Revolution Comes to the European Parliament

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Is there any point in progressives, let alone those who call themselves revolutionaries, standing for election to the European Parliament. the answer is far from straightforward. As a contribution to the debate, Spectre offers a translation of an account of the experiences of two members of the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) of France as they recall five years in Brussels, Strasbourg and beyond.  Alain Krivine and Roseline Vachetta were elected in 1999 following an electoral agreement which saw them run a common list with rival far left group Lutte Ouvrière (Workers' Struggle). Although the agreement was renewed in 2004, the list was able to muster only just over half of the votes won in '99.  The reason was probably that in 1999, with Socialists, Communists and Greens sharing power, French voters of the left who were dissatisfied with their government saw the LCR-LO list as a means of registering a protest. In 2004, with a vicious right wing administration in power, concerns focussed more on simply voting against the government and for parties which could win. At the same time, winning had become harder for small parties following a regionalisation of the electoral system designed specifically to make it harder for political minorities. Whatever the reason, however, the far left's five years in the Belly of the EU Beast were over. Below, in the first of two articles translated and extracted from the much longer original 1999-2004, Bilan d'un Mandat (GUE-NGL, 2004), Alain Krivine and Rosaline Vachetta tell their story.  The second article will appear late next month.

For the first time, in 1999, revolutionaries were elected to the European Parliament. Amongst others, Alain Krivine and Roseline Vachetta of the Fourth International, which had already had parliamentary representation at the national level in Portugal and Denmark but never in this assembly. Within their mandate, they had therefore to begin to understand and deal with the complex and highly undemocratic machinery of eurocracy. These euro-deputies from the LCR decided to use the European Institutions as a new field of political intervention. They believe that they enriched the debate around European construction by pushing their mandate for another Europe.

A new field of intervention

In 1999, while eleven of the fifteen member states were in the hands of socialist or social democratic parties, the voters sent a right-wing majority to the European Parliament. From the 626 European members, more than 330 were from the conservative, liberal or right-populist currents. Faced with this domination, the progressive groups were no match, even were it not for the influence of social-liberalism, the culture of consensus and voting discipline within the political groups.

Overall, the European Parliament set about creating a neoliberal Europe. Firmly committing itself to respecting the Stability Pact (which has a heavily detrimental impact on public expenditure and national budgets), it approved successive decisions of the European Council (notably, Lisbon on liberalization and Barcelona on the increase in the age of retirement); it has gone along with the process of liberalization and deregulation,  sometimes going further than the original proposals of the Commission and the positions of the Council (such as in the case of the liberalization of rail transport); it has legitimised the role of the European Union in the process of capitalist globalization. In this context, the space for any alternatives was often reduced, but Alain Krivine and Roseline Vachetta tried to use their mandate for the benefit of  social and trade union movements and European citizens, both within the Parliament and on the ground.

An anti-democratic machine

The current European construction is dominated by the logic of the market. It is founded on “respect for the principle of a market economy where competition is free”. Its functioning is neither democratic nor transparent. At the international level, the European Union is more often than not happy to be an actor in the process of capitalist globalisation.

The European Union is organized around an “institutional triangle” composed of the Council of Ministers, the Commission and the European Parliament. In addition, the Court of Justice, through its rulings and precedents, possesses significant power. Finally, the European Central Bank, located in Frankfurt, without any external control, is in charge of monetary questions. In reality, the political power is in the hands of the European Council, that is to say the heads of state or of governments of states - until recently 15, now 25 - which make up the European Union. This Council meets at every European Summit (Nice, Lisbon, Barcelona, Seville, etc…) and determines the general political direction in all policy areas: social, economic, financial, defence, immigration, foreign policy, and so on. The presidency is rotated every six months, with each country taking turns.

