Mohsen Abdelmoumen: You called for a Covid tax on high net worth individuals and multinational corporations. Why? Didn't the Covid-19 crisis show us the failure of the neoliberal model?
Miguel Urbán Crespo: The emergence of Covid was particularly deadly after decades of neo-liberal policies and cuts in public services and health care. The coronavirus has shown us that in centers and countries where more has been invested in health, there are fewer deaths, because, as we already knew, there is no better social shield than the protection of fundamental rights and the collective interest. The right to health has been reduced by neoliberal policies and the cost of this pandemic amounts to hundreds of thousands lives.
Relocation and de-industrialization have meant that European countries in the midst of a viral disaster have not been able to manufacture the emergency equipment needed to combat Covid-19. Europe needs reindustrialization in line with a change in the production model that must be social, ecologically just and feminist. The economy must be at the service of life, not to fatten up private profits. This is undoubtedly one of the great lessons of this crisis.
Didn't the Covid-19 crisis accentuate the crisis of capitalism? Shouldn't we end the capitalist system once and for all?
This pandemic has exposed the shameful nature of capitalism. Capitalism's inability to take up the challenge of protecting the working classes and saving lives has been demonstrated. Now is the time to examine the consequences of years of continuous cuts in the public domain. Before this pandemic, the Davos Forum was already announcing the imminence of an economic crisis. Covid-19 expedited his arrival. We must denounce the policies that brought us here. If Marx were to write the Communist Manifesto today, he would end with the phrase: "Workers of the world, unite. This is the last call".
The financial crisis of 2008 was finally paid for by the working classes by collectivizing the losses of banks and large corporations after decades of profits privatization. It is impossible to collectivize again the debts and losses of a dangerous minority of millionaires, leaving entire families to sink into misery. The working classes do not have to pay for their crises, nor do they have to face alone their devastating effects.
In short, today capitalism is pushing us into a civilizational precipice. Being anti-capitalist means putting the emergency brake on this crazy train heading towards the precipice that capitalism has become.
You worked on tax evasion in Europe which amounts to astronomical sums. How do you explain the behavior of this 1% of rich people who don't pay taxes?
I coordinated the work of the Left Group (GUE) for two years in the European Parliament's special committees of inquiry on tax fraud and tax evasion. Worldwide, more than 600 billion - half of Spain's GDP - is diverted to these tax havens. The Panama Papers, for example, have shown how theft has been committed from every appropriation of public finances through what are wrongly called "tax havens". According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, more than 30 % of global investments in 2015 were made through tax havens or offshore investment centers. Stiglitz told in the European Parliament that we face an unfair global tax regime and that behind tax havens there is a sector that relies on secrecy to create a "shadow world economy".
Despite the repeated patriotic proclamations that the main political parties fill their mouths with, the multinationals and the billionaires to whom they pledge allegiance have no other homeland than money. Leak after leak, we discover new names of companies, celebrities or politicians who use offshore companies or covers to hide their real wealth in tax havens outside of tax obligations. The only real homeland for tax evaders is money. And they do not cover with flags the safes where they keep the untaxed profits that should finance social policies. We are witnessing a veritable insurrection of the privileged, where billionaires and multinationals refuse to pay taxes, practicing real fiscal terrorism with the complicit help of governments and major parties, whereas they work to denounce or threaten those who denounce their practices of public finances embezzlement. That is why the fight against tax evasion is more than ever a challenge to the dominant neo-liberal world order, a questioning of the monopolization of all the planet's resources by the minority of the 1 %.
How do you explain the fact that inequalities have increased between a minority of 1% who concentrate the totality of the world's wealth and a majority who live in total precariousness?
Tax evasion and fraud are not isolated or circumstantial cases, they are a structural phenomenon of the liquid capitalism of our times, intimately linked to the neo-liberal offensive that has been raging in our economies for decades. Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz told in the European Parliament that we suffer from an unfair global tax regime and that behind tax havens there is a sector that relies on secrecy to create a "shadow world economy".
