• transform! europe 2014 at a Glance

  • Auteur Maxime Benatouil | 17 Nov 14
  • For the last fifteen years, transform! has been working as a horizontal network with alternative thinking and political dialogue at its core. As the political foundation of the Party of the European Left (EL), it has taken an ever more active part in European political debates. 2014 was a year of political challenges marked by the bittersweet lessons of the EU elections. The growth of the left parliamentary group in the European Parliament – the GUE/NGL is now composed of 52 MEPs, instead of 34 in the past legislature – has occurred simultaneously with the reinforced anchorage of the extreme right throughout Europe and with weak voter turnout. Despite the current reassuring narrative of the European Commission and most of the heads of states and governments, the European Union is still in crisis – with very little prospect of recovery ahead. transform! wishes to open up spaces and create dynamics so that a new cultural and political hegemony may emerge. It is in this sense that its two core projects must be understood.

    The project ‘Strategic Perspectives of the European Left’ allows for a transnational space of continuous discussion on the challenges faced by left parties across Europe and the evolution of the political landscape, while the project ‘Crisis in Europe – Crisis of Europe. There are Alternatives!’ provides social and political actors with thorough analyses of the crisis’ multidimensional aspects (political economy, citizens’ perceptions, existing alternatives, etc.). In addition, transform! works closely with the Party of the European Left on a regular basis – as is shown by the yearly joint Summer University – but also on occasional common initiatives – such as the European conference on issues of debt. As a progressive network, it also supports the anti-austerity social movements and their attempts to unite at the EU level in a very active fashion. It took part in numerous initiatives launched by key actors of the movements – such as the ‘European Days of Action’ or the ‘Decentralised Day of Action Against Free Trade Agreements’ – and plays an important role in the Alter Summit network. Moreover, transform! Europe fosters a flexible cooperation framework for European critical researchers organised in different working groups under the name Akademia. Last but not least, transform! issues a monthly newsletter with information on its activities, as well as on those of its members and observer members. The yearbook you are holding in your hands is the first of its kind and replaces the journal that had played a central role in transform! europe’s publication strategy for the past seven years.

     

    Strategic perspectives of the EL

    2014 has been a particularly rich year with regard to politics. It was marked by the European elections, and their first attempt to lead a transnational electoral campaign with European political parties nominating their top candidates for the European Commission presidency. After his unanimous nomination at the 4th Congress of the Party of the European Left (EL) in Madrid on 13-15 December 2013, the leader of the Greek party Syriza, Alexis Tsipras, gave strong visibility – and voice – to a hitherto little known alternative project for a progressive, social and ecological change of course in the EU. To some extent, this early process of Europeanisation allowed left proposals for another Europe to reach further than the traditional circles of EL parties. The GUE/NGL parliamentary group grew significantly, mostly thanks to its affiliated parties’ impressive results in the Southern European countries.

    transform! europe deployed its capacity as a European network made up of 27 organisations from 19 countries to cover the European elections in the most thorough way possible, with first assessments accessible as soon as the polling stations closed, video interviews sent by our member organisations, national reports dealing with the new restructuring of political landscapes, etc. A website ‘The EU Elections From a Left Perspective’ was established in cooperation with Germany’s Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (RLS) and the French journal Regards.1

    Next, the RLS and transform! europe held a joint two-day workshop in Berlin on the new challenges ahead for the left after the European elections. With participants from the academy and the world of politics, very important issues were tackled – such as the strength of left parties in comparison with the social democrats and the greens, left responses to the rise of the nationalist and extreme right, but also the geopolitical earthquake in Eastern Europe seen from a left perspective. It was a huge success, and the workshop might become a not-to-be-missed annual event for academics and progressive politicians interested in the challenges for the left in Europe and the evolution of the political landscape in general. At the end of 2014, these themes were echoed by a day of study in Paris that Espaces Marx dedicated to the structural crisis of European social democracy and the challenges for the radical left.

