Interview with Gabi Zimmer, GUE-NGL group chair
“A lot of poor people think ‘the EU is not for us’”
By Gaspard Sebag | Wednesday 23 May 2012
German MEP Gabi Zimmer (Die Linke) replaced the former leader of the Confederal Group of the European United Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL) in the European Parliament, Lothar Bisky (Germany), when he stepped down in March for health reasons. Zimmer wants more attention to be paid to the consequences of political decisions at the highest level upon ordinary citizens. In particular, she calls for the wellbeing of people to come before the stability of the euro.
What is the future for Greece?
Greece has to stay in the eurozone but [the Greeks] are right to say that it’s not possible [to keep on talking] about the euro and the stability of the euro and [apply] a lot of pressure on Greece to cut the public expenditure but not to look at [how this impacts] the people. There are people dying. There are a lot of children living in hunger. We need other conditions.
I am also [in favour of] a debt audit. We have to see which part of the Greek debt is legitimate or illegitimate. It is not possible that the Greek people pay for a debt that they are not responsible for. That’s why we need an evaluation of the debt. We have to share responsibility and see who is responsible for what and say we are responsible for our own debt but not the debts of the international financial system.
Would you say that the terms of the bailout programme also need to be reconsidered?
Are cuts being applied too fast?
Not only too fast. It is only a burden on the poor people and the small and medium-sized enterprises but not for the rich people, not for the banks, not for the international institutions that have a great responsibility to bear for this crisis in Greece.
At the same time, Greece has been living well beyond its means with the euro. Surely there’s a need to reverse this.
Yes, but you need time for this. And you need public growth, for education, housing, health system… and you need to provide possibilities for growth for small and medium-sized enterprises. Local authorities in Greece are closing down. They are not able to ensure the minimum measures to provide the people with the most important things like water and waste management. It’s not possible to keep saying that you have to cut. It is not possible to say that stabilising the euro is the top priority without looking at the effects on the living conditions of the people. We all know that Greece is not able to pay back all its debt. That’s why a debt audit would be very, very important to get some perspective and then set a goal.
We have to say ‘first the people, then the stability of the euro’. We need the euro not only for the financial system. We have to change the priorities in our policy.
I’m not sure that most of the political parties and the ruling governments are looking at the reality in which people are living today. This is my problem. That is why we are discussing with our Greek friends to see whether they support an idea to send a social and ecological troika to Greece, to talk to the people, not only to their politicians but also to people from social and ecological networks, social services, trade unions…
What’s your position on the growth debate?
In the past weeks and months [there have been calls] to also look at growth. But what kind of growth? We have the ‘Europe 2020’ strategy. We, as EUL-NGL, opposed this strategy because in our mind this strategy does not go far enough to enhance social stability, ecological stability… But now we, as the Left, have to use the 2020 strategy because [at least] there are minimum social and ecological goals and it was written that growth should be an inclusive growth and a sustainable growth. If you listen to the Council, the Commission, they are not talking about inclusive growth, they are not talking about sustainable growth.
A word about the European Parliament’s legitimacy deficit…
We haven’t managed to change the prevailing impression that the European Parliament has no power to decide.
Discussing this with people in Germany I hear ‘What can you decide? Nothing’, ‘What is your influence? And if you don’t agree with this policy? How come they can do what they are doing?’ During this crisis, [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel and others have tried to exclude Parliament and not respect the treaty and not respect that the EP has the power to co-decide and to be included in almost all decisions. Crisis periods are the time when the ruling parties say ‘It’s better without democracy, we can decide more effectively, we are better off without any useless discussion with Parliament’.
Parliament, which often backs down in the face of fierce opposition from the capitals because the link between the two is not cut, has to bear some of the responsibility.
Yes it’s not cut. The member states - the governments and also the national parliaments - are only looking at the EU from a national point of view. [We need to explain] that we can’t go back to the national systems. That we will lose if we do so. You have a European system that is ambivalent: there is no European social system, there is no European right for trade union actions. Fighting poverty is a social task and social tasks are national responsibilities. That’s why a lot of poor people think ‘the European Union is not for us’.
We have to complement the economic and financial European Union with a social, ecological and democratic European Union. But I don’t see that in the sense of a centralised state, I see it as a union of members. We need national states but we need a better organised system between competences on national and European level. We have to enable the EU to fight poverty. We have to enhance the European Parliament’s powers.
Is the Parliament mature enough?
At the moment, no. Parliament should demand more rights, more respect from the Council and the Commission in some cases. But at the same time it’s clear that we, the members of the European Parliament, should not be living in a bubble. n