Sunday 7 April 2024, newspaper “HARAVGI”
On the side of the Left in Cyprus and in Europe too
“The Left in the European Parliament is the voice of those who are being pressured by price hikes, low wages, high interest rates and rents, proving in practice how much we can achieve”
QUESTION: You were in Brussels just a few days ago for a big all-European meeting of left-wing forces in Europe called “Europe for the People”. Was there any substance in the outcome of this meeting?
SS: This Forum was at the same time also an opportunity to rally political parties, forces and figures of the Left from all over Europe so we can discuss together the challenges that Europe is facing, but also our proposals for each of one of these challenges.
The principal message is that the Left, the broader Left, should seek those key policy elements that should underpin united and coordinated action on what downgrades the EU, European societies and working people.
Among those issues that stand out is the issue of the militarisation of the EU, the implementation of double-standards policies and the hypocrisy with which the EU perceives its geostrategic role.
The same applies to the issues arising from the anti-peoples socio-economic policies being imposed by the ruling political forces in the EU, which are reinforcing inequalities, increasing poverty and marginalisation.
QUESTION: Can Europe’s Left overcome the fragmentation and its multiple divisions that characterise it? And finally, what are the things that divide and unite these forces?
SS: We reply firmly that the Left can and must unite its forces across Europe on the great issues of our time: workers’ and social rights, peace, democracy, ecology, human rights. In this way – we believe – we link our great visions for the future of the world and Europe with today’s struggles and assertions for the modern needs of the peoples and workers, to confront the daily problems European societies face.
The Left Group in the European Parliament is precisely a space that proves this in practice, given that it rallies together communist, left-wing, socialist and ecological parties from many European states. That is to say, it unites forces with different ideological starting points, historical and national experiences in an area of common values and common political priorities for Europe. We do not see this diversity as an obstacle. On the contrary, we believe that under certain preconditions, this diversity becomes a wealth and a dynamic that strengthens our voice.
Besides, this philosophy – of a great and protagonist Left – has permeated the entire history and politics of AKEL at a national level for a century now. All the more so as AKEL here in Cyprus has a vast experience in establishing cooperation and forging alliances with people and forces not only from the wider Left, but also from the broader progressive spectrum.
QUESTION: Is AKEL alone in Europe in contrast to the other Cypriot parties that are part of big political groups in the European Parliament, such as DISY which belongs to the EPP or DIKO and EDEK to the Social Democrats and so on?
SS: AKEL has been for 20 years one of the most active members of the Left Group in the European Parliament and at the same time, through its actions and seriousness, it has gained a prestige at a European level that goes beyond the size of Cyprus, but also beyond the spectrum of the Left. The criterion for voting AKEL-Left-Social Alliance should, of course, be what positions each European political group expresses, not what its electoral strength is at a given moment.
Here too there are things that every voter should know before going to cast his/her vote on 9 June.
When, last September, during the debate on the European Parliament’s Progress Report on Turkey, the Left Group called for an arms embargo on Turkey, all the other political groups – from the Right and the Social Democrats to the far-right parties of Le Pen and Meloni – voted against the amendment we had tabled. Only the Left as a whole supported it.
I say this because it is quite common during European elections to hear a lot of talk about who Cyprus’ “strong allies in Europe” supposedly are. However, this is not determined by words issued in support, but at crucial moments and votes.
By voting for AKEL – Left – Social Alliance, every Cypriot strengthens the Left Group, which has always been Cyprus’ most consistent ally in the European Parliament.
QUESTION: How much possibilities does a left-wing MEP from a small political group have to achieve things in the European Parliament?
SS: The MEP’s of AKEL and the Left Group prove in practice how much we can achieve. Particularly on issues where the Left attaches priority to and is sensitive to. And first and foremost with regards labour and social policy, where the Left acts as the voice of those who are pressured by price hikes/expensiveness, low wages, high interest rates and rents.
For example, in the 2022 EU Directive on Adequate Minimum Wages, the Left succeeded in including positions to promote collective agreements and the use of automatic wage indexation mechanisms, which are important protective shields for working people.
Another recent example is the adoption of two reports by a Danish left-wing MEP in the field of safety at work, which strengthened the protection of millions of workers in the EU from lime and other dangerous chemicals.
