JIM O'DONNELL is a member of the Democratic Left (DL) in Ireland and an organiser of the New European Left Forum. He was interviewed for Green Left Weekly in Brussels by SARAH STEPHEN and CHOW WEI CHENG.
Can you describe how the New European Left Forum arose?
The first meeting of the forum took place in Madrid in November 1991. It has met twice per year since then. Its launch — if that's not too strong a word — followed the "fall of the wall", and came at a time when a number of ex-Communist or reformed Communist parties were looking for new alliances or associations, generally, and with political group formation in the European Parliament in mind.
The IU [United Left] of Spain were the main movers, with support from the Groen Links [Green Left] of Holland, Coalition of the left in Greece, DL, then the Workers Party of Ireland and the Scandinavian left parties. At the outset the German Greens were represented but unofficially, and as it became more established this stopped.
What are the role and aims of the forum?
The forum exists, technically, only when it meets. Arrangements for the next meeting are made by the present and next hosts plus another party from a different geographical region. It takes no policy decisions that bind the member parties in any way.
In practice it has developed into a network of green/left parties who have begun to exchange information and deeper contacts. Forum members, for example, are the first on the list to be invited to our [DL] annual conference. Ditto for others, I think. In practice also, because six of the parties are now represented in the same group in the European Parliament, exchanges have improved. My "job" with the group includes providing discreet administrative support to the forum and the forum parties.
It has a deliberately ambiguous status for the moment. Some refuse to have anything to do with a new "international", citing unfortunate past experiences. Others would intend that it, or most of the parties in it, would soon develop into a European political party as encouraged by the Maastricht Treaty and already done by the Socialists, Christian Democrats, Liberals and Greens. (Some — me — would say that it is compounding a mistake to refuse to do something when the time and associates are right because of the ill effects and embarrassment resulting from an alliance formed when the time and associates were wrong.)
All agree on the aim of creating/expanding the new space to the left of the Social Democrats and separate from what are described as the traditional/unreformed Communist parties.
The more ambitious believe it should lead to the creation of a network and ultimately a common organisation embracing all to the left of the Social Democrats — an ever widening potential space — presuming that the ultra-traditional Communists will either reform or disappear and that the ultra-green Liberal Greens will be detached from the rest. In addition to a network/organisation of parties, it would hope to develop a parallel network of non-government organisations sharing/promoting a common/shared agenda.
What are the issues discussed at forums?
They include topical political issues in the member states; the search for a new left, sustainable, economics; racism; equality for women; European integration — an issue which splits the forum between the three Nordic parties, which are anti-integration, and the rest, more or less, who are pro-integration.
Where does it go from here?
I hope the forum will develop as the more ambitious wish. I believe that it will go in that direction because resources from, and political influence in, the European Union will force it to do so, as well of course as plain common sense. Unintegrated political parties based on Irish provinces would be inescapably stupid and powerless — the difference is only a slight matter of scale.
Whether it can accommodate all the members is another matter — the split on integration will cause delays and problems.
EU politics has become day-to-day domestic politics for European political parties. In the EU a green left grouping occupying in full the space to the left of the Social Democrats should be capable of rallying 15 to 25% electoral support in the member states and in the European Parliament. Such a block would be a powerful anchor for the Social Democrats and would force them at least periodically to choose a left majority rather than the continual historic compromise with the Christian Democrats.