At its fifth congress held in Berlin in 2016, the Party of the European Left (EL) decided to set up an annual forum of progressive forces with the aim of being able to intervene more effectively in European public debate.
Please find the final declaration (English, Français) for download on the right (PDF)
Following the first forum in Marseille (2017) and a second edition in Bilbao (2018), a third forum took place in Brussels from 8-10 November 2019. The event was attended by 410 participants from 37 countries representing 148 parties as well as numerous trade unions, organisations and movements.
Diverse range of participants
Attendees not only included the parties of the European Left and of the European foundation transform!europe, but members of other progressive and left-wing/socialist parties, such as France’s Génération.s, as well as a number of smaller green parties, such as the Alliance for Green Socialism (UK) and Greece’s Green Party, i.e. groups that are willing to cooperate with left-wing parties and the European United Left / Nordic Green Left European parliamentary group (GUE/NGL). Several trade unions were also present, such as the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro (CGIL) as well as the Belgian metalworkers’ union Métallos MWB FGTB, alongside many (predominantly Brussels-based) NGOs. It was thus a forum of progressive, green and left-wing European forces. Also worthy of note was the relatively high number of youth organisations, who set the agenda for their own assembly within the forum and agreed on a 2020 action plan to be developed collectively, the fundamental idea of which was also included in the forum’s final declaration.
The objective of the forum is to develop alternatives, organise specific campaigns and create space for debate in the struggle for a socially and ecologically sustainable, fully democratic Europe that is based on the principles of popular sovereignty, free from the patriarchy and fights against all forms of discrimination. To achieve these aims, it is necessary to renew our struggle against the growing influence of the extreme right, who threaten our very democracy. The ‘alarming’ new situation we face was already outlined in the forum’s invitation: our planet is burning, our democracies are burning, climate change continues, and austerity is creating social inequality, undermining a democracy that is being questioned by the right.
How do we tackle these challenges?
Particularly in the plenary sessions, the current situation and challenges were addressed, at times impressively, from a wide range of perspectives: from those of civil society and political strategists to left-wing parliamentarians and trade unionists or with a focus on specific actors and actions. Jean-Luc Mélenchon from La France Insoumise, for example, described the imminent civilisation crisis facing a society that is excluding a rising number from the wealth it produces and whose logic allows the destruction of both human and natural resources. This idea was taken up by Manon Aubry (Co-chair GUE/NGL), who pointed to the systemic causes of neoliberal capitalism. Aubry argues that it is up to the left to change the system and this will require credible solutions, credible perspectives and feasible pathways. As Martin Schirdewan (Co-chair GUE/NGL) explains, a new solidarity model is needed. He also mentioned new legal developments in Germany. Dimitrios Papadimoulis (MEP, Progressive Caucus) outlined four key challenges that the left faces: its fight against austerity, free trade agreements and extreme right-wing populism, and for a new social model.
According to Walter Baier, political coordinator at transform!europe, nationalism and neoliberalism have taken on a new form and this is challenging the left the world over to shift their focus to the issue of democracy and, to this end, to work together to develop specific strategies of collective solidarity at the national and transnational level.
Gregor Gysi, President of the Party of the European Left, believes it is necessary to form a historic new front against a shift to the right that, above all else, targets society’s weakest members: migrants. Another front should be the fight against the continuing attacks staged by neoliberals. However, if members of the left wish to successfully take on the millionaires and billionaires, they will need the support of mainstream society, i.e. all those who have no desire to support such measures. He also argued that national answers no longer sufficed: the left needs to take on a European dimension. But for this to happen, argued Philippe Lamberts (Co-chair of the Greens/EFA), progressives, the left and the greens need to grow if they wish to tackle the root cause of this destructive system.
