Pre-election time means manifesto time. Political parties, unions and civil society, they all produce manifestos and statements aiming to motivate voters and later the policy makers to take on board their requests and proposals. Increasingly the call for a new progressive narrative is being included on the agenda and in debates. Maybe this time, with these European elections heralding greys skies for (at least) the next five years it is not enough to call, to request, to dream, to urge. Many of us share the view that the European project is under threat, and with it European democracy. It is not an exaggeration, and it is not about trying to make things look blacker than they are. Although a huge majority still stands behind the European idea, as polls show, an increasing part of the population believes in the senseless promises of the extreme right populists.
We are witnessing an erosion of our societies, a strengthening of individualism and egoism, a divide which is social and cultural. The increasing fortune of the very few who just do not care about the rest of society, the still disturbingly high numbers of those who live at the edge of our societies, who fight their daily struggle on low incomes and in precarious employment conditions. But it is not only a question of income, it is more the feeling of being denied, of not counting, of not being respected, of a lack of dignity.
Democracies are built on functioning institutions, on good governance, on a balance of interests and a social contract. If this logic is no longer valid citizens just turn away. This is what happened 80 years ago, both in Germany and beyond, leading to the search for a “strong” (ruthless) leader who would sort everything out. Democracy is a difficult exercise and it is easier to divide a society than to rebuild it. Need we remind everyone that our Europe was not built on promises, but on a contract after fascism and World War II: never again. The war generation has disappeared and the post war generation is about to leave the planet. Populists who want to destroy the European project, who hate what those generations have built, want an even bigger presence in the new European Parliament. The conservatives around the EPP already have inside forces who are ready to appease those nationalist forces. We have seen it in the migration debate. Conservatives think that they have to adopt the anti-migrant discourse to win electors back, although the last 30 year have shown, in France and elsewhere, that opening that door will bring racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia back to the centre of the political debate, shifting the focus from social issues, the real issue we’re facing in Europe.
During the election campaign we will mobilise those left in the margins, those have lost faith in the project and who feel more comfortable on their sofa than in a political discussion. This will be our main task between now and the elections. The Progressives have excellent elements in their manifesto to which many NGOs and CSOs have contributed. This is important, but not enough: we need to fight back against the arguments of nationalism, hate and exclusion, of denial and division. After the election will be the time for manifestos and calls around a sustainability agenda for a sustainable European democracy and citizenship. We will “get off the sofa for Europa” and will beat the streets with other forces on 24 March, in the March for Europe. But after the elections we will also make it clear that we do not want to hear again the siren call of the single market, competition and competitiveness. We have heard about the “last exit” and the “social triple A”. More than a promise it shall be enshrined in a new social contract: the agenda of the next Commission to come. Count on us to defend the European project, but also count on us not to politely keep quiet if the real challenges are not met, if a new direction is not set!