RIPESS Europe gathers hundred of initiatives acting through solidarity economy, allied to develop social and economic justice. As a network we bring together over 40 national, sectoral and inter-sectoral networks in several European countries.
The experience of Rojava, the “Democratic Federation of Northern Syria”, has been embodying hope through democratic cooperation.
Rojava women and men have been demonstrating to the world it is possible to organize social and economic justice by articulating self-governed councils, communes and cooperatives. Demonstrating it is possible to build a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Demonstrating it is possible to implement a eco-feminist political project.
Some members of RIPESS are working – directly or indirectly , with groups in Rojava, such as Solidarity Economy Association (UK) participating in a project called Cooperation in Mesopotamia, “Fostering international solidarity between the UK co-op movement and the predominantly women-led solidarity economy that’s being created in Northeastern Syria”.
Turkey is now set to destroy the people of Rojava’s Democratic Federation, and ISIS is using the Turkish attacks for insurgency.
We have been learning from Rojava people tenacity in organizing justice and freedom in a society facing war and in a region under attack from many sides. We have been learning from Rojava people the meaning of cooperation and emancipation.
We join the democratic movements worldwide to resist and stop the war against the people of Rojava: Rise Up for Rojava now.
ROMANIA : CRIES will promote Sustainable Consumption and Production in the campaign for European Parliament!
As part of the European campaign #Trade Fair Live Fair, CRIES and its partners will launch a debate about the importance to stand up for a different consumption and production model. More than 5.000 citizens, activists and politicians will be involved in different events as thematic workshops, conferences, films projection and street events.
On May 11, several activities related to the World Fair Trade Day will take place in Timisoara and Iasi. In November 2019, we will organize in Bucharest the first edition of Fair Trade Breakfast, an event that would bring together Romanian and European decision makers, NGOs and activists.
Romania is one of the three EU Member States where more than a third of the population was at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2017, with a share of 35.7% (Eurostat). Even in this context, it is difficult to question the dominant model of development; the general preoccupation is to assure more economic growth than a sustainable one.
The thematic of Fair Trade is not present on the political agenda of Romanian parties. The participation in this project will help us to develop educational activities, to initiate dialogue with citizens and candidates. We hope to generate new information and motivation among Romanian citizens in order to claim more actions for a sustainable development”, says Mihaela Vețan, president of CRIES –Ressources Center for Ethical and Solidarity based Initiatives.
FRANCE : RTES calls on French candidates for the European Parliament
The Network of Territories for the Solidarity Economy (RTES) launches a call for all candidates, on the basis of the 10 proposals of the RTES for a more united Europe,
In partnership with ESS France and the Le Labo ESS, lunches or breakfasts are organised with European candidates, based on SSE for Europe advocacy proposals from members of ESS France, Social Economy Europe, the ESS Labo and RTES.
In view of the series of electoral calls that will take place in the spring of 2019 in the Spanish State, from REAS network of networks, independent organization and composed of 18 sectoral and territorial networks throughout the State, we want to reach political parties, social agents and the general public our framework of proposals for the construction of a more just, democratic and sustainable economy..
CATALUNYA : XES launches an SSE campaign in municipalities
GREECE : DOCK launches a Fair Times campaign in Greece
In Greece, through this campaign, we want to inform candidates about the impact of unfair production and consumption policies, not only on a global scale, but also on the interactions with reality in Greece. As the United Nations SDGs demonstrate, social, economic and environmental problems are universal. This universalism requires a concerted commitment to the implementation of coherent policies that can benefit Greek citizens, Europeans and our fellow citizens around the world.
Fair Trade Hellas and Dock are implementing the campaign in Greece. Between now and the European elections, there will be open events, information and education opportunities on the problems of a fair and inclusive economy and on how to defend these problems. In addition, we call on all Members of Parliament to be informed of the issues of the campaign, to join us in discussing how they can also be part of a pan-European campaign that concerns all of us in our country.
On Friday 10 May at 6.30 pm at Impact Hub (Athens), we invite you to a day dedicated to fair trade!
The Fair Times campaign is a pan-European campaign coordinated by five civil society network organisations calling for a fair and sustainable European consumption and production agenda.