These are exactly the same heads of state or government who inflict unfavourable policies on their own people. Of course, citizens are so isolated from the functioning of the EU that it is very easy to declare “that it’s Brussels fault”, and therefore that of the European Commission. The European Commission is not independent: it must always be remembered that the Commissioners are named by the governments. The Commission translates the directions of the Council into legislative proposals (recommendations, directives, and rules) which are then debated, amended and voted on in the Parliament and the Council.

The role of the Parliament is therefore marginalized even if, during the last few years, it has seen its powers reinforced. Essential policy areas - agriculture, taxation, and all those questions concerning security policy – come under the direct authority of the Council, and the Parliament is only consulted. With regard to other areas it is always a matter of co-decision, which means that the Parliament neither decides nor legislates alone. Concretely, the legislative text drafted by the Commission according to the directions of the member states is submitted for a first reading to the European members who can amend it. The Commission then decides whether it will integrate or not the amendments voted by the Parliament during a second reading at the Parliament. Where a disagreement remains unresolved, a conciliation procedure is organized under which the European Parliament and the Council are obliged to reach an agreement in order for the proposed law to be adopted. With a Council and European Parliament dominated by the right there are few (or rather no) margins for manoeuvre for a member who is not a neoliberal. Worse still, the Parliament has often shown itself to be even more ultra-liberal than the Council. Lastly, not all policy areas are governed by co-decision: in relation to the foreign policy of the Union the Parliament has no power and can only discuss developments.

The Lobbies

One of the striking aspects of the European Parliament is the presence of lobbies. Everyday, members receive large numbers of luxurious brochures, presentation pamphlets and personal invitations from European businesses. Even way back in 1992, the Commission estimated that 10,000 professional representatives of interest groups were active in Brussels and Strasbourg. For example, before a measure is introduced on road transport security or atmospheric pollution, the representatives of multinationals from the car industry or oil industry form contacts within the Parliamentary Committee responsible for preparing the Parliament's reaction (known as a Report), and before the vote they invite members to a debate under the aegis of a benevolent member on “mobility and security” or “sustainable development”. Naturally everything takes place around a delicious buffet.

Receptions are organized every day, sometimes even within the Parliament itself which rents its premises directly to the lobby industry. Those who take part in this little game leave with the “recommendations” of the pressure group concerning that particular vote, or even simply a completed voting sheet. After this, of course, members like to stress to anyone who will listen that they are “independent, incorruptible and free”. Obviously members of the LCR have refused and condemned this type of practice.

The GUE-NGL

The European Parliament places great importance on political groups. They can be an instrument of control and discipline for the members, as is the case with the conservative and the socialist groups. But above all, a political group allows each member to participate in Parliamentary life (speaking time, reports, amendments, public speaking, etc…) and extra-parliamentary activities (welcoming of delegations, fact-finding missions, etc…). For these reasons, the 5 members of the LO and the LCR requested to become associated as members of the Confederal Group of the GUE/NGL. After the negotiations, the membership became effective from the July 8 1999. The LCR has collaborated, since that time, in a pragmatic and non-sectarian manner in the GUE/NGL whether it be, for example, for Another world is possible activities, solidarity with the Palestinian people or for maritime security. But, always respecting the framework of the confederal group, the LCR has developed its own directions and political analysis, entirely free to vote and take its own positions and has been able to dissociate itself when necessary from whatever position the group or one of its members may take if necessary.

The LCR Delegation

The delegation of the LCR in the European Parliament was made up of Alain Krivine, Roseline Vachetta, two secretariat members and a pool of parliamentary assistants. In the European Parliament, Alain Krivine was a member of the Parliamentary Committee for “Liberty and Citizens Rights” and Roseline Vachetta member of the environment, transport and regional policy, and industry and commerce committees. Roseline Vachetta was also a member of the European Parliament delegation to the Palestinian Legislative Council and of the temporary commission on maritime security. As for Alain Krivine, he was a member of the delegation for relations with the member countries from (ANASE), South-East Asia and the Korean Republic and  participated in the temporary commission “Echelon”.

