• Conflicting left projects in Western Europe

last modified March 10, 2016 by Tord

Conflicting left projects in Western Europe


With many times greater resources then their Eastern counterparts the Left in Western Europe mobilizes in the name of the whole of Europe or at least in the name of movements in all of EU. This is done through several initiatives. Two with the goal to work for a social Europe, or more precisely a social EU. One by being prepared for an exit from the euro as a way to push more strongly for a social Europe hopefully being thus able to avoid an euroexit. The second initiative is similar but for those who see preparation for an euroexit as too radical, but only want to work for a social Europe through the democratization of the EU. Several initiatives by economists or wider liberal circles and NGOs support to varying degrees support these two initiatives. The third project is an anti-imperialist initiative to abolish the euro regime as a step toward creating another way for cooperation between the peoples of Europe than the undemocratic EU.


Plan B Paris


January 23 to 24 a Plan B in Europe conference was held in Paris. This initiative works for a complete renegotiation of EU treaties. To achieve this renegotiation, the initiators look for radical means: "We commit to engage with the struggle of Europeans everywhere in a campaign of Civil European disobedience toward arbitrary European practices and irrational “rules” until that renegotiation is achieved. This renegotiation is described as "our plan A for a democratic Europe ", which is backed up with a plan B to show those in power that "they can not terrorize us into submission".

The justification for Plan B in Europe, says: "It is a dangerous lie to assert that the euro and the EU serve Europeans and shield them from crisis. It is an illusion to believe that Europe’s interests can be protected within the iron cage of the Eurozone’s governance “rules” and within the current Treaties.” The argument states further ”We are determined to break with this “Europe”. It is the basic condition needed to rebuild cooperation between our peoples and our countries on a new basis. How can we enact policies of redistribution of wealth and of creation of decent jobs, especially for the young, ecological transition and the rebuilding of democracy within the constraints of this EU? We have to escape the inanity and inhumanity of the current European Treaties and remould them in order to shed the straightjacket of neoliberalism, to repeal the Fiscal Compact, and to oppose the TTIP. ”We are committed to cooperate in the fight with the Europeans everywhere campaigning for European Civil disobedience against any European practice and irrational" rules "until renegotiation is achieved." 

Four former ministers and  a leading parliamentarian are the persons who Plan B put at the front of their initiative - Stefano Fassina from Italy, Yanis Varoufakis from Greece, Jean-Luc Mélenchon from France, Zoe Konstantopoulou who has been President of the Greek Parliament and Oskar Lafontaine from Germany. Plan B initiative emerged out of the shock of the Greek events in the summer of 2015, when German and bank interests drove the Greek popular revolt in shreds. A plan B to resist the Euro regime had become obviously necessary, Syriza policy had been shown to lead to defeat.

But with Podemos electoral success in the fall, and the support of Syriza continued role in Greece as administrator after the defeat of the enforced neoliberal austerity policies several leftists began once again bring hope of a social Europe to life. Varoufakis jumped from the Plan B initiative and started another project that avoids seeing an end of the euroregime as a possible way out, instead only talking about the democratization of the EU. The persons put up front behind Plan B initiative differed significantly once they delivered their message at the conference in Paris. It was scheduled during the climate summit in November but unlike the environmental movement's activities Plan B postponed its conference until January.

Oskar Lafontaine from Die Linke opened the conference with a clear statement: Southern Europe can not wait for a change in Germany with its wage dumping politics, because it would be to wait forever. Liquidation of the euro and a return to a system of politically influenced exchange rates is an absolute necessity. Instead of quantitative easing in favor of the banks direct public investments are required. Central Banks and monetary policy would need to be put under democratic control subordinate to the interest of the majority. He attacked the imperialist politics and war of the West, denounced the subordination under the US and pointed out that it was this policy that leads to refugee flows.

In the following discussion Lapavitsas, former Syriza MP, addressed the importance of a national currency, debt reduction, capital controls, nationalization of the financial sector, democratic sovereignty of the state and an end to the post-national politics making the left to subordinate itself and hand over power to the supranational neoliberal elites. In a similar manner economists Brancaccio (Italy), Lordon (France) or Höpner (Germany) - and some others brought up the same.

