This is what Martin Schirdewan, Co-President of DIE LINKE party as well as of the Left Group in the European Parliament, particularly stressed in his speech at the 7th Party Congress of the European Left (EL) in Vienna in December 2022. Read the full speech here.
Dear friends and comrades, it is a great pleasure to be here with you after three long years. It is good to reconvene here in Vienna. A lot has changed since then in Europe. I’m here not only to convene the greetings from The Left Group in the EP, but also to report back to you on what we have done, to report back on our political struggles, and also to report back on our political achievements.
The pandemic and the privatisation of healthcare systems
The Covid-19 pandemic radically exposed the consequences of decades of austerity and privatisation, and eroded our healthcare systems’ ability to cope with the pandemic in all our Member States, leading to thousands of preventable deaths all over Europe. At the same time, capitalism and corruption showed us their greediest form.
Companies and governments made shady mask and vaccination deals all over Europe. I’m glad to announce that one of our colleagues is among us here in Vienna, Marc Botenga from Belgium. He was at the forefront of this, working for the disclosure of these contracts. Most prominently, the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, still has many questions to answer about the contract she made with Pfizer. And yet there has been little time to recover for Europe, the Europeans and for the European Left. We are facing an unprecedented energy crisis, the highest rise in inflation for decades, a strong far right and a war raging on our doorstep.
The conservatives break the cordon sanitaire against the far right
There is little doubt that the far right is on the rise across Europe. In Italy’s national elections the far right obtained 44% of the votes, enabling a right-wing government, with Giorgia Meloni on top.
The new Swedish Government relies on a coalition with the neo-Nazi Swedish democrats, showing just how easily the conservatives are willing to break the cordon sanitaire to associate with fascists.
Democracy and the rule of law have been in retreat for years. In Hungary, Victor Orbán has recklessly attacked the rights of working people, women and minorities. This system relies on corruption and the suppression of free media and civil society.
Not surprisingly, those people I just mentioned are working closely together in the European Council with other populists like Morawiecki from Poland to block aid for Ukraine that is so much needed, or even to oppose a minimum tax for corporations.
The far right, and let us be clear about that, are well-connected across Europe. We cannot allow them to hold the EU hostage like this. As long as there is a left group in the European Parliament, I can assure you there will always be us saying “No Pasaran”!
The Left is the only political force with practical answers to the energy crisis
The energy crisis has been hitting citizens hard, with bills sometimes quadrupling. Citizens are left in despair. For many of them, this means that at the end of the month they are forced to choose between eating and heating – and this is unbearable. At the time when people are suffering, oil and gas companies like Shell are making record-breaking profits. We need to tax those windfall profits, we want to take this money from the fossil companies and give it to those people who actually need it.
Windfall profit tax and a public energy sector
For some time, we have been alone in voicing this demand in the European Parliament.
At the beginning of the energy crisis, the centre right and far right forces were still busy blaming the energy transitions for the high costs.
The Social Democrats and the Greens were blaming the lack of renewable energy.
Unlike them, we were pushing for a fundamental reform of the energy market. For over a year now, we have been calling, together with the European Left Party, for a cap on gas prices and a tax on windfall profits, and demands to put the energy sector back under public control. We tirelessly put our demands on the table in the plenary and in the news.
Another energy market design is needed
In August 2022, Ursula Von der Leyen finally could not hide any longer. She admitted what we have been saying all along: that “the energy market is not fit for purpose”. Now the European Commission will present a reform of the energy market design. We will be watching every step very closely so that the people of Europe will not be taken for fools. We will only stop once we achieve structural change, for us that means no one has to live in and to suffer from energy poverty, and that we want to take over public control of the energy sector.
The EU follows the demand of The Left Group: exit the Energy Charter Treaty
I’m proud that we have also managed to serve another blow to the Commission, which was actually quite hurtful, I guess. It has been our success to push the EU to exit the energy charter treaty. This is a treaty protecting the interests of fossil fuel companies in a world struggling with climate change. The European Parliament voted for this exit with an overwhelming majority recently. We in the European Parliament have been calling for an exit from this treaty for a long time. With no support in either the European Council or the European Parliament, the Commission now has no option but to push for a coordinated exit. This is really good news for the energy transition and for climate protection.
These challenges, the rise of the extreme right, the energy crisis, the cost-of-living-crisis and climate change make one thing very clear: a strong left in Europe is more necessary than ever. Only if we stand together can we succeed. I have shown only a few examples.
No tolerance of human rights abuses by Frontex
We have also worked for years to hold Frontex accountable in the European Parliament for its violation of human rights at the borders of the EU. Three months ago, the Parliament blocked the discharge of the Frontex budget for the first time. This is historic. This discussion sends a clear message that we won’t tolerate human rights violations by Frontex anymore.
Platform workers need good jobs
We were also the first to give a voice to platform workers in the Parliament. A group that had been forgotten until then. We made countless present plenary appearances to expose the dire living and working realities of platform workers. Finally, our pressure, the pressure of The Left Group in the European Parliament, led the Commission to present a directive on platform workers for the first time ever.
We can claim those victories
We can claim those victories, dear comrades, dear friends. We can claim those victories because we remain firmly united to build a Europe that works for the people and for the planet. We stand up for the workers, for minorities, for LGBTQI+ people; and we rise to fight neoliberalism, fascism and climate change. There is no doubt that we have a difficult road ahead. Let us get to work and let us get there together.
Thank you again for inviting Manon (Aubry) and me. I look forward to learning from many of you and to finding ways of cooperating for a better Europe.
Thank you very much.