Tax havens are one of the main causes of the extreme inequality in the concentration of wealth because they allow large multinationals and wealthy individuals to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. In fact, all the studies show that there has never been as much money in tax havens as there is today. According to economist Gabriel Zucman, there are about $7.6 trillion in personal fortunes hidden in places like Switzerland, Luxembourg and Singapore. As a result, inequality statistics significantly underestimate the true degree of wealth concentration, as they do not include the money hidden in these opaque territories or in tax havens.
We must opt for a determined model of wealth redistribution, we cannot, we the 99 %, hold only 1 % of the world's wealth. The response must be international. Netflix, which reaches more than three million households in Spain, pays 3,000 euros in taxes - the same amount as a worker with a low taxable income in Spain. Now that we are talking about the Green New Deal in Europe, we must remember that Roosevelt imposed 94 % of income tax on people with a fortune of more than 200,000 dollars - the equivalent of more than 2 million euros today. We have to place the distribution of wealth and work at the heart of the debate, include feminist logics and talk about eco-socialism. These are the main thrust of our proposals. All this is not possible if a dangerous minority remains immensely wealthy. A decision has to be made: either we govern for a dangerous minority of billionaires, or for social majorities.
A Covid tax must be put in place to ensure that the wealthy pay a generalized tax on the wealthy, the billionaires and the multinationals in order to finance our health and social services. Ambitious measures of this kind need to be taken. It is those who are richest to pay the bills, not the working classes.
You are a people's defender who is very committed to just causes, particularly that of the Saharawi people. Why do you think this cause is ignored in the West? Why does the media never talk about the struggle of the people of Western Sahara for its liberation?
This silence has its roots in the origin of the fact itself, in 1975, when Spain simply sold the Sahara to Morocco, amidst the specific strategic geopolitical interests of the powers involved. Despite the fact that the international chessboard has changed, the interests in the region have remained the same and it is these same interests that maintain the silence and inaction complicit in what we see today.
In 1975, on the international scene and in the midst of the Cold War, the United States, with Henry Kissinger at the head of diplomacy, did not allow the establishment of a socialist regime close to Algeria, an ally of the Soviets, in an area of strategic importance such as Western Sahara, both because of its geographical location and its phosphate-rich resources. He therefore supported and encouraged the annexation of Western Sahara to Morocco, using his allies, Spain and Saudi Arabia.
With the same gesture, Kissinger ensured the stability of the Moroccan monarchy, a rival to Algeria and located on the north-western flank of Africa, with a coastline on two seas and the ability to control the strait linking the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, while at the same time Saudi Arabia provided an important ally in the Arab League. The whole with the support of the United States and the Saudi funding. Kissinger was very clear about the geopolitical game at that time and never had any qualms about acting according to the interests of the moment.
In the specific case of Spain, this betrayal towards the Saharawi people is linked to the beginning of the Bourbon Restoration, inaugurating one of the darkest pages of Spanish foreign policy in the transition and the role of the person who is now King Emeritus Juan Carlos I. In this sense, the deepening of this historical betrayal implies questioning the return of the monarchy and the monarchy itself, which the media and the political establishment have denied throughout these years and even today, when, in full containment by COVID-19, the umpteenth corruption scandal linked to the crown exploded with the discovery of another million dollar account and the offshore foundation Lucum, in which Juan Carlos I had amassed 100 million euros in supposedly illicit commissions from Saudi Arabia. There is a history of exchange of favors and corruption between the Saudi theocracy and the King Emeritus, whose abandonment of Western Sahara is only the beginning. Thus, we must not forget that the Spanish crown is the heir to Franco's regime and that the figure of the king played a key role in the transition and the Moncloa pacts, which institutionalized the impunity on which Spanish democracy is based. Questioning the monarchy is questioning this whole system of impunity.
I interviewed Ana Gomes, Member of the European Parliament, who told me about a very powerful Moroccan lobby within the European institutions and the European Parliament. How do you explain the fact that some parliamentarians elected by their people sell themselves and, instead of supporting the just cause of a people, defend the occupier and colonizer, namely Morocco. Is that not immoral?