Stefano Fassina from Italy advocated still last year for a national defense against the euro regime. Now he advocated primarily for the maintenance of the euro, the Plan A, while Plan B to dismantle the euro should be kept in the background. This attitude is consistent with his efforts in Italy to lead the left in Parliament, which remains having unshakable faith in the EU, while opinion polls show that a majority are for a euro exit. He hoped for an awakening of social democracy. The choice of Corbyn as party leader in Britain was seen as a sign that it was coming. 

Mélenchon from France delivered the closing speech. He advocated renegotiation of EU treaties. In addition, he criticized capitalism, the financial markets, banks, Draghi, Merkel, Brussels, European Union Parliament, the perpetrators of sexual abuse in Cologne, Erdogan to finally pay tribute to present representatives of the United Left and Podemos from Spain.

The conference in Paris was divided into four sessions. The first asked the question Euro under what conditions? Speaking was economists from France, Italy, Germany, Greece and the Netherlands, together with parliamentarians from the Red Green Alliance in Denmark and Germany's Die Linke faction in parliament, as well as a French journalist. The next session was about reorganizing the international monetary system with speeches from a European parliamentarian from the Spanish United Left and economists from Belgium, Senegal, Switzerland and France. A third session was about the tools for managing the debt crisis with experts from France, Tunisia, Spain, Belgium, Great Britain, Greece, Ecuador and Mali. The fourth asked if economic sovereignty can be recovered with a union representative and a blogger from France, a Spanish MEP from United Left and an economist from Tunisia. A fifth session took up a new policy of cooperation with a German and Italian economist and two French scientists. Finally, spoke two representatives from the party Podemos in Spain and Bernard Cassen and Susan George founders of Attac France and now from Memoire the Luttes and TNI, Transnational institute on the theme of climate, social and trade justice 

One can see Plan B initiative as a follow-up to the approach that dominated the European Social Forum in which Europe was reduced to the EU and the main subject to change Europe was within the framework of the EU and there work for a social Europe. It was driven mainly by representatives from France and Italy, with some support from Germany and resulted in a number of initiatives to rewrite EU treaties which all fizzled out. It was part of the unwritten and largely unconscious control of the ESF by the left which also could be noticed by how the World Social Forum declaration was used. The official WSF declaration in which various movements against neo-liberalism, capitalism and imperialism was equated with the movement for a new sustainable  relationship between man and nature were set aside. Instead an earlier version of the WSF declaration was quoted incorrectly on the ESF website where anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism and social issues is the core values in the usual narrow way left sees the world excluding relationship with nature as equally important.

Telling for the Plan B initiative is the total absence of environmental movement despite the fact that climate justice was one of the headlines in the program. Even the peasant movement was completely absent and the trade union movement very marginally. Not only popular movements were seen as uninteresting by the organizers, even Eastern Europe was totally absent among the 30 panelists. Overwhelmingly dominating in the panels were the French, many also came from Spain. No one from peripheral European countries in the West as Finland, Sweden, Ireland and Portugal, nor anyone from Austria. However commendable several from Africa and one from Ecuador. Party representatives came from the parliamentary left parties usually with a more radical program but also the more left-wing populist Podemos.


Democracy in Europe Movement 25 Berlin


Democracy in Europe Movement 25, (DiEM), was launched on February 9 at a meeting in the Volksbühne in Berlin, Rosa Luxemburg and Bertold Brecht's old theater. The purpose was similar to that of Plan B, a project were the initiator of Diem, Yanis Varoufakis initially participated. The difference is that DiEM do not want to take seriously the possibility to withdraw from the euro. The initiative also has broader political support than Plan B with many Green and independent politicians involved.

Diem describe themselves as a movement, even grassroots movement sometimes, based on a common manifesto for the democratization of Europe. It sees itself not as a party, think tank or even an organization but a movement. It is not clear how this movement should be organized democratically, somewhat contradictory as its main aim is to democratize society. Repetitively DiEM sees its main task of democratizing Europe and by that in particular the EU. The immediate task is described in the manifesto as to create full transparency in the decision-making of the EU Council, Ecofin, FTT and Eurogroup meetings. Also the minutes of the meetings of the European Central Bank and from important negotiations on TTIP or Britain's status affecting the future of European citizens should be transparent. In addition, DiEM demands a mandatory register for lobbyists.