Democracy and Liberty

During the last 5 years, European construction has accelerated and deepened. Firstly, it has accelerated around the construction of a large market with its corollaries, the euro as its single currency,  the free circulation of goods, labour and capital, and the emergence of Europe as a supranational political entity with its own Central Bank, institutions and laws. The European Union has become also a fortress Europe enlarged to almost the whole of the European continent, 25 states, 450 million inhabitants - now the third grouping in size after China and India. In order to arrive at this objective the supporters of a liberal Europe have destroyed and continue to destroy the social and democratic bases – already seriously weakened – of the old European nations. In order that the absolute dogma of the market and competition could be established, they had to destroy all forms of social and collective property, such as public services. In order to ensure the power of the technocrats and eurocrats, they had to reduce and limit all forms of citizen control and the powers of the elected assemblies. Within their mandate, Alain Krivine and Roseline Vachetta have had to respond to this neoliberal Europe.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights

The idea of a charter of fundamental rights was born at the European Summit in Cologne in June 1999. This charter should have been the first stage in the construction of a social Europe. This was the aim of Alain Krivine and Roseline Vachetta’s campaign for another charter for another Europe in November 2000. However, in the end this text is simply an adaptation of the main principles of liberal politics. The right to employment, present in the Declaration of Human Rights, no longer exists; it has become “the right to work and practice a profession freely chosen or accepted, the freedom to look for employment”. This principle constitutes a regression without precedent. Worse still, it serves as an official endorsement of increasing precariousness. For those people deprived of employment, only the right “to a free employment placement service”, without stating its character, public or private, is offered. The absence of any indication concerning a minimum salary or a reduction in  working hours serves as justification for the policy of deregulation of social rights in the different member states. With regard to working conditions, the charter mentions the maximum duration of work and the periods of rest and paid holidays, but it does not go as far as giving any quantification. Lastly, there is nothing about the right to retirement, not even an allusion to the right to a dignified and independent life for elderly people.   

Concerning those people who are not citizens of the European Union, the only mention is of their right to “equivalent working conditions” to those of European citizens. No mention is made of their right to vote, although the European Parliament declared itself in favour by a majority vote a few years ago. There is also silence on the right to regularization, to freedom of movement and on the reuniting of families. As for equality between men and women, although it is mentioned in relation to wages, the charter says nothing about the right to contraception and abortion, the right to equal access to work and the fight to stop violence against women.

On education, while everywhere the logic of privatization is at work with the support of the European Commission, the principles of the charter follow the same direction. The right to a “free and compulsory education” is affirmed, but is immediately qualified by the reaffirmation of the possibility to choose a private school. The age of compulsory education is not even defined, never mind the right to a recognized qualification. In defining a series of pious wishes in the framework of a Europe dominated by the “right to property”, the text reduces to the simplest expression all social rights. This charter of fundamental rights was adopted at the European Summit in Nice in December 2000 and then integrated as the preamble for the project of a European Constitution drafted by Giscard d’Estaing.

From the Convention to the Proposed Constitution

At the European Summit in Nice, the heads of state and government designated a Convention responsible for drafting a constitutional treaty for 2003. 105 deputies or representatives of the European institutions, without any mandate, discussed for six months a document which was never voted on but accepted by consensus, a document of which two-thirds, that is to say 340 articles from 460, has never been debated by the Convention because they were not added until September 3, at the time of the first parliamentary debate. The European Council of Thessalonica, June 20, therefore discussed a truncated project.

The whole public debate was based on the functioning of Europe: the number of commissioners, majority voting, the role of, and method of electing, commissioners and so on. On the other hand, this Constitution would establish as a legal entity (as has never been done before) a Europe which is undemocratic, liberal, militarist and imperialist. From an economic point of view, the Constitution makes clear, several times, that the objectives of the European Union must “respect the principle of a  market economy where competition is free”. The European Central Bank remains independent and “security and common defence policy will be compatible with a policy suspended in the framework of NATO”. Each country is obliged to reinforce its own military budget.

