Fruitful discussions and renewed enthusiasm

This year, the European Left’s Summer University was held in Chianciano, in Italy, on July 20-24th. During the three days, the participants discussed three key issues: Europe, Work and Peace. Over 260 people from 31 countries signed up for this year’s particularly productive EL Summer University, with participants coming from across Europe and as far afield as the Middle East, North Africa and South America.

The status quo: bleak outlook for Europe

The Summer University opened with a tribute to Carlo Giuliani and a commemoration of the events in Genoa in 2001. Back then, it was our concerns over a globalised economic model that had brought us together to create the Party of the European Left. Concerns that were borne out as this year’s edition was held at a time of serious instability, with the European Union facing a challenging situation.

Now we find ourselves members of an EU that seems to stand for two opposing concepts. On the one hand an EU that doesn’t want to find answers to social justice and redistribution movements, that will not move on from austerity, instead implementing new cuts and reinforcing the power to control wielded by the European institutions, forcing ever more people into seemingly endless poverty.

On the other hand an EU that, faced with the challenge of migrants and refugees, sees people turning back to nationalism and seeking national sovereignty that they feel has been lost along the way to the current form of European integration. Brexit and Orbán’s walls have forced us all to think long and hard about the nature and character of the EU.

It is now clear that the EU takes a strong line with those who are weak – as was the case with Greece and as has now been attempted with Portugal and Spain – but at the same time, they are weak in the face of those who are strong. As is the case with the United Kingdom, Germany, with its economic surplus, and the drift towards xenophobia and nationalism. These are the reasons why the majority of EU citizens no longer believe that this integration is beneficial.
So the possibility of EU disintegration and collapse cannot be ignored. A European Union that is based on and revolves around a culture of competitiveness and the dogma of neo-liberalism and that expropriates common goods and dismantles the welfare system must be reshaped. In just a few years, rights and progress secured by social struggles and sanctioned by our constitutions have been cancelled out. Rights and progress that brought our continent out of a century of war.

There is a real risk that, in the face of the poor choices made by Europe’s ruling classes, the only solutions for change will be provided by the right. The responsibility of avoiding a return to last century, when we shot at each other from the trenches, as Paolo Ferrero stated in his presentation, is a heavy burden and conditions the choices that we must make together.

Ultimately, the European left must provide a solution to a difficult situation, and must do so without having the necessary fire power to impose a change at the European level. We now find ourselves at a turning point that also affects the Party of the European Left which has thus far been united in bucking the trend, but unable to construct a unified proposal for an alternative Europe.

The European Left’s 2016 Summer University

Over the course of the Summer University, the need was therefore felt to hold open discussions free from prejudices, while still being frank and capable of reaching the crux of the matter.

In fact, it is because we took the decision to discuss the issues at hand that, in my opinion, we can say that the days of the event were fruitful. They culminated in setting the groundwork for the upcoming congress of the Party of the European Left to be held in Berlin in December.

We dedicated the days of the Summer University to three key issues: Europe, Work and Peace, in order to focus and direct the seminars and workshop towards gaining greater insight into issues that will be deciding factors in constructing an alternative solution.

Over 260 people from 31 countries signed up for the three days, with participants coming from across Europe and as far afield as the Middle East, North Africa and South America.

Day 1: Europe

After the opening evening, during which an analysis of the situation in Europe and the role of the left was presented, the work continued with the day dedicated to Europe. The presentations showcased the diverse range of cultural and political approaches that comprise the European left. I believe the discussion was very useful as it allowed us to break down pre-established barriers and stances that are often followed through to the exclusion of all else. In reality the differences, which do indeed exist, all start from a shared conviction of the need to ‘break’ this European Union. This point, addressed by Paolo Ferrero and Fabio De Masi with different approaches, showed that the discussion must be continued and taken further.

On the one hand, the representative from Die Linke raised the issue of whether it is possible to provide an immediate response to the crisis of the EU, suggesting that we should not allow the right to monopolise the issue of national sovereignty. Ferrero, on the other hand, stated that the breakdown of the European workers’ movement was set in motion by the war, something which the socialists also voted for. According to the secretary of the Rifondazione Comunista [Communist Refoundation Party], in order to build a new way of working together and a strategy for the European left, firstly, we need to define a ‘third way’, to borrow Enrico Berlinguer’s definition. Yet the need to make a ‘break’ remains the premise that unites all the propositions put forward and is the starting point from which the initiative of the European Left can be constructed in the near future.

Another topic of discussion of the day was the suggestions in the Five Presidents’ report which all agreed should be returned to sender, even if for differing reasons.