Within twelve months the movement look forward to the beginning of solving the economic crisis by making use of existing institutions and within the current EU treaties. This Europe's immediate crisis is manifest in five areas simultaneously: the management of public debt, the banking system, insufficient investment, migration and rising poverty. DiEM mean that national governments are unable to solve the problems in these areas. Therefore, they need to be handled by the EU, while at the same time power is distributed back to the national parliaments, regional councils and municipalities.

Within two years, DiEM want a Constitutional Assembly to take place. The purpose is to transform Europe into a full-fledged democracy with a sovereign parliament that respects national sovereignty and share power with the national parliaments, regional assemblies and local authorities. To do this, an Assembly of Representatives should convene chosen via European lists of candidates from the majority of countries. The so elected Constitutional Assembly has the power to decide on a future democratic constitution that will replace all existing European treaties in a decade. In 2025, is the idea that a Constitutional Assembly can adopt the new treaty.

DiEM emphasize decentralization and openness - " Our overarching aim to democratise the European Union is intertwined with an ambition to promote self-government (economic, political and social) at the local, municipal, regional and national levels; to throw open the corridors of power to the public; to embrace social and civic movements; and to emancipate all levels of government from bureaucratic and corporate power. " It also emphasizes "We are inspired by a Europe of Reason, Liberty, Tolerance and Imagination made possible by comprehensive Transparency, real Solidarity and authentic Democracy.” In addition, the "ecological balance and a desire to be free of fossil fuels in a world in which change their habits - not the earth's climate ."

The manifesto ends with a list of what the movement aspires for - a Democratic, Transparent, Realistic, Decentralised, Pluralist, Egalitarian, Cultured, Social, Productive, Sustainable, Ecological, Creative, Technological, Historically-minded, Internationalist, Peaceful, Open, Liberated Europe. To mention some specific arguments "A realistic Europe which sets itself the task to implement radical yet achievable, democratic reforms,". In addition, a Europe that is creative, creating "new technology in the service of solidarity" and "strive for a bright future without hiding from his past." An ecological Europe that ”engaged in genuine world-wide green transition”. A peaceful Europe ” de-escalating tensions in its East and in the Mediterranean, acting as a bulwark against the sirens of militarism and expansionism”. The manifesto ends by advocating "An Open Europe that is alive to ideas, people and inspiration from all over the world, recognising fences and borders as signs of weakness spreading insecurity in the name of security. A Liberated Europe where privilege, prejudice, deprivation and the threat of violence wither, allowing Europeans to be born into fewer stereotypical roles, to enjoy even chances to develop their potential, and to be free to choose more of their partners in life, work and society."

Speakers in the closing session of the meeting, when DiEM was launched followed each other in a certain way. First came a long list of politicians from Western Europe followed by an American economist, Australian whistleblower, two philosophers from Croatia and Slovenia, two social movement organizers from Germany, IG Metall and Blockupy, two artists and finally back to the politicians from the West, this time a Social Democrat who did not want to become a part of Diem, but wanted to cooperate. Of the politicians and movement representatives invited by the organizers to the final panel, no one came from Eastern Europe. Politicians came from Spain (5), Germany (2), and one each from Greece, UK, Ireland, Portugal and Denmark. Noteworthy was that no one from France were in the big final panel. Two from Spain and people from the US, Australia, and Slovenia participated with video. The range of politicians were wide, the left parties, the Socialists, Greens and independent. 

The long session ended with six questions from the floor before the final round among the panelists. A woman asked about the lack of participation of Eastern Europe, others wondered if it is a party, extra-parliamentary organization or grassroots movement that Diem wanted to be. One answer was that in other sessions during the day were more participants from Eastern Europe. The answer to the question of role of DiEM one of the initiators answered it was neither a party or social movement. A movement was seen as a temporary flare-up in connection with a conflict or occupation of a square. DiEM was stated as wanting to be something more for the long term. The possibility of organizing social movements democratic getting the same continuity as a political party was therefore not seen as an opportunity.