Even if the Constitution received a majority in the European Parliament, this was not the case at the inter-governmental conference in December 2003. Under the Presidency of Berlusconi, Poland and Spain led a revolt against the treaty issued by Giscard’s Convention. Their vetoes were not only a rejection of a text institutionalising militarism and neoliberalism but their desire to express their annoyance, dating to the Treaty of Nice in 2000, at their allocation of votes in the Council of Ministers and seats in the European Parliament. The Spanish and Polish positions have postponed indefinitely this institutional war machine which was supposed to be inflicted on the people. The new political order in those two countries, combined with the trauma of the attacks in Madrid have put the European Constitution back on the agenda without responding to citizens’ expectations concerning a political, social and democratic Europe. At the time of the European Spring Summit, March 25-26, 2004, the heads of state and government therefore decided to conclude the negotiations on the Constitution at the latest at the closing of the European Summit of the Irish Presidency on June 17-18, 2004. The 25 members agreed on a deadline, but no schedule for negotiations was established in order to resolve the points where there remained divergences.

Enlargement

Since May 1 2004, the European Union has increased to 25 members. Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Baltic Republics, Malta and Cyprus: ten new countries participated in the last elections to the European Parliament in June 2004. This enlargement will be followed in 2007 by the integration of Romania and Bulgaria. There remains only Turkey, the black sheep of enlargement. Although a member of the Council of Europe and NATO, Turkey has so far failed the test.

Enlargement raises more questions than it answers. Firstly, a minimum budget is necessary. The budget of the EU from 2000-2006 reached a ceiling of 1,27 % of GNP  for the 15, the maximum allowed This is very small. But 80 % of expenditure concerns the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Structural Funds, the only elements of redistribution within the Union which differ from a simple market. This is why Southern countries and those in Eastern Europe, poorer and more agricultural than the average, are particularly interested. However, to save money farmers of the candidate countries will receive in 2004 only a quarter of the aid received by farmers in the current members. From now until 2013 the criteria will be brought into line, but the amounts will, without doubt, have to be revised from the bottom up. The logic of aid is to destroy all elements of basic security which the populations of Eastern Europe often possess through their small patches of land which ensure their survival and, beyond that, reduce the agricultural expenditure of the Union. This is a source of  discontent across the new member states (notably in Poland) which are confronted without protection by highly subsidized and productive agricultural systems. As for the budget of the Structural Funds, it is only 0,45 % of the GNP of the EU today.

Fortress Europe

After coming into force on May 1, 1999, the treaty of Amsterdam placed on the European agenda questions of immigration and asylum. The European Council in Tampere, October 1999, fixed the broad lines of these policies which the Commission then translated into numerous directives, regulations, agreements or recommendations. These priorities were put on the agenda of every European Summit, in particular those of Seville in June 2002 and Copenhagen in December 2002.

Under pressure from the extreme right and then the fight against terrorism, the heads of state and government put in place a wide range of repressive security measures: the fight against clandestine immigration, penalization of transporters, readmission agreements, migration clauses in cooperation agreements with poorer countries, reinforcement of border controls, controls on migrants in the European territory and so on. Concerning the directives assuring a better protection for refugees and those asking for asylum or the recognition of the rights of immigrants, the Council refused to make arrangements or even to harmonize, regardless of the European Conventions on human rights, the rights of immigrants or the rights of refugees. At the same time, the governments of several member states are preparing or applying increasingly restrictive laws, notably concerning border controls, the regrouping of families and the right to asylum. The proposal has even been put forward of transferring all those asking for asylum to centres outside of the European Union.

Alain Krivine and Roseline Vachetta both opposed this “fortress” Europe. They worked hard to promote immigration and asylum policies which respect human rights, founded on the free circulation of people and respect for the right to asylum, ensuring equality of treatment with regard to economic, cultural and social rights and the recognition of civil and political rights, including the right to vote and eligibility for local and European elections.

