Walter Baier is the new president of the Party of the European Left, elected during the seventh congress that ended in Vienna on 11 December. – Our political message is: ceasefire, peace negotiations and withdrawal of troops – he says.
Interview by Roberto Morea.
Walter, first of all congratulations, on your election as president of the Party of the European Left – not an easy task at a difficult time for the Left in Europe and the advance of the Right across the continent. What do you think we need to do as the European Left? What do you think is the commitment of the coming years?
Thank you for the good wishes, we really do live in difficult times. I am still impressed by the words that Marc Botenga of the Workers’ Party of Belgium expressed in his speech at the congress – ‘next year must be a year of campaigns against the high cost of living, against energy poverty’. Certainly in connection with the climate crisis and the need for an ecological transition, I want to say above all that the task for a party that aspires to a radical transformation, means to be part of the social and political struggles and I would like to contribute to making the Party of the European Left a force for social struggles.
As we see, for example, in France once a social protest is raised and the left has the ability to create unity, then there is a concrete and effective opposition to the rise of the right-wing and this I think is at the heart of the strategy of the Party of the European Left.
Of course we also face the crisis of war, not the first in Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall and there are many conflicts in the world. What is the party’s position on the war?
After a discussion we agreed on a position that I would describe as very clear.
First, we condemn the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, because we are on the side of the victims and we see the danger of an escalation that could lead to a nuclear war and because it is against international law.
We all want to change the international system of power, but if this is to be done by a civilised route, it can only be done in accordance with international law, which is why international laws must be respected.
From this position, the Party defined three elements: ceasefire, peace negotiations and withdrawal of troops. It seemed at first a difficult compromise between different divergent positions, but in fact it is a very strong political message, and that is what must be done: ceasefire, negotiations and withdrawal of troops. My personal contribution to the debate is to convince everyone to discuss less about what NATO has done in the past and more about what NATO intends to do in the future, i.e. that we oppose the rearmament we are witnessing with billions of euros destined to destroy the environment.
For example, one of the new generation of strategic aircraft capable of carrying long-range nuclear bombs far into enemy territory consumes 5600 litres of kerosene per hour, which means almost 100 litres per minute. So, if anyone wants to protect the environment, they obviously should be against spending money on these types of planes, planned and positioned in Germany, Belgium, Holland, Finland, Sweden and I imagine also in Italy. A mountain of money, two billion per aeroplane and at the same time highly polluting means of transport: this is what NATO is doing at the moment. I would say that we must oppose this and not divide ourselves in a discussion about what Gorbachev was promised.
On history we can have different points of view, but with respect to the future we must have a concrete common position and this is what the Party of the European Left can and must, in my opinion, help to do.
The last question concerns the left in Europe. We have seen in the past and we still see today that there are political forces that are not part of the common house of the Party of the European Left. What is your proposal to unite the left?
I would distinguish between the forces of the left, those organised in parties, and in this case the main thing is to create a dialogue and find, for example, a way to avoid a competition on platforms for the European elections, and the other area, that of social movements, trade unions and environmental movements. In this area the most important thing is to be useful, certainly in the organisational form, but useful also and above all in producing good arguments.
I return again to the environmental issue: do you not find it bizarre that in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 there is no reference to armaments? They do not exist in any discussion of ecology, but at the same time if the global military power were a state, it would be the fourth most polluting state on the planet. It is simply absurd that by not being mentioned in the Kyoto protocol this issue of armaments has disappeared from public debate. On this the European Left Party can play a role, saying: if you do not talk about armaments you cannot talk about environmental protection; just as, if you do not say anything relevant about the capitalist system you cannot talk about environmentalism. My opinion is that this is a clear message that people can understand.
This interview has been first published in Italian by Left.it, Cross-Border Talks’ partner within the Media Alliance.