Marc Botenga: "Embodying hope for a social breakthrough”

Marc Botenga

Opening speech at the "Europe for the people" meeting.

marc 1Dear friends and comrades, 

Welcome to this evening of exchange, discussion and encounters. What a pleasure to see you all here tonight.

As you know, the Belgian government currently holds the presidency of the European Union. So it's no coincidence, of course, that we wanted to bring together here in Brussels a large number of militants, activists and people who fight on a daily basis for a different Europe, one that breaks with current policies. We're here to give hope a voice.

Because, unfortunately, the Belgian government presides over a European Union that is leading us straight into the wall. The five-year record of this European Commission, chaired by Ursula von der Leyen and backed by a coalition ranging from the right to the social democrats, with occasional support from the ecologists, is appalling.

Firstly, in social terms. A third of Europeans have to skip a meal because they don't have the money for three meals a day. More than a third are unable to meet their children's basic needs. Around 46% of Europeans are afraid to turn up the heat when they're cold. Tens of millions of Europeans are at risk of poverty. And what has the European Commission done about it? Did it freeze energy prices? No. Has it taxed the excess profits of large multinationals, whether pharmaceutical, energy or military, which have profited from successive crises? No. Has she tried to tackle inequality on our continent via a millionaires' tax or by blocking tax evasion? No. 

No, what she's proposing is a return to austerity. Taking money out of workers' pockets, using European rules to attack their wages, pensions and public services. In her recommendations to my country, Belgium, made in the midst of a purchasing crisis, the Commission even dared to criticize the automatic wage indexation mechanism. In other words, for her, Belgian workers are paid too much. And the government, the Belgian presidency, which can single-handedly block this whole package, is collaborating.

In democratic terms, these anti-social policies, which ignore the needs of our continent's working classes, show just how out of touch Europe's elites are with the people. Very close to the multinationals and lobbies they work for on a daily basis, with salaries of up to € 30,000 a month, the European Commissioners are oblivious to the social emergency. This is the democratic failure of this Union.

Secondly, in terms of peace. This European Commission presented itself as the "Geopolitical Commission", but it torpedoed Europe's image in the world. Firstly, because of its double standards. When Russia illegally invaded and attacked Ukraine, the European Union claimed to be the great defender of international law. But when the International Court of Justice and UN experts speak of a risk of genocide in Gaza, the European Union has not only failed to take any sanctions, it has even continued to support Israel with arms supplies and subsidies. 

By choosing to follow the US foreign policy, this European Union has lost all credibility in the world as an actor for peace. Moreover, since the start of the war in Ukraine, the European Union has not taken a single diplomatic initiative to stop this war, to stop the killings. It imposed sanctions which Russian oligarchs escaped, while European industry suffered the consequences.  And today, the inflammatory statements of certain European leaders are pushing us towards a catastrophic confrontation between nuclear powers. If we want peace, let's prepare for peace.

Finally, on the climate front. The Commission's Green Deal was sold as a just transition. But in reality, the social dimension of this transition is being sought in vain throughout Europe. While the big polluters get free public money and public money keeps going to fossil fuels, carbon taxes on gasoline or housing and mileage taxes hit hard at workers who have no alternative but to use their cars. 

But we're not here to make you depressed. No. People are angry about traditional policies. In Europe and around the world. And they stand up. 

marc 2This is what our General Secretary Peter Mertens describes in his new book Mutiny. A mutiny in the South, where the countries of the South no longer accept the double standards of European foreign policy. Countries that assert their right to an autonomous policy. 

And a mutiny in the North, in Europe, where people are looking for a breakaway alternative. From the millions of French people who mobilized against pension reform in France, to the summer and winter of discontent in the UK, and the current strikes across Germany, Europe's working class is fighting a daily battle. 

Too often these struggles are obscured. We need to put this story of class struggle back at the heart of our narrative. 

Because this mutiny carries with it hope. Of a different Europe. That we'll have to build. Let's stop complaining about the omnipotence of capital. Let's be proud of our strength, embodied by the great social majority of our society. The far right is trying to channel people's anger downwards, against those in even more precarious situations, the unemployed or the refugees. As if they were responsible for the crisis, and not the big multinationals or the billionaires who don't pay taxes. 

We're here to embody hope, a social breakthrough. In the assemblies, but above all in the streets. And so I really want to thank you for being here today. To participate at this open exchange, fundamental discussions, with the inclusion of all forces. Together, with all the forces present here, and in society, who want a social break, who want peace, and a Europe at the service of the people, we can win and impose our agenda. We've done it several times over these years. We will continue to do so. 

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