Brussels, March 2012: Towards an Alternative European Summit
It seems increasingly clear that the only possible response that the left can provide to the existential crisis of the neoliberal construction of Europe is to rebuild on new foundations. The headlong rush of the European oligarchy into a sort of “neoliberal fundamentalism” is only worsening the destructive effects on the Union and its societies. In this context, the objective of “refounding Europe” cannot remain a distant perspective but must become a concrete one, an ambition that inspires concrete thinking and action.
As a European network linked to other movements and networks as well as to the European Left Party, Transform! decided during its General Meeting in Prague on September 2011 to strengthen its contribution to the drawing up of an alternative in Europe. This is why Transform! fully participated in the annual conference of the Joint Social Conference (JSC) held in Brussels on March 29-30. Simultaneously the European Left Party and Transform! organised a first “Alternative European Summit” on March 30 and 31, to which many representatives and activists as well as networks, movements and trade unions contributed.
To the extent that the European Social Forums have faded because of being unable to find a form of renewal that could meet the challenge of this major European crisis, there is an urgent need for the creation of new areas of cooperation.
Thus the JSC represents, at this moment, a valuable area of cooperation between European trade unionists and movements. Its annual conference on March 2012 was a great success with regard to attendance and the drawing up of common stances (see the final declaration1). The discussion led, among other things, to the broadly shared decision to create a “common political area” at the European level, so as to renew a working process that could lead to events such as a “European and Citizens Alternative Summit”.
The tragic and dramatic character of the situation in Europe confronts us with the necessity for not only reacting more strongly but also for seeking a greater effectiveness of social and political struggles. This requires new alliances which connect national and European struggles. This also makes necessary a “politicising of the issues”, that is linking social struggles more closely with the objective of changing the balance of power.
The fact that the “new neoliberal fundamentalism” is attacking both the social and the democratic models (both being already considerably eroded) is also tending to bring the social and political struggles closer.
The results of the various encounters at the end of March seem now to open the way to an unprecedented process in which trade unions, movements and political forces and committed intellectuals could cooperate.
Speaking now of “’alternative summits’ instead of ‘counter-summits’” expresses a new ambition. This was the proposal that Transform! put forward at the end of 2011.
The JSC has adopted this idea, as had the Executive of the European Left Party. Some very enriching exchanges between those present showed that the awareness that we are in a historic moment is widely shared. The issue is to promote the necessary “breach” in the last 30 years of neoliberal integration, which has been a disastrous turn leading to a field of rubble in Europe, but rather seeking a democratic refoundation. In several European countries, movements are emerging and taking this route.
The potentials for such a dynamic exist. Various areas of European cooperation exist, like the Forum Social Europe, a forum of trade unionists, the EuroMemorandum uniting more than 200 economists, ATTAC-Europe, the CADTM (Committee for the Abolition of the Debt of the Third World), the European Association for Human Rights, the EuroMarches, the Prague Spring II, which brings together networks mainly from EEC, etc. At institutional level, cooperation on the left is increasing, with joint actions, particularly by the Die LINKE members of the Bundestag and the Left Front at the National Assembly2 as well as within the REALPE (progressive local elected representatives).
Recently, appeals addressed to their own countries’ public opinions have been published stressing the necessity for political change at both national and European levels. Thus, some Greek intellectuals have launched an Appeal “For the defence of society and of democracy”3 in which they note that we are in a “co-dependent” crisis. Then some leading German trade unionists4 published an Appeal “Stop the March into Ruin! Overcome the Crisis with Solidarity!” demanding a radical change of policy and a refoundation of Europe, pointing out that this is the only way of envisaging an overcoming of the European crisis. Another appeal has been circulating in France.5 All of them are addressed to the public opinion of both their own country and of Europe.
