• European Parliament Elections: Ambivalent Results for the Left

  • By Lothar Bisky | 22 Oct 09
  • Interview with the President of the Party of the European Left, Prof. Dr Lothar Bisky, for transform!europe

    Interview with the President of the Party of the European Left, Prof. Dr Lothar Bisky, for transform!europe


    Are you happy with the results of the EU-elections?

    Bisky: Yes and no. All in all, the member parties of the European Left (EL) showed stable results. AKEL in Cyprus and the Portuguese Left Block even pulled in a remarkable number of votes. And there are several new parties which joined GUE/NGL.

    But, of course, the new reduction in size of the GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament is an unfavourable starting point for our work. Also in Germany we were hoping for more than the results we had on election night. And, of course, the defeat of the Italian left is particularly bitter, a defeat we feel as far as Brussels and which I don’t want to play down here. I can’t really rejoice in the defeat of the Social Democrats either, who simply reaped the fruits of their change from social-democratic to neoliberal policies. In such a situation, people vote for the real thing rather than the copy. That may also be an explanation for the electoral results of the liberal and conservative forces, though not the only explanation.

    I’m also concerned about the low voter turnout. This shows that when the population cannot participate in European Union decisions, they have a correspondingly low interest in European elections.

    With amazement and deep concern I’ve noted the rise of extreme-right parties. We must keep a sharp eye on this development.


    Why can the parties of the democratic left not profit from the crisis since it was they who have for years been warning of the consequences of unbridled deregulation?

    Bisky: Nobody votes for you just because you’ve known things from the start. It’s not true that the left hasn’t made proposals. With the electoral platform of the European Left, 30 parties from 21 countries have for the first time arrived at a common basis for the election campaign. And that is – I never become tired of emphasising this – a minor sensation. And the platform contains very concrete proposals. Therefore we have to ask ourselves if we have done enough to make our proposals known. And we also have to ask ourselves whether we’re speaking a language which is understood by people.


    Except for two parties, no improvements, a bitter defeat and some dashed hopes – do you see a crisis of the European Left?

    Bisky: I don’t want to talk of a crisis, because the results are too differentiated for that. But all in all, and this is obvious, the left in Europe is not in the offensive and the causes for this date back to the end of the confrontation between blocs in 1989/90 and have to do with the difficult attempts of democratic and socialist parties to determine for themselves a new profile in a world which has become somewhat more libertarian through neoliberal promises, but by no means more solidaristic and peaceful. And in the face of the financial and economic crisis it is necessary to overcome this condition. As the President of the European Left I see it as my duty to help bring this about. In its next meeting, the executive board will accordingly have to begin to debate it, which should result in concrete decisions for the next party congress in 2010. In this I also hope for support from our transform ! foundation network, which – with its intellectual potential – can make an important contribution to the analysis of the situation.


    In which direction should the party develop?

    Bisky: In the five years of its existence the party has done a good job developing its policy. The best evidence of this is the election platform I already mentioned above. The question now is, how and to what extent the individual parties can give these common positions a shape in their national policies. As far as the “what” is concerned we have a number of common positions. Regarding the “how” we should intensify our efforts at exchange and communication – and we’ll only succeed in that when it becomes assumed and accepted – in companies, in social forums, with activists in the field of culture, at universities and in the municipalities –, that there is a European Left which holds similar positions on a number of points and together with which it is possible to achieve something.

    In addition to that it is very dear to my heart that the EL should develop from a party of parties to a party that is visible as an actor in its own right and present in the consciousness of its members. The work which has so far been done in the EL-networks – such as the trade unionists’ network or the women’s network of EL-Fem – represents an important contribution to this. This is the kind of politics we have to develop further. Also, the individual membership can be an instrument for this. Eventually we have to think about which forms of action allow us to be perceived as a European party in the eyes of the public – with positive repercussions on the position of the left in both Europe and the individual states.

    To achieve this is crucial for the European Left if it wants to get closer to its goal of a more democratic, more social and more cooperative Europe, with an ecologically sustainable economy and representing a force for peace in the world.


    Which strategic options do you see for the left to the left of Social Democracy in Europe?

    Bisky: Almost everywhere in Europe the left is far from achieving the cultural hegemony which – according to Gramsci – is a necessary precondition for achieving our goals of bringing about social change. The question is: in the years to come does the left wants patiently to work at its self-improvement and at regaining the discursive leadership or can we not tolerate our proposals being delayed any further. With regard to at least some proposals, it seems to me that further delay cannot be accepted and that we – while working for achieving cultural hegemony – have to get involved in concrete political alliances with all democratic forces that are striving for the same goals. In doing so, no parliamentary and extra-parliamentary form of exercising political influence should be excluded. The only criterion is that it contributes to bring about social change in a direction we want. This is not a contradiction; on the contrary, it can even contribute to winning cultural hegemony.

    I also think that the left in Europe should look to the left in other parts of the world, first of all, to Latin America. There we can find interesting impulses for our strategic considerations. An intensification of our cooperation with the Latin American left can only be an advantage for our own progress.


    You have mentioned the frighteningly good results of the extreme right. In your opinion, how should the left react to this?

    Bisky: It must be a matter of course for the left to stand up against each and every form of intolerance, discrimination, xenophobia and violence. But if we want to address the problem by the roots and take the wind out of the sails of the brown demagogues, we must tackle its social causes. A lack of social perspective and low educational level make people susceptible to the all too simple rallying cries of the extreme right. But it is also politicians who do not belong to the extreme right themselves, who try to exploit people’s diffuse fears and worries for their own ends. It is they, too, who prepare the ground for the success of the extreme right. We have to raise our voices also against this, too. Contributing to bringing about a basic anti-fascist consensus in the entire society is a task in which people working in the media, in educational institutions and in their neighbourhoods are just as actively involved in as democratic politicians.


    You are now also the chairperson of the GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament – what are your plans for the next five years?

    Bisky: First of all, it is important that we have again succeeded in constituting a pluralist left fraction. Although the parties of GUE/NGL are partly following different ideological approaches – we must neither ignore nor overrate this fact – they successfully cooperated in the last legislature. To my mind GUE/NGL pluralism is important and I see this as the cornerstone for good cooperation in the European Parliament. We have to continue where we managed to set important impulses: in our struggle against the working-time directive, in consumer protection, in taking responsibility for a humane treatment of refugees, in our commitment to a just and cooperative foreign trade policy, in our struggle for progress in the question of disarmament. In our electoral campaign we stated very clearly that the left in Europe would focus on a policy of crisis management in which the poorest don’t have to pay for the costs and in which the protection of the planet cannot wait a little longer. We have to become experts in several fields, and this very quickly, because the reform of the Union’s agriculture policy or the budget reform – just to mention a few – will be the topics uppermost on the agenda in the coming legislature, and left policy cannot and will not keep silent on them.