Time to revise the Iceland lesson
Saturday 12th September 2015
As unelected EU apparatchiks sanction the pillage of Greece and Ukraine BRIAN DENNY points to a striking alternative
Anti-austerity campaigners often call for banking controls, long-term public investment, the creation and protection of jobs and taking control of interest rates and monetary policy back from the Bank of England.
All these demands are, of course, illegal within the European Union (EU) and its neoliberal treaties, which demand the free movement of capital and outlaw all forms of protectionism and any real democratic control over the economy.
The reality is that European bankers and their institutions — the European Commission, European Central Bank, IMF, and European Stability Mechanism (ESM) — are turning themselves into virtual feudal dictators on behalf of monopoly finance capital.
Under the guise of promoting competitiveness within the EU through various impenetrable and obscure texts, the world’s biggest corporations are accruing enormous powers in order to dominate the modern wealth-accumulation process.
In other words parasitic speculative capital has been allowed to assert its political power over productive capital and the nation state itself through the thoroughly anti-democratic institutions of the EU.
It wasn’t always this way. Between the end of WWII and 1972 economies grew because speculative finance was controlled, thus creating welfare states and full employment.
Since then the forces of so-called “globalisation” began the long march of rolling back democratic and state control and unleashed the orgy of unbridled and destructive capitalism known in Britain as Thatcherism.
As the regional arm of globalisation the EU was the agent of speculation and austerity — particularly after 1993 — and the coming of the deeply neoliberal Maastricht Treaty which institutionalised this economic mumbo jumbo as a legal requirement.
The strict criteria of the Economic and Monetary Union, which limits public sector expenditure and government borrowing, simply prevented states from re-inflating their economies, ironically with the full support of social-democratic and left parties across Europe.
The European Fiscal Compact further consolidated the Maastricht criteria for the single currency known as the Stability and Growth Pact. Member states now face annual fines up to 0.1 per cent of GDP if they fail to cut spending deficits.
As such the EU is developing a new form of colonialism whereby compliant ruling classes are allowed to share in the wealth extracted in exchange for being permitted to rule on behalf of the colonisers.
The current austerity torture chambers being inflicted on the most heavily indebted nations, particularly in Greece and now Ukraine, are a case in point.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed last month by the pro-EU Syriza-led government and the troika adds another £63.5 billion to Greece’s debt, raising Greece’s total debt to more than £260bn.
Nearly all the £63.5bn is earmarked for debt payments to north European banks that already own the ever-rising debt, while Greek workers must work harder for less in order to generate a surplus that will return to the troika institutions in the form of interest.
Under this form of structural adjustment the troika has effectively become the agent of financial wealth extraction and transfer.
Under the MoU the Troika will oversee the writing of any budget, intervene in all wage negotiations and no Greek legislation can be enacted without prior approval of the Troika.
The MoU also states that Troika staff will manage Greek banks and any branches outside Greece will be sold off to other Euro banks, ie the ones that own all the debt.
This neocolonialism also demands the sale of government assets directly to those already benefiting from interest payments on the debt.
These new feudal overlords insist that any new money must pay the interest on old debts and that no new money goes into growth, claiming that debt repayment will reassure private investors so that they will pump in more speculative capital — not a chance.
In Ukraine this transfer of wealth is even faster.
Loans were promised to Kiev only after the Western-backed government swore in US-born Natalie Jaresko as finance minister and Lithuania’s Aivaras Abromavicius as economy minister hours after giving them Ukrainian citizenship.
Jaresko was previously attached to the US embassy, while Abromavicius can’t even speak Ukrainian. Yet both fanatically support austerity, deregulation and privatisation and their friends in the US and the EU can expect to do very well.
The IMF also quickly announced a new £26bn deal raising Ukraine’s debt from £7.7bn in 2007 to £65bn this year. The new £65bn debt will mean a massive increase in financial wealth extraction in the form of interest payments.
Frenzied privatisations will also hand state enterprises to the same speculative capital that already owns the debt. No fewer than 342 companies are slated for sale this year including power plants, mines, 13 ports and even farms.
This process of imperialist accumulation and colonisation will, of course, not serve the interests of the peoples of these unfortunate countries.
But there is an alternative and it has been done — in Iceland.
When global capitalism collapsed under a sea of speculation in 2008, instead of imposing devastating austerity measures and bailing out its parasitic banks, Iceland did the opposite.
Reykjavik refused to dump the odious debt onto its population or join the EU and its failing eurozone — as demanded by Brussels — and went on to throw those criminal bankers responsible for the crisis into prison.
“Why should we have a part of our society that is not being policed or without responsibility?” asked special prosecutor Olafur Hauksson in the wake of the collapse.
Now, less than a decade after refusing to kow-tow to the outrageous demands of EU institutions and the IMF, the Icelandic sky hasn’t fallen in but, in fact, the nation’s economy is booming.
The International Monetary Fund has even recanted, announcing that the country had achieved economic recovery “without compromising its welfare model” of universal health care and education.
Inside the neoliberal EU prison things look very different. So why on Earth would socialists and trade unionists campaign to stay in it?
• Brian Denny is spokesman for Trade Unionists Against the EU.
With no anti-corruption prosecutor, Sytnyk says future of Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Bureau in doubt: here.