European Union, World

Nation-states alone will not solve the problems of our times

As the Transeuropa festival opens in Madrid we talk to Daphne Büllesbach from European Alternatives about the increasingly urgent need for transnational solidarity.

For years now much of the media landscape in Europe has been obsessed with the idea of the disintegration of the EU, focusing in particular on the resurgence of right-wing nationalism. How can this narrative be challenged?

I find it indeed very lamentable how the media in some countries such as the UK have been contributing and been complicit in a shift to the right of the mainstream discourse about Europe. This was the case in particular when reporting about European topics such as migration, refugee integration, governance of the eurozone and so on. Or take the results of the Austrian elections, where we can very clearly observe how Sebastian Kurz’s party allowed or even forced a ‘contamination’ of its party by the far-right FPÖ (especially with respect to the handling of the refugee situation and border management). In this sense the right-wing populism of the Le Pens, Wilders, Straches and Orbans of Europe has been successful and neither the EU elites nor the left have been able to gain significant grounds against it.

An important debate now is how to work against those forces that gained power through elections while wanting to destroy democracy. In Germany for example we see a reappearance of words such as ‘völkisch’ (of the people) or ‘Volksverräter’ (traitor of the people) by the far-right party AfD that recently managed to get 13% of the votes at the last general elections in October.  This is a re-appearance of a fascist discourse that too many still call the discourse of self-proclaimed ‘concerned citizens’. It is however wrong to blame low income or so called ‘globalisation losers’ for the reappearance of far-right parties. These ‘concerned citizens’ coming from the center of society, too often hide their far-right, racist, sexist world-views behind such moderate terms like ‘concern’ while using a vocabulary that connects with the Nazi tradition. It is important that politicians, even more so when they are from the left, make their disgust and concern about these positions crystal clear and this is not happening enough today.

Tell us a little bit about the title of this year’s festival, Convergent Spaces. It is a suggestive phrase and one that seems to stand defiantly against narratives of collapse and crisis. Where did the name come from? What does it mean for you?

Ada Colau once said about the platform they created in Barcelona, called Guanyem (before it was renamed into Barcelona en Comù), “It is not just a new political brand, or a party, it’s an offer to join forces.” We also think along these lines. Transeuropa is not just an event that you go to, enjoy and take part in. This is an event to join forces, to come together, to co-create, to think together, to be in “convergent spaces”. In that sense it is a call for coming together and for exploring common grounds but also to get concrete and vocal about the Europe we want to live in. The demands are there, we need to build the alliances, transnationally, across our ‘spaces’ to gain agency and power. The festival is also an event that is co-organised with partners, this year with our Spanish partner Zemos98 and with the European Commons Assembly that is taking place during the Festival. We want to send a clear message that these days in Madrid are an offer to all participants to seize this opportunity and build stronger ties for a transnational civil society.

The other themes of this edition of the festival are the Commons, cities of change and Europe as refuge. Can you explain why you chose these to represent Transeuropa and under which frame? How do they relate to each other?

The uniting element that clearly links the three themes is the notion of solidarity which necessarily needs to underpin a European common space. For one, Europe has been seriously questioned in recent years as a place of sanctuary for those fleeing wars but also hunger. We need to find a way for Europe to be a place of human rights protection which above all means not letting people drown trying to reach its external borders. These are basic values that the EU prides itself on standing up for.

At the same time we need to find long term and sustainable solutions for the integration of newcomers. This challenge is indeed mainly an urban one, a challenge of cities. So here the theme of ‘cities of changes’ emerges, as cities across Europe have spearheaded initiatives for refugee integration or being open for intake while their national governments have opposed this. Many cities, like Madrid where the festival mainly takes place, have also pioneered other innovative ideas. A good example for this is Decide Madrid, an online decision making platform for the city’s citizens. We want to explore innovations which strengthen democracy, contributing to what we strive for, namely more participation right the way from city to European level.

The idea of the Commons is connected to all of this in the sense that it represents a way of thinking and being in this world for us. As Commoners we build and strengthen communities by using and sharing knowledge, arts, culture, technology and so on. ‘Commoning’ relates to network-based cooperation and localised bottom-up initiatives that often work outside of dominant markets and traditional state programmes. Another Europe can be born out of the understanding and fostering of these notions.

Credit: The European Commons Assembly

Transeuropa is taking place at a time when Spain is at the centre of these questions, both in terms of the future of the European project, and in terms of the nature of populism. The police repression of the vote in Catalonia is something widely and rightly condemned, and yet the independence movement itself exhibits, as Raul Gallego Abellan has argued on Political Critique, some problematic aspects of nationalist or nationalist-style populism. What do you see as the next steps in surpassing this confrontation?

The Catalan crisis has given extra attention to the topic we are discussing during the festival: what comes after nations? We reject the false binary of a choice that is simply between a No to the independence of Catalonia and a Yes to a new nation-state. As we have argued here, the replication of the model of the Spanish state at Catalonian level will not satisfy the democratic demands of its citizens, or allow for greater sovereignty. Instead we need to review the division of powers between the local, national, and European levels. Some competencies should be given back to regions and municipalities, promoting a real democracy of proximity.

The questions for Catalonia should be: will a new Catalonian state provide innovation in terms of empowering citizens through their municipalities and citizens platforms, or will it replicate the same top-down logic of the traditional nation-state? Rajoy’s government has shown little sympathy for citizens’ demand for dialogue and for greater autonomy. These demands have to be allowed to be expressed in a democratic referendum that actually offers such choices. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like this is going to happen as Rajoy effectively dissolved the Catalan government last weekend.

Next Saturday you’re organising a political and cultural forum entitled ‘Thoughts for a future below and beyond the nation state’. What comes after neoliberal globalization in Europe?’ Under which political and social spaces and structures can we imagine a future that transcends the nation-state?

In fact, these spaces are already there. It is less about imagining a future beyond the nation state than it is about understanding how we govern beyond the nation-state, transnationally, europe-wide, even globally. The reality of a globalized world where migration, climate change, technology, capital have long surpassed any national borders is already here. We need to start getting realistic about this and seriously explore new answers.

It makes sense to take the European level as the starting point to experiment with such a post-national order, as Europe has a long tradition of building a transnational democracy. It is again about the famous principle of subsidiarity, we need to get the levels of governance much clearer: where can decisions be taken locally, at municipal level, and where regionally, nationally and transnationally? We need to stop pretending that any single state on its own can provide an answer to migration and the so-called refugee crisis, to social security in a digital and globalised world, to climate change in a capitalist world. These are the most pressing issues to be fought about, and at the moment we’re not addressing them due to the inadequacy of our existing transnational institutions.

European Alternatives’ TRANSEUROPA festival celebrates its 10th anniversary in Madrid from October 25th to the 29th. For updates follow the festival’s dedicated Facebook and Twitter pages.  

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