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If There Is No Alternative, There Is No Democracy!

It is up to us, European citizens, to join the fight to win back our public and democratic space. And the reconquest starts today, here, in Athens. We need a determined reformist movement which attacks the malfunctions that led our societies and the European idea to the edge of the precipice.

Since 15th September 2008, we have been fighting a battle whose outcome will decide the fate of Europe and Europeans for the rest of this century. The combined forces of cold, austere neo-liberal technocracy and hateful, reactionary populist movements are leading us towards the abyss. Like hostages to this sterile and brutal confrontation, the structures and values of European societies are threatened and the ideal of a shared peace which, until now, has brought us together to build a united Europe, risks seeping away body and soul in the fury of this economic and financial storm.

Swept away by the wave of the globalised economy, our nation states have lost the power to resist, imagining they are protected by their political frontiers, while those who govern us refuse to acknowledge their national impotence, in spite of their recurrent promises of miracle solutions. It is becoming more obvious every day that no single country can claim to be able to control finance, resist climate deterioration or resolve the economic and social crisis on its own. Athens, Madrid, Lisbon, Nicosia, Dublin… the liberal Neo-Taliban have brought Europe to its knees – and are feeding the foul fever of its various populist movements, until the sudden return of fascism, right here, in the native land of Socrates and Pericles, but also of Melina Merkouri, Cornelius Castoriadis…

Austerity measures without legitimacy

Greece is suffering. Greek society is suffering. 26% of its people are out of work, 3.4 million are below the poverty line and we witness the tragic consequences of austerity policies on public health, housing and education every day. Behind those abstract figures lie the sick who are no longer cared for, the ever-increasing numbers of homeless people, teachers who are no longer paid, families in poverty and retired people in distress … Yes, Greece has made mistakes. Yes, Greek society is guilty of tolerating a system of everyday corruption bathed in complaisant chauvinism. But does that make drastic austerity measures fairer or more legitimate? No. The New Inquisition of monetary purity has decided that redemption requires purging and bleeding. What does it matter if the responsibility for the situation is collective, if the elite members of Greek society remain unaffected by the measures, if all Europe’s governments and institutions are jointly responsible for the disaster? The sentence has been decreed … Greece will pay! The charlatans who claim they are treating the disease are aggravating it on the pretext of morality.

But beyond the fate of Greece, the whole of Europe is under threat. For the first time in its history, the European idea has been weakened to the point that its survival is now at risk. The collective responsibility of those who claim to govern us is being seriously challenged: always concerned with their limited, national management, never once did they adopt the leverage measure available to them under the European structure in order to respond to the enormous challenges of globalisation. The persistent short-sightedness of the logic of national interest combined with the assumed weakness of Europe’s institutions has enabled the desperate defence of the privileged members of a certain economic elite to become the guiding force of the policies pursued in Brussels and the Member States.

Has the last word been spoken? Is the defeat irremediable? Must hope die? No! Hope is in fact exactly what we need. And the highest form of hope is despair defeated. The time to act is now! Alas! The criticisms of European policies are often justified, but let us keep our eyes open. There are no national solutions. Only the European Union will enable us to keep control over our common destinies. Each one can and must understand the extent to which globalisation imposes its order on our societies: in thirty years’ time, no MemberState of the EU will be able to claim a seat at the G8 table.

The influence of the old, great powers such as France or Germany will barely be greater than that of a minor State today. If we want to preserve our common heritage, our national cultures, democracies, values and rights to social justice, it is precisely together, on a European scale, that we shall win that fight. Let us not be afraid! Confronted by the inhumanity of the neo-liberal order, we must not let hatred and fear lead us to the dark side of Europe, towards the resurgence of a tragic past, towards the false solutions of those murderous identities. We know only too well where the paths of national retrenchment and that desire to save oneself alone can lead. Faced by the crisis today, we are all European Greeks.

I am still convinced that the only way out of our multiple and accumulated crises lies in the unity and solidarity of Europeans around a renewed common project; I am still convinced that not everything has yet been tried and that the resources to escape the impasse remain immense, whether in energy transition, the conversion of our old industrial activities to future technologies, the vitality of our small farmers, the ecological transformation of our economies. I invite all Greeks and, beyond this country devastated by the crisis, all Europeans of goodwill, who still believe in our shared future, to combine their forces and their desire for change; I invite all Greeks and Europeans to join us in a radical and responsible drive to change Greece, Europe – and politics. I invite all Greeks and Europeans to start resisting and to reject the sordid alternative we are being offered, between dying under the blows of the financial bureaucrats or abandoning our souls to the wild rage of the populist movements.

The problem is not Europe, but its political tendencies

We must not lose courage! In spite of its mistakes and over-indulgences, Europe has often been in the vanguard of social change and democratic progress, in the service of humanity. It demonstrates every day that its totalitarian past and recurrent nationalist wars belong to the past. That unparalleled victory is precious. And it is only just beginning:

• It is up to us, European citizens, to join the fight to win back our public and democratic space. And the reconquest starts today, here, in Athens. We need a determined reformist movement which attacks the malfunctions that led our societies and the European idea to the edge of the precipice.

• The first step in this long march to the collective and shared sovereignty of European societies will be to open a public debate in Greece, as broadly as possible, so as to discuss essential and immediate reforms and then to extend the debate to the other EU countries, before jointly defining the investments that are essential for lasting development and energy autonomy on a European scale.

For a long time, the Athenian democratic ideal constituted the heart of Greek civilisation. Our European Utopia will remain plausible only if the effort required of us is shared and equitable. In Greece, as in Europe, we must relearn how to think and design the common good. The future is neither dim nor brilliant. It is up to us to decide what it will be. The emergence of a united Europe is a response to the challenges of our century. But it must also respond to the general interest. Democracy is a matter of choice. In Athens today we call upon the citizens of Europe to make their dissidence heard: if there is “no alternative”, there is “no democracy”!

This is a copy of a speech given by Cohn-Bendit at a cultural event held in the Museum of the Acropolis, Athens, June 16th 2013

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