    The Nicos Poulantzas Institute gave a new impulse to the project ‘Strategic Perspectives of the European Left’. The impressive results of Syriza for both the European and regional elections further anchored its presence on the Greek political landscape, and sharpened the practical questions concerning its potential national victory. It is in this context that the project’s thematic focus shifted towards study of the democratisation of the state – more particularly, study of the police in Europe and how the left should address this issue. In the last half of 2014 Giorgos Papanicolaou (Teesside University) and Giorgos Rigakos (Carleton University) presented a Working Paper dealing not only with the varieties of police organisational models, but also with the crucial question of the relations between police and democracy in times of crisis, with possible left responses involving a reorganisation of internal police structures. The paper was presented at a two-day workshop that gathered together criminology professors and other experts from across Europe.

     

    ‘Crisis in Europe – Crisis of Europe – There are Alternatives!’

    The project ‘Crisis in Europe – Crisis of Europe’ is the second pillar of transform! Europe’s activities. The crisis that broke out in 2008 has developed into a systemic crisis of capitalism. It has damaged whole swaths of the economic, social, democratic, and environmental fabric of European societies. The severity of the crisis is exemplified by further economic stagnation and the increasingly higher risk of deflation – not to mention the ongoing pressure on welfare systems that goes hand in hand with citizens’ alienation from politics. What Europe has been experiencing is not another merely temporary disorder that can be fixed with the recipes applied up to now – reducing the external imbalances, correcting the public deficits, and implementing structural reforms against labour law and social policies. It is a crisis of much greater depth, one that jeopardises the social contracts regulating the capital-labour relation that laid the very foundations of most of the post-Second World War (western) societies, affects their entire political system, and provides fertile ground for the further anchoring of extreme­right political forces. transform! aims to support alternatives, as well as to contribute to their formulation. Alternatives to the neoliberal order exist. They operate at different levels of action – the grassroots level, with the struggle over the commons and social re-appropriation, or the European level, with proposals of recovery plans capable of re-launching the industrial sector throughout the continent while meeting the environmental and social challenges of our times.

    In early 2014, the first workshop of a cycle dedicated to perceptions in the crisis was held to deal with questions revolving around the crisis of political consciousness in Europe. Previous research, as well as fruitful discussions between public-opinion specialists and social scientists from Germany, France, and Greece showed that the state of political subjectivities was linked to the intensity of the crisis. The primary goal was to comprehensively study the causes behind both revolt and resignation. It turns out that representations of labour – such as dependence on wage and low-cost employment policies – play a very important role in the mechanisms of resignation. Change will remain out of reach if the relation between the left and labour is not renewed. To more accurately respond to employees’ needs and to become emancipatory policies, alternative proposals must take into account their representation in terms of work statutes and production conditions. This research project relies on a combined approach bringing together different social realities and subjectivities related to labour through a dialogue between France and Germany. It is of course open to other countries’ perspectives. Beyond national particularities, the idea is to find out whether or not common issues and perspectives can be identified in order to nourish the investigation and formulation of alternatives capable of simultaneously challenging neoliberal hegemony and gaining popular support.

    While a deflationary spiral in the euro area threatens its already weak economic health, and that of the global economy as a whole, the European Commission and most of the European Council are sticking to the neoliberal recipes they have been administrating for over six years. transform! is convinced that only a massive European recovery plan will allow us to tackle the crucial economic, social, and environmental challenges ahead. The EU has announced a new policy dealing with European industry, and it is of utmost importance to analyse it properly. The debate on the ‘alternatives’ (reindustrialisation, industrial rebirth, productive reconstruction, etc.) is gaining weight and relevance within the left, the trade unions, and the academic world. The work undertaken in 2013 within the framework of the Akademia network (for more on this network see below), as well as the availability of new partners, will allow us to push forward our responses for a positive exit from the crisis and to enhance our voice among different European progressive networks: trade unions, economist networks, European parliamentary groups, etc. The new working group on industry’s kick-off meeting led to the elaboration of a collective discussion paper providing readers with a thorough analysis of the European industrial landscape and – more importantly – with a set of recommendations for academics, policy­makers, as well as social actors. The paper is to be presented and discussed in a large public conference in 2015.