Together with the FTAO, which leads the global Fair Trade movement’s advocacy at EU level, IFOAM EU (European umbrella organisation for organic food and farming), CIDSE (International family of Catholic social justice organisations), RIPESS-Europe (RIPESS Europe is the European network for the Promotion of Social Solidarity Economy) and ECOLISE (European network for community-led initiatives on sustainability and climate change) are representing their respective movements through a campaign that is a little different from the usual.
The campaign is centred on a special edition of ‘The Fair Times’ newspaper from 2024, the end of the next European Parliament term. The newspaper aims to provide examples of policies that the EU could implement regarding a sustainable consumption and production agenda and hopes to inspire candidates to commit to taking action if elected.
We invite you to apply to the 2019 “Transformative Cities Award”; this open call being a great opportunity to highlight grassroot initiatives that have made a difference in their community onHousing, Energy, Water and Food Systems
RIPESS joined a group of organizations that are promoting the 2nd edition of the “Transformative Cities Award” aiming to highlight political practices and solutions that can serve as inspiration for others – See related information HERE.
In this second edition, the award is looking for initiatives that have succeeded in articulating an inclusive vision for a social majority to transform their city or defined environment. The prize aspires to create a new model of awards, which is participatory, inspirational, and rooted in exchanges and learning; the idea would be to highlight practices that can be replicated in other regions and places.
“Transformative Cities Award”: all you need to know!
You can find all the information of the prize here.
This initiative is open to collectives not individuals. A collective can have the form of a social movement with recognizable structures and goals without a formal legal recognition, a legally existing civil society organization, a citizens platform seeking to gain institutional power at municipal and/or city level via a political candidacy, an established city council, or other forms of collective action that centre their practices in a specific location that is not generally recognized as a region, state or similar delimitations.
Transformative… doing what?
The second edition of the award (2019) will look at the three issues of the first edition: Energy, Water and Housing plus an additional one: Food systems. Each initiative can also apply to several issues simultaneously under the same application.
Ok… but what do you mean by “transformative”?
“Transformative” recognizes that these struggles have succeeded in articulating an inclusive vision for a social majority to transform their city or defined environment. These practices will have measurable results, since they have been implemented successfully, and they will be practices that can be replicated in other regions and places.
They can submit their application until the 15th of March 2019 at 23.59h CET.
What is the selection criteria?
These are the key elements of a Transformative Practice:
Equity and participation
Capacity to inspire collective action
Transferability and replicability
Accountability and Transparency
Solidarity and Public ethos
Sustainability and efficiency
Fairness of labour conditions and the recognition of care and domestic work
It is just for “cities”?
The concept of “city” is a highly contested one, scientifically or politically. For the purpose of the award, they define cities in very broad terms as the locations for place-based struggles for basic rights. They understand that cities have certain strategic advantages to advance social, environmental and gender justice – in terms of combining critical masses of people as well as potential for more accountable governance. This will encompass transformative practices happening in urban and rural areas and in areas that could be described as both.
Who is behind this award?
The Transformative Cities initiative is launched by a group of regional and international organizations (in alphabetical order): European network for community-led initiatives on climate change and sustainability (Ecolise), Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), Global network of continental networks committed to the promotion of Social Solidarity Economy (RIPESS), Habitat International Coalition (HIC), the Global Platform for the Right to the City (GPR2C) and the Transnational Institute (TNI).
