Global Crisis Strengthens WSF's Legitimacy

BERLIN - European non-governmental organisations combating neo-liberal globalisation find their position vindicated by the ongoing socio-economic and environmental crisis upsetting the world.

The legitimacy of the demands of the European members of the World Social Forum (WSF) is not only founded in the massive support they enjoy from workers and peasants groups across the globe. Now, it enjoys the endorsement of governments which not long ago were supporters of neo- liberal globalisation.

"The endorsement by European governments of our basic demands, such as the transaction tax, constitutes a great satisfaction," Hugo Braun, of the Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens (ATTAC), told IPS.

"But European governments must still realise that the global crisis cannot be solved with simply declarations of intentions. The system cannot be repaired, the system must be replaced by another one," Braun said. "We need a strict control of financial markets, a democratisation of the economy, a transfer of wealth from the top of society to the lower classes, on a global basis."

Braun, who is taking part in the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal, said that the main subject of the gathering should be "the search for the features of a post capitalistic society. Profit driven capitalism cannot solve the crisis, it is rather the cause of it."

The financial transaction tax is one of the most emblematic demands of European NGOs opposed to neo-liberalism. The idea - which calls for the exaction of a small fee on all speculative financial transactions to pay for development projects in Asia, Africa, and Latin America - is based on the proposal of late Nobel Prize winner in economics James Tobin. In 1997 the tax was the founding pillar of the ATTAC group in France.

ATTAC is a founding member of the European Social Forum (ESF) and of the WSF.

The call for a financial transaction tax has recently been endorsed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who promised to put it on the agenda of the Group of 8 and the Group of 20 debates. During 2011, France will be coordinating both groups.

The German government publicly stated its support for Sarkozy's plan to put the financial transaction tax high on the G-8 and G-20 agendas this year. Sarkozy also announced that his government would propose control instruments against speculation in foodstuff markets to stop rising prices and guarantee food supply.

With general awareness of the global economic and environmental crisis, several themes that have defined the WSF for the last 10 years have become standard parts of a critique of neo-liberalism - from rejection of free trade to denouncing intensive agriculture and the privatisation of public services.

"The alter globalisation movement represented by the World Social Forum has renewed contemporary politics," says French journalist Laurent Joffrin, director of the daily newspaper Liberation.

Joffrin points out that the international political agenda is now dominated by numerous themes the WSF and its member organisations rescued from indifference - such as the plight of landless workers in developing countries, the rejection of intensive agriculture and industrial production of food, and the constraints imposed by the global environmental crisis.

"The WSF... forces the traditional Left to revise its own positions on all these subjects, including international trade, tax justice, financial globalisation, and climate change refugees," Joffrin said.

While during the first half of the past decade, governments of the industrialised countries of the world followed the old maxim of the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, that there was "no alternative" to neo-liberal globalisation, the WSF has insisted since its beginnings that "Another World is Possible."

The global financial crisis - provoked by neo-liberal deregulation, and its spill over into the entire economy - has proven that the Thatcherite position was self-destructive, and that alternatives on how governments can cope with financial markets and in general economic globalisation are not only possible but more importantly, indispensable.

Braun pointed to the growing emissions of greenhouse gases - despite the global awareness that reducing these emissions is central to stopping and reverting climate change. "Instead of reducing emissions, profit driven capitalism continues to heat the Earth," he explained.

Braun also referred to the socio-economic consequences of climate change, and the urgent need to establish global climate justice, in favour of developing countries and of future generations.

Confronted with the criticism that the WSF is just another NGO fair, without real impact in global politics, Braun said that indeed "the WSF needs to mobilise people, make people realise that only organised popular political pressure can make governments and corporations change their behaviour."

Braun pointed out that ATTAC and other NGOs are organising a "global action day" in favour of the financial transaction tax. "On Feb. 17, we will carry out demonstrations across European capitals to support the transaction tax, at least at the European level," he said.

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