DiEM25 has clearly pointed out that the continental-scale social, economic and environmental crisis exploded in the XXI century require a continental-scale political organisation pursuing policies across the board, in a unified platform. More importantly, DiEM25 has backed up its correct intuition, defining such policies in the Green New Deal (GND) and giving life to a network of thousands of activists and multiple organisations in the European Spring (ES). These key elements represent a formidable ground to build on: internationalism as a method and the GND as a political platform. However, it must be acknowledged that the EU elections in May ended with an overall disappointing performance for the ES, and no elected MEP directly associated with the ES. The causes at the root of this insuccess are mostly organisational and strategic: these are the elements that need to be fixed, to pursue the GND across the European Union and beyond.
1- A brief analysis of the EU election results.
DiEM25 was born with the explicit objective to become the glue that would keep together the numerous left-wing European national parties, helping them to collaborate in the generation of a shared platform for a radical transformation and democratization of the EU. This attempt mostly failed during the year 2018, as many of the targeted national parties (e.g. Podemos, France Insoumise, Bloco de Esquerda) became somewhat convinced of the necessity of a nationalist perspective. Indeed, an increasing number of activists in these parties saw a return to a national dimension as the only way to grant access to the surging anti-EU sentiment, or a necessary step to fight economic neoliberalism and austerity measures, which are deemed ingrained in the EU institutions. Even where an alliance was indeed established (e.g. in France, Denmark, Poland), the results have been underwhelming and all ES-related parties have failed to reach their respective national electoral thresholds. Finally, and with the exception of the Greek campaign which was really close to reach its main result of electing one MEP, also the experiments carried out with DiEM25’s own electoral wings did not produce positive results. Importantly, the campaign in Germany, where the most prominent among DiEM25 activists have invested a substantial amount of their efforts and the little economic resources available to the Movement, ended with a disappointing 0.3%, one third of the required threshold. Here, DiEM25 missed its target both in the attempt to build an alliance and in the subsequent attempt to run alone, as the electoral campaign did not succeed in the symbolic goal to elect Yanis Varoufakis among the German MEPs.
This general strategy was used consistently across countries, and it was not adapted to the local national context. In this sense, the case of Italy represents an interesting example of why plasticity is necessary across the continent. In Italy, the initial attempt to form an alliance not only had to overcome the difficulties posed by the anti-EU sentiment and nationalist surge that are affecting the left at the continental level. It also involved various pre-existing small parties and local personalities who came from years of reciprocal vetoes and personal hatreds. Unsurprisingly, such an attempt stalled the action of the Movement in Italy during quasi-impossible negotiations and ultimately failed. Overall, the intention to overcome both macro and local political difficulties on the basis of Yanis’ charm offensive was generous, but naive: it led to negotiations with (sometimes only supposed) leaders from a position of weakness, as the ES seemed to need them more than they felt they needed us.
Finally, once the electoral campaign started, in the months leading to the election day, it was characterised by little European coordination, making of the ES an “electoral cartel”, rather than a coalition. This is probably due to two unresolved issues:
- Both the ES and DiEM25 have only vaguely defined the type of electors they are meant to represent in the (i.e. the social classes they speak to and for). From the outside, they have probably been perceived as a left-leaning movement of intellectuals, akin to a think tank.
- DiEM25 is structured around a mechanism that can be defined as “anarchic centralism”. The activists at the local level are free di set their own paths and make their own decisions, but the CC can at any time (and does) impose significant changes of direction, independent of any previous agreement and without an efficient top-down communication system. This leaves local activists surprised about decisions that affect them directly, and deprives them of credibility in their future efforts. This confusion affects the political strategy used to pursue the objectives of the GND, and it is further increased by the presence of decision making bodies with overlapping or not-clearly defined functions (e.g. Electoral wing vs National collective), which has also resulted in open conflicts among activists of the Movement.
2- What is to be done?
To overcome the temporary set-down we experienced in May, it is necessary to act on multiple levels at the same time.
- The organization. DiEM25 has to give itself a properly federal structure, with the aim to allow the coordination of few, widely shared continental-scale actions, to foster the exchange of ideas, methods and information among countries and regions, and help the growth of local activism. At the same time, it must grant autonomy to the National Collective of each country, giving them sufficient freedom, within the political space offered by the GND, to set their own strategy, define local alliances, communication methods and empowering their ability to choose where to point the spotlight (again, within the GND) and how to open their social conflict.
This increase of autonomy has to come at the price of a more structured organisation, to allow for the accountability of the elected bodies at the regional, national and European level. History has shown the XX century party structure has its problems: it slows down the ability of a political movement to react to changes in the environment, due to excessive internal red tape, and it limits leadership renewal. However, a form based purely on assembly-style decisions easily becomes dysfunctional when numbers grow, leaving few organisers with an unchecked and unaccountable decision power.
- Alliances. We need to use the platform of the GND to set and open a series of social conflicts, at the local and the European level, discussed and agreed among National Collectives and Coordinating Collective. These conflicts will allow also to discern allies from people or organisation who are simply planning to tag along for a short time for their own advantage. Electoral alliances often have a short life, conversely, movements that join forces to reach common political objectives are more likely to keep working together and show unity at the time of elections.
- A medium term strategy (2-3 years). The GND provides a complex platform that is difficult to present to the wide public in its entirety. In similar conditions, in the US, the social-democratic left (Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez etc.) uses a method that can be applied to the European context as well. They rely on a core of policies, decided after highlighting their social targets, as campaign spearheads for the entire platform. In the US, where working class and lower middle class in the past have been overlapping, this core has been identified in recent years in a universal health care reform and federal minimum wage, which immediately impact the lives of tens of millions of people. Once the spotlight is captured, the agenda can be set also on issues like housing, cancellation of student loan, immigration policies, free education, anti-discrimination policies, basic income and more. This strategy has helped propelling Sanders from the far left fringe in the Democratic Party to the position of most recognisable contender in the primaries in both 2016 and in the current cycle. More importantly, the change in the discourse has reshaped in just 2 years the political agenda, creating a fertile condition to elect further representatives who support similar policies.
I believe in the EU, such spearhead can be represented by a European Union job compact, that would aim at setting the minimum standards for the entire EU, including: a minimum wage, 35 hours per week, union protection, automatic inflation adjustments, anti-discrimination policies (e.g. gender gap), leave policies (parental leave, sick leave, vacation etc.) and more.
It is important to stress that such a strategy would not imply that DiEM25 is neglecting other parts of the GND that require immediate attention, like the existential threat posed by climate change. It rather means that we need a tool that allows us to smash through that rubber wall that has been built by the economic neoliberalists and is currently presided by the populist, authoritarian or plain neofascists. In other words, we have to get rid of the Orban and the Salvini-like, as well as the Macron and Merkel-like, to be sure to move towards carbon neutrality. We could tailor a EU job compact exactly for this purpose, starting from a European Citizens’ Initiative (https://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/welcome):
- It clearly cuts through the nationalist logic, as (for instance) the minimum wage has to be applied for the entire EU to avoid social dumping and outsourcing.
- It breaks the logic of the migrants as responsible for the poor work conditions and salaries in the EU, showing all workers are on the same side of the fight.
- It marks the difference between the third space approach and both the internationalism of the economic neoliberalists and the nationalism of the authoritarian, populists or neofascists, forcing them to show their true colors.
- It allows a clear-cut division between allies and adversaries in the left.