Already in December last year a strategy meeting of the organisations preparing the “Alter Summit of the European Peoples” (Athens, 7-9 June) took place in Brussels. The meeting was attended by 75 persons representing 50 organisations from 18 countries.
[nl] The preparation meeting was hosted by the CG FGTB and chaired by Andrea Della Vecchia (FGTB), Felipe Van Keirsbilck (CSC), Frédérique Payen (WMW), Solange Cidreira (Feminists for Another Europe) and Walter Baier (transform! europe).
In the course of the debate representatives of already existing national coordination groups informed those present about the status quo of mobilisations. Moreover, the content of a “Memorandum of the Peoples of Europe” was discussed which is to be submitted to the Alter Summit for decision. The proposal concerning the form of the event in Athens is to be discussed at the next meeting of the coordinating committee of the Alter Summit that will take place in Athens on 8 February.
(19 December 2012)
The proposal to hold a summit of alternative social and political movements in Athens on 7-9 June 2013, constitutes a serious attempt to create a European social and political front for the struggles against austerity and an authoritarian turning point in EU-integration. This opportunity was made possible by great and significant social struggles in Europe’s South and electoral victories of singular formations of the political Left in various countries.
The political movement in preparation to this Alter-Summit (AS) reaches back to the European Social Forum – a framework in which the Joint Social Conference (JSC) was created first in Malmö, in the fall of 2008. Its purpose was to promote a more structured and elaborated debate, as compared to the Social Forum, for a common strategy between social movements, NGOs, and trade unions. In 2012, the transform-network was accepted into the initiative committee of the JSC.
Position papers which were produced by the JSC in two conferences, amongst others concerning austerity, tax equality, currency and fiscal politics, as well as foreign trade, can be downloaded from the web site www.jointsocialconference.eu.They are worth reading because they show that this attempt to unite social agents in new ways is also an intellectually ambitious project which enabled transform – not claiming to be itself a political actor – to participate in terms of content.
Within the initiative committee of the JSC, supported by the European Trade Union Association, the majority of – mostly left oriented – central trade union organisations – the CGT, FSU, Solidaire, CGILL, CCOO, CGT-P, FTGB, CSC und MSZOSZ – as well as important European social, civil society, and ecology movements – ATTAC, EAPN, CADTM and Greenpeace – are collaborating.
The outbreak of the financial crisis in Europe, the brutal austerity programs, the tightened social crisis in the East – and last but not least the decisiveness with which neo-liberal elites are race walking to use the crisis towards the destruction of the social welfare state and an authoritarian turning point of European integration – have radicalized and politicized the debate. Thus for the first time, even the ETUC (European Trade Union Association) has, in February of 2012, rejected a European treaty – namely the fiscal pact – on the basis of its socially regressive impacts. These developments have also revealed limits of Social Forum processes in sharper profile.
Against this changed political background the project of the Alter-Summit was introduced in March of 2012, in the context of the yearly meeting of the Joint Social Conference. It was welcomed by all agents present, representatives of trade unions, social-, civil society and ecology movements, as well as NGOs. The speaker of the only political party present at the meeting – Pierre Laurent, chairman of the European Left Party – supported the proposal.
The Alter-Summit is not a counter-model to the settings of the Social Forum processes. They will remain intact and widely visible as spaces of dialogue and platforms of rehearsing and experimenting with a pluralistic culture of the Left which is in solidarity. Insofar the Forum „Florence 10 + 10“ was a very important meeting. However, there are three political elements by which political ambitions of the Alter-Summit supersede the spontaneous character of the Social Forum setting and mark a new step forward of the movement.
1) Forces carrying the Alter-Summit agree that any defense struggle solely conceived as resistance fight is not sufficient to successfully counteract the offensive of the ruling class. Substitution of the notion “Counter Summit“ with the word „Alter-Summit“ shall exactly give voice to this new ambition. It is expression of the fact that neo-liberal hegemony – which has now drifted into a crisis with nationalism growing across Europe – shall be confronted with the concept of left hegemony. It must be considered as remarkable that social movements are for the first time themselves now raising the question of political balance of power for discussion.
2) This calls for a new relationship of political actors which are in solidarity with challenges of the movements. In the Charta of Porto Alegre, which the World Social Forum has defined as a “plural, diversified, non-confessional, non-governmental and non-party context”, the integration of political actors – independent of the role they inhabit within social struggles – was more or less explicitly rejected: “Neither party representations nor military organizations shall participate in the Forum. Government leaders and members of legislatures who accept the commitments of this Charter may be invited to participate in a personal capacity” (Charter of the WSF, Porto Alegre, April 2001). In statement communicated at the meeting in Florence, the AS-coordinating committee, formulated the relationship between social and political actors differently: “Thee Alter Summit is led by the social movements, but we also accept the political forces which support our demands. Personalities who support our appeal are welcome. We are asking all organizations and politicians to fight with us if they share the spirit and the fundamental analysis summarized in our ‘Call’”. Thus, a necessary step to transgress the split between concerned actors was accomoplished which – while simultaneously acknowledging both autonomy and differences involved – may lead to taking up a promising struggle for a left alternative in Europe.
3) The Alter-Summit considers itself critical, yet pro-European. In the call it reads: “We cannot win a European battle in a purely national framework” ... “We want to improve the European social model and defend the people, not banks, corporations, and their main shareholders … This requires other policies, which means also to review the institutions and treaties; not in the sense of a hardening of punitive neo-liberalism, but rather for reclaiming democracy (Call for an Alternative Summit, Brussels, March 2012).
Strategically this means to set clear limits towards nationalistic positions without rendering the dangers of an authoritarian and centralistic direction of the ruling integration procedures harmless.
At least in these three points we can understand the Alter-Summit as an attempt to renew the discourse of social movements. The generally positive reception of the proposal shows that this development meets with expectations of many active groups and individuals, as does the foundation of national preparation structures, above all the willingness of Greek unions and social movements to undertake efforts in order to host the event in Athens.
Also at the large presentation event of the Alter-Summit in the framework of the Social Forum „Florence 10+10“, in statements by representants of trade unions from West, East and Southern Europe, by vice Deputy General Secretary of the ETUC, Patrick Itschert,by speakers of the newly created Network of Progressive Economists and other important European networks – amongst them transform – this very tendency was made perfectly clear.
It has been largely agreed upon that no attempt must be made to present the Alter-Summit as a sort of “Central Committee” of the social movements. Its „added value“ regarding social mobilisation capacities within singular countries exists in the fact of lending them a European dimension. In the Alter-Summit itself a set of important and most visible political demands concerning Europe – in the sense of political priorities – will be raised by European individuals representing important movements and organisations.
It will be the most important and at the same time the hardest task of preparations for the Alter-Summit to define those priorities. Nevertheless, the attempt alone to forge a common strategic formulation of priorities already signifies a new quality of discourse within social and political movements.