The LCR delegation opposed  the system of quotas which aims only to satisfy the interests of European firms and constitutes a pillage of the labour-force of third countries. The Euro-deputies of the LCR led a campaign for the regularization of all those “without papers” and intervened nearby in a number of areas of France in order to advocate respect for the rights of immigrants. They actively participated in the campaign led by the association against the introduction of “European Charters” in order to facilitate collective expulsions.

Employment and Social Protection

During the last five years of the mandate there has been a marked increase in the number of attacks on employment in the countries of the European union. The restructuring of the biggest companies has led to tens of thousands of lay-offs every year in Europe. Our Euro-deputies were amongst the first to oppose these lay-offs, for example at Michelin in September 1999, and convey to the European Parliament the resistance of those workers concerned. At the time of the struggle of the workers of Michelin, which reached its climax with a demonstration of 60,000 people in Paris on October 16, 1999, they were the only deputies to demand, along with those elected representatives of ‘Lutte Ouvrière’, the implementation of legislative measures in order to forbid the lay-offs. They also supported the workers of Daewoo, TotalElfFina, Alstom, those of Cellatex, of the brewery Adelshoffen, from the company Sintel-Telefonica in Spain, each in their own way touched by restructuring.

Mobilization of deputies in support of the workers of Marks & Spencer and Danone

On the 29 March 2001, the 85 employees of Marks & Spencer in Strasbourg were informed of the closing of their shop, in the framework of a larger plan which would mean the closing of 38 factories, and 4,400 lay-offs throughout the continent. The same day, the directors of the Danone group announced the closing of six factories in Europe, with for example 650 job cuts in Calais and Ris-Orangis. At the opening of the plenary session at the European Parliament on April 2, Alain Krivine intervened in order to denounce “the illegality of the decision, as the Unions and the CE had not been informed”. He asked the President of the Parliament “to take a position against these intolerable measures which represent a denial of justice and an attack on the dignity of the world of work”. The counter-attack began to organize and the workers from Marks & Spencer came to Strasbourg in order to demonstrate in front of the Parliament. We launched an appeal to deputies, seventy of whom signed the call to “engage with the Union organizations to take all the initiatives of solidarity possible at the European level, to call on the public powers in order that they use all the means at their disposal to block all lay-offs and job-cuts”. 

A delegation of signatories of this appeal met the workers in their shop, receiving a very warm welcome. About 30 employees listened as the deputies explained the different forms of support that they could offer. On Friday, April 6, Alain Krivine returned to Mark & Spencer to join the demonstration on Boulevard Haussmann in Paris. The next day, he made a speech during the demonstration by the workers of Danone Ris-Orangis. On April 21 Alain Krivine was present on a demonstration of 10,000 organized in Calais.

On Thursday May 17, after an initiative by the Unions of Marks & Spencer France, which was taken over by Uni-Europa, the federation of services of the European Confederation of Unions (CES), 2000 demonstrators marched through the streets of London. The workers from LU-Danone were also present, making the point that it was necessary to join together in their struggles against the job-cuts on a European level. European Parliamentarians Sylviane Ainardi (PCF), Arlette Laguiller (LO), Roseline Vachetta (LCR) and Alain Krivine (LCR) also made the journey. In addition, on June 9, 2001 a national demonstration took place in Paris with around 40,000 participants. Despite the scale of these demonstrations, the left in power in France (and in the majority in Europe) did nothing, and the workers were unable to reverse the decisions to make large-scale job-cuts. Throughout the whole of their term of office, Alain Krivine and Roseline Vachetta continued to demonstrate their support for the workers and their struggle to defend their jobs and demand legislative measures against the job-cuts.