In Brussels, there are about 15,000 "lobbyists" working for some 2,500 pressure groups or lobbies. Although initiatives have been launched to regulate this activity, it is dictated by the interests of capital and big business, and relations between the EU, Morocco and Western Sahara are not exempt from this reality. Globally, this EU is a great machine for ensuring the functioning of markets, not for guaranteeing the rights of individuals. We have seen it and we are still seeing it today, when we talk about dealing with a social and economic crisis that was announced but which was triggered by a health crisis, which directly questions quality public services, that is to say the rights. We have come to the institutions to change these practices, to make them our own, to put them at the service of the functioning of popular majorities and solidarity between peoples and not of the markets.
It is obvious that the Moroccan Government spends huge amounts of money to influence European policies, as we have seen in the European Parliament's report on the EU-Morocco trade agreement. An agreement that could in no way include the occupied Sahrawi territories, as decided by the European Court of Justice itself, but in the end, pressure from the Moroccan Government intervened and they were included. Shortly before the vote on the parliamentary report approving the trade agreement, we learned that the rapporteur Member belonged to a foundation funded by the Moroccan Government. Such a scandal would have been enough to invalidate the report itself, but in the end, the signature of the scandal-spattered member was removed and the report was approved as is.
I am Algerian and my country suffered the crimes of French colonialism. Does not the cause of the Saharawi people concern all humanity, knowing that it is about the decolonization of a country?
Of course, but not only the Saharawi people. So many other peoples are today struggling for the right to self-determination as a sine qua non for further decolonization processes. All over the world we have many cases: the Kurdish people, the largest without a State of their own and divided among four States; the Palestinian people, who are accumulating decades of blood, occupation and injustice; the indigenous peoples of Latin America, such as the Mapuche people who, divided between what is now Chile and Argentina, have been resisting continuously since the initial colonization by the Spanish invasion 500 years ago.
In this sense, the emancipation of peoples and their decolonization is the matter of all those who aspire to change the world at the base. But it is necessary to broaden our patterns of analysis on the implications of "decolonization" according to neo-colonial offensives such as extractivism as an economic policy that destroys the environment and is imposed on entire regions, the imposition of a hegemonic culture, the divisions imposed by borders themselves, among others, and which the examples mentioned above illustrate as part of the same struggle.
All of humanity suffers from Covid-19. How do you explain the inhuman treatment of the Palestinian people in Gaza, deprived of everything and which continues to suffer from the criminal blockade of Israel?
It is not easy to explain the horrors of humanity. While the international dynamic is marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Israeli army continues to engage in the humanitarian siege of Gaza and the harassment of Palestinian communities in the West Bank that Israel has been trying to expel for decades, also with silence and international complicity.
We saw at the end of March how Israel confiscated tents destined for a field clinic in the northern West Bank, that is, Israeli apartheid continues to demonstrate that it has no measures or restraints despite the current health emergency. Intervening in a basic community care initiative during a health crisis is a cruel example of Israeli abuse, but it is already the norm in these communities and of course goes against all human rights principles and standards.
Why the world's silence on the extremely harsh living conditions of the Gazan people under Covid-19?
The silence is relative, but generalized in relation to the effects of the necropolitics that capitalism is deploying at the global level. In your question and in the case of Israel, we know that the Zionist lobby is necessary to strengthen the militaristic State of Israel and is a necessary tool to whitewash its own strategies in the agendas of international organizations and its natural ally, the United States, by emulating official positions in policies emanating from Washington, with clear geopolitical interests. It is obvious that the media apparatus that accompanies it must necessarily have the same power and impact. It should also be noted that during the Covid pandemic, our political group in Parliament highlighted the dramatic situation in Gaza, denouncing its illegal and inhumane blockade.
You worked on the rise of the extreme right in Europe. How do you explain that the ideology of fascism that caused the death of millions of Europeans could be resurrected again? Doesn't this rise of extreme right-wing and neo-Nazi groups that have taken power in some countries reflect the failure of the traditional political parties that ruled Europe after the Second World War?
