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Report on the 2003 European Social Forum in Paris from Irish Participants

category dublin | irish social forum | news report author Wednesday November 26, 2003 01:07author by John Meehan

The Dublin Social Forum organised a report back on the 2003 European Social Forum, which took place in Paris from November 13-15.

This is a personal report on the meeting by John Meehan.

Other people who attended might like to add their own comments and analysis, and of course correct any mistakes!

Report on the 2003 European Social Forum in Paris from Irish Participants

- Teachers’ Club, 36 Parnell Square, Saturday November 22

The Dublin Social Forum organised a report back on the 2003 European Social Forum, which took place in Paris from November 13-15.

This is a personal report on the meeting by John Meehan.

Other people who attended might like to add their own comments and analysis, and of course correct any mistakes!

Introductions were made by three Irish participants – Ailbhe Smyth of the Women’s Educational Resource and Research Centre (WERRC), University College Dublin; Jean Somers of the Debt and development Coalition, and Richard Boyd-Barrett of the Irish Anti-War Movement.

More than 50,000 people registered for the event. It was spread out across many different geographically dispersed venues. Ailbhe said that this meant it was difficult to get an overview of what was happening – her individual decision was to stick to one thematic strand, and realistically this is what you needed to do.

There was no real social centre where participants could meet in the evenings, and exchange experiences.

A French radical feminist organisation invited Ailbhe – and she attended the Women’s Assembly, which attracted an attendance of 2500 - the biggest such feminist gathering for a long time. There was very little Irish input.

There was a problem with the forum in general in that only 11 of the 300 forums and seminars dealt with women’s issues. People had to fight very hard to get these issues on the agenda. While the women’s assembly was an excellent initiative, there was a feeling that maybe it let the rest of the forum “off the hook”. For the future, the social forum movement could take up ways in which globalisation is affecting women – for example, the alarming rise in “human trafficking”.

A lot of interest and energy is now “out there” about feminist issues – one sign of that in Ireland recently was the huge interest in the workshop “What is a Feminist Organisation” held during the October Irish Social Forum Co-operation and Solidarity Summit in University College Dublin. The room used was too small.

Somehow, we are not linking in enough with this new mood among young women – we need to examine ways in which we can mobilise in the future.

Overall, the event was fantastic – it was very moving to see issues of feminist lesbian and gay politics being an important part of the global political agenda. In Ireland, we should look at ways in which people can become more involved.

Jean Somers felt that the seminars and plenaries did not seem to differ organisationally. We should look at the purpose of the Social Forums. We find ourselves changing between “critical mass” and “small is beautiful”. There were big differences in the age profile – perhaps too many of the platform speakers were in the old age bracket.

Jean was one of the nominated Irish speakers, and participated in a discussion on African Development issues. The huge size and impact of the event was shown by the attendance of people from the French Government aid agency – they interviewed Jean afterwards. There was huge coverage of the event in the French media.

She attended some of the meetings on the European Constitution, but felt “none the wiser” compared with work already underway in Ireland by the anti General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS) / Privatisation Group –set up as a result of the UCD ISF summit.

The ESF finished with a big demonstration on the Saturday, which had self-organised carnival feel to it.

Richard Boyd-Barrett felt it was fine to make constructive criticisms, but we should stress how inspiring the event was, and how positive the process has become compared with the early 1990’s. We are now participating in an emerging world wide permanent co-ordination of progressive forces. This is overcoming the propaganda line from the establishment that the process is irresistible and cannot be confronted or changed for the better.

It was important that the Florence ESF took place in the context of an imminent war, but this event was not occurring in reaction to external pressure – it was planned for some time, the dates and venues were agreed, and activists converged on Paris from many different countries. Delegations from Germany, Italy and Spain were larger than in previous ESF meetings.

There were vigorous debates on the relationship between the social movements and political parties. Richard reported that at times the audience appeared to be “to the left” of the speakers on the platform.

The media coverage was impressive in France.

Agreement was reached, in principle, to stage co-ordinated demonstrations across Europe in opposition to the continued occupation of Iraq, and the continuing threat of wars. In addition, many social issues will be raised to coincide with a meeting of European Union Governments in Rome on May 9 2004 – they intend to sign the new European Union Constitution.

It was stressed that some of these details may change – but further information will become available soon.

The next ESF will be held in London – and this should make it easier for large numbers of Irish people to attend. It was important to ensure the best possible co-ordination between organisations and individuals interested in attending.

Among the points that came up in a discussion afterwards were :

Whereas in Florence a big political party was a main organiser of the forum – the Rifondazione Communista (Refounded Communists) – in Paris this role was taken by ATTAC, a looser organisation. This meant that when certain key decisions had to be made, the political situation in Florence was better.

A significant dispute arose over the participation of a prominent French Muslim speaker – Tariq Ramadan.

It is very important to follow up the progress made by the Women’s Assembly – the fight against neo-liberalism has to involve more women.

Difficulties remain over getting the right balance between discussions and making an agreed decision about united action(s).

There was no obvious common meeting point for Irish visitors – implying the need to organise better for the next ESF in London.

Some groups – such as the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) are concentrating on getting some human rights provisions included in the European Constitution.

Members of the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign highlighted the Israeli state programme - building of a series of apartheid style walls to enclose the Palestinian population – and, in fact, a network of walls is being built around the frontiers of the European Union. This will have devastating social and economic effects on the poor countries on the borders of the EU.

The contributions of Palestinian activist Michel Warschawski on this and other topics were given strong support at meetings of the Paris ESF.

The discussion then turned towards what we could do during the Irish Presidency of the European Union in the first six months of 2004.

After many ideas were thrown into the melting pot - it was agreed that Barry Finnegan, in his role as Irish Social Forum interim co-ordinator, would contact social forum groups in all parts of Ireland with a proposal to organise an all-island event towards middle to end of the Irish Presidency.

Dates mentioned were March and April.

It was agreed that we should propose to focus on the European Union Constitution – the problems with it – for example privatisation, restrictions on the movements of people and so on – and what kind of positive alternatives could be drawn up as part of a different process.

In particular, groups should ask themselves – how will the new European Union Constitution affect your issue?

As part of this discussion, Brendan Young reported on the work of the Democracy and Public Services in Europe (DAPSE) group. This group was set up arising from the Anti-Privatisation / General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS) workshop at the Irish Social Forum UCD event last October.

The DAPSE is holding a public meeting on the European Union Constitution on Saturday December 6 next in the Teachers’ Club (36 Parnell Square, 11.00am – 2.00pm). One of the speakers will be Dr Franz-Josef Stummann (Assembly of the European Regions). Further details will be posted on indymedia and other sources.


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