Watch (and share and comment) this 2 minute video (English only for now – other languages coming soon):
In the face of #water, #energy, #food and #housing crises, communities worldwide are finding inspiring solutions. Are you working on transforming your community from below? Apply for the 2019 #TransformativeCities https://transformativecities.org/open-call-201
This is the third issue of the series we started in October, on the theme of “local currencies”, after a general presentation of the advantages and challenges of local currencies through the example of the Leman currency (October 2018) and the avenues for collaboration and synergies between local currencies and sustainable food (December 2018), we propose today to reflect in terms of production/supply chains, for different types of agricultural products, and starting once again from the Geneva experience: from seed to production, from production to processing, from processing to distribution, from distribution to consumption. The five key agricultural sectors on which Leman and the Chamber of the Social and Solidarity Economy (APRES-GE) are currently working are the following:
from hops to pints
from pitchfork to fork
from seed to bread
from tree to stere
from vine shoot to glass
production/supply chain presents its own particularities, and each
actor – each link in the chain – its own reality and challenges. This
is why it is particularly interesting to bring the different actors
in a production/supply chain together around the same table, in order
to reflect together on current and potential value flows – and the
resulting cash flows. Many economic actors generally do not have the
time to take this step back. The local currency offers producers a
great opportunity to strengthen the links between them, and between
them and consumers, and thus to strengthen the local economy in the
face of competition from globalized markets. The service provided by
the local currency is “economic facilitation”: it is a form
of brokerage that allows producers to better choose their local
suppliers, and in case of overproduction to sell stocks in the
beer production/supply chain: from hops to pints
Let us take the example of the beer sector to illustrate what we are saying. The development of artisanal breweries is currently in full expansion and their operation is easily modelable. The main links in this chain are: farmers, malthouse, breweries, distributors, as well as bars, restaurants or grocery stores. The diagram below illustrates this.
you still don’t know it, you should know that 90% of beer is made up
of water, which is used as the basis for adding malt, hops and then
yeast. To this can be added additional ingredients, such as coffee,
fruit, spices or other condiments or herbs.
Farmers (1) grow the cereals, which will then be processed into malt by the Malting plant (2). At the same time, hops (2”), a climbing plant, must be cultivated and its flowers harvested and dried; yeast (2”) must be produced, usually in a laboratory.
three ingredients are used by artisanalbreweries (3),
with water, for the production of beer. Other goods are also needed
to produce beer, including bottles, capsules, labels, glue, and of
course water. These products are considered as secondary in the beer
production chain, although they are obviously necessary. More and
more often, breweries collect their bottles, through a deposit
system, and reuse them.
the distributors (4) are responsible for transporting the
drinks produced in bars, restaurants and grocery
stores (5), where they are sold for consumption, and in
particular to employees (6) of the various companies in the
beer industry. Indeed, some of the beer consumers work in the sector.
new activity should also be integrated into this beer sector:
mushroom houses (4′). They work with breweries, recovering the
used malt (spent grains) and using it as a substrate on which
mushrooms (especially shiitake and oyster mushrooms) will grow. The
recovery of the substrate is currently being studied for use as
protective packaging, for its lightweight and shock absorbing
these actors also have costs for premises, energy, production and
transport machinery, IT, printing and administration. This is what we
call the secondary network of suppliers.
The following diagram summarizes the primary network of the beer sector, by modelling the flows of goods/services, as well as the cash flows that allow these exchanges.
local currency is above all a tool for establishing economic links
between the actors of a sector. While stakeholders are convinced of
the value of creating a strong local economy, they do not always have
the time, energy or even the knowledge to analyse all current and
potential flows in their own economic production/supply chain Pressed
by short-term economic constraints and lack of liquidity, they
usually go as fast and cheap as possible, whereas their real economic
interest in the medium or long term would be to favour a concerted
and solidarity-based approach, for example in a pooled credit system.
in their own local currency encourages economic actors to be aware of
the specificities and various constraints within the chain and puts
everyone in commercial contact with their potential suppliers and
customers: the farmer with malting, malting with breweries,
distributors with breweries, and bars, restaurants and grocery stores
stakes are not only economic and ecological. Admittedly, it makes it
possible to increase the volumes of activity of each individual and
the wealth produced on the territory; and the development of this
territory, in short circuits, reinforces economic resilience and
ecological sustainability (reduction of CO2 emissions). On the social
and political level, the economic network thus created breaks the
isolation of each actor and it is the social fabric that is
strengthened. Together, it will be easier to defend your collective
interests and become stakeholders in public policies to promote local
liquidity for the sectors
offered by a complementary local currency such as the Leman in the
Lake Geneva region provides significant liquidity to the
production/supply chains. Indeed, each actor is granted an operating
credit line (currently between LEM 1,000.- and LEM 20,000.-,
depending on its size) that can be used without interest rates and
without limit as long as it remains below the established threshold.
