Thinking about Europe en Comú
Frame document on the relationship between the municipalist revolution and the reconstruction of Europe from below. The document is preparation for the Barcelona en Comú plenary assembly of 1 June, in which former finance minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, will participate.
“A democratic rebellion in Barcelona would not just be a local phenomenon. It would connect with many related grassroots initiatives which aim to break away from the current political and financial system, starting from below. In Catalonia, in Spain as a whole, and in Europe.” Guanyem Barcelona Manifesto, June 2014
Barcelona as a launchpad
As stated in our founding manifesto, Barcelona en Comú is a citizen platform born with the aim of making our city the launchpad for a process of political, economic and cultural democratization at every level. Since June 2014, the municipal movement has grown rapidly at throughout Spain. The “cities of change”, from Barcelona to Coruña, are already starting to work together as a network, standing up to the unfair policies of the central government and building alternatives from below.
But the sands are also beginning to shift on the European scene. In the summer of 2015, the International Committee of Barcelona en Comú was set up to respond to the wave of messages that we had begun to receive from around the world after winning the elections. Over the past year, we’ve received hundreds of messages from activists in cities across the continent, inviting us to share our experience and to reflect together on our common challenges.
In effect, the municipal movement in Spain, and in Barcelona in particular, has become an example for many people who yearn for a change in Europe. We feel the weight of this responsibility and we believe that it behoves us to open up a debate in Barcelona en Comú on the future of Europe and our role in it. Of course, any proposal of ours to transform Europe and its institutions will have to be developed according to our DNA: en comú (together).
The current context
The challenges we face in Europe in our goal of getting closer to a real democracy are not inconsiderable: the struggle against the TTIP, the rise of the extreme right in the countries of the north, ongoing cutbacks in labour and social rights achieved through decades of struggle, the so-called refugee crisis of fortress Europe, which doesn’t respect the most basic human rights. It’s clear that neither states nor European institutions are addressing these challenges.
What is more, we live in a Europe in which sovereignties are held hostage. A Europe governed by institutions that reject the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box when it suits them, as we saw at its most shameless in the reaction to the Greek referendum in 2015. Whenever the people support political movements or ideas that go against the mandate of balanced budgets, the big economic powers kick in to crush popular sovereignty. Whenever a country strays from the mandate of zero deficit, the risk premium acts to ‘correct’ the will of the people. For the rating agencies and financial institutions there is only one acceptable choice: the quest for infinite economic growth, whatever the human cost. These policies of austerity, fixed by the European institutions, global financial powers, and state governments, are punishing the cities in the south of the continent in a particularly grueling way.
Nuit Debout and the French uprisings, a political rift in the heart of Europe
The protests and strikes in France and the outburst of the Nuit Debout movement across the country, with 60% of public support and a close connection with the indignados in Spain, have opened up the chance to reshape the political situation in the heart of Europe. France is a key country, a link between the north and the south of the continent. The movement and demands for radical democracy that are emerging across France, together with the links with municipal movements in the south of Europe, could contribute to the construction of bottom-up European movements to combat the zombie-like drift of the EU and the turn to the extreme right in the north.
It was with this in mind that around twenty activists from different areas of BComú participated in Global Debout, the international gathering organized by Nuit Debout from 7–8 May in Paris. (Note: this group is available to attend any district assembly interested in holding debates on this question to share reflections from the trip.)
A network of rebel cities
In this context, we still believe that our response should be based on our local communities, on proximity, on the feminization of politics, on municipalism. The city is the agora in which democracy was born, and it will be where we can win it back. But we mustn’t think about the city in isolation; we have to link up with other cities that are in a process of democratic transformation, and remain close to movements that emerge with strength in the European public sphere. That’s why we have to be ready to connect different situations, know-how and processes to construct a network of rebel cities that can break with the European status quo from below, street by street, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.
For us, a rebel city is any city that stands up to the powers that be with the goal of building a real democracy, creating alternative economies, and protecting human rights and the commons, whether that be from within or from outside municipal institutions. The “cities of change” in Spain, the TTIP-free cities across the EU, the refuge cities in Greece and Italy, and the debout cities in France are all rebel cities.
Now it’s time for us to think about how to link up these forces, and others that are emerging, in order to give them transformational power. We must do this without losing sight of the difficulty of constructing supramunicipal action when our grassroots processes are still under construction. It is also crucial to think about the relationship between rebellious citizen movements and institutional strategies, because this is the nature of our own political project.
Opening up the debate
To open up this debate in Barcelona en Comú, the International Committee invites all of the areas of the organization to reflect on the following questions:
- How could a network of rebel cities contribute to the construction of a different Europe from below? What are the limits of municipalism in this regard?
- What role should Bcomú play in the construction of this network of rebel cities? What concrete actions can we take from our policy groups, neighbourhood assemblies, committees, and from City Hall to drive change at European level?
We’ll gather for a plenary assembly on 1 June at 18:30 at Cotxeres de Sants to bring together our ideas and launch this debate that is so important for all of our futures. We have the pleasure of announcing that Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister of Greece, has kindly accepted our invitation to participate as a special guest at this assembly, open solely to the activists of BComú.
If we are able to imagine a different Europe, we’ll have the power to transform it.
More resources to open up the debate:
Conversation Varoufakis-Pisarello: for a Europe of rebel cities
Manifesto, DiEM25 (Yanis Varoufakis’ platform for the democratization of the EU)
A plan b against European austerity, Pablo Elorduy, Gladys Martínez López, Diagonal (text that puts DiEM25 in context and compares it with Plan B and similar movements)
“Nuit Debout: Converting Place de la Rèpublique into a global agora”, Rossana Reguillo, Tercera Vía