The rise of the extreme right is a dangerous reality that sends us back to the worst ghosts in Europe, but there is something at least as dangerous: how the proposals of the extreme right are bought by the major parties of the neo-liberal Grand Coalition, a phenomenon known by many sociologists as the lepenization (note: in reference to Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the National Front - extreme right - in France) of European migration policies. Moreover, in Europe, reductions in rights and freedoms have been justified by policies of institutional xenophobia such as those of Fortress Europe, which have made the Mediterranean the largest mass grave in the world. All this has undoubtedly helped to normalize the extreme right, which is still paradoxical when Europe's day of remembrance is 9 May, the day of victory over Nazism. A celebration that implicitly recognizes the antifascist genesis of European democracy.
The crisis of the parties that traditionally held power after the Second World War does not seem to be a particular symptom of a specific country, but rather a European one, a symptom of its transformation into that extreme center that governs Europe into a grand coalition. In recent years, we have seen how it is fundamentally social democracy that has been electorally replaced by the emergence of new forces that occupy a large part of its political space. Although in most cases this shift has been to the right, in some cases it has also been to the left, as in Greece or Spain. Recently, however, we have also seen a heavy electoral cost on the part of the Christian Democratic Right, which has given way to its right, the case of Spain with the emergence of Vox being a good example of this.
The rise of the extreme right is closely linked to the spread of neo-liberal policies. For, over and above concrete cuts and privatizations, austerity is, as the economist Isidro Lopez puts it, "taxation" for 80 % of the European population a persistent imaginary shortage. A "there's not enough for everyone" that opens the door to "a few will have". Scarcity as a motor of exclusion mechanisms. This phenomenon, which Habermas defined as "welfare chauvinism" and where the ever-latent tensions between citizenship status and national identity are intersecting. Situations in which social unrest and political polarization are canalized by their weakest link (the migrant, the foreigner or simply "the other"), thus exonerating the political and economic elites who are actually responsible for the looting.
Brexit is a good example of how political polarization can be expressed in contradictory ways in an anti-establishment revolt that combines exclusionary nationalism, anti-immigration demagogy, and lassitude in the face of social inequality. Thus, the vacuum generated by a credible European political alternative is filled by fear, xenophobia, identity withdrawal, narrow-minded egoism and the search for scapegoats. But it is important to bear in mind that this phenomenon is not exclusively European. We are facing an authoritarian and reactionary international wave where there are different beliefs and religions: the role of evangelists in Latin America, Islamism or radical Hinduism are just a few examples. We are witnessing an unprecedented democratic regression over the last few decades, which threatens the very concepts of liberal democracy.
As a Member of the European Parliament who is committed to just causes, do you not think that the European Parliament should play a more important role than at present in resolving the conflicts raging in certain countries such as Yemen, Libya, etc.?
I believe it and I have denounced it on several occasions. The problem is that for too long, most European countries have had Saudi Arabia as a privileged partner in the region thanks to petrodollar diplomacy and/or the lucrative infrastructure and armament contracts of Spanish, French, British or German companies, which have paid the price for the systematic violation of human rights by thunderous official silences, as a deliberate buying strategy involving European governments and media. As hard as it is to say and hear, not all dead are worth the same, not all armed conflicts have the same impact or the same political treatment on the part of the European institutions.
Venezuela is continuing to be attacked by the United States. By supporting Juan Guaido, the puppet of the Americans, did Europe not commit a serious mistake? In your opinion, shouldn't US imperialist interventions stop?
When Guaidó proclaimed himself President in January 2019, not all member States recognized him. One of the first to recognize him was Spain, which I think is a real shame. As a bloc, the EU has also yielded to US pressure in the face of the situation: on 31 January, by a resolution of the European Parliament, Juan Guaidó was recognized as interim President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
This episode marked a new stage in the international offensive against Venezuela. On the one hand, transnational capital sees in Voluntad Popular, the party of Leopoldo López and Guaidó, a possibility of exit in favor of the logic of market restructuring, that is why it continues to enjoy the recognition and support of many countries. Moreover, more than sixty countries subordinate to the United States have launched a media offensive against the Maduro government and a new possibility of intervention under the guise of "humanitarian aid".
