It is difficult to make even a moderate and cautious turn towards a more social democratic and ecologically oriented direction unless there is a broad transnational or worldwide movement behind it. In this regard, DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe Movement 2025) can be seen as one of the few glimmers of hope. Established in early 2016 in the aftermath of the Euro crisis, DiEM25 has assumed many characteristics of a world party, thus offering valuable insights for the larger project. This is my contribution to the GTI Forum Experiments in Movement Unity in November 2023.
Progressive forces are fragmented and often on the defensive. The idea of a “global citizen movement” has not caught on. National left parties have been in decline for decades, although “modernized” social democratic parties may in some countries still get an occasional minor election victory. However, these episodes have not changed the general direction of politics. The World Social Forum process seemed to offer hope, but turned out a failure. In many, if not most, contexts, neoliberalization continues and has become part of the taken-for-granted background, while countervailing deglobalization tendencies have also emerged. Especially since 2008/9, economic nationalism, securitization, and militarization have been on the rise.1
It is not only economic uncertainty that can amplify existential insecurity and anxiety, triggering regressive learning, but also awareness of and concerns about the rather uncertain future (from pension insecurity to catastrophic climate change and artificial intelligence—not to speak of the specter of war). For the discontented masses, the remaining option seems to be that of populist identity politics. Instead of being motivated by hope for social and ecological progress, action is motivated by hatred of some X, which is allegedly responsible for the current problems. Whereas the basic populist antagonism faces off the “people” and the “elite,” the guilty others include refugees, immigrants, Islamists, Greens and leftists, political and cultural elites, and the “mainstream” media—or, as in El Salvador, criminals and gangsters born of poverty and insecurity.
It is difficult to make even a moderate and cautious turn towards a more social democratic and ecologically oriented direction unless there is a broad transnational or worldwide movement behind it.2 In this regard, DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe Movement 2025) can be seen as one of the few glimmers of hope. Established in early 2016 in the aftermath of the Euro crisis, DiEM25 has assumed many characteristics of a world party, thus offering valuable insights for the larger project. Although DiEM25 operates within the institutional framework of the EU, including the European Parliament, it can be seen as a testbed for cultivating transnational ethical and political consciousness, deploying new technologies for enabling widespread participation, overcoming legal obstacles to a supranational political party, and transcending identity-political fragmentation. Its roots lie in the contradictions of the European integration project, and more specifically in the Euro crisis of 2010–2015. Following the 2015 defeat of the Greek left-wing party Syriza in its struggle against the Troika (the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank, and EU Commission), Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis resigned. Subsequent political meetings in France and Germany convinced him of the need for a new pan-European political movement to prevent a “descent into a post-modern 1930s.”
DiEM25’s strategic aim is to convene a constitutional assembly that would reflect a genuine European democracy. Its original intention was to have a new draft constitution for the EU prepared by 2025 that, if adopted, would replace all existing European treaties. Beyond this process, the movement has striven to overcome austerity and harmful competition in Europe with concrete policy proposals, including ambitious green investment, a European anti-poverty plan, a pan-European universal basic income, and a common and humane migration policy. Rather than adhering to a single political ideology, DiEM25 is resolutely pluralistic, aiming to attract all, whether leftists, social democrats, Greens, or liberals.
In contrast to the authoritarian, nationalistic populisms that have been on the rise throughout Europe, DiEM25 exemplifies a form of democratic, transnational populism. Its concept of “we” is an imagined pan-European demos, not tied to the prevailing national imaginaries. DiEM25 inclusionary transnationalism manifests in the common front it is building for political activism. But it is also transnational in a second sense: its commitment to helping the most vulnerable people in the global political economy, especially refugees. The movement thus offers an alternative to Fortress Europe.
What is particularly interesting about DiEM25 is how it has experimented with new forms of direct participation in a truly transnational setting. In 2020, DiEM25 had allegedly more than 100,000 members in more than 195 countries and territories, but most of these were not real committed members. Policies at all levels—local, regional, national, and pan-European—are approved in all-member votes. Even when a policy concerns a local or national issue, all members must approve it through an all-member vote. Each member has a unique password, and the voting is done electronically. Policy proposals can emerge from the Coordinating Collective (CC) or members. Proposals are put out to the membership for consultation and discussion and then subjected to an all-member vote. In typical all-member votes in 2022/23, only 1,000 to 2,000 members have participated.
In principle, DiEM25 combines participatory democracy with the capacity to adopt policies and programs, organize actions, and take part in elections. DiEM25 has so-called electoral wings, which are a tool of the movement to get involved in electoral politics and bring its program to the ballot box. Also in this sense, it is a political party. Despite such mobilization, DiEM25 has yet to become a high-profile actor in European politics. Its membership and budget remain small compared to those of the major national political parties, and the mainstream media largely ignore its activities and positions. Given this deficit, it was expected that DiEM25’s success in the elections of the European Parliament in 2019 would be modest at best. DiEM25 got 1.4 million votes but no seats. Only the Greek electoral wing has won seats in the national parliament— which it lost in the 2023 elections.
The fate of DiEM25 depends on the dynamics of wider and deeper developments. DiEM25 has succeeded relatively well in deploying new technologies for enabling the participation of its members (though the relative absence of physical meetings seems an impediment), overcoming legal obstacles to a supranational political party, and perhaps transcending identity-political fragmentation at least among its limited membership. Similarly, a world party must encourage and facilitate its members to be directly involved in the processes of will-formation and decision-making. Yet, in the case of DiEM25, the high frequency of all-member votes (often on very complex issues and multifaceted programs) and its principles of rotation have not empowered large masses of citizens but rather led to a situation where the active membership consists of a fairly small number of people. This would seem to indicate that a world party should not demand too much from all of its members or citizens more generally but should allow for the possibility of division of labor.
Lack of media visibility and meager resources in the context dominated by the consequences of decades of neoliberalization—involving the rise of nationalism and politics of hatred since the 2000s—have prevented DiEM25 from becoming a major political force in Europe. In the haste of the moment when DiEM25 was launched, ten years must have seemed like a long time. However, the year 2025 is approaching rapidly, and the EU has neither disintegrated further nor become democratized or transformed otherwise in terms of the aspirations of DiEM25. Time is running out at least as far as the name of the movement is concerned.
Despite its shortcomings and failures, DiEM25 offers many valuable lessons for anyone interested in generating a global transformative movement and political party. DiEM25 has expanded the boundaries of practical-political possibilities and experimented with several new practices and procedures of transnational cooperation and participatory democracy.3
1. See my “Neoliberalism and Nationalist-Authoritarian Populism: Explaining Their Constitutive and Causal Connection,” Protosociology. An International Journal of Interdisciplinary Research 37 (2021): 101–151.
2. I have analyzed this in some detail in “On the Future of the Left: A Global Perspective” in Resetting the Left in Europe. Challenges, Attempts and Obstacles, ed. Irina Ristić (Belgrade, Serbia: Institute of Social Sciences, 2021): 54–85, available at http://idn.org.rs/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/RESETTING_THE_LEFT_IN_EUROPE.pdf.
3. The Progressive International alliance was formed in December 2018, when the Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM25) and the Sanders Institute issued an open call to all progressive forces to form a common front. See https://progressive.international/.