The ESF: a real chance to debate Europe

Article published on Nov. 14, 2003
community published
Article published on Nov. 14, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The European Social Forum is an opportunity for some good honest debate about Europe. But it needs to move beyond the anti-globalisation movement.

"Another Europe is possible" – that’s the slogan of the European Social Forum, which meets in Paris from the 12th to the 15th of November.

European citizens in general should celebrate the fact that there is this kind of forum for debate and exchanges of views – one which gives voice to alternative policies. The ESF is also a place where an embryonic European civil society is being constructed – somewhere where individuals and movements think collectively on a continental level. And it does this in an area (the ‘social’ issues) which has been traditionally neglected by the European construction. The ESF and movements that participate in it are therefore actors in the European construction. And yet they shout down Europe whenever they get the chance.

Anti-globalisation activists see themselves as actors of ‘another Europe’, less neo-liberal and more concerned with the citizens than the current Europe or the new Europe (that will emerge from the draft Constitution currently being debated). That is also the reason why some French socialists refuse to approve the text of the draft Constitution if it is not changed. The Constitution’s reference to the European ‘social market economy’ does not seem to be very convincing.

Social democracy in crisis

Unfortunately, in spite of the ESF, the heterogeneous (or indeed eclectic) anti-globalisation movement is struggling to articulate a coherent and constructive political message which might serve as the basis for a real political alternative. They are struggling to get away from their anti-establishment activities. Another Europe is possible, but who would govern it? In spite of the media coverage it gets and the sympathy it generates among young people, the movement has little real political clout. Is that its role? The difficulty lies in bringing together these ‘anti-establishment’ forces who reject the current European construction – but can bring forward ideas for the Europe of tomorrow – and reformist socialists who pay lip service to the idea of this construction but are unable to stop thinking in a narrowly nationalist way. In other words, how do you unite the left?

That’s just the point. Social democracy is - or so they say - in crisis throughout Europe. It’s a political project that’s run out of steam.

And yet, historically, the left is about movement, progress and universal suffrage – against conservatism, reaction and absolutism. It holds the key to its own success in choosing a new system and bringing forward the accompanying demands. It must be European in the way it is put together and in what it wants to construct. It must say yes to a democratic, federal Europe and bring the demands being debated in the ESF into the European political arena. For the left, the choice is a stark one – pick a European line or face oblivion.