Job-cuts – The case of ST-Microelectronics

In 2003 ST-Microelectronics, a high-technology group – with a high financial productivity – decided to restructure itself with the consequent loss of hundreds of jobs in France and Italy and the closure of the factory in Rennes. Roseline Vachetta became actively involved in supporting the workers against the job-cuts and made many visits to the sites in Crolles (Isère) and Rennes. Furthermore, she organized a parliamentary hearing for Union representatives from ST-Microelectronics in Brussels and questioned the Commission and the Council about the scandal of these companies which were making job-cuts whilst they were profitable and after they had already pocketed public subsidies. Even if unfortunately the job-cuts continue, our struggle to implicate employers'  practices and the complicity of the public powers has found an increasing response in society.

The European Union attacks our pensions

In March 2002, at the time of the Barcelona Summit, the heads of state and government meeting at the European Council decided unanimously that “it would be necessary from here to 2010 to increase progressively the average age of retirement by about 5 years, in the European Union”. In addition, “the European Council reaffirmed that it was resolutely committed to putting into place a plan of action that would favour financial services and achieve the complete integration of the securities markets and risk capital by 2003. The European Council asked the Council and the European Parliament to process as soon as possible the directives on retirement pension funds”.

The directive allowing for the creation of pension funds for all the companies in the European Union was voted on in the Parliament on May 13 2003, the same day that two million French people and tens of thousands of Austrians took to the streets to protest the projects already in place. That same day, the Parliament also adopted the recommendation by the European Commission concerning the general direction for future economic policy. Although for the period 2003-2005, the Commission recommended serious changes to the work market: “ensure that salary increases remain moderate....watch out for any rules that are too rigid, protecting workers but discouraging companies from hiring causing many people to find themselves on the margins of the work market....Promote a work organization which is more supple, and review work legislation, notably that which is related to work contracts taking into account the needs of flexibility…Encourage a lengthening of professional life, increase capitalization and adapt retirement schemes to the growing flexibility of employment.” Meaning, therefore, for workers: frozen salaries, collective agreements and protective laws called into question, maximum flexibility, undermining of retirement benefits and so on.

A Social and Political response

When the strikers in Spring 2003 in France and Germany made clear by their mobilization that the question of retirement is decisive and that there is a serious social issue at stake, they were right. It is a case of a fierce battle between two possible worlds: that of the wealthy, with the support of the European Institutions, under which the majority of us will be condemned to work until we are very old or, for those who survive, to struggle along on a public hand-out financed by the taxes of those working; or that which the European deputies Alain Krivine and Roseline Vachetta have demanded numerous times inside and outside of the Parliament: a world of solidarity in which health care and social protection – including retirement benefits – will be public property, and not merchandise for sale. A world of rights: to employment, a fair salary, equality between men and women, a decent retirement pension after at the latest 37.5 years of work and at 60 years old. This social combat is at the heart of the political battle that we have been leading against this sickening European neoliberal consensus.

Public Services

All public services have come under the watchful eye of the European Union. At the time of the Council of Lisbon in March 2000, it was “asked that the Commission, the Council and the member states, within their respective spheres… accelerate liberalization in the sectors of gas, electricity, postal services and transport. Furthermore, with regard to the use and management of air-space, the Council invites the Commission to present its proposals as soon as possible”. These demands were confirmed by the priorities of the European Council of Barcelona, March 15-16 2001 (liberalization of energy, air and rail transport and postal services) and by José Maria Aznar, the Spanish Prime Minister at the time and also the President of the European Union, who declared that “the United States during the 1990s should be our point of reference”. The ensuing European Presidencies have only confirmed these ultra-liberal orientations. The objective is clear: make all services into merchandise like any other merchandise, that the citizen who can afford it can buy and from which the seller can make a profit. This will mean in every case the breaking-up of the public monopoly, opening to private capital, the scrapping of employees contracts, and the opening up to competition in the most profitable areas.