The conference held by different European movements at the European Parliament in cooperation with the GUE/NGL group on May 31, 2011 opened the way to an acknowledgment of wide convergences regarding the main axes of an alternative to austerity.6 Based on an accurate analysis, the EuroMemorandum 2011/2012 proposes specific ways towards a change of orientation. The ETUC (CES), for the first time, condemned a European treaty. The Party of the European Left is proposing a European Citizen’s Initiative. The Left Front in France clearly stated that carrying out left policies in a country entails “disobedience” and a political struggle of great magnitude at the European level in cooperation with all available forces. Different initiatives are currently calling for referenda and general elections to be held in order to block the ratification of the new treaties as well as to set off a broad citizen debate in Europe. The call by German trade unionists and scholars pleads for a European citizen and social movement aimed at radical political change. Other European calls, such as the one advocated by Greek scholars “Declaration for the defence of society and democracy” (see note 4), go in the same direction. The Joint Social Conference (European network of trade unionists and movements) adopted an important appeal: “Resisting financial dictatorship, reclaiming democracy and social rights”.
Today, important struggles are appearing in all parts of Europe. However, despite their strength and determination, there is so far a lack of success and progress. Everywhere the main demands clash – at national and European level – with the mainstream. The alternative has to be conceived in terms of rupture with this mainstream at all levels – enterprise level, locally, nationally and at the European level.
In this confrontation, increasing convergence is appearing between the forces of the trade unions, the movements and the political left regarding criticism of European and national policies as well as regarding alternatives.
The struggles for resistance should be able to articulate perspectives for an alternative. Aiming at a new cultural and political hegemony entails a political process favouring a new power to interpret reality, new skills and common action. The efficacy of an alternative political project depends on its capacity to bring together the working sectors and middle classes who are seriously suffering, both of them, from the crises and which the dominant forces strive to divide with the assistance of the nationalistic, racist and authoritarian right. Both at the European level and within every society, the regaining of a solidarity-driven vision of society can be conceived through a bottom-up process of harmonisation in the confrontation with the ruling class. Political proposals breaking with the mainstream in order to be able to answer to specific needs can propel social mobilisation. The regaining of democracy and the overcoming of the political crises requires a new quality of democracy and a new ambition for political change. Struggle against the spread of austerity requires a brand new policy vis-à-vis the conception of the credit system, the banks, development policies, the place of the working class, the management of private business and public sector and the distribution of wealth. Social, economic and political democracy represent engines that make possible such objectives.
Likewise, Europe has to contribute to the modification of the balance of power in the world in favour of social justice, democracy, ecologic transition and peace.
During the conference presented by the European Left Party and transform! on March 30 – 31 many people agreed that the “wind direction” can be changed provided we embark jointly on taking up the enormous challenges of the crisis. There is the need to fight back against the new Merkozy treaty and the troika to prevent a democratic implosion of Europe. Added to the mobilisations against austerity, for the renegotiation of treaties and the defence of democracy, there is the need to struggle, in the various countries, for new political majorities expressing the will of political change. According to Felipe Van Keirsbilck who is one of the main organisers of the Joint Social Conference, this is the context in which “all will work, not to achieve hegemony for themselves but to build hegemony against neoliberalism”. For his part, Pierre Laurent, President of the European Left Party, stated that “we need such an area, built by a process that allows us to work together for an alternative whose objective is a political swing in the European Union”, a process to which he committed himself. The first cornerstones of this process have been laid in the sense of a new convergence, not only in terms of content but also of action. The terms of the “building process”, of the “creation of a new area of joint work” show new concrete possibilities of overcoming the contradictions that up to now have weighed down the progressive movement in Europe: the dichotomy between the national and European level; the separation between the spheres of social and political mobilisation, the still existing boundaries between actors with different characters and histories.
Concretely, this open-ended process towards an Alternative European Summit could meet the needs for expressing a new ambition, aiming at rebuilding Europe on new foundations. Such a process would also encourage convergence and cooperation between many forces in all their diversity both within each country and in the European area.
1) For the full-length document please refer to the website of the Joint Social Conference
2) See the joint statement published in this issue and available in English, French and German.
3) Declaration for the Defence of Society and Democracy www.koindim.eu (The Document is available is several languages.).
6) For the main conclusions of the conference please refer to the documentation