The Progressive Governance Summit – a platform through which progressives come together to debate political challenges and ideas – was held virtually on 9-11 June 2021.
The summit prominently featured discussions on post-Brexit and post-Pandemic politics, the upcoming German and French elections, the struggle for democracy, and how to combat far-right politics and narratives. This year's programme featured more than 100 international speakers, including Ivan Krastev, a political scientist, Chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia and Permanent Fellow at the IWM Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna; Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist and expert on political extremism and populism in the EU and US; and Ellen Ueberschär, the Co-President of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.
Many Green leaders were also present. Green MEPs Terry Reintke and Alexandra Geese were involved in vivid conversations with fellow progressive politicians on political narratives and emerging economic paradigms. Robert Habeck, Co-leader of the German Greens, was also present for a conversation with Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, in which the topic of regulation was tackled. Franziska Brantner, member of the German Parliament, engaged with Lisa Nandy, Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, on relations between Germany and the UK after Brexit. Finally, Gergely Karácsony, Mayor of Budapest, was featured in a panel bringing together progressive mayors across Europe and underscoring their importance for a democratic, just and sustainable future.
"We need a stronger EU to bring our continent forward. At the Greens we are very pro-European, the EU is the only way for us to hold ground in such global competition" says Robert Habeck, co-leader of @Die_Gruenen at #PGS21— European Greens (@europeangreens) June 10, 2021
Strategizing to combat far-right politics and ideology
During the session 'Resisting the Far-Right: Progressive Narratives that Restore Trust in Democracy', Paul Mason, John Nichols and Terry Reintke discussed the power of good political narratives that connect with voters. The importance of tradition, culture, and identity in today's new political landscape was emphasised. Mason, Nichols and Reintke all highlighted that the political battleground is not only about how we imagine the future, but also how we make sense of the recent past.
Terry Reintke spoke on the 'reassuring' narratives from the far-right that allude to a glorious past, or going back to pre-Corona times. She stated that this must be challenged by communicating that in order to create stability, we need to see change that addresses the root causes of the health and socio-economic crises we face today. She mentions that there is also work to be done to make allyship possible, which includes dismantling existing structures and hierarchies 'from the political to the movement level where even in progressive circles we have white males taking most decisions'.
.@TerryReintke from @GreensEFA at the #PGS21: “In order to create stability, we need to see change. If you want to live in a democratic and stable society, we need to make changes now - we are pushing this agenda in the European Parliament.”— European Greens (@europeangreens) June 9, 2021
One of the main elements of discussion was also the need to highlight, more boldly, progressive wins at home and abroad. To embody an optimistic internationalism and create broader transnational networks of collaboration. Circulating positive stories of wins abroad is an approach can inspire hope, and as Nichols said, "sometimes inspiring hope is one of the biggest jobs of any movement." Terry Reintke further highlighted the need for cooperation at a larger scale to address the climate crisis and COVID-19, among other challenges of our time.
Emerging economic paradigms amidst the COVID-19 crisis
In a session entitled 'New economic paradigms', Alexandra Geese, Green MEP, was in conversation with Paul Magnette, President of the Belgian Socialist Party, and Ann Pettifor, British economist. Magnette spoke on the need for radical change in the global economics that have been implemented in the last 20 years, and Ann Pettifor further highlighted the international dimension of financial capitalism. Geese underscored the gender dimension of the pandemic and addressed the need for a feminist recovery:
"We have seen in this crisis that the economic sectors that have been hit most are the client-facing sectors – the sectors where people who work with people – and those people are women. And it's women who are staying at home, especially in Italy – where over 70% of the people who have lost their jobs in the crisis are women. Not to speak about the care economy because with schools and childcare closed, who stays home? The women. Who does childcare? The women. So it's really the women who are being kicked out of the economy and out of paid work."
She highlighted how the money is currently allocated to 4 industrial sectors where share of women is below 20%: which are digital, transport, housing, and renewable energies. Geese is campaigning for #halfofit, which tackles the gender equality and economic growth issue that the current Recovery Fund presents.
Progressive mayors leading the fight for a more just and sustainable future
The importance of local politics was emphasised in many sessions; not only for a better, greener and fairer future, but also to deliver for citizens and safeguard our democracy. The urgent need to recover togetherness in defence of diversity was also emphasised. The greening of cities was also discussed, and more specifically the importance of progressive mayors in the fight for a just and sustainable transition. In the session 'Mayors as Progressive Motors', Gergely Karácsony spoke on making Budapest a liveable city for all and how he is working to greenify grey areas, establish more public housing, and tackle climate change, which is already having an impact on the population.
Due to the lack of action by the central government, Karácsony implemented an open-source tracing app that was used by city-dwellers. Karácsony spoke of this experience fighting for the wellbeing of city-dwellers in the middle of a pandemic, as his government acted against public health concerns and moved to sell further public housing.
"We had to fight against the pandemic, the economic impacts of it but also against Orbán's politics which tries to limit the powers of local governments" says @bpkaracsonyg, the Green Mayor of Budapest, at #PGS21— European Greens (@europeangreens) June 11, 2021
Out of this struggle, however, came a strong political alliance between mayors from cities in Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia was forged: the Visegrád Four or V4. Karácsony also mentioned that, surprisingly, cities fared better in terms of COVID-19 deaths than more rural areas: "Solidarity, the power of community and social proximity is what allowed us to weather the storm."
The recurring message that was heard from progressives at PGS21 is clear: the environmental transition goes hand in hand with a social transition. It must also take all people into account equally. Building back better will therefore depend on implementing policies that reduce growing inequalities and give people the means to engage meaningfully in the workforce and in their communities.