    Initiatives dealing with the commons have emerged throughout Europe – whether involving the implementation of a citizens’ management of water services or the collective takeover of a firm in difficulty. It is increasingly seen as a bottom-up practice that challenges the very essence of capitalism. In this, it is not a question merely of ‘state-managed common goods’. The ‘commons’ refer to a set of social relations between individuals jointly exploiting resources in accordance with usage, sharing, and co-production rules. Together with Espaces Marx and the Copernic Foundation, transform! participated in a European seminar held in Paris in on 7 – 9 November 2014 dedicated to successful practices of social appropriation and commons in Europe, as well as to an examination of the self-management of public services. Grassroots activists and academics from across Europe shared their views and experiences on an alternative social model in the making.

    In order to contribute to the European debate on the political crisis and the multiple forms it takes, a transform! Discussion Paper on the extreme right was published and is currently being discussed in Europe. The paper provides an analysis of the conditions that paved the way for the further anchoring of the extreme right, as well as considerations on the strategies to be adopted to counter it. The struggle against the rise of the far right is of the utmost importance for transform!, which was one of the main organisers of the Alter Summit Conference in Budapest dedicated to these issues.2 Also with regard to the multifaceted political crisis, another research angle related to the latest stage of post-war democratic capitalism – formerly based on a compromise between labour’s and capital’s aspirations – and what could come next will be explored in the course of 2015.

     

    transform! and the Party of the European Left – a fruitful cooperation

    As the political foundation of the EL, transform! has a special relationship with the party. The EL-transform! Summer University became an event impossible to miss for those interested in the situation of the left in the European political landscape, as well as in left alternative proposals on a wide range of issues – from the role of Europe in the world to anti-austerity social struggles, and much more. Once a year, at this occasion, representatives from the foundation and the party create the conditions for a dialogue with political and social activists from across Europe. In addition, transform! is present in numerous press festivals affiliated to left parties. These events are unique occasions to relate to grassroots political activists and concerned citizens, and to be informed about our objectives and activities.

    In 2014, one of the highlights of this cooperation was the international conference held in Brussels. transform! and the EL brought together economists, civil society activists, and politicians to discuss alternative solutions to the debt crisis. The idea that austerity was not solving the sovereign debt crisis, but rather fuelling it, was the principal motivation for organising this one-day conference. One of the main lessons learned from the rich discussions was that solving the debt problem alone will not be enough to revitalise the economy; it requires developing alternatives involving taxation, the distribution of wealth, and investments in favour of a new model of social and ecological development.3 transform! and the EL are currently working on a very large initiative entitled ‘Forum of Alternatives’, which intends to give the floor to actors from the social, cultural, economic, and political arenas willing to contribute to shaping a progressive future of solidarity and social justice. The ‘Forum of Alternatives’ is to be held in Paris in May 2015.

     

    transform! and the European social movement(s)

    The European elections, in a context of deepened recession and global austerity, were seen as an opportunity for the social movements to seize. An opportunity not only to spread the word on the ongoing struggles among European citizens, but also to trans-nationalise local and national initiatives against austeritarian measures and for the establishment of a true democracy – therefore giving hope that a grassroots response promoting a progressive Europe was possible. As the European network for alternative thinking and political dialogue, transform! took part in many joint actions of the social movements that occurred throughout the year 2014.

