Continuing campaigning on the European Union

Following CEO's EU in Crisis conference, we are sharing contributions from conference participants. At the conference, Gisela Dütting interviewed a number of people who were activists in 1997 at the Summit from Below in Amsterdam and the various actions for a Different Europe in 1997, and who are still activists in 2012 and celebrating 15 years of Corporate Europe Observatory. She asked them what are their first impressions? What has changed, what has stayed the same? Here she has written these interviews up and drawn contrasts between 1997 and 2012. 

Belén Balanyá (Spain/ The Netherlands)

In 1997 we founded Corporate Europe Observatory and we were warning of the dangers of corporate Europe, and of the links of EU institutions with big business. We looked at the dangers of the single market and the planned monetary union. But we were more naïve than now about the EU and its chances to be reformed. Now in 2012, the EU is showing its face and it is more clear than ever that it stands for the interests of a corporate elite, forcing a shock doctrine upon European societies.

As far as activism is concerned, a lot has changed. We saw the global justice movement and now a resurgence of resistance with the Indignados and Occupy. A new generation joining the struggle and bringing new ways, this is very inspiring. We have gone a long way in the awareness about the role of the EU and big business groups among the social movements.

However, I feel that it is more difficult to have an optimistic view sometimes. The situation for instance in Spain is dramatic for many people. What before in 1997 were threats, are a reality today. And the forces we are opposing are big. I feel now a much stronger urgency to act effectively, and a bigger fear for the future.

Ann Smith (Germany/ Ireland)

What hasn’t changed between 1997 and today? So much has changed! In 1997, we didn’t have the global justice movement. No Seattle, no Genova, no Prague yet; there have been incredible political changes since then. What stays the same are the values we stand for. Our alternatives do make more sense than the EU austerity programs, which just bring misery without hope. We need imaginative ways that surprise those who make those horrible decisions against us.

In Europe, we are in deep and multiple crises, socially, ecologically, economically, including on all dimensions of gender. There is still very little attention for those who care for the reproduction of society. Capitalism is not working, so much is clear. How we get to the alternatives is not so clear as yet. But there is a sense of urgency; it is beginning again. It is great to be here at the CEO conference with nice people who are still activists, and many new and young people, it is a good feeling.

Helle Hagenau (Denmark/Norway)

Let me first remember how it was in 1997, it seems so long ago and everything has changed, politically and for me personally too. In 1997, I was working so much, it seems a blur. Then, I was working at the European Parliament for EU-critical MEPs. Now I am based in Oslo. I have always been criticising the European Union, and I am opposed to Norwegian membership of the EU; I was the General Secretary of the “No to the EU Campaign” in Norway. These days, I am the International Officer.

In the political landscape, we have had the EU Enlargement and new integration with the Lisbon Treaty since 1997. There were and are many different social movements opposing. In 2012, we seem more coherent. We work more closely with the trade unions now, I don’t remember we did that so much in 1997.

Norway is so different from other countries in Europe in many ways. We are not in the European Union, there is no financial crisis and our unemployment is as low as 2.8%. Over the past 7 years, opinion polls in Norway have shown a consistent majority against EU membership. My position on the EU is mainstream in Norway. In Norway, we have the political freedom of not being part of the EU, nationally, in Europe and also internationally. Recently, I attended the General Assembly at the United Nations, and we were able to voice a strong Norwegian position on gender.

Gisela Dütting (The Netherlands)

What has changed for the better, is that the urgency to deal with the European Union is obvious now. In 1997, in The Netherlands, there was limited public interest in the subject, despite a broad coalition among social movements and NGOs to campaign around the Treaty of Amsterdam; we seemed activists working on a topic far away. Now it has become clear that the EU really functions as an avenue to limit democracy. The corruption is so evident with the revolving doors between politicians and big business; where is the space for peoples’ interests in decision-making? Then who takes care of the public interest?

I also see an increase in sexism and more anti-immigrant sentiments, a growth of all types of conservative and right-wing movements. Feminist ideas that current economic models rests on exploitative social relations and on the exploitation of nature are loosing out. We really need a change. A crisis in Europe means more unpaid care work, job losses in public sectors where most women work, more social tensions and violence, with women’s bodies in the frontline.