It's Capitalism Stupid

"It's Capitalism Stupid" is the tag line for a festival organised by the Colletivo Prezzemolo -researchers and workers at the European Institute University (EUI) - in Florence, Italy which is running from 3 - 12 May, 2013. The festival is deliberately scheduled to take place at the same time and in contradistinction to the annual "State of the Union" conference at the EUI which brings together "leading academics, policy makers" and other members of the establishment to discuss matters EU from the insider perspective.

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EC will give the haughty State of the Union address and, with an approach symptomatic of EU Institutions, the conference self-describes as an "exclusive occasion for dialogue and networking" wherein participation is by invite only. The establishment view will inevitably be to keep on keeping on with, in the words of Irish President Michael D Higgins, "solutions by technocratic measures" and to dismiss as 'populism' the anti-EU sentiment that exists across the continent.

There is an alternative view and an alternative solution - this is the message that the Colletivo Prezzemolo festival seeks to promote. And that a solution to the financial crisis will only come about with a radical change of Europe's political imagination. The alternative festival will seek to expose the inbuilt neoliberal bias of the European project and to deconstruct the idea that the 'troika' engineering programmes are technical solutions, devoid of ideology.

Dr Aidan Regan, who lectures at the EUI (and has a PhD in Public Policy from University College Dublin), will deliver a paper which holds particular interest from an Irish perspective. Dr Regan describes the defective policy approach of EU law makers as a "one size-fits-all, neoliberal solution to diverse economic problems across different varieties of capitalism. " He notes that policy-makers have failed to take account of the "structural imbalance between export led economies with current account surpluses (Germany, Netherlands, Austria and Finland) and countries with current account deficits (Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal and Ireland)."

Dr Regan's paper will note that in the absence of "exchange rate adjustments", Ireland and other European countries are being forced to pursue an internal devaluation that shifts "the entire burden of adjustment on to fiscal and labour market policy." The EU/IMF austerity programmes, the paper observes, are based on the assumption that if governments liberalise (or make flexible) their welfare state and labour market that the debtor countries will eventually be able to compete with "the German model of capitalism in international export markets." The paper concludes that it "is hard to justify why a country should keep a currency that requires an adjustment that exacerbates rather than solves their debt crisis."

At the level of the EU citizenry, the paper draws attention to the growing powerlessness of EU citizens who are no longer allowed to play a meaningful input into shaping policy choices that affect them. "International creditors and the holders of financial assets" have, in fact, "significantly more influence on public policy than citizens." At the same time, the paper notes that "the crisis is not leading to more European integration but a return to the nation-state, with national governments defending the interests and comparative advantage of their national economies."

The Colletivo Prezzemolo group includes a number of Irish people and the festival is designed to challenge the establishment consensus and invoke the language of solidarity. It will put forward a left-wing alternative to the neoliberal austerity programmes. And will proceed from the position that that a system which pushes the cost of the European financial crisis on to the countries least able to pay is a system that is irretrievably broken. Not only broken, but stupid.