The potential for economic exchange for the entire economic chain
concerned is therefore increased by the sum of the credit limits of
all its players.
ancestral system of credit pooling, which has practically disappeared
today, swallowed up by the contemporary banking system, is
nevertheless a very simple and very stable system. The network as a
whole is by definition always totally balanced “at zero”:
the sum of the positive amounts is always equal to the sum of the
negative amounts, and there is no monetary creation. The more money
turns, the more wealth is produced. The lack of liquidity is a
barrier to activity. Shared credit therefore replaces bank credit
bank credit is expensive – when it is granted, because banks often
refuse risk. It raises the price of products, because it is necessary
to include the cost of money (interest) in the selling price, and
weakens the seller in a competitive market occupied by large groups
that lower prices.
working in local currency, we recreate a parallel economy, and we
avoid pressure from large groups and foreign products. Getting
started with the complementary currency, particularly for
agricultural sectors, must be seen as a survival and development
strategy. But we must play the game together, companies, employees
and consumers, so that the currency can continue to supply the local
economy continuously, without stagnating in bottlenecks.
healthy irrigation of the production/supply chains
main challenge is therefore to avoid the formation of pockets of
local currency retention, which indicate an economic blockage. Such a
blockage is beneficial if it allows the actor in question to question
himself about his partners who do not accept the local currency. It
may be time to change it, and to opt for suppliers who also fit into
the logic of relocation and social and environmental responsibility.
is where the services of local currency “facilitators” come
into play: they work with companies to integrate suppliers into the
payment community, if they meet the conditions of the charter and, if
not, to find new partners.
the other hand, pockets of local currency are problematic if
companies cannot put as much currency back into the circulation as
they accept: the currency then loses its primary function, which is
to facilitate trade. The risk of devaluation of the currency (it will
be exchanged below its official value, for example 120 units will be
requested for a good/service worth 100 in state currency) is
Two types of actors can find themselves structurally in this “bottleneck” position. First, the company that would occupy a central place in the supply chain, and would have no or too few substitutes. In the “beer” sector, it is the malting industry, with which all local breweries have an interest in working in local currency. Secondly, the company at the “end of the chain”. In our example, it is the farmer who grows the cereals that will then be processed into malt. The following diagram shows this problem of pocket retention of local currency at the end of the supply chain.
For these two cases, there is a simple theoretical answer, but it is not so easy to put into practice, because it already requires a dense economic network: the payment of part of the salaries in local currency. However, the money supply redistributed monthly is a powerful lever for boosting the local and sustainable economy through consumption. This is explained in the diagram below.
have therefore seen that producers in the agricultural sectors have a
clear interest in using the local currency to resist competition from
large groups and foreign producers. However, this success is based on
the balance of flows. Strengthening the local economy therefore
requires organization and patience, as it involves bringing all its
stakeholders into the payment community into a virtuous circle.
is up to the local currency to carry out this work of economic
facilitation and credit pooling, and it must be given the means to do
so. Once this work is done, in the same way that an irrigation system
would be installed in a crop, money can then flow in a virtuous way
by creating value in the local and sustainable economy, and by
strengthening economic resilience, in the face of systemic financial
crises. 2008 should be a lesson to us!
a future newsletter, we will take the example of one or more
particular companies and how they use local currency on a daily basis
to make sense of their work: an economic sense, of course, but also
the feeling of participating fully in improving the common good.
Barcelona, 5, 6 and 7 April 2019. The organising committee is working full steam for the preparatory meeting event – one year ahead of the Forum, that will take place in 2020 – in which each transformative economy movement will develop dynamics aimed at specifying the objectives and priorities to be worked on and broadening the scope of the entities involved. The expected outcome is to have a consensus on the main “transformative actions” and convergence tracks, the governance model will be validated and the next steps to be followed will be marked out.
Participants to the meeting are invited organisations linked to the different movements, representatives of networks and social movements , both locally and internationally, between all those initiatives, movements and ways of understanding the economy that have as a common objective: the construction of a real alternative of transformation of the current capitalist economic and financial system.
We want to make this Forum a meeting place. We do not want to limit ourselves to the celebration of a showcase event where only experts speak, but to discuss together what kind of economy we want. Nor do we just want to discuss and dream that “other possible world”, because we know that it already exists. through thousands of initiatives that build alternatives. We want to find common strategies to make ourselves visible, articulate and to multiply.
