We have received the invitation from workers, activists and officials of the German labour movement to the European Conference that they are organising on next February 25th and 26th in Berlin. We are writing this letter to say we will attend.
Indeed, whatever the situations in our respective countries - because of history, the history of our political and social institutions - we feel that we are directly concerned by the problems raised by our German comrades.
Is it not true that, in all of our countries and at the same time, we are all struck by a tidal wave of privatisations, and all the hardship it entails for the population?
Are we wrong to point out the fact that this onslaught is being co-ordinated and coherently carried out throughout all countries in European?
As labour activists, as democrats, as local elected officials, who are determined to find a solution to this onslaught, shouldn‚t we put our heads together so to try and wage this fight together on the European level?
Concerning postal services, telecommunications, power utilities and distribution, transportation, hospital and education systems, can‚t we measure the extent of the consequences these policies have had in all our countries, like our German comrades described in their invitation?
In each of our countries, aren‚t these the same issues that all the organisations in which we hold responsibilities have to deal with every day?
As our German comrades show for their country, isn‚t the privatisation of social property in Eastern Europe an accelerating factor of the privatisation of all public services?
They raise the question of the re-nationalisation of the public services; but is this question only true for Germany alone? Doesn‚t this question in turn raise that of the European Union, of its policy and, beyond, of the nature and function of its institutions?
Let us just take the example of retirement pensions. All the systems that we have enjoyed since the end of the war are different in our various countries, but they are all being suddenly and simultaneously challenged. We do not wish polemecise with anyone, but can only observe that Zapatero and Blair, and now Merkel, and a short time ago, Schröder, Berlusconi, Chirac, the Belgian government simultaneously undertook the same "reform".
This attack has incited people to mobilise massively in all our countries; as for instance the two general strikes called by trade unions which have just taken place against the retirement pensions "reform" in Belgium.
What is the link between this unprecedented reform to push back retirement age, cut pensions and the speech delivered by Prodi when he was appointed as President of the European Commission in Brussels in November 1999? He declared at that time: "Our main goal is to lighten the burden of retirement pensions (.) One idea that is being examined with much interest is that of pushing back retirement age."
Is this mere coincidence or is it the outcome of a co-ordinated onslaught from Brussels?
We might also take the example on the highly important issue of working conditions. Our German comrades mentioned the Hartz laws, each one of us can explain how this labour market counter-reform threatens the existence of an unemployment insurance system in each of our countries.
What can be done?
In their invitation letter, our German comrades assert that there is a solution. They consider that this policy has been massively rejected; as proof, they quote the May 29th NO vote of the French people to the "European Constitution", the June 1st NO vote of the Dutch people who followed suit and also the September 18th elections to the Bundestag (Germany)
We agree. They have invited us to go and discuss this with them. We have accepted their invitation . What about you? What do you think?
They raise the problem of political democracy: are they right, are they wrong to do so?
Since they wrote, a "grand coalition" government has been constituted in Berlin; the SPD is placed under the leadership or Merkel, in radical opposition to the September 18th vote of the German people.
In Belgium it is a liberal-social-democrat coalition government that is confronting the Belgian working class and its trade unions over this crucial issue of retirement pensions. The majority of the people -Flemish and Walloon united - as well as the overwhelming majority of social-democrat activists are hugely supportive of the trade unions, as was shown during the two last general strikes.
In Italy, the situation appears to be different but a question is raised. Once again , on November 25th, millions of workers of the whole country, from the North as from the South, took industrial action and demonstrated against the budget, contrived to respect the constraints of the European Union. Meanwhile, Romano Prodi, who chaired the European Commission from 1999 to 2004, after "primary elections" has just been selected as leader of the opposition to Berlusconi. Does this mean that it is forbidden to challenge the Brussels-imposed framework?
What is the relation between this threat to political democracy and the prerogatives the European Union claims, that of taking and imposing its decisions whatever may be the will expressed by the various peoples of Europe? Doesn‚t this need to be seriously discussed?
In conclusion, we should listen to the question that our comrades from the Balkans were asking when drawing the balance sheet of the tenth anniversary of the Dayton Accords: "Disaster has been organised in our country, on the basis of dismembering our Yugoslav Federation, of plundering, of ruining our factories, our public services, which have led to provocations, pitting people against their own fellow countrymen allegedly in the name of so-called ethnic interests. This has led to endless misery for the people; was this disaster not already written into this insane policy ruining all workers‚ gains, all the infrastructures to the exclusive benefit of international financial capital, of speculation that destroys all the productive forces?"
Are they wrong to raise the issues in this way, when we see what the policies of privatisation, compounded with European Union-driven forced regionalisation leads to, systematically ripping up the foundations of all our nations, the democratic foundations of the sovereignty of peoples in the name of unbridled competitiveness, which aims to undermine any solidarity, in Italy, in France, in Germany?
Let us discuss these questions, let us meet in Berlin next February 25th and 26th.