Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Report on the European Left

This report is from Judith Meyer, a very smart young activist in the German branch of DiEM25, the pan-European group started by Yanis Varoufakis. A lot of useful information here about the state of play within both the German and general European left.
German Left
Andrea Nahles was elected to be the first female head of SPD (in its 155 years of history). I see this choice as a way for SPD members to do what Germans like to do: indulge in the ideal-ego of a rebel while not risking destabilisation. Andrea, apart from being a woman, is known for fiery language and once sang the Pippi Longstocking song in Bundestag, so she can count as different, a change from the usual leaders. And she was not the party old guard's first choice of leader, as she came up after Gabriel and Schulz. However, that doesn't change that she was also picked by the party old guard and she has no big plans of change for the SPD, while her challenger, Simone Lange, would have wanted the party to apologize for Schröder's Agenda 2010 - Lange also belonged to the #NoGroko camp. In the end, Lange got 27% and Nahles 66% of the delegates' votes. That is one of the weakest results for an SPD leader in history - Schulz had gotten 100%, and even speaking at this convention he still got more applause than Nahles. But Nahles was the consent candidate; even Jusos leader Kevin Kühnert, who had grown to national fame as the biggest face of the #NoGroko campaign, decided to endorse Nahles rather than vote for Lange who nevertheless was closer to his stances on almost everything. Said that the party needed someone to unite them and that after some private talks he was giving Nahles an advance of trust. Probably a power rationale. Incidentally, Nahles hasn't made a secret out of the fact that she wants to be chancellor / vice-chancellor one day, so expect her and current SPD vice chancellor Scholz to be jockeying against each other whenever given an occasion, even though programmatically not much divides them.
While the next regular SPD party convention is only one and a half years from now (!), Nahles wants the SPD grassroots to have a fundamental debate now which will eventually culminate in a renewed program. Jusos and #NoGroko will expend their revolutionary forces in a thousand local groups and commissions that way. Similar program discussion is ongoing in the German Greens. Linke is the only leftist party whose organs insist that their 2011 program is still a good basis; there are more and more voices asking them to develop something new as well, given the new situation and new challenges.
European Left
DiEM25's announcement of running as a transnational party (even if that isn't formally possible) with a single program, a single list of candidates and a single Spitzenkandidat across Europe, has caused a lot of worried movement among the other parties already. Mélenchon's France Insoumise affirmed it will not be running as part of the European Party of the Left; instead they signed an alliance with Podemos and Portugal's Bloco, declaring they will also run a transnational party. This is unlikely to actually come to pass because of programmatic differences (and none of the parties actually wishing to hand over some of their sovereignty); their alliance statement was flimsy. But it served to worry some more parties that had assumed to be running with them and who now find themselves having to make a choice of partners. It also increased pressure on the European Party of the Left, which is internally split (as many of its member parties) along the most fundamental vision of what Europe should be (with sovereigntist Lexiters, even nationalists, present next to those who'd reform the EU and those who'd turn the EU into a federation or a republic) and whose welfare it should seek (i.e. the question of refugees and migrants).
DiEM25's alliance is about to have its second meeting. It will be open to the public and recorded on video if interested. There has been an open call to the Melenchon/Podemos/Bloco alliance, as well as to the European Party of the Left, to work on a common program, common list and common Spitzenkandidat. The program would be based on the idea of having a Plan A, B and C:
Plan A = how we want to reform Europe. For DiEM25 this is defined in the general field of the European New Deal, #StopTheDeal with Turkey, #LetLightIn the European institutions, the commitment to organizing a European Constitutional Assembly to replace all existing treaties (while letting citizens decide on how close of an association this should yield) and so on.
Plan B = Constructive Disobedience. If the EU fights the plan A, we resist. The Rebel Cities are a good example of how any level government can refuse to implement policies that are destructive, or can implement alternative policies instead, for example Barcelona suspending evictions or making room for thousands of refugees even though Spain doesn't want to take the refugees it had agreed to take. In Greece, some of the examples given for Constructive Disobedience are delaying debt repayments for as long as creditors haven't agreed on a debt restructure / realistic repayment plan that doesn't necessitate welfare cuts every year. Or Greece may veto European decisions that require unanimity in order to force Europe to act.
Plan C = what to do if the EU disintegrates or if a country gets forced out of the Euro. Unlike Mélenchon, DiEM25 will never advocate initiating Grexit, Frexit, Italexit or similar, because that would mean giving up the opportunity to change Europe through disobedience, because it would initially worsen most people's economic situation, and because it would strengthen nationalist voices. However, it is quite possible that the Powers-That-Be would force Grexit because of Plan B, or that the EU as a whole disintegrates before 2025. Plan C is preparation for that without advocating it.
Most importantly however, and this is already happening, is to influence the debate, to make this European election the first one at which parties will talk about what they want to change in Europe. So far, the European elections always got hijacked by national topics, also because so far only national parties and not transnational alliances/parties ran in it, and because the European Parliament, despite its name, does not have much power to enact any policies. For a group uninterested in seats for the sake of seats, the purpose of running is the visibility and the ability to change the discourse, Europe-wide...

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