Our work as LCR Parliamentarians has always been to warn the unions concerned every time there are directives in progress and to meet with them. For example, to defend postal services,  union meetings, meetings with the association of mayors, associations for the defence of consumers;  meetings with the rail-workers' unions; a direct collaboration was created with the air transport and marine unions members of the collective “Marée noire” (Black Tide). These meetings allowed us to understand what is at stake and the consequences of the plans underway. We participated in all the different forms of resistance against the dismantling of these services: demonstrations with the rail-workers, the postal-workers, the port-workers, the employees of Sabena, and those of Air France…

In the Parliament we spoke out against the destruction of public services; we tried to slow down the adoption of the directives notably by demanding moratoria before any new liberalization insofar as the social consequences of these precedents had not been evaluated. In the end, we voted against all the liberalizations, independently from the “compromises” obtained. The compromises allowed the majority of the parliamentary groups to reach an agreement (from the left to the right) on a soft version of the liberalization proposed by the European Commission. As we stated in the working document of the LCR delegation on public services, there is no “gradual and controlled application” of the liberalizations, there are only two logics which confront each other: that of developed public services, coordinated at the European level, and that of the multinationals who have only one wish: to play with our public services on the stock market!

Throughout the whole of our mandate, only one direction dominated our choices in this domain: defend the interests of the majority, and notably those of the workers and the unemployed, against the voracity of the trusts. Moreover, support the mobilizations without which nothing will be possible!

The Extreme Right

Their histories, programmes and circumstances differ, but the extreme right has become a continental reality. The threat is only making more urgent the construction of another perspective for Europe. It is with this objective that Alain Krivine and Roseline Vachetta have acted throughout their mandate. The conversion from European social democracy to neoliberalism has led to the return to power of the conservative right with a populist, xenophobic, and reactionary extreme right in its wake. The presence of Jean-Marie Le Pen in the second round of the French Presidential elections in 2002 is neither an unfortunate matter of circumstances, nor a phenomenal exception in Europe. For some years, the extreme right has continued to progress in elections in the majority of the countries of the European Union. Alain Krivine and Roseline Vachetta have fought against this phenomenon.

The Parties of the Extreme Right in Europe

On May 15, 2002, the Pym Fortuyn list achieved second position in the general elections in the Netherlands, taking 26 of the 150 seats in the second chamber. The following year, the regional populists of the Northern League and the “post-fascists” from the National Alliance joined Berlusconi’s party in order to run Italy. The Austrian elections of October 1999 saw the grouping of Jorg Haider, the Freedom Party (FPO) take nearly 27% of the votes, opening the way to a “black and blue” coalition  in the Austrian government. In Belgium, the Vlaams Blok obtained the support of 15% of the Flemish electoral body, before reaching 33% at the time of the municipal election in Antwerp. The FVP became the third force in Norway, while the People’s Party achieved 12% of the votes in Denmark.

Without doubt, these parties come from different traditions. They often put forward opposite programmes and strategies. They maintain between themselves very hostile relations. Some of them are direct descendants of the fascist tradition, as is the case with the National Front or the Vlaams Blok. Others come from a more traditional authoritarian background (like the FPO, which combines in a wondrous fashion its national-liberal origins with the demands of the past Nazis of Austria). Finally, others, such as the Pym Fortuyn list, appear to embody a populist right,. In addition, if some of them appear nationalist, others plead for the break-up of the old European nations (the Northern League and the Vlaams Blok). Yet despite whatever differences they may have, these realities all have in common certain reference and point of view of rejection of the other, of a phobia of deterioration through mixing, and they start with the fundamental conception of inequality in the relations that human communities should establish between themselves.

It is striking that these parties have now an electorate with common characteristics, an electoral base made up of on the one hand small independents, businesses and self-employed craftsmen, but also competing directly with the workers' groups from the traditional left for the support of employees and the unemployed. For this reason the threat is a serious one. Far from representing a defence, the treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam represent the worst adversary of the European idea. They aim only to perpetuate the undiluted reign of finance capitalism, but everywhere translate this into as deep social fractures, strong tendencies for the disintegration of states and the dislocation of the institutional systems, regressive identities and chauvinistic retreats. With this in mind, the authoritarian temptation turns out to be more and more evident within the ruling classes. This fact opens up for diverse currents from the European extreme right new possibilities to ally themselves with susceptible coalitions which can lead them to power, as is shown in the examples of Austria and Italy. The aim o changing the left and changing Europe must be closely associated if we wish to reconstruct a plan to emancipate our continent.