The difference between Plan B and DiEM initiative can be seen as made explicit by the difference between two politicians from Die Linke. The former Social Democratic minister and now Radical Left Party representative Oskar Lafontaine brought at the Plan B Conference forward a radical economic program and criticized the imperialist policies of the West that he saw as the cause of refugee flows.

At the DiEM meeting the co-chair Katja Kipping represented Die Linke. She began by stating that European elites today destroy every hope which is expressed in their reaction to the increased number of refugees coming to Europe. Meanwhile transboundary movements of solidarity shows how a new Europe emerges from below. These movements prove that those who believe in the retreat to the cocoon of the nation state are wrong. The refugee movement points to the need for transnational cooperation. "National sovereignty is no excuse to ignore human rights." Kipping stressed emphatically. "The refugee issue shows that the single national approach to basic human questions is an illusion. Nationalism and the invocation of so-called good old days are no models for the future. Netiher is a Europe of austerity or a return to national borders worth pursuing. "We need more Europe rather than less, but what is needed is a new start for a Europe of solidarity that break with neoliberalism, a social Europe. Kipping advocates a European citizenship that make true democracy possible, basic income relative to national poverty levels on a fundamental right, a social safety net for all. We need a new understanding of democracy as a process in the hands of people for self-government, seeing to that those concerned by a decision must have the right to influence the decision. She then took the example of environmental refugees fleeing drought caused by climate change which in its turn is caused by the current world order were refugees have no influence. They can not have influence over the economy that directly affect their lives, which shows that the democracy that takes itself seriously must be transnational. The hope lies with the critical public in the squares of Athens and Madrid, in the student protests and strikes were people raise their voices. Kipping completed, by being inspired by what has come to be called the summer of soliarity when people from political parties and trade unions, activists and colleagues came together to show that we can transform Europe and do it differently. ”We need to think about how this opening can be used, perhaps for a referendum on the future direction of Europe, with the options austerity or real democracy. Either transformation into a transnational democracy or organized barbarism, either a permanent crisis and ecological collapse or a new start for Europe.”

Rarely have two leading representatives of a Left party had such different messages on the same subject. The difference between the two reflects quite well the distinction between most of the speakers at the two meetings. While the speakers in Paris focused on economics took the speakers in Berlin up a variety of issues, often more democratical procedures than the content. The criticism of EU in the Diem manifesto is directed against how the process is organized out of a cooperation developed through cartels in coal and steel industry and large landowners in the 1950s and inwards. Not what the Friends of the Earth Sweden holds against the EU, that the Treaty of Rome 1957 puts market economy above all other values.

In general a long list of pressing issues were addressed in Berlin with no clear focus on how the power over society's social organization should be changed. Both socio-economic and especially socio-ecological issues were grossly ignored. Instead, there was an extensive smorgasbord of benevolent fragmented proposals where it was difficult to see how these could be united in a common struggle for social change. This is a struggle that needs to be mobilized in such a way that the masses of the people can see their interest in something common, whether they live in the countryside or in the city. DiEM is not helping in this regard.

The Paris meeting also had its limitations, not least in their choice of focusing on the economy. There was as in Berlin a large span among the presented views but more along an axis between the determined rejection of the euro and wait and see to the euro-exit as a lever to obtain a EU more socially responsible and willing to invest. As the Left organized the meeting meant that agricultural-based economy, with its crucial importance for food supplies and the social struggle was not given the crucial place they have for the future. The climate issue as a headline in the program seems more to appear as interested in the environment than a serious interest. No environmental organization or peasant organization had been invited as a speaker. Symptomatic was that the climate issue and not biodiversity had been chosen as the theme. This despite the fact that the biodiversity of Europe is of vital importance to agriculture, forestry and fisheries from an economic standpoint and also social. The same narrow-mindedness was noticed in Berlin where also the climate becomes the dominant environmental issue raised but without becoming an integral part of the common discussion.

Very weak representation from the East was evident at both meetings even if it was a bit better in Berlin. In Paris none of speakers came from Eastern Europe. In Berlin there were two in the closing panel. There were also 6 out of 45 speakers in three sessions earlier in the day from countries in Eastern Europe. The way Diem look at Europe became explicit in the preface to the Manifesto. It speaks of a Europe from Lisbon to Helsinki, Dublin to Crete and from Aberdeen to Leipzig as if nothing in Europe exists to the east of Germany. A picture in words of the whole of Europe or in any case the whole of EU is only including Western Europe. Eastern Europe, or to be more precise Central and Eastern Europe both within and beyond the border of EU rests in a haze.


