Democracy

A Speech by Beniot Lechat

I would like to focus my remarks on a specific question: that of the enlargement of the social base of ecological politics that is needed both in Europe and elsewhere. It is a question which goes beyond the details of whether Green parties poll at 5, 10 or 15% in elections, whichever they may be.

We need this enlargement in order to enter into what the German sociologist Ulrich Beck (to whom I will return later) calls ‘a new Green modernity’ in which the ideals of solidarity and equality are both relied upon and extensively redefined.

But first, a word on the political context such as it appears from the Green perspective in the European Union in the wake of the European elections of May 2014.

It cannot be said that there has been a receding, nor a collapse of Green parties. There has been a stabilisation at a level that is not the worst we have experienced; with significant increases in Sweden and Austria, very sharp declines in Belgium and France and a stabilisation at a very disappointing level in Germany, and an encouraging emergence of political ecologists in a number of Eastern European countries; Hungary and Croatia.

Beyond the Greens, the election was dominated by the rise of parties who are opposed to a reinforcement and redefinition of European solidarity, and towards whom voters who feel betrayed by what they regard as ‘the system’ have turned.

In order to understand the historic constellation within which we currently find ourselves, I would like to present a crossed analysis of three thinkers who have been published by the Green European Journal. These articles date back several years, but they seem to me to be just as relevant today.

The first of these authors is Etienne Balibar who, in an article titled ‘Counter-democracy to the rescue of Europe’, analyses the incompatibility of neoliberalism with the European project, underlining that a process driven by the idea of an extension of solidarity cannot be built on the basis of competition of all with all.

Balibar explains the success of far-right and populist parties by the fact that in the 20th century, the welfare state was identified with the national state. This connection between the social and the national explains, in large part, the difficulty encountered by the European left in exerting a strong influence in European politics and in letting go of their sovereignist imaginary.

We can clearly see the difficulty in enlarging the debate on the reinforcement of European solidarity, whether it be in Germany or in France, as demonstrated by the very confidential nature of the debates taking place, albeit indirectly, between French and German intellectuals (the Glienicke group in Germany, the Eiffel group and Alternatives économiques in France, etc.).

Since the components of the European left remain too strongly attached to their national-sovereign framework, and since the Greens themselves appear to have trouble integrating within this, we do not often enough hear national Green Parties (I am not speaking here about European Greens) on the issue of a genuine common energy policy in Europe, for example.

The second author is Alain Lipietz who, in ‘Fears and Hopes’, describes a Europe that has come to be dominated more than ever by what he describes as ‘liberal productivism’ – that is to say the combination neo-liberalism and productivism. The former is guided by the idea that the market is capable of regulating itself and that the role of politics is to reduce any and all state or citizen regulations in order to promote accumulation, only after which distribution becomes possible.

Productivism, which neo-liberalists have in common with Marxists and social democrats, rests on the belief that the growth of productive forces is essential to the resolution of conflicts inherent in society. To be brief, according to Lipietz, the current ‘systemic’ crisis is a result of the permanent interaction of the social, economic and ecological elements of this liberal-productivism. In Europe in 2014, it results from the combination of the structural weakening of redistribution mechanisms with the pursuit of an unsustainable lifestyle, as much in environmental as in human terms.

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