SP leader: 'This crisis is no natural disaster, but can be blamed on political failures’

21 September 2011

SP leader: 'This crisis is no natural disaster, but can be blamed on political failures’

'This crisis is no natural disaster, but can be blamed on political failures’. So said SP leader Emile Roemer during the debate on the government’s programme for the coming year. In the Netherlands, governments set out their plans and their budget in a speech delivered by the Queen each September, and a few days later Parliament has the opportunity to respond in the ‘General Considerations’, a wide-ranging debate. Below are extracts from Emile Roemer’s contribution to that debate.

Emile RoemerThis is a time of very big numbers. Eighteen billion in budget cuts, 150 billion to Greece, a European emergency fund of 750 billion, or perhaps indeed more than double that sum – 2,000 billion. And now along comes the Finance Minister with a bill measured in millions.

So you have to ask yourself,‘what are these millions here worth, in a time in which elsewhere decisions are being taken over billions. In a time of huge numbers relations on a human scale seem hard to find. Nobody can understand such figures.

And yet, twenty-five years ago as a young teacher I stood for the first time in front of a class. For this I received a reasonable income, even if you compared it to that of my school’s head, who earned around twice that figure. Things are indeed different now. A starting teacher gets around €1,500 and a head teacher a good five times as much.

Friends of mine who worked in health care at that time earned a third of what their bosses made. Now a starting nurse gets less than an eighth of the salary of a manager. In industry, a management level employee of a middle-sized firm earned four times as much. Now, it’s forty times.

In other countries millionaires are saying that they are prepared to contribute more in order more fairly to share the bill for the crisis. I have yet to hear that in our own country. But perhaps the Premier has better contacts in such circles than I do. Has nobody announced that they wouldn’t miss it if they paid a bit extra? When, with a half of a percentage point property tax we wouldn’t have to take the money off disabled people?

With the introduction of a Tobin Tax, a tax on major financial transactions, such as those involving speculators, you could turn around the cuts in social workplace provision and in aid to young people with disabilities. With a levy on the extraction of our natural gas you would not need to increase the contribution people have to make to the costs of their own health care.

The Finance Minister warned yesterday of a storm raging over the Netherlands - as if this financial crisis in which we are mired were a natural phenomenon. But this crisis is no natural disaster, it does not come from on high, it is to be blamed in its entirety on political failures, on human transactions, on the political choices which laid the foundations for it.

The government accused the SP of being ‘irresponsible’ when we proposed rescheduling the Greek debts. Anyone who is so deeply in debt is not helped by being given a new credit card, but should be given help to respond to the debt. Our own national Central Planning Bureau has now stated this quite plainly: “Reducing the value of the debt would perhaps have been a better solution.”

And where is all of our money? I’ve already said it: our money takes a turn around the Acropolis and then straight away lands in the coffers of foreign banks. The Greek debt becomes each day more of a government loan and less of a problem for the financial sector. And thus our bill grows greater and greater by the day.

Everyone is in the meantime in agreement that the financial markets are off the rails, because the last twenty years have seen the rules of the game jettisoned and greed given free rein. New rules must be introduced so that this might be prevented in the future. And that must certainly not be left to those who were responsible for things going so wrong. Yet employees of banks are still being encouraged to take irresponsible risks. That the resulting profits disappear into private coffers while the losses must be covered by the state, does not seem to me something that even a liberal could explain.

In times of crisis we don’t need less democracy, but more. We need a Europe that lends its ear less to the multinationals and more to the citizens, a European development in which people are taken into account.

We are often accused of being ‘against Europe’. But let me now be quite clear about this. Europe is a continent, and you can’t be against a continent. Cooperation in Europe has given us sixty years of peace. Moreover, the process of globalisation and mutual solidarity are not things that you can stop. So don’t let anyone say that we are against Europe.

What the SP objects to is the creation of a fourth level of government hidden somewhere in Brussels, over which the people have no longer any hold, and the neoliberal policies imposed by Europe.

Political union, desired by many in this House, is possibly something for the longer term. You can’t impose that, it has to grow. But now it’s going far too quickly, and must be slowed down. The differences within Europe remain, on an economic as well as a cultural level, far too great. That’s what you have to invest in first of all. That was also the most important reason why at the time the SP was against the introduction of the euro. A single European currency should have been the culmination of European integration.

It shouldn’t be about big money, but about people. Not less democracy, as is now repeatedly being proposed, but precisely about more democracy.

While democracy here is under pressure, in the Arab world it’s awakening. I hope that in the coming months we will see, for the first time, free elections in Tunisia and Egypt – and hopefully also in Libya and Syria. We should do all we can to help people in those countries in this great adventure, but we should also, for example, express our support for the right of the Palestinians to their own democratic state, alongside Israel.

What is now happening constitutes working towards a two-state solution, precisely what the government, I believe, also says it wants. Democracy is something that we should be proud of and care for, that we should cherish.

Society cannot function without trust. Trust between shopkeeper and buyer, between employer and worker, between doctor and patient, between lawyer and client. The last twenty years have seen this trust, partly through government policy, come under pressure, and the policies of this government will certainly not improve this.

Of course we must put our financial house in order. But as I said last year and as I will say again repeatedly, we must not cut our economy and our society to the point of destruction. But that’s what this government is doing now. The crisis which we are now going through, in the Netherlands, in Europe and world-wide, is no natural disaster, but the work of human beings. This crisis is the result of political choices.

The naïve belief that in all areas the market can better organise society has led us into a nightmare. Governance has been relinquished, and now we lurch from one crisis to another.

Everyone can see how it has gone wrong, yet the government simply carries on in the old way. They want to give to the markets still more space in the public sector, limiting the influence of people to a yet greater extent.

This approach offers no future to the people. Nothing shows us that the sacrifices now being asked of the population will lead in the future to a better society, to a society that we have built together and of which we can be proud.

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