Plan B Madrid


A third larger conference to elaborate upon the ideas in Paris and Berlin was held in Madrid 19-21 February. This conference refered in its invitation to both the Plan B conference in Paris and DiEM 25 as well as other appeals in the same direction as Austerexit. The call stated that ”Society has now started to work towards a radical change in the policies of the EU. Social movements, such as Blockupy,the current campaign against the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Agreement between the European Union and the United States) , the Alter Summit, the European general strike in 2012, the Euromarches, or the massive amount of work carried out by numerous citizen groups and NGO´s make up valuable human, intellectual, and ideological capital in the defense of human rights, the respect of The Earth, and of the dignity of people over and above political and economic interests. However, we believe that better coordination and cooperation is needed in order to mobilize at a European level.There are many proposals on the table that could do away with austerity: a fair tax policy and the closure of tax havens, complementary exchange systems, the re-municipalization of public services , the equal distribution of all jobs with a and enshrining fair conditions. commitment to a production model based on renewable energies and reform or abolish the EU tax treaties – formally known as the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union.”

The vision was somewhat less focused upon EU as the only way to change society than in Paris and Berlin although in the same direction: ”Our vision is all-inclusive and international. For these reasons we want to generate and to carry out all these proposals in order to redefine and re-establish political and European institutions and treaties , civil society must be organized, we must think our common strategies and see how to articulate them . We know that these transformations cannot be done in isolation from each of the European countries. Our vision is of solidarity and internationalist. For this reason we want to create a convergence of all the people, movements, and organizations that oppose the current model of the EU and agree to a common agenda of objectives, projects, and actions, with the aim of breaking the EU wide system of austerity and to radically democratize the European Institutions, putting them to work for the citizens.”

The Plan B conference in Madrid was structured somewhat differently than the two other meetings. A general assembly with presentation of the project during 3 hours had only a few speakers in the beginning of the conference. There was also 4 forums as well as 3 plenaries and in total 16 workshops. There was also 3 hours to sum up the conference deciding about following steps, continued work and days of action. As such the Madrid Plan B conference represented a step forward in terms of addressing the multi-dimensional crisis and developing a common understanding as well as hoping to produce a calender of coming actions.

The welcoming speeches were made by many people having a key role also in Paris. Two of key speakers in Paris started the conference had similar roles in Madrid, Oskar Lafontaine, German ex minister and Zoe Konstantopoulou ex speaker in the Greek Parliament. Among speakers in Paris also Marina Albiol, Izquierda Unida and Lola Sánchez, from Podemos both members of the EU parliament presented the Madrid conference. Movements were represented in a more core role in Madrid than both in Paris in Berlin. Eric Toussaint from the antidebt organization CADTM who also was a speaker in Paris was among the welcoming speakers together with anti eviction activist Mercedes Lobera, Plataforma de Afectadas/os por la Hipoteca (PAH) Vallekas and Corinna Genschel from Blockupy in Germany also listed as representing Die Linke.

In the 4 fora Janis Varoufakis had a central role together with some few others from the DiEM event in Berlin. One big group were politicians and a similar big group were academicians while some few came from movements. The geographical distribution was narrow, 16 came from Spain, 5 from France and 4 from Greece. In the plenaries it was far better. 6 from Spain, 2 from Greece and France and one each from Italy, Germany, Belgium, UK and Switzerland. In the workshops there where 26 from Spain, 6 from France, 3 from Greece, UK and Belgium, 2 from Italy, Portugal and Germany and one each from Ireland, Denmark, Sweden and Finland as well as West Sahara and Ecuador. In total 100 speakers in the official program counting a handful twice that appeared two times.

In terms of CEE countries it is the same total absence as in Paris. There has been some more from the Western peripheries compared to both Paris and Berlin as now both Finland, Sweden and Ireland were present among the speakers in the workshops. Also the environmental movements was much more present, mainly by Ecologistas en Accion with four speakers as well as other environmental movements and Green parties. There was also one speaker from Via Campesina.

