Can DiEM25 become the first transnational party?

By Giacomo Russo Spena
Last week members of DiEM25 voted on whether the movement should be able to compete in elections. An overwhelming 92% chose YES, favouring the decision to set up an electoral wing. The Italian magazine MicroMega spoke to Lorenzo Marsili, founder of European Alternatives, about what this actually means, and the movement’s roadmap for transforming Europe. Political Critique translated the interview.

Giacomo Russo Spena: Let’s talk about the organisation of DiEM25. How many members does it have now? How many branches are there across Europe?
Lorenzo Marsili: There are nearly 70,000 members and more than a hundred local groups across Europe, as well as a coordinating collective made up of 12 elected members. Soon there will also be a number of national collectives which will also be elected by the members.
Where do the finances come from?
DiEM25 is made up of volunteers that make a living working elsewhere, putting in nights and weekends to further an idea they believe in. The funds there are come entirely from voluntary monthly donations, and these allow us to take on a minimal staff. It’s all accounted for online, both revenue and expenses.
So DiEM25 will become a party. What’s the ‘road map’ to really make it happen?
In the coming months two things will happen. First DiEM25 will be registered as a political movement in a number of European countries. And at the same time it will sit down with political forces and social movements to build a larger alliance. The ambitious objective is to launch an electoral campaign by Spring 2018, exactly one year before the elections for the European Parliament. This would allow real citizen participation and transform a simple campaign into a moment of political reawakening across the continent.
2019 is the first test then?
The situation in Europe is extremely serious. It is unthinkable that the European elections should be used once again simply as a kind of mid-term survey for national parties. For the first time in the history of our continent we need a proposal – from Portugal to Poland, from Ireland to Italy – which will mobilise and warm hearts around a clear programme of change. In this sense the European elections are an excuse, a device. There is little interest in sending a dozen people to a heavily restrictive parliament. The aim is rather to ‘hack’ the elections, to transform them into a continental political campaign: a kind of ‘Sanders moment’ for Europe.
What does it mean to be the first pan-European party? You’re going against the tide of sovereigntist impulses that seem to be returning…
Such impulses are the – wrong – response to a failing Europe. Moreover they’re made in concentric circles: we cannot manage to govern globalisation, we cannot govern the disaster that today’s Europe has become, and so we recoil to the nation-state. Then we realise that the state is victim to the very same oligarchies of power, so we try to close ourselves up in regional identities or call for new micro nations. If we go on like this we’ll all end up alone, each one of us behind a personal wall, pointing our fingers at anything foreign. It will be the world of Hobbes, where life is “solitary, poor, brutish and short.” This drift has to be stopped.
You recently wrote a book with Yanis Varoufakis called ‘The Third Space’ (Italian: Laterza) and you are preparing another, also about Europe, in which you explain why nationalism and neoliberalism are two sides of the same coin. Do you really think Europe is still capable of reform?
We need to take Europe back. By doing this we will take back our states, our regions and our cities. Because there are big issues, out there, that we have to govern. Tax evasion by multinationals, migration, climate change, the transformation of an economic model of neoliberal globalisation that is clearly unjust and ineffective. Can things change? In reality everything is changing around us! It makes me laugh when people complain that “Europe cannot change” as the world transforms in front of our eyes!
It would be a historic disaster to leave Xi Jinping’s China to redraw the new terms of globalisation alone. Instead we need to put control of the future in the hands of citizens. In order to do this we have to understand that there is no longer an easy separation between European, national and local politics. There is just politics, in a continuum that traverses all these spaces. We need to be in a position to govern this reality, with a proposal and an organised force that from the municipal to the European level is in a position to present and fight for an alternative.
What parties is DiEM trying to make relationships with around Europe? Podemos in Spain, Mélenchon in France etc?
DiEM25 is sitting around the table with a variety of European forces to arrive at a common programme and a shared strategy. In Poland it’s Razem, a new party similar in composition to Podemos. In Denmark with The Alternative, which is another new party founded by artists and social movements, but already the third most important political force in the country. In the Czech Republic, the Pirates who took 10% in the elections a few weeks ago and are members of DiEM25. In France, Benoit Hamon has publicly asked for a meeting to align his new movement with DiEM25: but clearly the space here is much more open… I’m thinking for example of PCF and the Greens. In Spain DiEM25 is working with the mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau who in fact was among the first members. And more – DiEM25 also speaks about the need for a progressive alliance, which includes diverse political families from the left to the greens, from social democrats to grassroots movements. But beyond parties we can never forget that there are the citizens. And in Europe there is a new generation that lives the European space and which believes the time has come to take control of it.
Will DiEM25 be a left wing party?
I was twelve years old when I first heard the word ‘left wing.’ My mother woke me up excited to tell me that for the first time in the history of the republic the left was in government. It was in 1996 and Romani Prodi’s centre-left coalition had just won elections. From that point on the left was the thing that privatised, that precariatised work, and gave an open book to the financial sector. So personally I don’t have a great emotional attachment to the word. But I know that many others feel close to it. People talk about a world of solidarity, justice and passion, but I can only see it in history books: the Bertolucci of ‘Before the Revolution’, the extraordinary period between ‘68-’77 in Italy.
Who does DiEM25 aim to speak to?
The task today is to speak to everyone. Including those who have never asked themselves what ‘left wing’ means, or who perhaps do not feel themselves to be on the left at all. But who feel instinctively that a system in which eight people control half of global wealth while we are told there isn’t enough money for welfare; that a system which takes it out on migrants instead of locking up the managers of big multinationals that launder money in Panama; that a system like this is a failed one, morally and economically bankrupt, and needs to be overhauled.
This interview is an edited version of that which appeared on MicroMega (10 November). It was translated from Italian by Jamie Mackay.
Photo credit: European Alternatives.

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