouncing the characteristics of the path on which our country once more is being pushed, is not enough: the definition of a clear strategy to include the Italian class left in an organic project of opposition, structured on a continental basis, to the ordoliberal project can no longer be postponed. If we are not able to take this step, there will be no prospect of a resumption of social conflict in the dimension and with the necessary characteristics to question the European cage.