Future Perspectives of the European Family of the Political Left

Talk by former MEP and GUE/NGL President Gabi Zimmer at the European Seminar organised by transform! europe and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation 12-14 June 2019 in Vienna, reflecting the new political conditions in the aftermath of the European elections.

Given the harsh losses of Social Democrats, Conservatives and Leftists, one may quickly be tempted to hide behind a general trend: Global warming / climatic disaster is seen by many people as such a danger that they turn to the Greens, who by nature with the climate – and environmental protection are connected. The result of the elections to the European Parliament reveals how meaningless the left has become in the European debate. It is not just an expression of a current failure, uninspired election campaigns in several EU member states, problematic messages, false targeting, internal struggles, fragmentation between leftist parties, wings, movements, actors.

The loss of hundreds of thousands of voters has deeper causes and is an expression of long-term failure.

–    The causes and long-term consequences of the failure of Eastern European state socialism for the entire left in Europe have not been addressed to date. Not only the Eastern European and East German Communists and Socialists failed with their claim of a society alternative to capitalism, even the West European Old Left did not draw any profound conclusions and could not oppose their de facto demise in the largest Western European economies with convincing alternatives. As a result, the Left as a whole could hardly set any forward-looking messages – or better said – any new European visions from the left perspective. To this day they are both culturally and linguistically like a fossil of the last century.

–    Only a few impulses emanated from the European Left Party and the GUE/ NGL faction in the EP for a much-needed debate on common goals, strategies and initiatives. Only a few MEPs started an initiative to reclaim the Manifesto of Ventotene. They asked left-wing intellectuals from several EU member states to reassess the Manifesto and so initiated discussions on the question “What future for the EU?”. Yes, the initiatives to organize Forums in Marseille and last in year in Bilbao were important first steps. In my opinion it is now time to broaden the space, the issues of discussion and of course the participants. It would be useful to include other progressive forces and social movements from the very beginning.  Generally speaking, the left failed to discuss their vision of another, socialist Europe, or to clarify their relationship with the EU. In your view, what role should the EU play in the face of global challenges such as the climate catastrophe, global warming, global migration flows and global sustainability development? How is the left continuing to deal with globalization? How is the relationship to develop between the EU and nation states, to the regions and municipalities, to Europe and to the one world in which we live?

–    The disaster of the left of Europe, which finds its reflection in the result of the EU election, can best be described with the fact that only one representative from the Czech Republic stands for the East European Left in the EP. But the movements in Spain and Greece, which arose just a few years ago in the wake of the global financial crisis, also lost massive support in the process of their party formation and active participation in parliamentary structures or government work. The attempt to found a more left-leaning populist movement from within a left-wing party, as in France, and thus to score points, fell short of its own expectations. The non-reformed communist parties, with their messages tied to national interests, their stale appearance, and the reduction of their target group work, especially to industrial workers, have lost touch with new socially and culturally different groups. The Scandinavian green-left parties, who could face the challenges much more consistently than modern feminist and ecological parties, continue to have a reputation for rejecting the EU and the euro in principle. The left in Germany again found it difficult to reach important voter groups such as industrial workers, the unemployed and the socially excluded. The party was unable to convey how it intends, on the one hand, to criticize existing conditions in the EU, while at the same time developing a vision of the future for the European Union from the left.

Only Bloco de Esquerda (Portugal), AKEL (Cyprus), Left-Wing Alliance of Denmark and PTB (Belgium) were able to defend their position, to win one new seat or to join the European Parliament.

We need now a radical analysis and an open debate. What is necessary now, how can we face the challenges of global warming, the rise of right-extremists and nationalists, what can we do to mobilize for peace and for sustainable development, to fight poverty and social exclusion, for gender democracy and against any kind of discrimination? We have to start to work not only for another Europe, but for a socialist Europe.

Our Irish friends from Sinn Féin said, that they try to analyze why they failed in the election. But their problem is not to know what the problem is. They got a lot of different answers …

As I said before: we got now the receipt for failing for a long time, underestimating the European issue, missing concrete strategies in our electoral campaigns, long lasting mistakes. Leaderships of some national left parties and the European Party as well were far away from professional organized electoral campaigns. Voters missed empathy and that left in Europe worked with heart and soul for a left vision in Europe and towards changing the balance of power in favor to left and progressive forces in EU member states. I would like to be very clear addressing the European Left Party: It was very late to nominate Spitzenkandidaten. I understand, that there are different positions to take part or not. Okay. But, when there is a decision to ask two comrades to go in the hell and to do the best in the interest of left parties, then they need better support. They need all our solidarity, a clear strategy, an excellent organized campaign. It was not because of our candidates that the European Left couldn’t mobilize more voters! I was missing leaders of the EL in some of the events, backing our candidates!

We learned also that we will not win if left parties try to copy an anti-migration policy. We will not get voters back from right wing and racist parties if we stand against our principle that human rights are universal and indivisible. Never we have the right to do so!


1.    No one of the political tendencies among left forces in Europe can claim superiority in the battles between different left approaches to EU, Eurozone and Euro. This can be a new chance for a better cooperation between all of us.

2.    Losing ten mandates GUE&NGL lost influence and attractivity for new forces in the EP. Conservatives try to built up a “cordon sanitaire” inside the European Parliament to exclude right extremists and radical left as well. The new group should continue to work for an Alliance of left and progressive forces.

3.    The next Forum of progressive forces in Brussels should provide new ideas, initiatives to change EU and to organize European and transnational activities on climate, social, gender and peace issues.

4.    We need different spaces and possibilities to work on left strategies on Europe. The next elections must be prepared now.

Cover image: Gabi Zimmer. Source: Multimedia Centre European Parliament, 16/04/2019, onlineMultimedia Centre European Parliament, 16/04/2019