Archive, European Union

Katerina Anastasiou: Europe could be a beacon of human rights

Katerina Anastasiou is a candidate for the European Parliament backed by the Austrian radical left party KPÖ. In this interview, she talks about her campaign and vision for a green, democratic, anticapitalist Europe.

Interview by Moritz Ablinger originally published in Mosaik Blog.

Mosaik: The KPÖ has never won a mandate in the European Parliament; in 2014 the party received 2.1 percent of the vote. What do you hope to achieve in this election?

Katerina Anastasiou: Our goal is to enter the European Parliament. We consider ourselves part of the European left, which will be represented in the next parliament. Although hardly known in Austria, the left-wing parliamentary group GUE/NGL has 51 members in the European Parliament, about as many as the Greens. We want to support them. However, it’s also important for us to strengthen the left in Austria. We in Austria need to move from resistance to progressive alternatives, and my candidacy should be a step in this direction.

In the last EU election, KPÖ ran in an electoral coalition called Europa Anders [Different Europe] with the Austrian Pirate Party and the progressive, DiEM-affiliated party Der Wandel [The Change]. This election, you’re running as KPÖ PLUS. What does PLUS stand for?

One third of the first ten candidates on our electoral ticket are not KPÖ members. Four of the ten do not have an Austrian passport, six were not born in Austria. I, myself, as the candidate leading the ticket, am also not a party member. In contrast to the other parties, our ticket is pursuing a young, open, internationalist and feminist candidacy as is called for by the times – which is being done consciously to draw a contrast with the other nominally left parties and their well-known male candidates.

You are a migrant from Greece. How did you end up heading a KPÖ electoral coalition?

That is indeed a good question. Politically I’ve always found myself on the side of movement leftists, my heart still beats for social movements. Yet it’s clear that only a strong left in parliament, on the streets and in peoples’ minds will be able to stop the ascendance of the radical right. In times like these, this is something I want to contribute to while setting aside existing differences between political approaches. I’ve gotten to know the KPÖ in recent years and come to greatly value their unconditional solidarity with the European South. Since 2015 I’ve been working for the left-wing think tank transform! Europe, where I’m responsible for international issues and migration policy.

What is your opinion on the candidacy of your compatriot Yanis Varoufakis in Germany?

I know Yanis well, I’m in contact with him every now and then through my job. As a person he is quite inspiring, even though I don’t agree with all of his political positions. But we talk a lot about them. In the program of his electoral slate ‘European Spring’ I think the chapter on the topic of migration is very well done. I also really like the idea of implementing a Green New Deal through European investment as a first step. Moreover, I find the basic ideas of DiEM25 to be important: to find and recognise the European “demos”, and to involve this demos in a refoundation of Europe through participatory, democratic processes. Here I’d co-sign almost everything. The importance of shared antiracist and system-critical standpoints should not be underestimated in times like these.

Judging by developments in recent years, it seems that emancipatory movements are either forming outside of representative institutions, such as the gilets jaunes are currently doing, or orienting themselves in regional contexts, such as coalitions in council elections. Does the left still have room to manoeuvre on the EU level?

Of course, given the power relations existing today, it’s easier to win alternatives on levels other than the European. Yet movements are very often more European than they are perceived to be. Take, for example, the movement to rescue refugees at sea, the peace movement, the small farmers’ movement, the women’s strike, the climate strike, and so on. Therefore, their demands must be brought to the European level.

But don’t the undemocratic structures of the EU make this difficult?

The EU does indeed have structural problems which are ignored by the established parties and their representatives, or even exploited by them to push through hardcore neoliberal policy at the expense of the population. They fight brutally against democratic decisions which dare to question the mantra of neoliberalism. This is what led to the failure of the first SYRIZA government, following the successful OXI referendum. But Europe could also look different: it can in fact become social. This means creating minimum standards for all people living in Europe. Europe could become a beacon of human rights instead of pushing for isolation. It could point the way towards a feminist transformation of politics and for ecological sustainability. The Europe I fight for doesn’t yet exist. But there are millions of people on the continent who desire it.

Climate change and ecological destruction are probably the biggest problems society faces today. Which solutions do you propose and how could these be implemented?

For us, concrete steps for the coming legislative period include realising the goals of the Paris Agreement, as well as taking energy production out of the hands of corporations and bringing it under the administration of citizens, communes and cooperatives. Additionally, we join Yanis Varoufakis in demanding an EU-supported investment programme to expand local public transportation in Europe and to make it free. In order to do this, the infrastructure has to be updated.

In the United States and increasingly also in Europe, everyone seems to be talking about the Green New Deal. Is this the start of something?

I think it’s good that everyone is suddenly presenting their own drafts of the Green New Deal. However, we prefer to orient ourselves on a Green New Deal with a horizon that extends beyond the capitalist system. The first necessary step to hinder the ecological crisis and to deal with its consequences is to pose the system-critical question and leave behind the world of infinite growth.

Often it’s claimed that a vote for you would weaken centre-left forces which have a better chance of making it into the European Parliament. Why is a vote for you not a “wasted” vote?

So far, voting for the lesser evil has not served the Austrian left well. On the contrary, a mandate for us would send a clear message to the Greens and Social Democrats that they should orient themselves to the left. In my opinion, every vote which isn’t based on political conviction is a lost vote – especially in a country in which there is no parliamentary left that can be taken seriously.