Yesterday the European Parliament held the State of the Union 2021 debate. In her speech, Ursula von der Leyen skipped central issues and tensions between countries in order to emphasize the constituent tone with which the Commission tries to curtail the memory of the many social disasters it drives and coordinates: from its infamous border and migration policy to the vaccination campaign via the impact of the Green Deal on the electricity bill.
Table of Contents
- The state of the Union 2021 according to von der Leyen
- A Franco-German reconciliation implicit in the State of the Union 2021
- The state of the Union 2021 and the return of the Franco-German EU
- State of the Union 2021 conclusions
The state of the Union 2021 according to von der Leyen
Once again Strasbourg, the hemicycle of great events. Von der Leyen looks more triumphant than ever in front of an almost empty parliament spouting even emptier ritual retorts. It is the European style, the particular bureaucratic way in which the EU conveys a peremptory “there is nothing to look at here” and clears the street of onlookers.
But beneath the banal and bureaucratic appearance, beneath the false optimism of this former German defense minister disguised as president of a non-existent happy European confederation, there is a real program of continental transformation underway.
The model: the “Health Union”
Von der Leyen begins the State of the Union with a cynical dose of pandemic triumphalism:
We delivered to Europe, we delivered to the rest of world, we did it the right way because it was the European way and it worked.
The message is so cynical that even German parliamentarians seem embarrassed to applaud even as the Commission president pauses to see if any of them will start. Actually, she’s right: the Commission met… German interests which saw early on during the pandemic the opportunity to create a profitable industry and subordinated to that goal the need to maximize vaccine production and distribution en masse to Europe and the world.
The next step: 50 billion for the “Health Union”. The model of “European construction”. After decades serving national governments as a buttress for cuts and austerity, an increase in the EU budget is presented as “money falling from the sky” for the states. In exchange for accepting mutualization, political lines are centralized and aligned with the strongest national capitals which, in the meantime and as it is the case, have built the foundations of a new continental monopoly.
Read also: Vaccination problems and the German instrumentalization of the EU, 15/1/2021
The “Chips Act” and “technological sovereignty”
The speech moves from English to French. A new highlight is coming: she announced a “Chips Act” in order to “claim technological sovereignty”.
The goal is to jointly create a cutting-edge European chip ecosystem including production and securing our supplies and developing new markets for innovative European technology
In case the message was not clear enough, the speech reminds the listener that “Europe” has lost its leadership in the sector to the US and “Asia” and draws a comparison with Galileo, the European alternative to the US GPS. The key expression is “strategic autonomy” and the military dimension is unavoidable.
The chip shortage is not a “European” issue, it definitely has a German accent… and a French one as well. The German automobile industry warned that it would be affected until 2023, the French one that 60% of its plants were already suffering delays compared to the estimated production. And repatriation of the supply chains is Macron’s new banner of protectionist nationalism.
And once again, the model: it’s not just about building up an industry, it’s how and for whom. The “Chips Act” wants mega-factories that will give “strategic autonomy” to German and French capital while facilitating the concentration and centralization of big capital. The way to perform this concentration is in every way a source of shortages, imperialist tensions and technical inefficiencies, but it is optimal to ensure, based on monopolies and protectionism, the profitability of the capitals involved.
Read also: The War of the Chips and the Contradictions of Capitalism, 14/6/2021
ALMA and the European Year of Youth
The next stop in the State of the Union 2021: 2022 will be the European Year of Youth. And to celebrate it what better than to give them an “ALMA” (soul in Spanish). And the truth, there is nothing better to represent what the spirit of the “Social Europe” supposedly consecrated in Porto. That “social” summit took as its banner labor reform and as its objective to precarize and train workers for precariousness.
“ALMA,” the bunny in the hat of the 2021 State of the Union debate, is not meant to hide this. It is a program meant to encourage young precarious workers to move from one country to another, normalizing the flows of the lowest-paid labor between countries.
Its function is not to articulate exchanges, for that there is Eures, but to educate a new precarious generation in nomadism. This is no longer the “flight to London” of the 1990s or the “flight” of college graduates to Amazon warehouses in Germany. What is wanted for the future is a cheap, floating workforce that goes wherever capital needs it.
Read also: Porto Social Commitment: the EU's 2030 precarization program, 9/5/2021
The Green Deal and the New European Bauhaus
Once with precarization in her mouth, von der Leyen gets excited and revs up. The “sensitive” moment of the State of the Union 2021 arrives:
If the Green Deal has any soul, this must be the European Bauhaus
If a model of workers’ housing more inane and anti-human than the original Bauhaus seemed difficult, the new European Bauhaus is its rococo. Not because it abounds in ornament like rococo in relation to baroque, but because it delves into the inhumanity of the original modern movement to focus on containers and graveyard niches.
But the “soul” sought by the Green Pact and von der Leyen has nothing to do with human development, but with the re-structuring of cities and neighborhoods for the new green logistics… which is expected to generate new and very European monopolies, of course.
Read also: Green Deal in the cities: the decline of semi-detached houses and the twilight of Urban Upgrading Projects, 7/6/2021
After devoting the emotional State of the Union 2021 moment to such a dreamy prospect of graveyard niches and cubicles, von der Leyen went on to interpret the IPCC report as a mandate for a blanket attack on workers’ living and working conditions: “Fit for 55″. Not a single mention of the blows already suffered or underway in Germany, Italy or Spain through the electricity bill. That is why the “Climate Emergency” was declared, which was announced this very week as the greatest strategic danger for Europe, in order to organize a massive transfer of income from capital to labor without any other justification than climate change per se.