We work for sustainability, so that it has continuity beyond of the 2020 Forum, both locally and internationally. To do this, it remains to be ensured that this process is built from the territories and generates spaces for face-to-face and virtual articulation at the local level.
We want to make the transformative economies known and reach out to all. To achieve this, we believe that it is necessary for the Forum to have a network of independent, like-minded media that can disseminate the process, and ensure a multiplier effect.
More information will be available soon at http://transformadora.org
Over 300 URGENCI International Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) network delegates representing over 2 million members from all over the world have just spent three days gathered in Thessaloniki (Greece) for the 7th Urgenci International CSA network meeting, as well as the 4th European gathering and the 2nd Mediterranean Network meeting.
The first day was devoted to three international tracks, covering food justice and solidarity economy, advocacy, and practitioners topics.
These tracks were carried over into the second day which included 30 different workshops on the above, as well as dedicated tracks for the Mediterranean network, Community Supported Fisheries, a beginner’s track, experience sharing, network building, training and social justice. The broad alliances and coalitions that URGENCI has built over several years were echoed in many sessions, as was the need for improved communication on all our many achievements and work.
The rich contents and enthusiasm as well as open-mindedness and respect were all reflected in the third day’s work dedicated to URGENCI’s General Assembly, where a new three-year plan was drawn up. This is also a reflection of the coming of age of URGENCI as a globally recognised social movement and of the increasingly democratic and participatory governance.
The General Assembly also considered how to ensure financial stability through a new membership fee structure that will allow the network to withstand the pressures of potential project shortfalls and financial crises that could result from the current project-based model, and build a new approach was adopted to progressively build collective resilience.
The freshly elected International Committee is a good reflection of URGENCI’s will to continue to grow as an even more inclusive and collective effort. It is a younger and more diverse team than ever before, while still reflecting the producer-consumer as well as gender balance that are also part of Urgenci’s core values. It includes Judith Hitchman (Ireland), and Shi Yan (China) as co-presidents, Isa Alvarez (Spain) as vice-president, and Denis Carel (France), Ariel Molina (Brazil), Qiana Mickie (US), Veikko Heinz (Germany), Simon Todzro (Togo), and Shimpei Murakami (Japan). Zsofia Perenyi (Hungary) was re-elected as Special Expert on Education and Training. The spontaneous creation of a new Special Representative for Community Supported Fisheries is the mirror of the strong enthusiasm and determination to build a sister network under the URGENCI banner on this theme. Community Supported Fisheries are already well developed in North America, and are increasingly recognised in Europe! And Elizabeth Henderson (US) will also continue as URGENCI’s Honorary President.
The new work plan includes specific focus on each continent, with key topics that will develop into new project proposals and actions in the course of the next three years.
All this work was made possible by the dedicated Steering Committee and the local team of AGROECOPOLIS led by Jenny Gkiougki. Many side activities were led, ranging from some very beautiful artwork that consisted of printing postcards to be sent to the FAO, customising t-shirts, and a seed mandala-seed swap. The meeting was also supported by a group of 20 volunteer professional interpreters, and the COATI alternative interpretation systems team, who made the communication possible. They are key actors in all major social movement meetings, and help make our work across borders possible!
Under the pouring rain, the city of Bayonne (in the French Basque country) is nonetheless beautiful and full of life: on Sunday 7th of October the “Alternatives Village” was all over the old town, with hundreds of people in the streets and squares dedicated to many of the existing “alternative” practices – most of them if not all we can say Social Solidarity Economy – that today are not only possible but being done and used by more and more people. Collective Renewable energy solutions, shared mobility (the symbol of Alternatiba is a tandem bicycle – and the bicycle tour that involved thousands of people throughout France, Switzerland and Belgium a success, arriving in Bayonne on the 6th), food agroecological production and collaborative distribution, the Eusko social currency (with both its paper and electronic version) and ethical banking, but also community and cooperative housing, a strong eco-feminist presence (in streets and debates) and a special attention to the migration crisis, brought to us by the current dominant “growth” economy and the climate change that it engenders.
