Some reflections on our European Demonstration (Strasbourg 11th of February)

 Some reflections on Attac Europe?s Bolkestein campaign

After a period of mobilisation should follow a period of shared
reflection. The European Demonstration in Strasbourg on the 11th of
February has certainly been a highlight in Attac?s history. 15.000
people, many of them directly or indirectly mobilised by Attac France
and Attac Germany only with limited help of trade unions, have
shown the capacity of Attac not only to educate but also to organise
mass protest.

Also the fact that social movements and trade unions
managed to raise the rather abstract Bolkestein issue long before the
first decision in parliament was taken, is a major achievement. This
educational exercise ended in an important political victory: The
latest compromise in the European Parliament destroyed the neoliberal
dream of a principle of origin taking social policy, wage setting and
environmental policies hostage. The Bolkestein campaign and the
European Demonstration have been another step to realise co-ordinated
campaigns on the European level. Nevertheless, during the campaign
lots of the difficulties of international movement building became
evident and some lessons are to be learnt for future campaigns.

Our political success

Trade unions and social movements have achieved another major success
in European politics. If the compromise between socialdemocrats and
conservatives in the European Parliament holds, the Bolkestein
directive lost its horror. Even if it remains another step of
liberalisation in the European market, in all key policy areas it does
not destroy the capacity of national governments to regulate. The
?Bolkestein hammer? to let companies compete under 25 or soon 27
regulatory regimes everywhere in the EU seems to be destroyed. After
the Non to the EU constitutional treaty, the rejection of the
directive on software patents and the recent refutation of the port
package the total reformulation of the principle of origin has been a
major success. We should not accept any trials to deny this success.

Of course there remain many reasons to criticise the compromise and
there are good reasons why we continue to demand the total withdrawal
of the directive. Anyway, the difference of the likely social and
political consequences between the original draft of the European
Commission and the compromise is enormous. This was a success which
has been the direct effect of the efforts of social movements and
trade unions. The decision of the European Attacs to make the
Bolkestein issue a priority has contributed significantly. The success
appears even bigger if one takes the hostile majority in the European
Parliament into account.

Nevertheless, it is a success which is still fragile. First, the vote
in parliament is not yet passed. Second, the result of negotiations in
the European council is not yet known. Finally, the majority in
parliament could take other positions during the probable negotiation
process between parliament and council.

 Our success of mobilisation

The participation of 15.000 people in Strasbourg was big success in
the light of several difficulties: First, the trade unions organised
in the ETUC decided to hold their demonstration only three days later
in the same place. This led the German unions to organise on the 11th
another demonstration in Berlin which gathered 40.000 people.

Therefore, the social movements had to mobilise without the major
trade unions and in Germany partly in competition with the unions.

While people, who went to Berlin, got their journey for free, most
people had to pay for their travel to Strasbourg. Nevertheless, there
was some help of local trade union chapters which supported the
mobilisation considerably. Second, no social movement organisation or
political party was able or ready put a lot of financial resources
into the mobilisation. All was done in a ?movement style?. Third, the
effort put into the mobilisation was very different in the different
countries. Lastly, the European Demonstration was mainly a
French-German event. Forth, European issues are difficult issues for
mobilisation. The topics seem abstract and far away. Although the
original Bolkestein directive would have had strong consequences for
many people, we did not manage to show examples so clearly that they
really ?touch? people. Still there is a lack of skills in progressive
movements and organisations to make issues easily and emotionally

Therefore, the achieved 15.000 participants represent only a fraction
of what we could achieve under more favourable conditions and with
better skills. They have to be seen as a tremendous success. And this
was not the only mobilisation on this day. There were mobilisations
and actions in many other European cities.

This success is what counts even if there were a list of annoyances in
the practical problems: the speeches could only be heart by a fraction
of participants and there was a lack of a common end of the
demonstration. Because of the strong media coverage before the
demonstration the event itself has not received the media attention
which it deserved.

 Our political challenge

Even if the list of four major victories on the European level is
impressive, they may not mislead us to think that Europe had changed.
The key problem remains the same: In a more and more competitive EU
market, key regulations such as social security systems, wage setting
and fiscal policies are nearly exclusively national affairs. The
consequence is a growing pressure to reduce social standards although
the economy continues to grow. This has led to a widespread deep
disaffection with the process of European integration and also to a
crisis of its democratic legitimation.