    Indeed, a week before the May 2014 elections, an international week of decentralised action was launched. Under the label ‘European Days of Action’, a broad alliance of social movements, trade unions, citizen movements, think tanks and progressive political parties decided to take action against austerity programmes and privatisation resulting from the EU’s crisis management.4 The People’s Tribunal on EU Economic Governance was one of the numerous events held on this occasion and was jointly organised by transform! europe, Corporate Europe Observatory and the Transnational Institute. It assessed six years of crisis and four years of new EU economic governance measures and Troika policies by giving a voice to ‘witnesses’ from across Europe and different backgrounds: Greek grassroots activists against the privatisation of the Thessaloniki water company, a Portuguese trade unionist, an Austrian social scientist focusing on the consequences of austerity policies on women, etc. A panel of judges, made up of representatives of the organisations in charge of the event, listened carefully to the testimonies and delivered their judgment on the consequences of the crisis management. They made their verdict very clear: a social regression is occurring in Europe, wrong policies have been implemented, the lack of democratic legitimacy must be confronted, and human rights violations have been witnessed where the strongest austeritarian policies were implemented. To conclude the People’s Tribunal, a set of alternative measures to reverse the trend was made public.5

    Another highlight this year was the European Summer University for Social Movements organised by the network ATTAC Europe. More than 2,000 people from across Europe and beyond attended the event in which transform! participated as one of the co-organisers. Through a major seminar divided into three sessions, transform! europe gave the floor to academics, trade unionists, social movements activists and progressive politicians in order to address some of the most critical issues faced by the European Union: austerity policies and alternatives, European trade unions’ response to the crisis, the new political landscape after the EU elections, citizens’ perceptions in the crisis, and the electoral turnout, as well as the relations between social movements and new political constructions.6

    Launched in June 2013, but resulting from many months of arduous work with representatives from European trade unions and social and citizens movements, the Alter Summit network aims at creating a European social and political front for the struggles against austerity and the authoritarian turning point in EU integration. Its ambition was, and remains, to establish a positive force for alternative proposals. transform! has been very actively involved in the Alter Summit process, whose roots can be traced back to the European social movements and, more recently, to the Joint Social Conference. The collective work led to a manifesto,7 the network’s ‘common good’, gathering together the shared priorities and calling for a ‘democratic, social, ecological, and feminist Europe’. As confirmed at its last General Assembly held in September 2014, the Alter Summit has continued to tackle the issues that shake up today’s Europe with focuses on alternatives to austerity policies, the struggles against Free Trade Agreements, and the political confrontation with extreme and nationalist right-wing forces.

     

    Akademia Network – an initiative of transform! europe for a network of critical researchers

    In the context of a multidimensional crisis of such depth, there is new potential for cooperation between critical researchers and the EL, as well as a strong motivation to build political and intellectual dynamics not only to break with neoliberal logic, but also to contribute to providing alternatives. The struggle for a new cultural hegemony has become crucial in both the intellectual and political arenas. With the launch of the Akademia network, transform! Europe is attempting to promote a flexible and fruitful cooperative framework for critical researchers from across Europe towards the achievement of this goal.

    The harsh deterioration of the economic and social situation has led to a political crisis of unmatched intensity. Some even refer to a crisis of representative democracy as a whole. Large parts of the European population – especially the most fragile, those who actually most need politics in their daily lives – have stopped thinking that politics can solve their problems or that politicians want to do so. This has produced a very new situation, and it is unlikely that old political recipes will meet the challenges. By bringing together critical academics, social actors, and progressive politicians, the Akademia network seeks to open up new spaces for discussion and will, ultimately, provide responses to the daunting challenges faced by European societies.

    At the present time, three working groups tackling issues as diverse as political economy, European history, and science and democracy are active in the Akademia network. A significant number of activities were launched in the previous year, from the organisation of workshops and international conferences to the publication of discussion papers – always with a transnational European dimension. The flexible structure of the network allows for creating new working groups, depending on researchers’ needs. In fact, new working groups will be launched in 2015. They will be dedicated to the trade unions and the new challenges posed by the neoliberal restructuring of labour markets, the state of social rights at a time of the normalisation of precariousness, as well as the strength and weaknesses of the European social movement(s) in the making.

