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23rd Feb 2019

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European 'United Left' searches for unity

  • Greek left-wing leader Tsipras speaking at rally for the Italian sister party in May (Photo: Lorenzo Gaudenzi)

The fault lines of European politics are changing. The most vocal resistance to further integration is now heard from right wing parties all over the continent, while parts of the left call for a push toward deeper political union.

On Wednesday (18 June) The Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) gathered in Brussels for the first time since the elections in May.

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The far-left faction is beginning the process of electing chairs and designating members for various committees.

Among the newly-elected, one person in particular is attracting attention, Italy’s Barbara Spinelli, the daughter of Altiero Spinelli. She is rumoured to be a strong candidate for the vice presidency.

Her late father is considered one of the founding elders of European federalism. He co-wrote The Ventotene Manifesto with fellow anti-fascist political prisoners Enrico Rossi and Eugenio Colorni on a tiny island in the Tyrrhenian Sea in 1941.

The manifesto, which speaks about the need for European unification and post-national politics, was circulated within the Italian resistance during World War II and has since become a sacred text for the European federalist movement. It claims that “a free and united Europe is the necessary premise to the strengthening of modern civilisation.”

Spinelli and a handful of other Italian intellectuals set up a list for the European elections, L’altra Europa con Tsipras (The Other Europe with Tsipras), which was inspired and endorsed by Alexis Tsipras, leader of Greece’s anti-austerity, left-wing alliance Syriza.

They just managed to reach the minimum threshold needed to elect representatives (4% of the vote) and got three seats with the crucial support of Sinistra Ecologia Liberta (SEL), a small left-wing party.

Before the vote, Spinelli had announced that – if elected – she would leave her seat to another candidate. But after the fact she changed her mind, allegedly due to pressure from Tsipras and many voters.

She also gave a political explanation for her change of mind in an open letter, which described SEL as “ambiguous” amid reports it wants to see its representatives in the centre-left S&D group

Leaving her mandate to a representative of SEL would jeopardise the effort to revitalise the European left, according to Spinelli.

“The only way out of this dead end is to continue the efforts to create a political grouping that dissolves everyone’s party identity into a vast, inclusive and democratic grouping,” she said.

Diverse group

The question is whether this is possible in GUE/NGL, which has members from 13 different countries, where attitudes towards the EU differ substantially.

The southern component has been strengthened. Syriza and the newly-founded Spanish party Podemos (We Can) are set to support Spinelli’s federalist ideas. But the same is not necessarily true of left wing parties from northern Europe.

The only Danish member of the group, Rina Ronja Kari, is a representative of The People’s Movement against the EU, a cross-party platform demanding a new referendum on Denmark’s membership of the EU.

It remains to be seen if the spirit of Ventotene will prevail, or if the European left will continue to splinter.

But bigger questions also loom, such as whether the left will vote with the pro-European S&D and EPP groups in the European Parliament or with eurosceptic forces on the right.

The article originally said that the Greek communist party, KKE, was a member of GUE but KKE left the faction in June

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