Is Podemos willing to break out of the European corset?

It is hard to find any positive aspect of the Syriza debacle. However, if one is to find a positive side effect of the Syriza/Troika affair, it is that it has forced some of its main actors to drop their masks, allowing political analysts to be less speculative about where each of them stand regarding the euro, and more generally on the EU and NATO.

On the one hand, the European Union, no longer able to restore its democratic façade with more propaganda, is now more exposed than ever before in its half century of existence. Its pro-peace, pro-social and pro-democracy veneer is rapidly fading under the sun, revealing its complete submission to NATO and Washington’s aggressive policies, its neoliberal and anti-unions regressive agenda and its outright hatred for democracy, as shown in its total disregard of the Greek referendum. As A.E. Pritchard of the Daily Telegraph wrote: “It is hard to see how a monetary union held together by judicial power, coercion and fear in this way can have a future in any of Europe’s ancient nation states”.

On the other hand, former finance minister of Greece Yanis Varoufakis is under investigation for treason after admitting in an interview that he drew up a contingency plan for a parallel banking system – supposedly behind Tsipras’ back. Having resigned only a couple of days after the referendum, a great success at the time for Syriza, Varoufakis dropped his own mask and revealed what was really happening backstage. He gathered a working group to prepare a “Plan B”, a parallel system of euro liquidity and bank payments that could – and this was the main accusation – allow for a transition to the drachma.


Spain’s turn

Now, in what seems like the final act of a Greek play, all eyes are now on Spain’s Podemos and its leader Pablo Iglesias. The parallel between Syriza and Podemos is too obvious for anyone to ignore and the question is whether a country like Spain – 4 times the population of Greece but almost 6 times its GDP – could do much more than Syriza. After 18 months of existence, Pablo Iglesias could only maintain an ambiguous position on the limits of a progressive agenda within the European Union and the euro for so long…

In a recent interview following the “agreement” between the Troika and Greece, the leader of Podemos said that he would not do much more than his Greek partners in Athens: “the only thing that we can do is to build up more administrative power” so that Europe welcomes governments that defend “social rights, the redistribution of wealth and welfare”, a statement that leaves more questions than answers. What is administrative power exactly? How would that work within the EU institutions? The EU Treaties?

Perhaps most important is the statement that followed: “if not, then maybe the person that can do something about it is a lady that comes from fascism and right-wing extremism, Marine Le Pen”. He then said that if Le Pen came to power in France, “a country with nuclear weapons”, it could form an alliance with another nuclear superpower, Russia, “neither the EU nor NATO”. Then, he proceeds “we could very well be on the verge of World War III”.

In Pablo Iglesias’ view, then, exiting the eurozone, and the EU for that matter, is equal to holding fascist views and being a warmonger, or being a fool at best. This statement deserves some close attention, especially when hearing how Podemos and many others consider it to be the realization of the May 15th movement of 2011.

Indeed, if Podemos and the 15M share a great number of similar views and policies regarding the Welfare State, healthcare, education, social and economic rights, et al. the divergence of  position regarding the EU, the euro and NATO, which may have seemed as a minor and negotiable detail at the time, now appears to be a crucial point. The grassroots citizen’s organization Democracia Real Ya (DRY) — though not the only one within the 15M movement – illustrates best this difference.

Back in January this year, DRY was already asking P. Iglesias to “clarify whether he would exit Spain from the eurozone”. His reply would come quickly in a TV interview (La Sexta, January 24th): “If we come to power Spain will not, in any case, exit the euro”. To be fair he was only restating the same pledge to the euro he had made weeks before in a trip to the US where he stated the same attachment to the euro and the EU on MSNBC News.

As for DRY themselves, little was left to ambiguity. In several publications, public meetings and programs, DRY has repeated many times over that it held the euro and the EU Treaties responsible for the situation of Spain (even before the crisis of 2008) and that it favored a referendum on this issue. The difference of position between DRY and Podemos could hardly be any clearer.


Podemos’ conundrum

Now that Iglesias has made his position regarding the EU and NATO unambiguously clear, and even assesses that “he probably wouldn’t do much more than Tsipras in Greece”, what are we left with?

If Iglesias excludes exiting the euro, the EU and NATO, how does he suggest that he will change the EU Treaties that require unanimity for any type of reform? How will Pablo Iglesias and Podemos reverse the phenomenon of industrial desertification with a euro that is 30-50% above Spain’s competitiveness? How will Podemos oppose NATO’s foreign policy while receiving orders directly from Washington? Their answer to all those questions could be summarized as following: Spain will be sovereign, progressive and democratic when everyone else is.

Podemos needs to reflect on its strategy if it wishes to avoid the dead-end in which they are quickly finding themselves. To want a debate in Spain on the EU and NATO is probably the prerequisite for any progressive agenda to ever materialize into anything and perhaps more importantly, it needs to understand that to discredit a euro exit is to discredit themselves.

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