And this goal is already being openly declared in the major European media. Just this week Le Monde said that “the essential change in lifestyles will require new expenses, on pain of weighing on businesses, employment and the purchasing power of households”. In other words, that living is going to be more expensive, that we are going to be poorer, but that if we managed to avoid it somehow… avoiding it would be a social evil because it would be bad for companies. Pan-European trade unions are fine with this, by the way, they take note of this and recommend… “dialogue”, i.e. patience and endurance.
And if there remained any doubt that this is the primary objective of the European Green Deal, the bulk of the space and headlines on the subject in the State of the Union 2021 debate went to… the “need” for an alliance with the US at the next Cop26 to accelerate the deployment of “green finance”. On the domestic side, for states, the opportunity to discount green investments from deficit and debt calculations, a dream for countries such as Spain that are rushing to issue “green” public debt in order to align with “Fit for 55”
Read also: “Fit for 55”: the Green Deal is accelerating… in order to reduce by more than 20% the purchasing power of your salary, 7/16/2021
“Cyber-resilience Act” and the European military
But there is no monopolistic development and concentration of capital in this historical epoch without a parallel development of militarism. It is inevitable. Especially when there is no will to avoid it, but militarism is considered a crucial part of competition policy which is, in theory, what the Commission is in charge of. And Von der Leyen, who once sounded like a possible NATO Secretary General, could not fail to make it explicit in the State of the Union 2021 debate: it is about much more than promoting the internal market for armaments.
In recent years we have started to develop a kind of European defense ecosystem, but what we need now is a European Defense Union. It’s time for Europe to take a step to the next level.
There would be no real militarism if the production and organization of war did not colonize new aspects of life. But the EU is not lacking in detail: the new “Cyber-resilience Act” is being advanced as a form of general, regulated mobilization for cyber-defense. Every computer a trench, every Internet user a European soldier with duties and responsibilities in global security.
We cannot talk about defense without talking about cyber. Everything that is connected can be hacked. We have to marshal our forces. We must strive to become leaders in cybersecurity. it should be here in Europe where cyber defense tools are developed.
So the next great European gathering will be convened in tandem with Macron: a European Defense Summit, to be held in the first half of 2022, during the French presidency of the EU Council and dedicated to laying the foundations of a true “European army”… or what amounts to the same thing, to bring the EU closer to becoming the core of an almost impossible Franco-German bloc now that Kabul and the US shift to Asia open the need and opportunity for a EU military assertion of its own.
Read also: European military, global war (in Spanish), 11/19/2018
A Franco-German reconciliation implicit in the State of the Union 2021
The EU has been on the verge of imploding during the pandemic. French, German and Nordist capitals had to cave in, eliminating deficit criteria and fleeing forward by enabling the recovery funds.
Their real tit-for-tat was not the vaunted “structural reforms” – which every government was always keen to implement, from Sánchez to Mitsotakis– but the acceptance of European leadership -that is, of German monopolistic interests- over entire budgetary areas: from digitalization, focused on making German industrial AI industry viable, to green mobility -remember that Spain has given its major subsidy for “economic transformation” to Volkswagen– via the new vaccine industry
On this new basis, which was always the EU’s goal, France and Germany have once again found common ground. In a matter of weeks, old imperialist rifts with global consequences have been unblocked. France abandoned Morocco in the EU, Germany realigned with the Elysée against Russia in Mali, the French blockade of the inclusion of the Western Balkans, planned to become the German Shenzhen, has turned into explicit support for Merkel’s “last will and testament”.
The state of the Union 2021 and the return of the Franco-German EU
As we pointed out above, an explicit model of European construction is “finally” established: the weakest national capitals, now deprived of monetary sovereignty, agree to lose increasingly strategic areas of fiscal policy and occasions of imperialist self-assertion. After decades of cuts and austerity, it seems acceptable to align with the big Franco-German monopolies in exchange for mutualizing within the EU new areas of expenditure.
Germany finds itself happy in this model, to which German capital has always been reluctant, and which did not hesitate to mobilize against it its petty bourgeoisie and until a few months ago its Constitutional Court. But suddenly the German public discourse has changed. Consolidating the recovery funds as a sort of “European federal budget” is on the lips of all parties in the current election campaign. The Greens are already incorporating it into their program, and the SPD and CDU are opening the door to the idea. The “sensible voices” in the opinion columns praise it and only remind us that it is better not to go too fast.
Europe will increasingly become the source of our prosperity. Anyone who does not understand this is not adequately preparing the country for the future.
However, this prosperity does not come for free. Ever closer political union inevitably goes hand in hand with the transfer of sovereign rights. If the European Parliament is to be given real room for maneuver, it must also be granted adequate fiscal sovereignty. A monetary policy decided in Frankfurt for the entire euro zone cannot focus solely on German interests. And transfer payments between regions with different economic capacities are inevitable in a common currency and economic area.
Boosting the process of European integration is no easy task and requires some patience and hard bargaining. Small steps are allowed as long as they are made continuously.Where Europe is stronger than China. Süd-deustche Zeitung.
State of the Union 2021 conclusions
The State of the Union 2021 debate is the first to be held in this framework in which Germany, the so-called Nordist countries and France seem to have found a model – not a cheap one – to tame the centrifugal forces between EU partners… in the framework of near economic collapse generated by the pandemic. From the point of view of the clashes of imperialist interests between member countries, the question is whether, with the worst over, the tendency towards disintegration will remain under control or whether Germany and France will initiate a race towards centralization to consolidate the situation.
From the workers’ point of view, the central issue remains the acceleration of the Green Deal and precarizing tendencies, which go hand in hand. The EU, with the recovery funds, is presented as a relief to states’ health and education spending-cutting policies. But as we saw with vocatioal training and with Fit for 55 under “EU aid” to the states, there lies no real relief for workers but multiplied attacks.