With the way the Madrid conference was organized and how it could build upon the two larger events i Paris and Berlin is the final declaration not so impressive. It starts with:

”Since the start of the global economic crisis, a new movement has arisen across the world. It is a movement for true democracy and participation, for the right of the people to decide for themselves and have their mandate respected and reflected in policy making, for the duty to confront a system which favors a privileged minority on the backs of the majority. A movement to place human rights, civil, political, social, economic, cultural and democratic rights, at the heart of the European project, as an intrinsic part of democracy. Since 2011, the streets, squares and workplaces of Europe have become the cradles of democratic struggles for rights; struggles that have shaken and shaped the social and political scene.”

As common in the new left initiatives agricultural and environmental issues are marginalized. The successful Icelandic rebellion 2008-2009 is erased out of memory. Then on the streets and squares smashing all windows of the parliament with the environmental movement Saving Iceland with a strong rural base and Anarchists as the militants brought down a government and put bankers to jail. The recent success of European importance in the peasant struggle against IMF and EU imposed neoliberal new tax in Ukraine is also forgotten. It is the struggle not in all of Europe against the dictates of IMF and EU institutions that is of interest only within EU and primarily in Western eurozone member states.

It is a declaration that mentions class war one time and then in a negative sense, a class war waged by the ruling elites ”with the looting of our citizens’ rights and of the commons”. Thus class struggles as strikes or occupying extraction sites or roads to defend the interest of peasants and the rural population nor making the parliament defenseless as in Iceland is not brought up. Rather it is a general public faced by the ruling elite and tyranny that is called upon with another form of struggle. That of ”civil disobedience to the European institutions” not against the employer or corporations occupying your land. Another form of struggle with the common goal to establish a ”new constituent processes and self-determination through binding referenda.” Do you see a need to unite all in the social struggle to protect the environment and social justice against corporate interests whether people believe reforming the EU is the solution or the opposite. Forget about it. If you want to mobilize in all of Europe whether inside or outside the EU seeing the struggle in each country as potentially equally important. Forget about it.

There are positive aspect in the declaration on issues as the refugee politics and the need to ”drastically cut armaments and defense expenses, which have proven to be linked with corruption and illegal indebtedness.” But compared to the sligthly more promising invitation the final declaration became more focused on reforming EU and less on ” all-inclusive and international”, less ”to create a convergence of all the people, movements, and organizations that oppose the current model of the EU” and more of  ”redefine and re-establish political and European institutions and treaties ” actually only meaning EU (all quotes from the invitation).

The declaration ends with ” The European peoples know how to rebel against tyranny. Throughout history we have done it on multiple times to conquer democracy, establish equality, defend our lives, rights and dignity.” The calender of events was reduced to one sentence:

The Madrid Conference proposes to organise a European Day of Action on the 28th of May.


Down with the euro!


A more clear message comes from the International Forum for the Left and popular forces which were held in Athens 26 to 28 June 2015. The slogan of the meeting was Euro is the problem, exit is the solution. This meeting turned to the foundation of the EU and the euro zone as expressed in the Treaty of Lisbon. The initiators of the forum claims that this treaty is based on the interests of the ruling classes of the West: Eurocentrism, atlanticism, capitalism and authoritarian attitude.

Specific proposals from the meeting was to form a coalition for a real, clear plan to end the euro regime, which is also directed against the neoliberal internal market and the EU as an executor of what is called the needs of ”liberal oligarchy”, and also against NATO, which is seen as its military wing .

With this purpose for the international coordination against the euro, with groups in Greece, Spain, Italy, France, Germany and Austria, a European forum will be organized September 23 to 25 in Italy under the working title "What are the alternatives to the Euro regime".

Characterized for both this and the other more reformist left initiatives is that peasant and rural interests are ignored. Neither is the environmental movement a key part of any of the initiatives or invited to speak except for the Madrid conference.  Contrary to the other initiatives there is a stronger concern in the Down with the euro initiative to be of use for all of Europe and in spite of having far less resources inviting speakers also from Eastern Europe outside EU as Ukraine at their meetings.