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Transnational politics is damn hard: David Adler on DIEM25's experience

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European ElectionsYellow Vest MovementImpactEditors Pick

David Adler is an economist and policy coordinator of the transnational pan-European, DIEM25 movement (Democracy in Europe Movement 2025), co-founded by Yanis Varoufakis, former Minister of Finance in Greece in 2015.

David, what explains the success or failure of a transnational movement?

To understand the success or failure of a transnational movement, we have to look at different elements. Some are mechanical: there are hard linguistic barriers to organise a transnational movement. And this has not been taken seriously. The way this linguistic element interacts with class is precise. An English language-based movement mobilises a specific layer of activists that will exclude the vast majority of members that could, potentially, join the campaign. But another part of the challenge relates to being able to establish a shared program.

What do you mean by that?

It isn’t straightforward to establish a vision that actually succeeds in responding to the needs of people in different countries. The European political sphere, in particular, is oriented towards the perception of a zero-sum game between different countries (let’s think of the media narratives establishing a clash between the Germans and the Greeks, or between northern and southern states, etc.). So, part of the challenge in developing a pan-Europen movement means being able to cross that divide. And, more specifically, that there are specific policy instruments that can help us in solving social issues together.

Can you give us a concrete example?

The Green New Deal developed by DIEM25, is a programmatic intervention driven by a transnational movement. Oversimplifying, it says that German pensioners can indeed gain from environmental investments in communities that have been hit by austerity in Southern Europe. And that we can deliver a healthy return on investments for, let’s say, pensioners in France and Germany and, at the same time, provide meaningful jobs to workers in Greece.

Nevertheless, national specific movements, such as, for instance, the Yellow Vest movement, are still stronger in mobilising national citizens. Don’t you agree?

Yes, and there is a third piece of the overall picture that explains why namely: the institutional infrastructure. The latter can either enable or hinder the set up of a transnational social movement. Based on DIEM25’s experience, I would say that there is a widespread consensus on the fact that specific problems are European in scale (finance, environment, etc.). But when you ask a political party to commit to a transnational movement, they tell you that their voters are in French or in Germany.

So what?

Well, what is the incentive for a national party to look at a voter outside of their own constituency? Notwithstanding a consensus on the diagnosis of social problems, what eventually matters is “being responsive to the nation”. The Yellow Vest Movement is a perfect example in case indeed. Why did the Yellow Vest movements gain such momentum? Because of the particular electoral system in France: Macron was just terrified that this movement could break up his image of a peace-making President.

Given that you did not make it into the European Parliament, what have you learned from the experience of DIEM25?

There have been lessons about the context in which we were active and about our inner-working. No matter how good your ideas are, there is still a way in which the program intersects and is often inhibited by the way a given institutional structure is set up. We learned to be reactive to particular institutional setups. At the internal level, instead, we are still doing a lot of soul-searching. It is vital to put DIEM25’s experience into a broader frame of the disappointment of/towards the Left. The European elections of May 2019 saw the devastation of the Left: from Podemos in Spain to Mélènchon, in France, to Die Linke in Germany.

Why was that in your opinion?

There was a broad attack on parties that were unable to articulate a flag-waving pro-Europeanism. More generally, we need to understand why it is so challenging to bring social movements to the ballot box. This is something that also concerns other social movements, such as Extinction Rebellion and the very same Yellow Vest movement, which do not necessarily identify themselves as leftist only,