Pierre Laurent: ‘Europe is an asset for Syriza, not an obstacle’

Pierre Laurent [Blandine Le Cain/Flickr]

The leader of the French Communist Party sees the success of Syriza as an opportunity to set the European project on a different path. He told EURACTIV France that he hopes to gain the support of Europe’s ecologist, socialist and far-left politicians. 

Pierre Laurent is the National Secretary of the French Communist Party (PCF) and the President of the Party of the European Left (PEL).

The radical left Syriza party won the recent Greek elections. What changes can Alexis Tsipras’ government bring to Europe?

Syriza’s rise to power is a real chance for Europe to finally reopen the debate on austerity and the forced march of deficit reduction, which has been deemed the only way to deal with the crises in Europe. This has had dramatic social consequences in several European countries, first and foremost in terms of unemployment. Finally there is a government at the Council table that can reopen the debate!

The Greek government’s first decision was to renegotiate the deal between Greece and its European creditors. Is the agreement between Alexis Tsipras and the eurozone finance ministers a step in the right direction?

The agreement they have signed is interesting on two counts. Firstly, because it marks the end of the Troika. It is a return to direct negotiation between an elected government and the European bodies, after five years of a Troika dictating the law. Political negotiation is back.

Secondly, this agreement does not signal the end of negotiations between Greece and Europe, but Syriza is still holding firm to the social measures it promised the electorate. Greece now has time to negotiate its positions.

We are emerging from a period where the Eurogroup’s leadership dictated its conditions to governments, with no room for discussion. This agreement was negotiated following a proposition by Varoufakis, so it is a point scored by the Greek government against all those that wanted to return to the status quo without any discussion.

Alexis Tsipras is now the only radical left wing leader in the European Council. Can he really bring about change on his own?

Obviously it is only one government among the 28, but I think he can, because the Greek government has very strong public support. Austerity is not one of the inviolable rules of Europe, but democracy is.

The strong political will of the Syriza government to make the voice of its people count is a very good argument. We should also remember that Greece’s descent into economic hell coincided with the European Commission’s decision to stop the former Prime Minister Georges Papandréou from consulting the Greek people.

I also believe that Syriza’s power in Europe reaches beyond national governments. There are many popular, social and unionist movements in Europe that make the same demands as Syriza, in Germany, Spain, Italy and Belgium. The people are standing up against austerity policies that go beyond the government’s remit.

Syriza is not only carrying the grievances of the Greeks, but the demands of all Europeans.

The forces of the radical left are growing in Europe. And the fact that Alexis Tsipras was our candidate for the European Commission Presidency at the last elections helped us to spread our ideas in several European countries.

Where can Syriza hope to find political support among its European partners?

There are new European supporters for this movement. Environmental movements from many European countries have come together on several questions. Several Socialist politicians, especially in France, have also expressed their solidarity with Syriza.

The Left Front and Europe Ecologie – The Greens, must form a coalition to lead alternative projects in Europe.

Can Syriza really change things in the European Union?

Some see Europe as an obstacle for Syriza, when in fact it is an asset, because the issues that brought the party to power affect all the people of Europe.

We can also see why certain European governments were worried about the arrival of the new Greek governments: they thought they might spread ideas to other Europeans!

What has to change about the economic governance of the European Union?

Europe’s current economic governance is no good at all. The status and the role of the European Central Bank needs to be completely overhauled. The continued ban on refinancing countries without going through the banking sector, the very same people that played a decisive role in the economic crisis, is absurd!

We can clearly see from the ECB’s recent decision to re-inject a huge amount of money into the European machine that they have identified the real problem, but failed to challenge the areas of economic governance that do not work.

Social organisations and trade unions also have no influence on the economic orientation of the Union. As a result, European governance is largely in the hands of the financial and banking authorities. One thing that absolutely has to change is the democratic deficit that is becoming one of the causes of the structural crisis across Europe.

How do you tackle this democratic deficit?

I would be in favour of allowing the European countries to choose not to participate in EU directives if their people declare their opposition in a referendum. The European Union must be founded on the support of the European people, not on the top-down structure we now see.

We could use this kind of consultation procedure to push for greater collaboration, whereas today it is the more powerful members that impose their will on the weaker ones.

We who have often been labelled as eurosceptic are now the only ones advancing the idea of a Europe of solidarity. I think Europe has a choice between finding a European response to the crisis, rooted in solidarity, and allowing Europe to be destroyed by the forces of ultra-nationalism or ultra-liberalism. 

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