In the European Parliament, from the beginning the LCR delegation has been vigilant when faced with these political currents, whether they are or are not present in the hemicycle. Alain Krivine and Roseline Vachetta have fought side by side against the building of bridges between the Parliamentary right and the extreme right whether it be in Austria, Italy or Denmark. However, above all, they rejected the intrusion of themes from the extreme right, primarily immigration and security, into European policies. They were amongst the coordinators of the resistance movement at the European level, when, at the beginning of the year 2000, the unthinkable happened in Austria.

Side by side with the Austrian Anti-fascists

After the electoral earthquake which brought the far right to power, Roseline Vachetta travelled to support the Austrian anti-fascists in Vienna. From April 4-6, 2000, with the GUE/NGL, the LCR Euro-deputy arrived in the Austrian capital in order to participate in study days focused on the theme of “Cooperation in actions against the Extreme right in Europe”. She also participated in the impressive demonstration against the extreme right, against the way in which its presence and points of view have become commonplace. Strong links were built between the progressive Austrians and the LCR delegation. The mobilization was extended on Wednesday, April 12, 2000, at the time of the official visit of the Austrian President Thomas Klestil to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. The same day, the leader of the extreme right Jorg Haider participated as governor of Carinthie in the European Committee of Regions in Brussels. This wasn’t simply a coincidence.

These official visits in Europe from representatives of the black-blue coalition had only one goal: force European public opinion to accept the unacceptable and legitimize the political situation in Austria. In this context, it became impossible to attend, as if nothing had happened, the Presidential address, all the more because President Klestil had accepted the constitution of the FPO-OVP government. More than eighty Euro-deputies including Alain Krivine and Roseline Vachetta therefore publicly boycotted the formal session and signed a declaration condemning “the inclusion of the extreme right in a government from a country of the European Union” and “expressing their complete solidarity with the progressives and Austrian anti-fascists, who represent the other Austria”. To mark their disapproval, before leaving the hemicycle, a number of them brandished, despite interventions by the Parliament ushers, a poster with “Haider, Nein” written on it.

Women’s Rights

Elected as a feminist, Roseline Vachetta enrolled at the beginning of the legislature in the Committee for the Rights of Women and Equality of Opportunity, noticing that it was one of the only places in the European Parliament where the balance of power was in general favourable to progressives’ ideas. This Committee put forward throughout the legislature very positive reports and amendments, the majority of which we voted for. Yet these positions were constantly opposed by reactionary lobbies. In this way the vote on the report by Anna Van Lancker, of which the objective was the promotion of information and the access to contraception and abortion services as well as support for women who have been victims of sexual aggression, was marked by demonstrations, threats, and massive mail campaigns.

Our European deputies defended the right to abortion as a fundamental liberty for all women, because without the right to choose, all the other rights concerning the place of women in society can not be exercised. In Ireland, Portugal and in Poland women are deprived of the possibility of a legal abortion. The majority of women in these countries who have abortions do it in conditions which put their health in danger. We defended the position that a progressive Europe should be focused on advancing the laws on abortion and contraception, free or reimbursed so that they are accessible to everyone, in every country. However, in order to achieve this, it will be necessary for all health systems to make available appropriate structures and qualified staff.

Roseline Vachetta and Alain Krivine therefore protested on numerous occasions against the dogma of the reduction in public spending, where health and rights are undermined by neoliberal policies. Furthermore, they underlined the contradiction between the proclamations by the institutions of the European Union regarding the importance of equality between men and women, and the concrete directions to encourage flexibility and the reduction of work legislation. It is in this sense that the Euro-deputies of the LCR participated in numerous demonstrations for the defend of the rights of women, which began with the World Women’s Walk in the year 2000. 

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