Gabi Zimmer op-ed in The Guardian
Europe can't take four more years of Angela Merkel's Thatcherism
The privatisation of public assets across the continent is destroying the European social model. Die Linke would protect it
by Gabi Zimmer
The EU remains mired in the biggest economic mess since its foundation and the response to it has been nothing short of a catastrophe. Angela Merkel has spearheaded a disastrous re-enactment by EU leaders of the structural adjustment and austerity policies imposed on developing countries in the 1980s and 1990s – policies that discredited the IMF and the World Bank. Today, austerity and the large-scale transfer of public assets to the private sector are inciting widespread disenchantment with the entire European project.
Next month's elections in Germany will be crucial for the future of the whole EU. Europe, under the unmerciful influence of Merkel and her government, is treading a dangerous path as intensified deregulation and the privatisation of public assets (industries, infrastructure and utilities) across the continent are demolishing key elements of the social model and challenging the notion of the common good itself.
This has been chiefly apparent in countries such as Greece and Portugal, where bailouts are pushing towards the privatisation of services such as water provision. Privatisation's apostles claim that selling public assets stimulates the market competition that prevents monopolies from fixing prices, benefiting both state coffers and consumers. What we have seen instead are higher costs, increased inefficiencies, service deterioration and redundancies.
Angela Merkel vision is of a Europe of shrivelled public ownership and a minimal welfare state. The overarching conception of European integration here is competition among member states for the lowest wages, pensions and benefits. There can thus be little doubt about what is in store for all Europeans if the current German government is not thrown out in September.
The crisis has led to immense pressure from the German government on bailout countries to sell off pubic bodies. As state assets are bought up at low crisis prices and banks involved in reckless lending have been bailed out at taxpayers' expense, the shift from public to private that has taken place in Europe constitutes an attack on democratic governance and the sense of social solidarity and community that healthy democracies require. The next round of this everything-must-go clearance over the coming months is set to include a chunk of the Madrid region's hospitals and health centres, the Greek national gas company, Slovenia's main telecoms provider and Cyprus's national electricity outfit.
British people are all too familiar with the consequences of fanatical neoliberalism. Hypocritically, right now with re-election in mind, the chancellor tends to refuse to impose on Germans what she is pushing on other countries. But, with the risk of four more years of Merkel at the helm, Thatcherism on a continental scale – Germany included – is a serious threat.
But the European left has learned a lot from British experience. Today, the importance of common goods is gaining traction as a key concept as people react with smart, controlled anger to the selling off of efficient and profitable public agencies while financial sector losses are socialised. Against this theft of public property, local initiatives have been springing up and often halting the privatisation of municipal utilities such as water services and hospitals. Water provision is being put back under local administration control in Berlin and a return to public water services in other big European cities such as Paris has certainly helped progressives to put the costs and downsides of privatisation on the agenda in the current German federal electoral campaign.
Five years of crisis under Merkel's leadership have set the scene for an unprecedented and dangerous transfer of power from the public to the private sphere in Europe. The Left (Die Linke) in Germany, together with our allies throughout Europe, is advancing a vision of economic democracy, equality and sustainable growth in Europe. This includes campaigning for fair taxation systems, closing down tax havens, a financial sector at the service of society, a genuine education and investment plan to tackle youth unemployment, and an accountable European Central Bank.
Defeating current and future waves of privatisation must be at the heart of any efforts to re-establish the primacy of the citizen within a democratic Europe. This is how we can offer an alternative to Merkel's rotten vision for the future of the continent. Next month, the German electorate can strike a blow for all Europeans.