Another Europe is Possible

Anna Striethorst, RLS Brussels

The GUE/NGL Group in the European Parliament

The green-left group in the European Parliament is an alliance of MEP from 12 European countries and 17 parties. What are the characteristics of the GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament, what does “confederalism” mean to them and what is the relationship between the GUE/NGL group and the European Left Party?

Within Europe, the parties of the radical left are united in overlapping forms of cooperation. With over 30 members and observers the most inclusive among them is certainly the European Left Party (EL) which is currently counting down to its 3rd congress in Paris in December. The Paris Congress is expected to adopt a Joint Action Platform for resistance and alternatives in Europe, concrete lines of actions that six years after the founding of the EL shall move the European left parties towards a new level of cooperation.

A less known cooperation is the one among the leftist Members of the European Parliament (MEP). It has already been established in 1994. In 1995, the founding parties joined forces with the newly-entered green-left parties from Scandinavia, and since then the parliamentary group goes by the name Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL). The current GUE/NGL group includes 35 parliamentarians, unfortunately only less than a third of them are women. The members come from 12 European countries and 17 parties, with the largest delegations representing DIE LINKE, Front de Gauche and KSČM.

As a parliamentary group the GUE/NGL strongly emphasises its character as a confederal alliance. According to its president Lothar Bisky this means “respecting and preserving the diversity of identities and opinions” of its members. The expression of this diversity spreads from support, criticism or rejection of the European integration towards sensitive debates on the socialist past of the Central and Eastern European states and the parliamentarians’ stance on Stalinism. Firstly, this has to do with the self-conception of some of the parties. Certain traditional communist parties consider conducting “their” MEP as an expression of democratic will and they want them to assert the view of the party. Secondly, all parliamentary groups in the European Parliament are affected by the regulations for the European elections that do not allow European lists of candidates. Thus, the MEP often vote according to the stance of their national parties and it remains very difficult for the group to speak with one voice.

The practical work of the GUE/NGL shows many examples of good cooperation, for instance in the working groups on parliamentary committees or when MEP organise hearings together. Yet, the diversity between the members often leads to a policy of the least common denominator. According to the basic level of agreement in the Constituent Declaration the group aims at fighting “large-scale and increasing unemployment, ensuring respect for the environment, creating a common social area that provides equal rights at the highest level for all citizens and meeting the needs of those who are forced by poverty in their countries of origin […] to seek their livelihood in the Union.” In the last years common positions included the rejection of the service directive, calls for a stronger regulation of the European finance markets and a clear stance on the right of asylum, expressed in a common campaign against the “Fortress Europe”. However, there is no common work programme, and while the group members try to focus on those issues that unite them, disputed yet relevant issues are often not discussed.

The GUE/NGL aims to be integrated into the wide non-parliamentary network of European leftists. The group values its relations to the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and to organisations that on the European level fight for a reduction of poverty, for gender equality and a reorientation of trade relations with the countries of the South. Of particular interest is the relationship between GUE/NGL and the European Left Party: Most of the parties represented in GUE/NGL are member parties of the EL, and the parliamentary group mirrors the relative strength of political currents within the EL. There are interactions and the group has a common information structure with the EL Executive Board and its office in Brussels. However, the above mentioned characteristics of the European political system prevent a strong influence of the EL on the work of GUE/NGL. Already in many of the EU member states there is a tendency that not the party but the parliamentary group sets the impulses and that it has a higher presence in the media. On the European level – in the relationship between GUE/NGL and the European Left Party – this tendency is even more relevant, and overcoming this disproportion certainly remains one of the most difficult challenges of the European left.