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Austerity Is Wreaking Havoc, But The Left Can Unite To Build A Better Europe


More than 1,000 young people a day are joining the ranks of Europe's unemployed. In the past four years the army of jobless people across the continent has grown by more than 10 million.

In Greece, despite the government's claim that austerity has been a success, the 2014 budget imposes new public spending cuts and more job losses. The economic and humanitarian catastrophe is unprecedented in peacetime: 27% unemployment, 60% youth unemployment, a 25% shrinking of GDP, 40% reduction in family income. And, even after relentless pain, the debt-to-GDP ratio is almost 180%. It was only 120% in 2010 when the first austerity measures were imposed.

But, the human tragedy is not limited to Greece. Wages across Europe have been slashed and the welfare state scaled back at a rate unprecedented in the postwar era. Millions are struggling to pay their mortgages, electricity bills or medical and student debts. Europe's humanitarian crisis is unlike anything experienced in 60 years, with 120 million people enduring conditions of extreme difficulty, according to the Red Cross. This is not a natural phenomenon, but is, to use Nelson Mandela's words, "manmade" poverty.

Zealots for neoliberalism have turned ordinary people's lives upside down. Their structural adjustment policies serve a model of economic governance that transfers risk on to the shoulders of ordinary workers and the young. But the response of EU and national leaders is hopeless. The main EU policy initiative on youth unemployment ("youth guarantee") amounts, for example, to just €6bn or 0.6% of the EU budget for 2014-2020. Austerity, work precarity and the dynamics of the markets undermine the ability of low- and middle-wage earners to make a decent living. Household debt is extremely high in the Netherlands and Malta (almost 220% of GDP), while in Portugal, Spain and Italy many businesses are trapped in a spiral of debt.

Those European leaders who claim that the current medicine is a "success" are hypocrites. For millions of people, the European dream has turned into a nightmare. Eurobarometer surveys show the growing crisis of confidence in the EU and the catastrophic rise in the popularity of far-right parties. What should give us hope is the emergence of new solidarity groups and community-based movements. They can and will lead to greater democratic participation and control.

The European elections next May also provide an opportunity to start a real dialogue with the people – especially those who feel that no one cares for them – about a new basis for meaningful democracy and human dignity. It is time for Europe to stop the shocking breach of human rights by reshaping the state, restoring growth and creating high-quality, stable jobs with the protections that have historically contributed to the European social model.

Europe needs an anti-austerity and anti-recession front, a solidarity movement for its working people, north and south. This could deliver a pact for democracy, development and social justice. We must rebuild solidarity among the young, the workers, the pensioners and the unemployed to break down the new dividing line between Europe's rich and poor, the "mur d'argent" to use a historical phrase that has become topical.

I will be standing for the presidency of the European commission on behalf of the European Left party, and that decision is motivated by our desire to reunite Europe and rebuild it on a democratic and progressive basis. There is an alternative to the present crisis and it is our duty and destiny to fight for it. 

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