Buy, Buy Europe
Pieter De Vos (2013)
This is a five-part miniseries describing how European banks have hijacked the euro monetary union to vastly increase their wealth. The upcoming Brexit vote in Britain makes this a particularly relevant topic.
Part 1 A Bank Crisis a Week
The series begins by describing the history of the European monetary union. Built at the height of neoliberalism it adopted all the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Alan Greenspan promising that globalized capitalism and free markets would end economic crises, increase prosperity and end inequality.
What really happened is that creating the euro massively increased inequality between northern and southern Europe and between workers and the super rich.
In seeking to make European banks as strong and competitive as US and British banks, Eurozone leaders ceased regulating them. Wall Street is often blamed for the EU’s 2008 meltdown. In actuality, deregulated European banks were equally guilty of risky speculation in derivatives and subprime mortgages.
Following the 2008 economic crash, European banks required massive government bailouts to keep European economies from collapsing. Promised banking reforms to prevent a recurrence of 2008 never happened. And according to the IMF, the global banking system is even more unstable today as it was right before the meltdown.
Part 2 Austerity Till the Grave
The bailouts required to keep their banks (and economies) going virtually bankrupted all Eurozone governments. All borrowed deeply (from the global banking system they had just bailed out) to keep their governments going. As a condition of this borrowing, the banks required them to reduce their deficits via deep austerity cuts. To qualify for further loans, they all cut pensions and benefits and laid off public service workers.
This segment focuses on Spain, where workers are organizing to block evictions, and Greece, where unemployed parents are forced to drop their kids off at orphanages because they can’t get welfare benefits to support them.
Part 3 Tax Haven Europe
This segment begins by profiling the Greek shipping magnates who run the largest merchant fleet in the world and pay virtually no tax. Corporations and the super rich pay far less tax than working people in all the EU countries. This massive tax avoidance forces all European governments to acquire major debt to keep from collapsing.
The documentary offers the example of Belgium, where the average tax rate is 12.5% and the most profitable corporations pay only 5% of their earnings in tax.
The filmmakers maintain that workers create wealth, though I doubt most neoliberals would see it that way. In 1981 Europe, 74% of the wealth workers created was returned to them as wages and government benefits. By 2012 only 49% of this wealth was returned to them and the super rich claimed the rest.
Part 4 Bratwurst, Lederhosen and Minijobs.
This was the most eye-open segment for me. It exposes the punitive conditions imposed on German workers from 2000 with the goal of making German export industries more competitive. Under former chancellor Gerhart Schroeder, massive wage reductions were imposed on all German workers – something IMF chief Christine LaGarde likes to call “labor market reform.”
Among other labor “reforms,” were a massive increase in “minijobs” – low wage part-time temporary positions that pay an average of 400 ($US 448) euros a month. Given Germany’s high cost of living, both parents need to work 2-3 “minijobs” (if they can find them) to cover a family’s basic needs.
The result was truckloads of cheap German imports flooding into southern EU countries (Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy), shutting down local industries that couldn’t compete.
In this way, Germany’s vicious attack on their own workers forced wages down in other EU countries. This, in turn, forced countries like Greece and Spain to borrow lots of money from German banks to keep their governments going.
Ironically Germany currently has the highest number of working poor (7 million) of all EU countries.
Part 5 What Kind of Europe Do We Want?
It’s vital for people to understand that the mantra EU governments repeat ad nauseum – that saving the euro is essential to strengthening the EU and restoring prosperity – is pure propaganda. Seven years of austerity is massively increasing deficits and debt by putting so many people out of work.
The truth is that the Eurozone has been hijacked by banks and multinational corporations who are determined to use trade agreements to lock member countries into austerity and statutory destruction of Europe’s proud tradition of democratic socialism.
The only solution is a public takeover of too-big-to fail banks. Continuing to bail them out, while allowing them to privatize all the profits, is simply legalized theft of public monies. And a yes vote on Brexit.