    Following up the workshop held by the transform! Economist Working Group (TEWG) at the 2013 EAEPE8 annual conference in Paris on productive reconstruction, a discussion paper9 was published. The paper aims at putting on the table a single document capable of providing the reader with a synthetic overview of what is at stake in the political and intellectual debates on industrial policy and productive reconstruction, and which studies the position occupied by industrial policies within the European institutional architecture. New issues dealing with concrete aspects of productive reconstructions – such as the role of the third sector (solidarity and collective economy, democratic participation, mutual interests, etc.) and trade-related issues from a left perspective – will be explored in the near future with the cooperation of the Nicos Poulantzas Institute.

    The Akademia Working Group on Critical History held its initial meeting in February 2014 in Paris. It gathered a large number of historians from across Europe – from Spain to the Czech Republic, and from Greece to France – as well as the honorary MEP Francis Wurtz (member of the ‘House of European History’ board) and the MEP Marie-Christine Vergiat (GUE/NGL – Front de Gauche). Given the scope of the EU project, the House of European History, which is aimed at providing a European public history, with all that this means for the left in general, it was only natural that it was at the centre of the discussions. The question of the ‘red thread’ of European integration was also addressed, namely the contribution of the social movements and the political left in constructing Europe. As decided at the first meeting, a larger conference to take place in the end of 2014 would be the occasion to discuss the dangers of public misuses of European history and to lay the basis for a different narrative, focused on social and progressive struggles, anti-colonialism, and anti-neoliberalism.10

    As the outcome of a fruitful working process, the Akademia Working Group ‘Science, Society, and Democracy’ organised a two-day conference in Madrid in early 2014 – together with an important range of partners such as Espaces Marx (France), Europe for Citizens Foundation (FEC, Spain), the Foundation for Marxist Studies (FIM, Spain), the GUE/NGL, the EL, and transform! europe. Entitled ‘University, Research, and Science in Europe: Resistance and Alternatives’,11 the conference addressed the disastrous consequences of neoliberal research and university policies – with a focus on the Bologna process and Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. Speakers from across Europe and various academic disciplines raised awareness about national resistances and discussed alternative proposals capable of providing Europe with progressive policies. The Working Group is publishing an analysis of an alternative public research policy for Europe – with policy recommendations for the EL – in the current issue of the present yearbook (see the article by Marc Delepouve). In 2015, the Working Group ‘Science, Society, and Democracy’ will study issues related to alternative energy policies – whose relevance is being confirmed on a daily basis, whether in terms of the upheavals in the geopolitical order or in discussions of how to exit from the European crisis.

    Given the increasing significance of the Akademia network, transform! Europe will convene an annual Akademia meeting in order to give to the Working Groups’ members, and to critical academics willing to come on board, the opportunity to meet, present their work, exchange views, and develop together the frameworks of future joint collaboration within the Akademia network.

     

    Notes

    1. <http://transform-network.net/focus/the-eu-elections-from-a-left-perspective.html>.
    2. See the Alter Summit theses on the struggle against right-wing extremism in Europe, <www.altersummit.eu/accueil/article/theses-on-the-struggle-against>.
    3. See the full conference report, <www.transform-network.net/uploads/tx_news/Benatouil_Report_EL_Transform_DebtConference_01.pdf>.
    4. <http://mayofsolidarity.org/>.
    5. <http://corporateeurope.org/printpdf/1853>.
    6. For the full report see <www.transform-network.net/blog/blog-2014/news/detail/Blog/transform-europe-at-the-attac-summer-university.html>.
    7. <http://www.altersummit.eu/manifeste/article/the-manifesto>.
    8. The European Association for Evolutionary Political Economy is a major association of heterodox economists working at the EU level, <www.eaepe.org>.
    9. <http://transform-network.net/focus/discussion-papers/news/detail/Programm/from-industrial-policy-to-a-european-productive-reconstruction.html>.
    10. For more information on the topics and the speakers and a full report, see transform! europe’s website, <www.transform-network.net>.
    11. See the short report, <http://www.transform-network.net/blog/blog-2014/news/detail/Blog/university-science-and-research-european-resistances-and-alternatives.html>.