The latter was the main underlying theme of this Festival, started 5 years ago in Bayonne by the citizens group Bizi, full of “normal” and young people, families, and of course activists – who debated together with a rich program (https://alternatiba.eu/2018/10/programme-du-weekend-d-arrivee-du-tour-alternatiba/) as well as cultural and artistic events. While the urgency of a radical, systemic change was clearly perceived by all participants, the convivial and festive atmosphere gave much hope and renewed energy. Saving the Planet is no longer an option – now is the time to engage: “change the system, not the climate”.
More than 15,000 people joined Bayonne this weekend for a major climate campaign. The two days marked by the arrival of the Tour Alternatiba, a gigantic village of alternatives, conferences and an atmosphere of popular emulation ended with a manifesto to initiate the immediate metamorphosis of the territories. Among them, nearly 200 personalities, scientists, political and associative leaders, artists, former ministers. In a duplex from South Korea, Valérie Masson-Delmotte, a member of the IPCC scientific committee, gave the public gathered in Bayonne the first opportunity to adopt the 1.5°C ratio and encouraged the continuation of citizen actions such as the Tour Alternatiba.
On the eve of the release of the IPCC 1.5°C report, Bayonne delivered a strong message. The final manifesto, read by Gaby, a young high school student from Poitiers and Moriba, a young Guinean saved from drowning by a maritime rescue boat while crossing the Mediterranean, both sixteen years old, launched a vibrant appeal for the immediate metamorphosis of our territories.
With nearly 50 conferences (attended by 6263 people) on such fundamental issues as the current government’s climate and energy transition assessment, obstacles to transition, economic relocation, transition financing, transport, renewable energies, solidarity and climate justice, this weekend also contributed to the ongoing discussions. Concrete alternatives such as the 100% renewable electricity supplier Enercoop or the eusko, already Europe’s leading local currency in terms of volume of currency in circulation, which passed the 1 million euskos mark that same weekend, have demonstrated the possibility that alternatives have to change scale.
This civic effervescence in Bayonne reflects what was observed during the 4 months of the Alternatiba Tour, where a total of more than 77,000 people showed their determination to take action to make a real difference. Under the guise of a great popular celebration, Alternatiba 2018 has once again confirmed that the crucial challenge of the fight against climate change is not only a vital challenge that tens of thousands of citizens are ready to take up, but also the foundation for more sustainable and desirable societies.
The Global Social Economy Forum was held in Bilbao (1-3 October 2018). This is the fourth edition after Seoul 2 times and Montreal 2016. It brought together more than 1700 people from 84 countries. It should be noted that a significant number of representatives of local authorities had made the trip to testify to their involvement in the SSE. It is one of the strong points of the GSEF, to link the evolution of the development of cities to the Social Economy. It should be noted in passing that the title “social economy” has largely predominated in the discourse, the term solidarity being considered superfluous in some cultures because it is included. Nevertheless, the term SSE has also been used in several instances, either in plenary or in workshops. This point can and has given rise to some controversy. We know that for RIPESS, the term solidarity is central because it refers to a philosophy of radical contestation of the ultra-liberal model in force in the globalized economy. The title of the Forum, “Values and competitiveness for inclusive and sustainable local development”, strongly advocated by the Bilbao government, was also discussed.
Mondragon, a partner of the event, is an emblematic example of cooperativism, and of the social economy conceived as a systemic complex aiming at autonomy in a context of resistance, at the time of its creation, to Francoism. Mr. Iñigo Ucin, President of the Mondragon County Council, presented his global experience (production, finance, training, distribution) and invited people to field visits.
The workshops on a wide range of themes offered a wide range of experiences, which is always a time to stimulate optimism and an opportunity for meetings that can be extended over time through fruitful collaborations. RIPESS was present with several members from all continents. The opportunity to get in direct contact with representatives of local authorities and the European Commission was well taken.
During a dedicated session, a Declaration on Transformative SSE which aims at real systemic change was read. During the ceremony, people from several cultures and continents read the text in 4 languages.
