Europe’s Left on its Way to Readjusting its European Strategy

The neoliberal model has failed. In order to counteract the current destructive tendencies of Europe’s governing elite, various conferences and meetings have been organised by forces of the Left in order to find a common strategy. These events are taking place all over Europe and raise hopes for long-desired change.  

The point of departure

Europe, the European Union and its member states are all facing a multi-faceted and seemingly unending crisis. The crumbling of solidarity among member states in their attitude towards incoming refugees is challenging one of the EU’s main accomplishments: the free movement of people. However the current political crisis has been preceded by the financial crisis 2007/2008 and the adopting of the harsh austerity measures by the heads of states and European institutions in reaction to it. These policies have divided societies internally and set state against state externally. When the left-wing government came into office in Greece in January 2015, challenging austerity policies seemed a possibility, and not only in one country but on a European scale. These hopes, however, suffered a blow in July, when the Syriza government was forced to sign the third Memorandum under the threat of a chaotic state bankruptcy.

A multi-faceted problem

This leads to dilemma. The forced continuation of austerity policies via authoritarian means will not resolve the European crisis. On the one hand, the neoliberal model imposed by the Treaty of Maastricht and the European monetary union has failed. Its continuation is being met with growing resistance, and wherever this resistance cannot be articulated in the form of a political alternative, the population becomes frustrated and turns its back on political institutions. On the other hand, we have to admit to ourselves that so far, the political attempts by social movements and the political Left to put an end to austerity policies have been unsuccessful. This is especially true for the Greek left-wing government and its struggle to find a fair solution to the debt problem. We have obviously been naïve regarding existing power relations and the obstacles built into European institutions, which prevent any changes from happening. This has to lead to very serious considerations.
The situation is becoming more and more complicated and dangerous as the Left now is involved in a political struggle on two fronts. It has no longer to deal with the authoritarian continuation of neoliberal austerity only, but also the Europe-wide growth of the radical nationalist Right, which is using the widespread frustration felt by populations to further its populist strategy and to challenge political authorities. This has been illustrated by election results over the last year, when radical right-wing parties reached a mean share of 22% of the vote in nine European countries. Despite the Left’s notable progress, especially in southern European countries, the danger of a Europe-wide turn to the Right seems to be a reality.

Prospects and strategies: current endeavours

Since the beginning of 2016, the Left has been trying to determine its stance in this new situation over the course of a series of European conferences and strategy meetings. These debates have not been shaped by complete unanimity, but there has been a general common tendency.
A conference in Paris to discuss a European “Plan B”, organised in January by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Oskar Lafontaine, Zoe Konstantopoulou and Stefano Fassina, marked the beginning of this series: at the core of this “Plan B” lies the idea of calling for southern European countries to consider seriously the alternative of exiting the Euro. The Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt (CADTM) seems to share this view. As Lafontaine put it, “the Left in Europe – socialists, communists or other left-wing groups in the EU member states – must unite in backing this plan B, no matter what their internal rivalries may be. This plan B aims to terminate austerity policies and rebuild social democracy” (report in Junge Welt, 25 January). The conference initiators understood this Parisian conference to be the starting point of a series of similarly-oriented events held in European capital cities contributing to a concrete elaboration and diffusion of a strategy.
At the beginning of February, 200 activists belonging to the transnational Blockupy alliance met for a conference in Berlin. As well as a new action plan for the period before Bundestag elections in 2017, the conference participants decided to elaborate a common stance towards European policy by discussing a “manifesto”. They want to work towards a different Europe: “A Europe of solidarity and real democracy, a Europe driven from below and with a social infrastructure for all (…). It cannot be a Europe of borders and isolation, of commanding and blackmailing. It is and must be a Europe for all and one that promotes solidarity.”
Yanis Varoufakis drew a similar conclusion from the evident crisis of European integration when he publicly presented the DiEM25 (“Democracy in Europe Movement 2025”) movement on 9 February in Berlin. Its Manifesto for democratising Europe is based on the following dilemma: “The EU will either be democratised or it will disintegrate!” Differently to the “Plan B” concept in Paris, DiEM25 does not see disintegration as a positive alternative.
A broad alliance for a democratic and transparent EU has therefore been proposed. Apart from demands which could be regarded as to be met easily and quickly (provided political intent exists), such as livestreaming sessions of the European Council, the Eurogroup, the Council of Finance Ministers (ECOFIN) and the Board of Governors of the European Central Bank, as well as the prompt publication of protocols, DiEM25 calls for the initiation of a process to refound the EU. “The people of Europe have a right to consider the Union’s future and a duty to transform Europe (by 2025) into a full-fledged democracy with a sovereign Parliament that respects national self-determination and that shares power with national Parliaments, regional assemblies and municipal councils.”
DiEM25 also understands its founding event, which was met with great media interest, as the launch of a series of conferences and events, which are due to be organised in the coming months in a variety of European capital cities.
A fourth important event took place in Madrid on 21 February: 1,500 active participants in Spanish social movements and parties, along with guests from several European countries, met as heated debates surrounding the government negotiation process were underway. Even though the gathering took place under the title of “Plan B Conference”, its progress and conclusions differed to a certain extent  from the discourse at the Paris event with the same name. E.g. the “Declaration for a Democratic Rebellion in Europe”, adopted after long and manifold discussions, does not contain any claim which aims to bring about Spain’s, or any other country’s, exit from the Eurozone or the EU.
One of the declaration’s key sentences states that it is important to create a movement in order “to place human rights and civil, political, social, economic, cultural and democratic rights at the heart of the European project, as an intrinsic part of democracy.” The document calls for “disobedience on all levels”, including on the institutional level of the municipalities. On 28 May, the anniversary of the Paris Commune, an Action Day will be announced against austerity and for a democratic Europe – if possible on a European level.
On 22 February the AlterSummit – an alliance of unions, social movements, NGOs and political parties – gathered for its general assembly. The summit decided to take part in all initiatives which are opposing austerity policies adopted in member states on a European level. Together with DiEM25 and other partners, a conference to be co-organised by unionists and with the working title “The dignity of work” will take place in Brussels.
This series of strategy meetings will be continued on 18-20 March in Athens, when Syriza, the Nicos Poulantzas Institute, the Party of the European Left and transform! europe will open a broad debate, during a three-day conference entitled “Building Alliances to Fight Austerity and Reclaim Democracy in Europe”.

We at transform! were present in all the events mentioned as we appreciate all contributions to an open and comradely debate currently unfolding on an “alternative plan for Europe”. We are not talking about a “Plan B” because we want to avoid this being confused with the “Plan B” currently being implemented by parts of the governing elites in Germany, France, the United Kingdom and other EU countries, which entails allowing Europe to relapse into nationalist egoism.
However, catchphrases and slogans are not our concern. We want to support such initiatives in such a way that they are not in competition with one another. Instead, we want find means of communication which are carried by the spirit of the good old days of the anti-globalisation movement and find common elements in our theories and practice – with special regards to the development of an all-European struggle against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
See also Tracing an Alternative Plan for Europe: A Comradely Debate without Taboos is Necessary! – Statement signed by representatives of transform! europe.