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Corporate Europe Observer - Issue 11
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The Barcelona Breakthrough
Lessons from the largest ever demonstration against corporate globalisation in Europe

The European Union (EU) summit in Barcelona could have been just another EU summit. Heads of State met to finalise plans to make the EU the world's most competitive economic bloc, agreeing, amongst other things, on the next steps in creating privatised energy markets across the EU. But one thing set this summit apart from the others - it became the scene of the largest ever demonstration against the EU and neoliberal globalisation. Between 300,000 and 500,000 peaceful protesters filled the streets of Barcelona on the last day of the summit, silencing the harbingers of doom who predicted the end of the global justice movements after September 11.

So what made such an event possible? We asked Ramón Fernández Durán, Madrid-based author and activist with Ecologistas en Acción. [1]

CEO: Few had expected such a massive show of strength in Barcelona. Which movements took part?

Ramón Fernández Durán: The Barcelona demonstration was part of the Spain-wide campaign 'Against the Europe of Capital, Globalise Resistance, Another World is Possible', which was formed to run throughout the Spanish presidency of the EU. The campaign was born during a meeting of networks from all over Spain working on globalisation and EU issues, in April 2001 in Girona.

The campaign developed all over the country, but grew strongest in Catalonia. The initiative for the demonstration on Saturday March 16 first came from the Catalonian 'Platform against the Europe of Capital', then later they were joined by other groups, such as the Foro Social (progressive political parties, trade unions and ATTAC) and the Barcelona squat movement. Over 100 groups are part of the Catalonian platform, including the Movimiento de Resistència Global (MRG), the debt cancellation network RCADE, trade unions, local groups, squatters, environmentalists and the students movement against the government's privatisation plans.

CEO: How do you explain the mobilisation of so many people?

Durán: Many activities in the weeks before the demonstration helped to build momentum and prepare for March 16. The Platform printed 20,000 copies of a campaign newspaper each week during the month before the demonstration, helping to make the campaign known and build support. There was a Reclaim the Streets party in the week before and a huge demonstration against the Spanish government's controversial national hydrological plan (which involves massive dam-building and water transfer schemes).

The day before the demonstration there were decentralised actions by diverse groups all over Barcelona. In total, 8,000 people took part, tackling issues including Third World debt, GMOs and privatisation, as well as a 'critical mass' bike ride, a memorial demonstration for Carlo Giuliani (killed by police during the G-8 summit in Genoa) and the "Lobby Busters" action against corporate lobbying. The railway workers of the trade union CGT supported the action day by going on strike and closed down the local trains in Barcelona and outskirts. All of this helped to raise the profile of the Saturday demonstration and give people confidence to take part in it.

The groups organising the demonstration and the action day had decided not to try to block the EU summit. They wanted to avoid direct confrontation with the police, which was very important as the Spanish government was trying hard to criminalise the protests. Local people in Barcelona clearly disliked the excessive police control and the attempts to scare them away from the demonstration.

When the demonstration finally happened on Saturday, between 300,000 and 500,000 people took part, and 50,000 people went to the concert afterwards, which went on all night. It is important to note that this demonstration, with its very clear political message, was at least three times bigger than the 'Social Europe' demonstration organised by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) the Thursday before the EU summit.

CEO: How does Barcelona fit in the list of mass mobilisations since Seattle?

Durán: Compared to the last major EU-critical demonstration, in Brussels on 14th December 2001, the Barcelona demonstration brought together people from more diverse movements, and also people of all ages. Most of the people in the demonstration were from Catalonia. I estimate that maybe 10,000 people came from the rest of Spain and a few thousand from the rest of Europe. Over 4,000 people were stopped by the police at the French-Spanish border. These people either never made it to Barcelona or arrived too late to participate.

The first block in the demonstration was the 'Platform against the Europe of Capital'. There were many colourful banners expressing people's critique of the EU, but no party or NGO banners. This reflects the fact that no-one tried to claim the event for themselves. The rest of the demonstration was in three blocks; ATTAC, Catalonian and Basque nationalists and the Foro Social (trade unions and political parties).

