Building a Post-Growth Pan-European network

As the polls for the upcoming European Parliament elections are not looking so favorable for the Greens and the Left, many fear a backlash against climate policies. In such times of social unrest and growing conservative forces, building capacity for post-growth welfare is more relevant than ever. We will need to fight against austerity politics as well as for protecting and “socializing” the European Green Deal. The myth of a trade-off between social wellbeing and green policies needs to be debunked. Commons Network is working closely with members of the Pan-European Post-Growth network to bring this perspective forth to the political debate and disseminate the strategic knowledge and policy instruments discussed in the network.

Last December, Commons Network, Oxfam Novib, the Green European Foundation and MEP Philippe Lamberts’ team organized a roundtable on welfare beyond growth in the European Parliament. This event was the second of a series that aims to establish a Pan-European network for knowledge exchange and strategy building on post-growth with Members of national Parliaments (MPs) and Trade Union representatives. Here we share the main take-aways from the roundtable,  as part of our ongoing efforts to advance the post-growth agenda in Europe. 

Roundtable on welfare beyond growth (December 2023)

This roundtable zoomed in on the strategy for eco-social policies and building a welfare state beyond growth. The postgrowth perspective offers an alternative to the dominant narrative of a trade-off between climate measures and public spending on social security: it maintains that it is possible to secure a good life for all on a thriving planet. A fair distribution of wealth, power and resources, the decommodification of essential services and the centering of community practices of care are core building blocks to this approach. 

We gathered eleven MPs from nine different countries: the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, UK, Scotland, Croatia, Lithuania, Poland and Austria. Furthermore, five trade union representatives attended: three from European Institutes, and two others from a Belgian and an Irish union. The discussion was kick-started by specific interventions from Benjamin Denis from IndustriAll Europe Trade Union; Aileen McLeod, Scottish MP from the Wellbeing Economy Alliance; Severine de Laveleye, Belgian Green MP; and Suzanne Kröger, Dutch MP from the recently united Green-Left party.

Strategic insights and policy instruments

The conversation was shaped by the electoral rise of the far-right in various European countries. Participants agreed that the popular resentment against green policies and the anxiety of job losses need to be addressed and countered by strong social policies. They discussed linking ecological and social transition as the basis of their political programmes. In some political contexts, alliances between green and labour parties have been useful in overcoming electoral challenges. Next, as put forth by trade union representatives, austerity is incompatible with the just transition framework and needs to be debunked with a strong narrative. The idea of the “cost of non-transition” drew attention; it highlights the cost at which we are not transitioning and could be helpful in uniting forces against austerity across the political spectrum. On building post-growth narratives, participants also discussed attempts at reframing national performance, wellbeing, social security, and industrial transformation. Lastly, the role of trade unions and the participation of civil society were seen as crucial in the strategy for advancing the beyond growth agenda. A mantra that resonated around the table was that of mobilizing local intelligence and coordinating the work for a just transition.

The policy instruments put forward were along the following lines:

1) Progressive fiscal policies, such as social climate funds and just transition funds, taxations on wealth, a climate tax bonus (notably CO2 Klimatbonus in Austria).

2) Industrial policy such as redirecting industrial subsidies and public procurement to eco-social companies, as well as social investment schemes.

3) Worker’s protection, through the anticipation of job losses and organization of paid trainings, working-time reduction, strengthening collective bargaining power through unions and cooperative models, and rewarding care work.

4) Reversing privatization in key sectors and increasing the role of the state in provisioning accessible and green public services, including in mobility, healthcare and education.

5) New political-economic governance, models and practices. This includes strengthening participation and democracy both in decision-making and in organizing ownership structures, the implementation of Community Wealth Building at local level and the adoption of alternative economic indicators at national level.

In the coming period, we will develop these policy directions further with our partners  and members of the network and strengthen the network’s capacity for knowledge dissemination on post-growth, expanding the network by diversifying the countries’ and political parties’ representation.