The Party of the European Left is a continent-wide amalgamation of far-left, radical and socialist political parties and groups. It includes the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) in Greece, Die Linke in Germany, the United Left in Spain, the Left Front in France and many others.
While attending the Ninth Summer University of European Left, Green Left Weekly's Denis Rogatyuk got a chance to discuss the challenges and plans of the European Left with Pierre Laurent, its current chairperson. Laurent is also national secretary of the French Communist Party, which is part of France’s Left Front.
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I thought we would begin with the question on the mind of all the different left and progressive political parties in Europe — the question of the European Elections. Do you think the European Left fulfilled the best possible outcome in these elections?
The European Left has only achieved a part of its objective. The situation in Europe is one of a deep social crisis, with high levels of unemployment.
Our number one objective during these elections was to give space to the political expression of the people against the austerity policies. What we see from the results is the outward rejection and condemnation of these policies.
However, these rejections have been expressed in a very contradictory manner.
The European Left has managed to grow very significantly, particularly throughout southern Europe, as well as other countries where the crisis has gravely impacted the lives of the working people.
At the same time, the combined total of the left-wing European parties within the EU parliament has grown from 35 members in 2009 to 52 after May elections.
It is the best electoral result for the European Left since the conception of the European Parliament itself.
However, the dark side of the story is the growth of far-right, populist and nationalist forces in Europe. This is the main contradiction we face.
These results are caused by the deadlock of the austerity policies and the political crisis in Europe.
Our two main goals are to find a way to marginalise the far-right forces and work towards a progressive exit from the political and economic crisis.
We have heard of the successes of the individual political parties and forces, such as Podemos and United Left in Spain, Syriza in Greece, Tsipras’ Party in Italy, and Sinn Fein in Ireland. However, there were also countries in Europe where the left suffered a decline. In particular, the Left Front in France, Die Linke in Germany, and also some losses among the eastern European left parties, such as those in the Czech Republic.
It is true, the results are unequal and often quite stark across the regions in Europe. Our best results were in those countries where the policies enforced by the troika [the IMP, the European Central Bank and the European Commission] had the greatest impact.
These are the countries where we have seen mass mobilisations, and we succeeded in giving a political expression to those movements during the elections.
In other countries, like France, we have seen progress on the left in the last few years. However, we could not replicate this success this time.
The extreme right benefited greatly from the social crisis in France. We are well aware of these differences in results.
However, the main tendency coming from these elections, and the past few years, has been that of political growth and greater hope for the future.
During your speech at the Summer University, you mentioned that there are several political forces and groups now seeking to affiliate to or join the Party of the European Left. What kind of forces are we talking about here?
The Party of the European Left was created 10 years ago by six parties from across Europe — France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Germany and Austria. Today, 27 parties are members of the European Left, as well as an extra 11 observers. And now we have some parties that are knocking on the door of the European Left.
Within the European Left, we have parties from different traditions — communist, far-left, ecologist, radical social-democratic, and also parties that have emerged out of the social movements.
The European Left is also a party that is working more and more with the social movements and trade unions. This shows that there is real diversity within the European Left.
What is uniting us is the rejection of neoliberal policies, as well as of racism, chauvinism and sexism. What we are seeking together is to build a Europe of solidarity and social justice.
New forces that want to come to fore are mostly new parties, which have only just been created. This is particularly the case in eastern Europe, where the left parties have mostly been eradicated throughout the past 20-25 years, and there are new forces, that want to come forward.
I think that a very good example of this is the United Left Party in Slovenia.
Yes, the United Left encompasses three parties that have arisen out of the social movements, as well as an ecological movement, and they’ve built an electoral coalition.
These three parties, united together, now wish to be part of, and cooperate with, the European Left. It is something that they find most attractive.
We are also developing new international co-operation. This is particularly in regards to the political forces in the South Mediterranean and the movements and forces emerging out of the Arab Spring.
We have also built structure relations with the parties of Latin America, who take part in the Sao Paulo Forum.
How would you characterise the relationship between the European Left and the trade union movement in Europe? Do you also encourage your members to become union militants and push for a progressive direction within the trade unions throughout the separate European countries?
The European Left Party has opened new possibilities for the left in Europe to partner with trade unions on a political basis. We have a working relationship with the European Trade Union Confederation, and we also tend to develop relations with the unions country-by-country.
We share a common analysis with trade union movements —that austerity is catastrophic for the well-being of working people. And we share the idea that there needs to be a mass revival of public and social investment.
There are a lot of unions in Europe that used to have organic links with social-democratic parties. However, because today a lot of the forces of social democracy are partners in the austerity policies, there is a visible crisis of relations between those unions and the social-democratic forces.
As a result, parts of the trade union movement seek relations with us instead. The European Left is determined to build those relations, and the process is currently in full swing.
The Summer University has succeeded in drawing in activists from around the world, and discussing the crises in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Do you consider this year’ event a success, and if so, then perhaps we should also have a Winter University too?
Well, the university is organised every year in July. It is a very important period of time, as it not only allows for meetings on the different directions of the party, but also gives opportunities for interaction between activists across Europe.
The meetings between solidarity activists, as well as the new relations created, are obviously very useful in creating a unified European progressive political consciousness.
Participation in the Summer University this year was less than last year’s, since the EU elections have taken up most of the party’s time and resources.
But we seek to continue to organise the university for the future. Each year, a new country welcomes the Summer University. Throughout the past few years, each summer university has recorded participation by more than 1000 attendees.