In contrast with the mass mobilisations in Prague and Genoa, the Barcelona demonstration was much more connected to local problems related to the EU's neoliberal policies, such as efforts to promote privatisation of education and also the EU subsidies for the national hydrological plan. Until recently there was little critique of the EU in Spain, but now people are starting to see the reality of its neoliberal policies. For example, the trade unions were told to work for a 'Social Europe', but these hopes have been eroded. People are starting to make these connections, and act on them.

CEO: Compared to Genoa, there was very little violence in Barcelona.

Durán: That's true, although 70 of the 80 people arrested were injured by the police. The organisers of the demonstration made a huge effort to prevent a repetition of what happened in Genoa. And although President Aznar wanted another Genoa, local politicians did not. The right-wing central government in Madrid had tried hard to undermine the demonstration by demonising and criminalising the protesters, but the regional Catalonian government (dominated by the nationalist CIU) wanted to avoid a Genoa-style disaster. The Barcelona city government (controlled by the social democrat PSC) even ended up supporting the demonstration. With an eye on the regional elections next year, the PSC wants to build links with the global justice movement. The mayor of Barcelona, who leads the PSC, attended the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. The Barcelona government also helped with facilities for the counter-summit, which was attended by over 6,000 people on March 16th.

CEO: How did the media react to the demonstration?

Durán: The newspapers had been claiming that the movement was in crisis after September 11, but now had to acknowledge that the opposite is true - in fact the movement is more confident than ever. The newspapers also stressed that the demonstration was non-violent. After the event, Aznar tried to take credit for this, as if it was his achievement. The opposition party PSOE contested his statement and demanded that the government makes an official apology to the demonstrators for its attempts to criminalise them. The PSOE however also tried to interpret the demonstration in its own interest by presenting it as merely a call for a more social Europe.

CEO: How have the organisers responded to the outcome of the Barcelona summit?

Durán: The networks are now developing their analysis of the summit, but it is clear that the EU institutions are not willing to listen to the voice of the grassroots.

CEO: What is next in the campaign?

Durán: Maybe people are not aware that there have been many other EU-critical demonstrations in cities throughout Spain since the beginning of the year. 10,000 people demonstrated during the meeting of EU defence ministers in Zaragoza in early March. Over 5,000 protested during the meeting of EU ministers of interior in Santiago de Compostela. And when EU ministers met in Salamanca, over 2,000 people took part in an alternative forum against privatisation of education. There are protests planned for the EU summits in Valencia (EU-Mediterranean), Madrid (EU-Latin America) and Seville (EU Heads of State and Government). Clearly what happened in Barcelona will help to mobilise people for all these events.

The demonstrations at the EU summit in Seville in mid-June will be smaller than they were in Barcelona. A turnout of 50,000 would be a big success. And then I'm sure the campaign will continue beyond Seville. One exciting new initiative is the 'European Social Consulta', proposed by the RCADE network. This network organised a social referendum on the debt crisis parallel to the regional elections in Catalonia three years ago and, one year later, they organised another parallel to the Spanish general elections. At the last election over one million people voted in the 'Social Consulta'. Now the proposal is to repeat this EU-wide. People will be voting not only on debt issues, but also on alternative economic models. This will take place parallel to the European Parliament elections in 2004.

CEO: What is the importance of the Barcelona demonstration for the global justice movements?

Durán: One result is that we have proved that the movement is not dead after September 11. And beyond that I think there is a lot that can be learned from how the demonstration was prepared and organised. The organisers had some important internal debates on the lessons from Genoa, on violence and the situation after September 11. They managed to overcome tensions and found the right way to connect with local people.

