The challenges of European social movements
The 5th European Social Forum (ESF) that ended last 21st of September in Malmö (Sweden) is a good occasion to reflect on the trajectory and challenges of an initiative that has allowed activists and movements from across the continent to meet and exchange.
From its first meeting in November 2002 in
The international context in which the ESF has been developed has changed from its beginnings, during the growth of the global justice movement. The latter grew rapidly until the mobilizations against the G8 in
Starting from its second meeting in
Today, the great challenge of the European social movements is to be able to articulate an answer on a continental scale to the neoliberal logic of European integration and to measures like the “Returns Directive” [harmonizing EU procedures for the expulsion of “illegally staying” immigrants] or the as yet unapproved Working Time Directive raising the limit of the working week to 65 hours. The success of the first ESF generated enormous expectations on its potential on this terrain. In fact too many. After the international day against the war in
The logic of governmental policies is the same across the EU and obeys the agreements taken in this framework. But the rate and dynamics of application of the reforms are different in each country. In recent years, the social resistance to neoliberalism has been considerable. It is nevertheless still very defensive (with some precise exceptions), and often ends in defeats or precarious victories and are developed in an unfavourable context. All this makes the initiation of coordinated initiatives on European scale difficult. Nevertheless, there has been important progress in some areas, some linked to the dynamic of the ESF and others not, like the harmonization of European networks and campaigns on specific subjects like days (many still symbolic and limited) of simultaneous mobilization in several countries, for example that impelled by the student movement against the European Higher Education Area [EHEA, the so-called “Bologna Process” that intends to reform the European higher education system] or determined “Euro strikes” in some companies.
We need to advance then in this “Europeanization” of the resistance. In fact, the European social movements have the double challenge of deepening their local roots and fortifying themselves “from below” and, in parallel, creating forms of national and international articulation, that avoid the isolation of social resistance through spaces like forums, concrete campaigns and networks. Florence was a spectacular and promising start on a road that has been difficult and complex, with advances and backward movements, winding and not very linear: the road to the construction of a Europe of the peoples opposed to the logic of the capital.
*Josep Maria Antentas is a member of the editorial board of the magazine Viento Sur, and teaches sociology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
Esther Vivas is a member of the Centre for Studies on Social Movements (CEMS) at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. She is author of the book in Spanish “Stand up against external debt” and co-coordinator of the books also in Spanish “Supermarkets, no thanks” and “Where is fair trade headed?”. She is also a member of the editorial board of Viento Sur (www.vientosur.info). This article first appeared in Spanish at the newspaper Público, on 21/09/2008.The English version was published originally at the online magazine InternationalViewPoint.