For climate justice
Guillaume Balas (National coordinator of Génération.s) explained that alliances are possible – and can even include the upper classes. For example, half of the (French) elite want to support social and ecological projects. The question is how the ‘productivist’ paradigm, i.e. the logic of growth, can be replaced by another model of production and reproduction. Kristy Louise Rhades from the Federation of Young European Greens reminded the audience of the repercussions of extractivist policies, in other words, of failing to see the link between economic and ecological development. Rafael Correa, former President of Ecuador, considers protecting nature – a resource vital to sustaining life – to be one of the left’s main responsibilities. That is why the Rights of Nature are enshrined in the Ecuadorian constitution. In his talk, he recalled Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment and human ecology, ‘Laudato Si’. During his speech, Helmut Scholz, MEP for die LINKE, asked how the path to a solidarity-based economy could be forged. He also called for climate justice to be included in the Lisbon Treaty.
European trade unionist Ludovic Voet (ETUC) addressed the link between climate change and production methods. He went on to say that the much discussed ‘Green New Deal’ was a step in the right direction, but that it must include prospects for workers and should thus be reworked into a ‘Fair Green New Deal’. Tiina Sandberg from ‘Unmasking the green imperialism campaign’ believes the key to alternative developments lies in socialism, and this transformation should begin by using cooperation and solidarity to break with the capitalist logic. Tibor Szanyi, a former MEP from Hungary, called for ecological solidarity.
If you examine all 24 plenary speeches – each limited to just eight minutes –, you will find a common basic understanding of the current challenges we face. The decision to schedule key speeches one after the other, however, was not conducive to allowing those diverging or even controversial positions to be discussed that repeatedly constrain the European left’s political capacity to act. It was not the right space for in-depth analyses or discussions concerning alternative strategies; this partly took place in the workshops.
The workshops focused on issues ranging from peace as a cornerstone of the European left strategy (a joint workshop organised by the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung and transform!), the radical changes taking place in the world of work, such as the ‘Uberisation’ of society and the growing pressure of digitalisation, and the rights of workers to the new challenges presented by platform capitalism, people’s self-determination (based on the examples of Catalonia and the Basque Country), the link between social inequality and climate change, left-wing industrial policies, the protection of public services, the value of culture in society, the fight against the extreme right, and the link between war and migration. In connection with this final issue, transform! unveiled a wonderful exhibition titled Colours of a Journey, which featured drawings by child refugees describing their experience. Women’s social situation, their access to pensions and the violence they are exposed to were issues discussed during the ‘Women Assembly’. A workshop on the climate emergency organised by transform!, which examined the question of how bridges could be built between scientific knowledge and the political and social reality, as well as how theory could be turned into political action, initiated a new cooperation between transform!, the Green European Foundation (GEF), the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) and NGOs working in this area.
The trade unionist assembly, which included over 60 participants, will also set about working on a ‘Fair Green New Deal’ as a vision and a guide.
The various assemblies (women, youth and trade union) and workshops provided the forum’s space for discussion. Here questions could be raised and diverging positions became visible. Attendees went in search of answers: initial responses were developed before being more deeply analysed, critically examined and more thoroughly discussed. Arguments were formulated and challenged once again; it was a masterclass in critical thinking, and the real reason why the forum was created.
The forum’s final declaration outlines progress made compared to the two previous years and describes the event as a space for political work, collaboration and considerations on convergent actions. 2020 is to be a year of collective mobilisations and an action plan will be drawn up with this aim in mind. And it will be much needed; the demands of this final declaration urgently need support and a systematic approach. They include: the battle for full employment; changes to modes of production and reproduction; defence of the public sector; gender equality and the rejection of all forms of discrimination; turning Europe into a nuclear-weapon-free zone and the fight for prohibition of nuclear weapons (Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, TPNW); a Europe that focuses on human beings, not profit; and the development of a left-wing European policy that embodies the intentions behind the Ventotene Manifesto and develops these ideas further into practical policies.
All in all, this was a forum that went beyond a mere showcase of the European left. It was a forum that included vital speeches and even more interesting discussions, and established working groups and assemblies, as well as new paths to cooperation. Participants worked hard, networked and forged plans. And all of this is essential, especially for smaller parties and organisations who were able to meet with a wide range of actors from the European left.
If the European Forum is to have an impact beyond the left and create ripples within the wider European public, as agreed at the EL’s 2016 congress in Berlin, it is crucial that the chairs of the EL’s various member parties also see this forum as relevant to them; they too need to take part in debates and join us in our search for answers. ‘By asking, may we walk!’