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01/10/2016

Inability to unite on major challenges may pull the EU apart, say politicians

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Inability to unite on major challenges may pull the EU apart, say politicians

The French Socialist Party held its summer university in La Rochelle from 28 to 30 August.

[Parti socialiste/Flickr]

French Socialist Party leaders have warned that the multitude of crises currently buffeting the European Union could deal a death blow to the European project. EurActiv France reports

The economic crisis, the Greek crisis and the refugee crisis are subjects of grave concern for the French Socialists.

“This is a time when the European construction could actually disappear,” the MEP Pervenche Bérès warned at the French Socialist Party’s summer university in La Rochelle last week.

Between the economic crisis that has rumbled on since 2008, the threat of a “Grexit” earlier in the summer, security concerns and the rise of terrorism and now the humanitarian crisis unfolding on Europe’s borders with the arrival of so many refugees, there is no shortage of reasons to be worried. The political unity of Europe is at stake.

For Guillaume Bachelay, a French Socialist MP, “the risk is that generations to come will have to suffer the deconstruction of the European project”.

Refusing to let the EU crumble

The Greek crisis is an open wound. For many, the fact that high ranking politicians in countries like Germany had called for Greece’s eviction from the eurozone caused damage to the Union that is not easily repaired.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the socialist camp has nothing but praise for French President, François Hollande, whose unwavering support for Greece certainly helped them avoid this fate.

“If France succeeded in playing this role, it was not in the name of a currency or the interests of the Greeks, Europe, or France. It was in the name of a political idea. When Europe moves forward, there is no way back. We refused to let the EU crumble,” said Michel Sapin, the French finance minister and a close ally of François Hollande.

>> Read: Pro-Syriza Socialists criticise French government’s cautious stance

But the lack of solidarity on other areas is a worrying sign. Greece was one example; the refugee crisis is another. Germany’s recent announcement that it will host 800,000 migrants, equal to 1% of its population, throws the policies being enacted in other countries, like Slovakia’s decision to accept only Christian migrants, and the closing of the Hungarian and Czech borders to all migrants, into stark contrast.

High level conference on refugees

The French Socialists are highly unsatisfied with the lack of a European policy on the pressing question of how to deal with the refugees from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. “Europe must assume its responsibilities, we need clear rules,” said Philip Cordery, the MP representing French citizens in Benelux.

He denounced “the European Union’s inability to come up with a unified response to a major challenge”, and joined Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, the first secretary of the PS, in calling for a “high level” European conference on the subject.

Benoît Hamon, a left wing PS member and a former education minister under François Hollande, said, “On the question of refugees, the European Union stands out for the worst possible reasons. The PS must push the government to take the initiative. We should be doing a hundred times better for the refugees.”

No to TTIP

No debate on Europe would be complete without a mention of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), currently being negotiated between the European Commission and the United States. And it should go without saying that the tone of the socialist gathering at La Rochelle was strongly anti-TTIP.

The treaty is perceived as a triumph of ultra-liberalism, which has very little support within the PS. Of the treaty’s detractors, Benoît Hamon was among the most zealous. “This free trade treaty is a tool to counter European integration,” he said. “With the European Union in its current state, a continent lacking in solidarity, can we afford to build a transatlantic partnership that will further weaken European economic exchange?”

Benoît Hamon also raised doubts about the EU’s economic growth surplus, used by the Commission to justify the negotiations. Michel Sapin chose not to focus on the subject, but instead passed the buck to the European Commission, which is in charge of the negotiations.

While the French Socialist Party has long been split over Europe, particularly during the campaign for the 2005 referendum on the European Constitution, a consensus now appears to be re-emerging over what the EU’s problems are and how to fix them. 

Positions

Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has blasted the French Socialists for backtracking on their own political ideas.

In an interview for AFP published yesterday (31 August), he said he agreed with former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis that Germany's intransigence against Athens was aimed at striking fear in Paris and convincing the French government to continue austerity policies.

"The centre-left government in France has not been able to stand up against Germany" on its budget policy, eurozone policy, or on the response to the Greek crisis, said Stiglitz, a former World Bank chief economist and advisor to US president Bill Clinton.

Regarding the EU, he criticised Brussels for focusing on nominal deficits of member states rather than those adjusted for the economic cycle, as well as the policy response.

"Cutting taxes and expenditures contracts the economy, just the opposite to what you need," said Stiglitz.

"I do not understand why Europe is now trying that after all the evidence, all the theory says it does not work," he added.

He said the "totally discredited" policy now only has support in Germany and a few people in France.

Stiglitz, who is in France to promote the translation of his latest book, "The Great Divide", said the "centre-left has lost confidence in its progressive agenda".

Background

The French Socialist Party's 2015 summer university took place in La Rochelle from 28 to 30 August, against a backdrop of tension and disputes between rival factions within the party. The minister of the economy, Emmanuel Macron, for example, chose to re-open the debate on working hours with industry bosses, while the Prime Minister, Manuel Valls tried to reassure unionists that the debate was closed. Questions were also raised over the role of the Greens after a fundamental disagreement caused two MPs to leave the party.

Further Reading