The debate on the first day showed that there is a need to propose an alternative to current European integration without following the right down the road to nationalism. A proposal that, although difficult to convey to the populations, who are now weary and divided between blind allegiance and a desire to reject nationalism, is the clear starting point for a new beginning. In fact, both reasons, one side maintaining that there are ‘no alternatives’ and the other relating to the resurgence of nationalism feed into each other but do not provide a response to the economic and social crisis from the left.

The strategy is still open for discussion which, as the Party of the European Left, we must address. There is also a piece of work that needs doing around which tools will be needed to broaden the front of change.

Day 2: Work

Halt the current status quo, where the rules are applied to some but not all, increase solidarity between populations and between workers, including by introducing a European minimum wage, defend collective bargaining and overhaul the role of the Central Bank, opening the way for public economic interventions, are just some of the main proposals inspired by the second day dedicated to work and the conditions of local economies. It was a discussion that saw, among others, Pierre Laurent, president of the Party of the European Left, Gianni Rinaldini, secretary of the FIOM CGIL and the Greek minister of labour, Georgios Katrougalos in agreement with each other.

In the session dedicated to free trade agreements, the discussion highlighted two main critical issues. The first is that, while we do indeed need to continue with the struggle to stop TTIP and CETA, very little heed is paid to the treaties imposed on North African countries by Europe. The second is the lack of effective collaboration between the movements of civil society and self-organising movements and the formal structures of the parties and their institutional representatives.

In the session on European industrial policies, the ongoing work of Transform! Europe took a central role. Again, there were different views during the discussion of a new industrial and economic model, particularly in relation to the role of the single currency. Opinion was split between those who, like Domenico Moro, see leaving the Euro and devaluing the national currency as a way for states to regulate their own economy and those who, on the other hand, believe that creating European public policies is the potential solution to the problem.

Day 3: Peace

The main proposals from the third day, which focused on peace and the role of the EU in the range of contexts and in neighbourly relations, hinged on two main themes: on the one hand the need to fight the idea of a super power in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and along the eastern borders, by a radical overhaul of NATO’s role, among other things. On the other hand, reconsidering the issue of migrants and refugees along with creating and strengthening civil and social rights.

A particularly interesting contribution to this session was that of the representative of the Turkish left party who, in the days following the attempted coup, told us of the difficulties that the representatives of the left experience in the country and the need to rethink the refusal of entry policies that the EU has largely delegated to Turkey.

The final session, at the end of the event, began with a dedication to Elisabeth Gautier that was both appropriate and moving. A genuine pillar of transform! europe and a symbol of citizenship that transcends national borders, she was one of the great activists in the broad and diverse European left. This was the first time the Summer University was held without Elisabeth.

A number of interesting proposals were put forward during the closing session, among which the suggestion of asking for a statement from the European Parliament about the appointment of Barroso, former president of the European Commission, as non-executive director of the investment bank Goldman Sachs. Initiatives were also put forward for presentation at the next congress of the Party of the European Left to continue and step-up the construction of a wide anti-austerity front. The suggestion of a permanent forum is particularly pertinent. It would meet on a yearly basis with the support of the Party of the European Left and provide an opportunity for exchange and allow the shaping of a relationship with the other movements that stand with us in the struggle to change and bring progress to Europe. This would be combined with the creation of new or the strengthening of existing themed work groups within the party.

In addition, the Italian initiative of individual membership of the Party of the European Left was welcomed as a way of participating in politics directly at the European level.

Building a reinvigorated left

Throughout the days of the Summer University, a number of significant books were presented, the first of which was ‘La sinistra radicale in Europa. Italia, Spagna, Francia e Germania’ [The radical left in Europe. Italy, Spain, France and Germany] by Marco Damiani, which provided a starting point for an interesting discussion on the political profile of the left in Europe. The second work presented was that by Ivan Nardone entitled ‘C’è rimasta la ragione….Una storia operaia [The cause remains… A workers’ story], which follows the struggles and defeats of the workers’ movement at Fiat in the 1980s. A special Italian-language edition of the transform! yearbook 2016 was also created and presented to mark the occasion. The book contains articles on the topics of discussion of the event and was well received.

As ever, the discussions of the Summer University were accompanied by social events which allowed participants to continue getting to know each other and offered the opportunity to explore the environment and culture of the surrounding area, including a guided visit of Piazza del Campo in Siena.

Once again, transform! europe played an important and significant role: helping to create the seminars and organise the participants and also through its presence and contribution to the discussions.

It is safe to say that we have come away from these days we renewed enthusiasm and a greater awareness of the possibilities for building a left that is truly European. Given my experience of past Summer Universities, I think that this year’s was one of the most successful, from the point of view of the discussions and the contribution the event made to reinforcing the Party of the European Left.