Can Europe Make It?

Is DiEM25 still a vehicle for change?

DiEM25 members’ vote for the first transnational political party in Europe is a vote for more leadership. But the new strategic horizon is experimental and circular.

Rahel Sophia Süß
18 December 2017

Spiral. Wikicommons/fdecomite. Some rights reserved.With DiEM25´s vote to establish the first European transnational political party on November 8, the movement takes its strategy to the next step: pushing forward its European New Deal programme by contesting the European elections in 2019.

The decision to establish a political party raises a number of important questions: Can electoral politics be a meaningful instrument to achieve a more radical and democratic Europe? How to balance the power between the political movement and the party in order for DiEM25 to remain capable of change? How, while restricting political leadership to local and short-term tactics, can the movement remain open to ideas and capable of continuously adjusting to new circumstances and experiences?

Can electoral politics be a meaningful instrument? 

DiEM25´s political programme can be briefly summarized as follows: democratic alternatives are possible and they are necessary. This does not, however, tell us much about the movement´s capacity to act. Although its call for a new democratic horizon is ubiquitous, aiming for radical democratic change is not enough. Whether DiEM25 can remain capable of change is linked to a more general debate: is electoral politics a meaningful instrument to fight for a more radical democratic European Union?

Following on DiEM25´s proposal ‘Not just another political party’, electoral politics can become a crucial form of leadership within a movement. The question is not ‘if’ but ‘how’. DiEM25´s political party differs from other political parties in three ways.

Firstly, and to be precise, we have to speak of a transnational party list which consists of a transnational decision-making structure and considers cross-national candidacies. Secondly, DiEM25´s ‘electoral wing’ will take the form of a political party in each country that represents transnational, pan-European political movements in selected electoral contests. Thirdly, in order to ensure that the transnational party list and the various country-specific manifestos are in line with DiEM25’s principles and procedures, the electoral manifesto and charter of national parties will be debated and approved via all-member DiEM25 internal votes. All members decide independently whether they want to join the electoral wing or not. This principle seeks to protect the movement from the electoral wing. 

How to balance the power between the political movement and the party? Concerns that the electoral wing will turn the movement into an umbrella party have to be addressed. The decision for a transnational electoral wing as proposed by DiEM25´s Coordinating Collective was not without an alternative. In fact, five options were passionately discussed in the weeks before the vote. Members could choose between different proposals of transforming DiEM25 in a political party or the option of not establishing an electoral wing.

With a voter´s turnout of 72.98%, DiEM25`s members voted with 62.55% for the proposal ‘Not Just Another Political Party’. Only full members were allowed to vote, namely those who joined DiEM25 before the vote was called, those who accessed their account in the last three months, and those who verified their identity. The second highest voted option (16.3%) was the proposal ‘Yes, but…’ which implies the same proposal as the first option "Not Just Another Political Party" but with seven amendments. In order to balance the power between the political movement and the party the amendments sought to secure the control of the electoral wing by the movement and to guarantee the flourishing of open ideas towards an open future. One concrete suggestion of the ‘Yes, but...’ option was for instance to re-examine the idea of a transnational political party after one year.

Can DiEM25 remain capable of change?

The challenge DiEM25 faces as a transnational political movement and party is to remain capable of change. Precisely because political strategies are multifaceted, never fully predictable, and there is always more than one good solution, the experimental character of democracy has to be taken into account. 

Against a notion of democracy as a form of government and contesting political parties, what we need is a notion of democracy which identifies social relations, everyday praxis and democratic experiences as a characteristic core of democracy.

In concrete terms, DiEM25 can remain capable of change by implementing experimental strategies which aim at the hypothetical testing of different options. This implies a) maintaining a relevant anchorage in the everyday practices of its members and b) continuously testing and modifying its principles, procedures, policies and timeline by critically reflecting on its practical consequences for the improvement of democratic experiences within the movement and the political party.

The new strategic horizon is experimental and circular

After the vertical and horizontal strategies of the twentieth century, Alessio Kolioulis and I argued that the new strategic horizon for political movements is experimental and circular. As Hardt and Negri suggest in their new book ‘Assembly’, tactical leadership should be limited to short-term action and tied to specific occasions, whereas the movement itself is responsible for the strategy (Hardt and Negri speak of the strategic multitude).

DiEM25´s vote for a transnational political party is a vote for more leadership. The future will demonstrate how capable DiEM25 will be to restrict leadership to a tactical role, or what has been referred to as 'a tool'. The chances of such an approach are promising: protecting the movement and at the same time fostering lasting structures by guaranteeing long term claims AND democratic decisions.

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