During the same session, Jason Nardi for RIPESS, Julia Grannel for XES and Carlos Askunze, coordinator of REAS Euskadi, announced the preparation of the World Social Forum on Transformative Economies. A first preparatory phase will take place in April 2019 in Barcelona and the final edition of this Global Forum is scheduled for 2020. The session ended with a “picoteo” (a kind of aperitif dinner) invited by REAS to Hika Ateneo, an alternative place in Bilbao.
In the closing session Margeritte Mendell (Concordia University, Montreal) used an oxymoron to signify that political and also academic research staff should relax the frameworks and rules that stifle the field initiative. She recommended the “institutionalization of flexibility”.
238 academics call on the European Union and its member states to plan for a post-growth future in which human and ecological wellbeing is prioritised over GDP
This week, scientists, politicians, and policymakers are gathering in Brussels for a landmark conference. The aim of this event, organised by members of the European parliament from five different political groups, alongside trade unions and NGOs, is to explore possibilities for a “post-growth economy” in Europe.
For the past seven decades, GDP growth has stood as the primary economic objective of European nations. But as our economies have grown, so has our negative impact on the environment. We are now exceeding the safe operating space for humanity on this planet, and there is no sign that economic activity is being decoupled from resource use or pollution at anything like the scale required. Today, solving social problems within European nations does not require more growth. It requires a fairer distribution of the income and wealth that we already have.
Growth is also becoming harder to achieve due to declining productivity gains, market saturation, and ecological degradation. If current trends continue, there may be no growth at all in Europe within a decade. Right now the response is to try to fuel growth by issuing more debt, shredding environmental regulations, extending working hours, and cutting social protections. This aggressive pursuit of growth at all costs divides society, creates economic instability, and undermines democracy.
Those in power have not been willing to engage with these issues, at least not until now. The European commission’s Beyond GDP project became GDP and Beyond. The official mantra remains growth — redressed as “sustainable”, “green”, or “inclusive” – but first and foremost, growth. Even the new UN sustainable development goals include the pursuit of economic growth as a policy goal for all countries, despite the fundamental contradiction between growth and sustainability.
The good news is that within civil society and academia, a post-growth movement has been emerging. It goes by different names in different places: décroissance, Postwachstum, steady-state or doughnut economics, prosperity without growth, to name a few. Since 2008, regular degrowth conferences have gathered thousands of participants. A new global initiative, the Wellbeing Economies Alliance (or WE-All), is making connections between these movements, while a European research network has been developing new “ecological macroeconomic models”. Such work suggests that it’s possible to improve quality of life, restore the living world, reduce inequality, and provide meaningful jobs – all without the need for economic growth, provided we enact policies to overcome our current growth dependence.
Some of the changes that have been proposed include limits on resource use, progressive taxation to stem the tide of rising inequality, and a gradual reduction in working time. Resource use could be curbed by introducing a carbon tax, and the revenue could be returned as a dividend for everyone or used to finance social programmes. Introducing both a basic and a maximum income would reduce inequality further, while helping to redistribute care work and reducing the power imbalances that undermine democracy. New technologies could be used to reduce working time and improve quality of life, instead of being used to lay off masses of workers and increase the profits of the privileged few.
Given the risks at stake, it would be irresponsible for politicians and policymakers not to explore possibilities for a post-growth future. The conference happening in Brussels is a promising start, but much stronger commitments are needed. As a group of concerned social and natural scientists representing all Europe, we call on the European Union, its institutions, and member states to:
1. Constitute a special commission on post-growth futures in the EU parliament. This commission should actively debate the future of growth, devise policy alternatives for post-growth futures, and reconsider the pursuit of growth as an overarching policy goal.
2. Incorporate alternative indicators into the macroeconomic framework of the EU and its member states. Economic policies should be evaluated in terms of their impact on human wellbeing, resource use, inequality, and the provision of decent work. These indicators should be given higher priority than GDP in decision-making.
3. Turn the stability and growth pact (SGP) into a stability and wellbeing pact. The SGP is a set of rules aimed at limiting government deficits and national debt. It should be revised to ensure member states meet the basic needs of their citizens, while reducing resource use and waste emissions to a sustainable level.
4. Establish a ministry for economic transition in each member state. A new economy that focuses directly on human and ecological wellbeing could offer a much better future than one that is structurally dependent on economic growth.