EUROPEAN PROGRESSIVES – together, insieme, ensemble. This is the motto of the eighteen-month pro-Europe campaign which has been launched by progressive political forces in order to provide a new direction to a progressive Europe. It is an objective of Socialists and Democrats, the Socialist Party (PSE), the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), the Global Progressive Forum (GPF) and NGOs such as Solidar, which came together at a Conference held in Brussels.

A Europe with more social justice and equality, a different Europe and a political action that keeps pace with our times and can also reach out to Millennials, that focuses on people and is capable of addressing the major challenges ahead of us. These are some of the issues at the centre of a debate that has opened up between progressive forces and will continue over the coming months in search of renewal and re-engagement with the electorate, ordinary people, and in an attempt to secure their active participation. This is a form of politics that is simultaneously analysis and action. It is a journey that will involve citizens throughout Europe in order to find a new direction for progressive forces and for the European project.

A new politics

Europe is at a crossroads. For the first time, as the organisers of the debate remind us, a country has voted to abandon the European project, populist parties and Euro-sceptics are on the rise throughout the continent, whilst the refugee crisis and the Eurozone are still very present issues. “Timmermans and myself are not holding a rally or giving a speech, but travelling on a journey together, a different debate, together, ensemble, insieme. Those looking for work, those who are studying, those who are working, in unstable employment or without a job need new answers to new questions.” With these words Gianni Pittella, President of the Socialist and Democrat Group, opened the Progressive Conference. “The world has changed profoundly, globalisation has brought not only victories but also defeats for some and deep-seated inequalities.  We have overlooked major issues such as climate change and the fact that we are confronted with the ‘uberisation’ of work. We have also overlooked the fact that answers needed to be given to real people, to poor people. We overlooked major issues such as immigration, disease and war. It was the old Bush Administration that sparked the crisis in the Middle East with its preventive war, and we are now paying the consequences”.

“We have to be the major force for young people from the new generations, we have to reflect on what we are doing in order to keep up with a changing Europe, there is dissatisfaction with representative democracy, we have to devise new, satisfying forms of direct and participatory democracy that make use of new technologies”. Pittella also reasserted the urgent need for action against the bipolar system that is emerging in Europe: on the one hand the conservatives and on the other hand those who want to destroy the EU and go back to the individual nation states. This is an analysis that raises critical issues and acknowledges the difficulties in interpreting a Europe that is changing, “there’s no time to lose in order to save it”.

Various representatives of progressive forces spoke on stage, including Gianni Pittella, Martin Schulz, Federica Mogherini, Jeremy Corbyn and Massimo D’Alema. Millennials and the representatives of NGOs also took the floor.

According to High Representative Federica Mogherini, “The problem in Europe is misguided policies, but there’s also no doubt that we need a united Europe. It is our responsibility to make people understand that the EU is not something distant: Europe is us. Young people have to shoulder their responsibilities, we need to have a generational change in Europe”.

In his speech, Michele Nicoletti, President of the Socialist Group in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe argued that politics has to change, yet at the same time must not remain stuck in the unending wait for the arrival of new leaders, the “right” leaders for change: “it is difficult in attempting to describe the European dream to find words different from those used by the Founding Fathers: peace, along with civil and social rights, are its force, which lies not in taking up arms but in freedom. The greatest danger for Europe lies in division, this great dream has been achieved only in part, and our job is to make sure it is not shattered. A Europe created around the Convention on Human Rights that protects thousands of citizens, the Europe of the welfare state with civil and social rights, we are the ones who built a secular society. Our responsibility for ensuring that this story is a success is to ensure that the realisation of our ideals is understood also as the realisation of collective aspirations.  We are waiting for our leaders to take action, but as the activist Lisa Sullivan said, ‘it’s ourselves that we’ve waited so long for’.”

Some of the issues and challenges facing the EU have been exploited by often xenophobic and anti-European right-wing forces. The progressive forces must find a way of communicating and acting on these issues in order to avoid fuelling the disengagement between the general public and politicians. “We can’t leave everything in the hands of the right, it’s our job to protect citizens through internal and external security, we can’t take care of Europe if we don’t deal with Islamic State, with its financing and support. EU policies have not always been good, security means preventing violence and terrorism, above all violence against women. We need dialogue, integration, the refusal of all ghettoes, and policies to combat Islamophobia and xenophobia, security also means coordinating EU intelligence services”, said Massimo D’Alema, former Italian Prime Minister and President of the FEPS.

Millennials also took part in this debate seeking to place them at the centre of European policy. Davide Sardo, a PhD student at King’s College in London and a participant in the FEPS network, forcefully argued in favour of the idea that our objectives cannot be achieved simply by reinforcing the guarantees offered within nation states. “Theresa May recently said that to be a citizen of the world is to be a citizen of nowhere. And there are also a number of social-democratic friends who think that this is true. I don’t agree. In today’s world, it is being a citizen of your own country that can transform you into a citizen of nowhere. If you are forced to leave your home because it has been bombed, or because in your country you can’t be a Christian or a homosexual, well then you might find out what it means to be a citizen of nowhere, which in actual fact means: having to beg in front of closed doors and to risk your life asking for protection. On the other hand if you’re a Google shareholder you are in another sense a citizen of nowhere because your company’s profits are not taxed in any country. This is why inequality and privileges must be perceived, and combated, on a global scale. Because both the biggest benefits and many of the smaller ones are being lost for lack of protection across borders”.