“Let’s beat the bastards” – CEO’s EU in Crisis conference review

Following CEO's EU in Crisis conference, we are sharing contributions from conference participants giving their impressions about the conference. This personal contribution written by Diego Naranjo highlights some of the debates - and shows that it was not all hard work!

During the 5th and 6th of May I was invited to join, as a Grupo 17 de Marzo representative, more than 250 activists including trade unionists, indignados activists, and human rights associations to meet in Brussels for a conference organised by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO). The title of the conference (“EU in crisis: analysis, resistance and alternatives to Corporate Europe”) could not be more appealing for those interested in solving the current situation in Europe.

After a comfortable 2 hours trip from The Hague to Brussels by train, I arrived to Brussels Central Station with strong desires to meet former colleagues from my Master’s programme, meeting activists from all over Europe and, why not admitting it, doing some sightseeing during this my first visit to Brussels.

I headed directly to my arranged accommodation at Rue Royale 123 with mixed feelings about this squatted building in the center of Brussels. Having had experience in many other squats around Europe, I was wondering if it would be more as the absolutely cleaned and organized Laboratorio Morion in Venice or as the semi-ruined (although full of energy and activities) Casas Viejas in Seville. Unfortunately, as you can see after a quickglance at the picture of the room I shared with Alberto, a retired ATTAC activist from Spain, the room fitted precisely to the 3€ price we paid per night. Anyway, since we were going to stay there just to sleep and, since I was in a tight budget, the savings in accomodation were worth the inconveniences. Despite everything we both felt very grateful to CEO for getting us in touch with the  people from Rue Royale and to them for hosting us for two nights.

After a pleasant walk in a sunny Brussels (???!!) and a power nap in my suite, I met Charlotte, Lidia and Isabelle for a really nice dinner with other Belgium friends in the center of the city. I was saved of having a terrible hangover the next day (I ended up with a hangover anyway, but a light one) by Alberto, who arrived late that night and who was not able to contact the other residents of Rue Royale and therefore needed me to enter the building.

The next morning we catched a tram directly to the conference, where we met two Greek and Dutch activists. The conference could not be better organized: Lots of staff to help us to register, all-day long available coffee, tea and biscuits for the participants, simultaneous translator for French and Spanish speakers and the traditional folder with documents and information about the conference.

The first session had as the main focus the capture of the EU by corporations since the 1980s. Economists Trevor Evans, Mariana Mortágua and Jan William Goudriaan debated about precarious jobs in Germany (1 out of 3 according to Goudriaan), the public debt being a result and not a cause of the crisis (Evans) and the lies about the connection of wages and welfare state to the public debt (Mortágua).

Afterwards, the well-known activist Susan George gave one of those passionate speeches that make you enter in a state of semi-trance and that when are finished you feel encouraged to take action and to get involved back at home. George described the hijack of EU by the corporate powers as similar to the one that happened during the Reagan era in the USA and called the audience to “stop being polite” to the financial/corporate elite, leaving a final message that made us clap enthusiastically: “Let’s beat the bastards”.

Many other activists, such as members of Occupy Frankfurt (Alexis Passadakis) and the 15-M movement (Esther Vivas) were followed by a informal drinks at the cosy bar Maison du Peuple in Parvis de Saint Gilles.

The second day of the conference was dedicated to action on these politics (current and future ones). Miren Etxezarreta, a professor from the University of Barcelona, put the emphasis on a bottom-up approach where grass roots movements take the initiative and where we accept our radicality (and not to be ashamed of it) because in fact our attitude towards the reality is radical. During the workshop title “Defending Collective Labour Rights: trade unions and new movements working together” trade unionists and Occupy activists agreed the necessity to build up alliances between both types of organizations. Campaigns against the Monti II regulation and for the defence of collective bargaining were agreed to be organised by the participants.

The closing session made many of us relieved after an exhausting weekend but also happy to meet so many passionate activists from all over Europe who believe and work for a democratic and sustainable Europe.

The trip ended with my train cancelled, which gave me the opportunity for a last beer before the next train and I was lucky enough to have nearby a open-air concert where Budzillus, a very interesting band from Germany, was playing.

Once on the crowded train, it was time to sum up the weekend. The conclusion after those 72 hours is that, although the crisis is worsening, change is possible (and in fact is already happening) and that hard-worker grass roots activism and European strategies are needed to be strengthened in order to overcome the hijack of Europe by corporate and financial powers. Let’s do it. Let’s beat the bastards!!!