Two weeks passed since the German leftist movement “Aufstehen” was officially formed – and according to their own account, it already has more than 140,000 supporters. EURACTIV Germany spoke to Fabio De Masi, deputy chairman of Die Linke in the German Bundestag about the European ambitions of the movement.
Fabio De Masi is the financial policy spokesman and deputy chairman of Die Linke in the German Bundestag. Between 2014-2017, he was a Member of the European Parliament.
Mr De Masi, what was your personal motivation for becoming part of “Aufstehen”?
Politics has destroyed social cohesion in Germany, the country has been brutalised. There is, however, a broad majority in the population in favour of a social and peaceful policy as well as the protection of the environment – but not in the German Bundestag.
The SPD is clinically dead and the Greens have become a rescue boat for Chancellor Merkel. But alone, Die LINKE is too weak and without power options. That takes hope from the people. This is why the AfD can dictate the agenda – despite the fact that the party wants to cut wages and pensions and split the country.
Why do you think that is?
We have set the priorities wrong and we lack the power option. Many people are against temporary work, temporary contracts, poverty pensions, arms exports and for tax justice. But they no longer trust the traditional parties to handle these things. The discussions of the last few months revolved around refugees, and not enough around the social problems. That was a present for the AfD.
Do you therefore want to target disappointed voters, who are currently mainly siding with the AfD?
The majority of our 140.000 supporters do not belong to any party. After that, most of them are in Die LINKE, the SPD and the Greens. Of course, we also want to win over people for social policy which are disappointed and with that weaken the AfD.
The startling news regarding the events in Chemnitz was not that there were hooligans and nazis marching on the streets. The shocking truth was that normal citizens were marching alongside them.
Of course, decent people have to stand up against right-wing hate preachers, but without decent politics the far right will be stronger.
However, you do not have the whole support of your party. Last weekend, the party executive has spoken out against the “Aufstehen” movement.
According to polls, Die LINKE has gained in strength due to the debate about “Aufstehen”, the AfD lost approval, and a majority of our voters supports the project. 140.000 people already decided that “Aufstehen” is wanted.
With an eye on the next general election, it would be a chance for Die LINKE to reinvent itself and maybe become a new home for those people – in case the SPD and the Greens do not change themselves. Even a candidate nomination for German Chancellor would be imaginable. This is the chance to win majorities again. But change hurts, too.
The party leadership fears it will be overrun. But I fear for democracy if we do not act.
If you want to appeal to voters who do not find their opinions in the political mainstream – wouldn’t that also mean to include a clearly Eurosceptic position? How do you feel as a former MEP about that?
I think the discussion, whether one is for or against the EU, is wrong. I am a convinced European, but I reject a European Union that is only taking care of the interest of big companies.
The EU’s internal market has the same genetic code as the TTIP agreement protecting companies’ rights: for example when it comes to the awarding of public contracts to the cheapest provider. In the areas such as taxation policy, I am for more European cooperation.
But I also know that without pressure, countries like Luxembourg or Malta will never agree to a minimum tax for companies – what is also excluded by the EU treaties. Therefore, at the national level, I have to take measures such as withholding taxes or punitive taxes on financial flows in tax havens.
What we do not want to do is leave the criticism of the EU to the far right. We do not want a German Europe, but a European Germany.
How can you achieve a European Germany in which you slide away from a liberal economic policy and simultaneously avoid more regulation by the EU?
Above all, we need to strengthen the domestic economy in Germany. The German economic policy of wage dumping is nationalistic. Accumulating export surpluses, as we do, means exporting unemployment.
Germany benefits from the undervalued euro. If we still had the D-mark, we would have to massively appreciate and our export surpluses would be gone. The liberal elites say they stand for an open Europe. But they mean a German Europe.
It makes a difference if I send an Amazon package from Frankfurt to Rome or a Roman to Frankfurt, who would lose his job. People are not Amazon packages. Of course, I want European cooperation. But the EU should be a shelter against the unleashed globalisation, not an accelerator of it.
“Aufstehen” is not the first European movement that opposes the traditional left- right spectrum. In France, Macron’s “En Marche” claims the same. Is this an orientation mark for your movement?
No, because we represent left-wing demands. We only think that many people no longer know what is left, because when they hear social democracy, they now think pay cuts and pension cuts and no longer know how to sufficiently connect social parties with social security.
Therefore, our role models are Sanders in the US, Corbyn in the UK or Mélenchon in France.
So you see no common points with “En Marche”?
I am sceptical of En Marche. Macron, who is a former investment banker, tries to give himself the image of a European innovator. But when it came to the introduction of a European financial transaction tax, it was him who blocked it – because the French banks have many financial papers on their balance sheets.
In addition, Macron has massively weakened the right to strike in France. He wants an Agenda 2010 like in Germany and some cash from Berlin. That is what made the far right so strong. Salvini and Co. did not fall out of the sky.
When it comes to asylum policy: How is the position of “Aufstehen”, especially at European level?
Our position is very clear: For us, asylum is a fundamental right. We want to fight the causes of flight, but also help on the ground. The majority of the 65 million refugees have no prospects in Europe. Many are internally displaced persons or live in neighbouring states. What about the starving children in Yemen? They cannot make it to Germany.
If you say that not everyone should be included, you are limiting yourself to the views of your party. The left speaks of open borders.
The argument is about for whom exactly. But “open borders for all” is a phantom debate for me. No European Left Party demands this, Sanders or Corbyn have the same position as us. It is not humane when all people are forced to come to Europe to have a perspective.
We also say €1,050 for people in need – not for all. If we no longer differentiate according to need, we cannot finance it. And no other EU country would join in, because as a result from the freedom of movement in the EU, this would mean social claims for every person in the world in France or Sweden.
Such debates for the front pages have nothing to do with reality, they only weaken the fight for asylum rights. But there are different opinions on the left. That is not the topic for “Aufstehen”. We finally have to change the playing field.
So welcome Horst Seehofer’s immigration law?
I am in favour of an integration law. Of course, people from third countries must also be able to live and work in Germany. You have to regulate that. What we need to avoid is a brain drain from economically weaker countries, we must not headhunt the skilled workers.