We have always maintained a total rejection of any form of opposition offensive against the Bolivarian Government. It should not be forgotten that the Venezuelan opposition is led by profoundly undemocratic sectors linked to the ruling class, which has been enriched by oil extraction and export concessions through American companies. The oil industry organizes the grounds for class struggle in Venezuela. Thus, this oil-bourgeoisie is preparing an authoritarian agenda against the conquests of the Bolivarian revolution, which have been greatly diminished by the crisis that the country has been experiencing for some time.
In this sense, it is a priority to stop the offensive of imperialism and the ruling class, which does not mean not having criticism for the Maduro government and its political management. As to who or how to stop this imperialist offensive, of course, the answer must not come from Europe. You cannot dismantle one imperialism by activating another under neo-colonialism. The revolution must involve an increase in freedoms, a deepening of democracy, a greater redistribution of wealth and the establishment of institutional mechanisms to ensure that the economy serves the needs of the popular classes. In a word: the power of the People against all forms of imperialist offensives.
Isn't there a need for a global anti-imperialist front to counter the disastrous plans of successive US administrations? Shouldn't Europe free itself from US hegemony?
Some strategies that in the past have served to revive cycles of accumulation, such as colonial imperialist expansionism, are blocked because capitalist expansion itself has meant that no place in the world is exempt from the logic of capital.
As in the case of Venezuela, just as the political leadership of the opposition serves its class interests, the capital's interests are defended around the world. Although this action is led by the United States under the leadership of Trump, it is part of a global logic and, regionally, in a context of soft or authoritarian coups d'état, depending on the country in Latin America as in Brazil, Honduras, Paraguay and more recently Bolivia (although this does not fall into the category of a soft coup d'état) in the same logic, but whose immediate consequences were severe repression of activists and communities in resistance. These coups were received with the complicit silence of governments and the international press.
Capitalism is in a long wave of depression caused by a crisis of profitability, the main cause of which is the downward trend in the rate of profit. Faced with this permanent difficulty, capitalism has sought its way out, as it systematically does, by intensifying the exploitation of human beings and nature in a process of permanent devaluation of labor and degradation of the biosphere. Thus, it will be the ecological crisis that will introduce, as it already does, new limits to capitalist developmentalism but also new limits to the cycles of transformation and their strategies. In this sense, it is fundamental to generate a new solidarity and a militant internationalism capable of building an eco-socialist project that responds, starting from different contexts and regional particularities, to the common challenge of facing a post-capitalist scenario.
Throughout history, we have always seen that crises of capitalism lead to war. Don't you think that the recession looming with the Covid-19 crisis could lead to a war provoked by the Trump administration against China?
The ecological crisis and the increasing scarcity of the planet's resources are essential for understanding the evolution of the capitalist crisis, especially in the post-Covid-19 pandemic world, whose full impact cannot yet be seen, but which will probably change the balance of power and accelerate the crisis that has been lasting since 2008. Until that moment, the trend towards a recomposition of capitalism at the global level had taken the form of " deglobalization ", although apparently since then, the backdrop has always been the global financialization of the economy. It's the central node of geopolitics today: how, in a competitive and crisis-stricken world, the major powers manage to improve their situation. The States are competing with each other for capital, which is manifested through the large-scale reorganization of the capitalist oligarchy with new agents, new strata of capital (especially in Asia) vying for control of wealth and income.
The trade war between the United States and China, or Brexit, is part of this process of restructuring the world system on a global level, which will attempt to divide the world into zones of competing influences. This also explains the emergence of new forms of looting of disadvantaged countries, particularly serious in the extractive industries and the control of fertile land or water resources. The possibility of a large-scale war seems to be temporarily excluded for political reasons, and I insist that it is the ecological crisis that will determine the course of the crisis.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Miguel Urbán Crespo?
Miguel Urbán Crespo is a Spanish politician, Member of the European Parliament integrated within the European United Left–Nordic Green Left political group, and an anti-capitalist activist. As a MEP, he is member of the Committee on Development, the Subcommittee on Human Rights, the Delegation for relations with Mercosur, and the Delegation to the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly. He is also substitute of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, and the Delegation for relations with the Federative Republic of Brazil.
Published in American Herald Tribune May 21, 2020: https://ahtribune.com/interview/4177-miguel-urban-crespo.html