Intuitively, one would assume a social citizen's Europe to be one where the citizens come first – not the market or the financial system – a Europe that guarantees effective access to the commons, to wealth, and rights, a Europe with real democracy, and not the authoritarian and anti-democratic governance of the so-called troika consisting of IMF, European Central Bank, and European Council.
Such a Europe would be the exact opposite of the European democracy we are currently witnessing during the debt crisis, that is, a Europe in which the troika rules supreme. Its rule is, moreover, backed and exacerbated by the financialisation of the economy, a process that dominates today’s economic and social manifestations of capitalism.
The crisis: a device for domination, spoliation, precarisation
The current crisis is not a crisis of confidence, nor is it purely financial in character (as it is a sovereign debt crisis that will ultimately result in the socialisation of the financial losses). The current crisis is, above all, a device for domination, spoliation, and precarisation.
What we witness today is the depredation and expropriation of common goods, of wealth, and of rights. The capitalistic process of accumulation is dispossessing the people, and it is depriving them of their social rights – rights that had been fought for and won since the end of WWII. The result is material and existential insecurity.
How does this redistribution and expropriation work? Basically, the financial losses are being recouped in three ways: The first is economic, that is, a redistribution of losses from the financial system to the states and their citizens; the second is social, as assets are being taken away from the bottom of society and channelled to the upper and middle classes; and the third is territorial, that is, a shift in wealth and power from Europe’s periphery to the creditor countries in central Europe.
The troika's policies are thus a frontal assault on Europe’s citizens, as they undermine the foundations of the European welfare state – of education, healthcare, and social services. Today, we are living through the greatest social regression since WWII.
Loss of sovereignty and decline of democracy
However, we are witnessing not only a systemic financial and banking crisis – one that has been transformed into a public debt crisis with specific consequences in different countries – but also a crisis of European governance that has changed power relations and led to a loss of national sovereignty (see for example, regarding Spain, the Memorandum of Understanding ), and a decline of democracy. This crisis is a crisis of politics, as it affects representation – and thus one of the foundations of the modern nation state.
This is what protest movements address, for example the Spanish 15-M movement with its slogan "nobody represents us!" or the Occupy movement in the US with the slogan “this is how democracy looks like!”
Once the context, the power relations, strategies, and methods have been analysed, we are able to set out on a common process towards a social citizen's Europe.
Here, I am not going to focus on the movements or civil society initiatives (such as a citizen debt audit, claims, practices, etc.) but instead on European policy-making. Despite its current limitations and democracy deficit as well as the delegitimisation of certain institutions, this arena offers considerable possibilities to address the issues at stake – if there is the political will to do so.
Europe as a network society
One approach would be to regulate financial and exchange transactions, mutualise debt through the introduction of the Eurobonds, strengthen anti-fraud policies, and reform the European Central Bank. On top of that, we will need a common social, fiscal, and budgetary policy. Some examples of such common social policies are a guaranteed retirement age of 62, minimum and maximum wages (to create some degree of proportionality between top and bottom earners), active job creation policies, or, alternatively, a redistribution of jobs (and wealth) through a social and personal work balance.
Finally, regarding citizenship, we need institutions that are more transparent and open, including open data but also extending to open government and governance. Existing mechanisms need to be reformed and new ones introduced in order to bring Europe up to the standards of a network society.
However, the current crisis is also a constitutional crisis, and that in material as well as formal ways: The balance of power has been upset, neoliberal principles have been enshrined in constitutional documents, and the European Constitution was blocked in 2004. This leads us to the second aspect, the necessity to begin a process towards a European Constitution.Such a process would need to recognise new and emerging rights, rights that protect citizens from being dispossessed, rights such as a basic income, the right of citizens to default, and rights that guarantee general and equal access to the commons. This process towards a constitutionally guaranteed social citizen's Europe will have to encompass three dimensions:
First, there needs to be a material and social dimension, that is, rights that guarantee equal access to the commons and to wealth, rights that safeguard our quality of life and the personal autonomy of Europe’s citizens from the forces of the market, as well as from state and government. Second, a citizen's Europe will need to have open, decentralised and shared governance, that is, a system of grass-roots democracy. Third, there is a territorial and cultural dimension. This requires a federal, decentralised, and open society – a society that respects and promotes diversity.
Overall, such a constitutional process must institutionalise the commons in a new way. It will have to create a new European Commonfare based on equitable governance and grassroots democracy. To accomplish this is our duty and our historical responsibility.
Aitor Tinoco i Girona, Movimiento Democracia Real Ya, Madrid
Europe’s common future. Ways out of the crisis
The EU not only finds itself in a debt crisis, it is also faces both a crisis of confidence and of democracy. Now is the time for a broadly based public debate on alternative proposals for the future of Europe. We would like to contribute to the debate with this dossier.