Recommended links:

- Campaign Against the Europe of Capital

- European Social Consulta

- Barcelona Indymedia

Barcelona Summit: Neoliberal Reforms, Lip Service to the Environment

In the weeks before the summit, corporate lobby groups had pushed hard to accelerate the neoliberal reform process. 'Will European Governments in Barcelona keep their Lisbon promises?', the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT) asked in a report sent to EU leaders before the summit, [2] referring to the goal of making the EU the world's most competitive economic bloc by 2010 through corporate-friendly restructuring of the European economy and societies. [3] The ERT presented the summit with ten demands, including further stripping away of job security protections, moving from public pension to private systems and "fighting over-regulation", for instance by commissioning impact assessments of new regulatory proposals. As well as all this, together with other corporate lobby groups, the ERT demanded full liberalisation of energy markets within the EU. It was on this last point that the summit delivered its most far-reaching result, with the commitment to liberalise energy markets for business customers by 2004. The biotechnology industry was also rewarded, as the summit endorsed the Commission's report 'Life Sciences and Biotechnology - a Strategy for Europe', which is strongly in favour of genetic engineering. [4] The summit called for an EU action plan for promoting this 'frontier technology'.

So, naturally, the corporate players were very satisfied with the outcome at Barcelona. The summit's "concrete achievements in delivering decisions on further liberalisation of markets were more substantial than the cynics has predicted", wrote a satisfied John Palmer of the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based neoliberal thinktank. [5] The European employer's federation UNICE was also pleased with the result - EU leaders had taken action on many of the demands presented by a 'High Level Delegation' of over 40 UNICE heavyweights at a private meeting with President Aznar the day before the start of the Barcelona Summit. [6]

Meanwhile, the summit rejected various progressive proposals by the French government to prevent unfair competition between EU member states on corporate taxes and to introduce limits on job cuts related to corporate restructuring. [7] France did convince the summit to include a sentence in the final statement on introducing an EU wide energy tax in parallel to liberalising energy markets, but there is widespread scepticism about what that means. Governments have discussed the energy tax without success since 1992 and for instance the governments of Spain and Ireland remain opposed. [8] The Barcelona summit was widely criticised for its failure to strengthen environmental policies, which EU leaders had committed themselves to at previous summits in Cardiff and Gothenburg. The European Environment Agency's Jimenez-Beltran said that, "instead of marking a top, the summit appears to represent a stop". [9] The EU leaders postponed the decision on the negotiating position for the World Summit on Sustainable Development until the next EU Summit in Seville in June, thereby further undermining the momentum in the Rio+10 process. Despite widespread critique, Spanish President Aznar claimed the summit had taken "a balanced approach on economics, environment, and social issues", [10] and declared, "This is what sustainable development is all about".


1. Ramón Fernández Durán's latest book is 'Globalización capitalista, lucha y resistencias', co-written with Miren Etxezarreta & Manolo Sáez (2001, Virus, Barcelona).

2. 'Message from the European Round Table of Industrialists to the Barcelona European Council', March 2002. See http://www.ert.be

3. For background on the Lisbon agenda, see 'ERT Moves to Next Phase in Europe's 'Double Revolution'', Corporate Europe Observer 7 (October 2000), http://www.corporateeurope.org/observer9/stockholm.html
and "From Lisbon to Stockholm", Corporate Europe Observer 9 (June 2001), http://www.corporateeurope.org/observer7/ert.html

4. Presidency Conclusions, Barcelona European Council, March 15 and 16 2002, http://ue.eu.int/pressData/en/ec/69871.pdf

5. 'Barcelona deal worth all the energy', European Voice, March 28 2002.

6. UNICE President Georges Jacobs and more than 40 Presidents and Directors General UNICE member federations had told Mr. Aznar that, "Europe's economic recovery greatly depends on the political will to liberalise markets and to fulfil the goals of the Lisbon Summit." UNICE @News April 2002. See http://www.unice.org/unice/Website.nsf/HTML+Pages/APR2002-EN.htm

7. 'France wants EU Summit to Focus on Social Issues', Financial Times, March 8 2002.

8. 'EU Agreement on Harmonization Tax Greeted With Skepticism by Commission', International Environment Reporter, March 27 2002.

9. "A decisive moment, a certain climax in the process had been expected in Barcelona", Jimenez Beltran commented. 'Sweden, Others Say Spain, EU States Give 'Lip Service' to Environmental Issues', International Environment Reporter, March 27 2002.

10. Idem.

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