The limited effect of our successes become clear by recalling that all
successes of trade unions and social movements in the recent past were
?negative successes?. We were able to stop new legislation with
particularly destructive effects. At the same time we continue to have
no clue how to achieve positive change on the European level in key
areas such as strong social and fiscal regulation on the European

We must be realistic: Without the danger of this or that ?hammer?, we
do not know how to mobilise successfully on European issues. For the
time being we will have to concentrate ourselves on strengthening the
idea of a social Europe and on clarifying our alternatives. In this
respect there is still a lot of work to be done. At the same time we
must enter into a strategic debate how we can get into a position to
be able to mobilise strongly for positive alternatives on the European
level. If we do not find a solution for this problem, the pressure to
destroy social achievements in Western Europe will go on as well as
the reality of incredible economic inequality in particular in Eastern

Nevertheless, even if we do not have short term answers, it seems
likely that the growing social inequality and insecurity will produce
more discontentment and therefore lead to political changes. It is the
historical task of the altermondialist movement to turn this
discontentment into the internationalisation and europeanisation of
social, fiscal and environmental rights and regulations and by this
way prevent nationalist backlashes.

 Progress towards international co-operation of social movement organisation

These big open questions should not blur the enormous progress which
has been made in the co-ordination on the European level. Only some
five years ago international Attac meetings as well as most European
social movement conferences were shaped by mutual non-understanding.
The main objective of most speakers was to inform the others about
ones own campaigns, events and objectives rather than a co-operative
process of doing things together. Today at least in the framework of
Attac but also during the quarterly European preparatory assemblies
there is growing capacity to organise common projects which take the
needs of European partners into account. This has also to do with the
fact that the people involved get to know each other better,
politically, culturally as well as personally.

Nevertheless, some important problems remain. First, there is the
problem of limited mandates. Persons representing organisations
internationally are often not the same people who have formal or
informal power in their organisations at home. Second, there is the
problem of competing national priorities. Most altermondialist
thinkers and organisations agree in theory that we can only win
against the neoliberal hegemony on the international level.
Nevertheless, the energy put into defensive national struggles is
enormous. This is a typical collective action problem: Although all
would profit strongly from international victories, there remains a
strong incentive to let others do the international work and
concentrate on more urgent national priorities. Third, beyond the
collective action problem all organisations and movements which are
part of the international or European movement have an agenda or life
of their own with set dates for certain events and assemblies which
are not easy to change. Furthermore, dates of elections cannot be
influenced and have a strong impact on the capacities of movements to
create strong campaigns.

All this contributes to the result that agreements on the international level often do not lead to real activities afterwards. The European Demonstration against the
Bolkestein directive on the 11th of February in Strasbourg is a good
example. Although the decision to organise the demonstration was taken
in a large meeting with people from many European countries and
confirmed by an European Attac meeting, there was no mobilisation in
Austria and little mobilisation in Belgium although both countries are
geographically relatively closed to Strasbourg. Also the day of action
on the 15th of October 2005 led only to very limited activities with a
real highlight in Italy.

 Some lessons to be learnt

In order to avoid competition we have to make the co-ordination with
the unions and the ETUC in particular a priority. Politics in the ETUC
is very difficult for many internal reasons. The relationship between
the national unions and their federations and the social movements is
very different and also full of contradictions. We have to research
what are the reasons for key problems between social movements and the
ETUC in order to resolve or ameliorate them. This can only succeed by
building more trust between social movements and unions on the
national level.

In the European co-ordination of social movements we should build on
what we have achieved and to deepen the quality of the meetings on the
European level. Especially, we have to make sure that all relevant
organisations and movements are present. This question has a
geographical as well as a political dimension. Problems, which turn
away important organisations and people, should be openly dealt with.
This includes the dominance of some political parties and of
organisations which are seen as competitors by others.

 The future of the Bolkestein campaign

As discussed above the Bolkestein campaign is not over yet. If the
compromise in parliament holds, it will be hard to mobilise many
people. It is to be expected that most unions will support the
compromise as well as the socialdemocratic parties. Also most people
will not feel a real urgence to do something. Nevertheless, we have to
watch closely how the negotiation process will go on. If the ?country
of origin principle? reappears, we should and can restart the

In the meantime we have to concentrate on resolving the problems
analysed above and in particular on deepening our common analysis and
our discussion of alternatives. In particular Attac has a strong role
to play ? in co-operation with our partners - in developing convincing
models how a European social model could look like. European standards
for social security systems, minimum wage and tax policy are discussed
a lot. But no model has emerged as hegemonic yet. And we have not
found a way to frame any of the models towards a social Europe in a
way that it is easy to understand and recognisable. Social Europe?s
?Tobin Tax? is still to be found.

Sven Giegold
Attac Germany
Verden, 13.2.2006

Sven Giegold * Wirtschaftswissenschaftler
Vertreter des BUND im Koordinierungskreis von Attac Deutschland
International Steering Committee - Tax Justice Network, Chair

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