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Catarina Principe, co-editor of Europe in Revolt, discusses the struggle against austerity in Portugal

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back. I’m speaking with Catarina Príncipe. She is the author of Europe in Revolt, which she has co-authored with Bhaskar Sunkara. Thank you for joining me again. Catarina, you’ve been steeped in the politics in Portugal, which is where you live, and very few people in our audience probably follow in detail the politics of Europe. So give us a 101 here. What happened during and after the elections recently? CATARINA PRÍNCIPE, ACTIVIST AND WRITER: So, briefly, from 2011 to 2015, Portugal was under the memorandum of the Troika. You probably recognize that. It was very similar to Greece, right? And the right-wing party, together with a very conservative, smaller right-wing–we had a right-wing coalition government for four years that applied the harshest austerity measures in the country for many, many years. Although the Socialist Party, which is in Portugal the social liberals, so the center-left party–. Just a parenthesis: in Portugal, a lot of the parties have very left-wing names because they were formed during the Portuguese revolution of ’74-75. The Socialist Party, although it also signed the memorandum with the Troika, was not in power, so it built as an opposition party during the last four years. So in the elections in October 2015, although we had the four years of very, very hard austerity, the right wing won again. And they won, I believe, because they were–so Portugal did not have to ask for a second bailout like Greece did. And the reason why was because actually the European elites tried to maneuver around it and kind of, like, bought directly Portuguese debt, so that we would fulfill the evaluation of the Troika: something that they said to Greece was utterly impossible and they would never do, they did that Portugal in order to maintain the right wing in power. So they were able to build on the idea that we had to do sacrifices but they were worth it. So they won the elections, but they didn’t have absolute majority. The second party was the Socialist Party that had a very similar economic program, but with some what we call light austerity. And after that, both Bloco, the party that I’m a member of, the party of the radical left, had 10 percent, the Communist Party 8 percent. So what this came up to was that in parliament the Socialist Party, Bloco, and the Communist Party had actually a majority on parliament, although none of these parties won the election. So after one and a half months of negotiations, a government was formed that is a Socialist Party government with the parliamentary support of the Left Bloc and the Communist Party. So this is the scenario of the last months, six months. PERIES: And give us a sense of now that you have formed this coalition of the bloc, what kind of issues are getting discussed. Is there a platform of commitment between the parties? PRÍNCIPE: Yes. There is an agreement that was signed by the Socialist Party and the Left Bloc and by the Socialist Party and the Communist Party. That’s actually a difficulty, because there’s no agreement signed between the three parties. So that makes the situation more fragile. Okay. So there is an agreement, and this agreement is basically, like, in general terms an agreement that ensures that there will be no more austerity, meaning there will be no labor cuts, there will be no tax hikes, and there will be a reposition of some of the cuts that happened during the last four years, namely in pensions, some labor laws, and the restructuring of Social Security in the social state. So this is the agreement. Whether it is being totally fulfilled? No, it’s not. It’s been–the compromises have to be worked on every day. It’s a difficult situation–also a new situation for us, to know exactly how to maneuver that. But what we know is that although things are better, there’s been also a kind of a space of maneuvering that was given to us by the European Commission. I think that space of maneuvering is shrinking. That’s why I said in the last segment that Portugal is going to have to pay sanctions for having overcome the deficit limit, which is a very normal thing. So that space is kind of shrinking. And that will put pressure on the Socialist Party to apply, actually, their original electoral program, which had to do–which kept austerity at place. So we are under a new situation that is fragile and dynamic and that we have to, like, every day discuss on it. PERIES: And if things don’t go well in terms of negotiations with the European Union, is the kind of discussion about exiting also present in the Portuguese context? PRÍNCIPE: So, during the elections both the Left Bloc (Bloco) and the Communist Party have clear positions–well, they have slightly different but clear positions–on the fact that if we need to exit the European Union–the eurozone, but also the European Union if it’s needed–if it’s needed to stop austerity, we will do it. And those positions were put forward during the electoral campaign. And these two parties together in the last elections had 20 percent of the vote, so that’s not a small number. So, yes, that is definitely a subject today. We don’t know exactly how that’s going to happen, because we know that although we talk about euro exits and eventually exits of the European Union, we know that there’s not one exit, there are several. There’s one from the right, one from the left. There’s coordinated exits. There are exits that are done by themselves. There are exits that are imposed, exits that are self-determined. So in the end we need a political debate about what it would mean for Portugal to exit, from a left-wing perspective, and what we would need to do in order that this exit can actually build a restructuring of the Portuguese economic system and of the Portuguese industry and that can actually guarantee labor and social rights. PERIES: After the referendum in Greece, there was a lot of discussion about reformulating the European Union and [that] a different kind of Europe needed to be visioned and imagine. And Yanis Varoufakis took some leadership in this role. Is that kind of a movement actually evolving in the European context? PRÍNCIPE: I think the left in Europe is split right now, if we’re talking about the left in different countries, in terms of exactly what to do with the European Union. We have a part of the left that says it’s possible to restructure, reform the European Union, that, for example, Yanis Varoufakis is part of. PERIES: And also the position of Podemos in Spain. PRÍNCIPE: Yes. PERIES: Recently, anyway. PRÍNCIPE: Yes. I think it’s a bit more complicated because it has been the official positions of most of the left-wing parties in Europe for many years. But since what happened in Greece last year, those positions have evolved a little bit differently. So, for example, Podemos does have this idea–or a part of Podemos says it’s possible to restructure. At the same time, a part of Podemos is organizing what we call Plan B, which is a conference that is gathering a lot of different left-wing activists and intellectuals, left-wing economists to think about exiting the European Union in a coordinated way from the left, and exiting the euro particularly. So Podemos is doing both things, which is exactly what I think the left needs to be doing right now. We need to rethink strategies, and in a coordinated way, preferentially. PERIES: Let’s talk about Plan B. Give us a sense of what it is and what is the projected effort here and who’s participating in it. PRÍNCIPE: It was a project that started, was launched by some left-wing figures in Europe, like Mélenchon, Jean-Luc Mélenchon from Front de Gauche, and Oskar Lafontaine from Die Linke. Also gathered: like, Zoe Konstantopoulou. She’s also a member of this, from the new party. PERIES: She’s former speaker of the SYRIZA Party that now has formed a new party. PRÍNCIPE: Yes. So she’s also a member of this. There’s a group of people from Podemos which are also a member of this, people from the Left Bloc that are also a member of this. And some people–so there’s different people from different parties in the European context that are coming together to discuss: what do we need, for example, to leave the eurozone? What kind of policies of reindustrialization would we need? Who could we count on, for example, if there is an exit from one of the Southern European countries? How could this be coordinated with other countries and the left of other countries? And discussing the relation of forces that we’re in today, and try to build a common analysis from the left, as there was a common analysis of the need of reform in the European Union and not leaving it. This is kind of an effort to rethink a new strategy in a coordinated way. And I think this is a very important thing that is happening. PERIES: Sounds like a very important initiative going on in Europe as an alternative to the European Union and eurozone. I thank you so much for joining us today. PRÍNCIPE: Thank you. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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