Furthermore, amendments tabled by AKEL MEP’s in previous years to the EU budget, for example, funded new programmes to combat paediatric cancer, as well as a socio-economic mapping programme on the unequal access of children in the EU to quality cancer treatments.
So we are achieving these things. Others “achieve” more funds for the military arms industry and the development of new weapons. For that reason, the crucial question is what things, what policies we want our MEP’s to achieve.
QUESTION: AKEL and the Left constantly talk about the evils and mistakes of the European Union. Do you find nothing positive to say in European affairs?
SS: Not only do we identify positive elements from the European framework, but we work to build on them and transfer them to Cypriot reality. The problem is that the economic model and policies that have dominated the EU undermine and cancel even these positive elements of the EU.
Let us take for example gender equality, where the EU has a very well-developed legislative framework. When the EU Court of Justice accepted that pregnant working women would be allowed to be dismissed within the context of collective redundancies, you realise that the proclamations and the protection of maternity and working women are meaningless.
Similarly, as regards environmental policy, the European framework is more advanced than anywhere else in the world. However, when powerful economic interests are prevalent, even the European institutions turn a blind eye to environmental crimes being committed by big companies and business conglomerates.
Therefore, we believe that those who want to defend everything positive that has been achieved at a European level have a place alongside the Left fighting for a radically different and socially just Europe.
QUESTION: Apart from the long-term visions and slogans of the Left for a “Europe of the peoples”, do AKEL and the Left have anything more specific and tangible to propose for the immediate issues facing Europe?
SS: A key priority of AKEL and the Left is the need for drastic measures to combat poverty and confront energy poverty. This is crucial when today 95 million Europeans are living at risk of poverty.
And at the same time, by 2020 the 5 richest people in the EU are increasing their wealth at the rate of 6 million euros per hour. And the banks in Europe – as in Cyprus as well – are registering record super profits.
Therefore, our proposals for the taxation of the super-profits of the banks and energy companies in order to fund drastic social support packages for the peoples of Europe are quite tangible and realistic.
A very specific issue is the question of the abolition of unanimity in EU decision-making. It is obvious that the more powerful states and the big political groups in the EU will push for it to be passed, which will further curb and erode the voice of small states like Cyprus.
AKEL’s position is clear and unequivocal. We reject any attempt to abolish the veto.
“Many of the things we used to warn about are now being noted and understood by a large section of European societies.”
QUESTION: You participated together with Jeremy Corbyn and other activists, lawyers and diplomats in a debate on peace, war and international law. Can Europe finally talk about peace and international law when it is following the policy it is pursuing on Ukraine issue and the Middle East problem?
SS: I think that many things that previously only the left used to talk and warn about are now being noted and understood by a large section of European societies. The double standards policies in EU foreign policy, the subordination of the EU to US policies, the role of NATO and the danger of the militarisation of the continent. This is what we are confronted with today, namely the consequences of these policies.
I listened with great interest in the Forum debate to the former British Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, talking about the genocide taking place in Gaza against the Palestinians and he correctly underlined the need for international solidarity and mobilisation for an immediate end to the genocide.
It is also interesting that he made – and the point we are making too – the connection that the escalation of aggression and wars, the uncontrolled channelling of funds and resources into the arms industry (and not the “defence” industry as they call it), are depriving societies of funds necessary for development, health, education and housing, while at the same time causing environmental destruction and exacerbating climate change.
As for the war in Ukraine, it is no coincidence that a large section of citizens in Cyprus would expect the EU to take initiatives to achieve peace, instead of opting for the Zelensky government’s policy of arming itself with billions of euros worth of weapons, adding fuel to the fire of bloodshed.
This policy is supported by the other Cypriot parties – with the exception of AKEL – as well as their political groups in the European Parliament. Last January, the Right wing, to which DISY belongs, the Conservatives, to which far-right ELAM wants to join, the Social Democrats, to which DIKO and EDEK belong, the Liberals, to which DYPA belongs, and the Ecologists, to which the Greens belong, issued a joint communiqué demanding that the delivery of arms and ammunition to Ukraine be accelerated.
I am underlining this because in the European elections in June, our votes will also be taking a stand on these issues. And our position is for a Europe that has its own voice – not to say what Ursula von der Leyen says, but instead to defend international law and peace.
“Societies, but also every citizen, are confronted with their conscience and history”
QUESTION: We observe not only a rapid rise of the far right in Europe, but also that the left itself is stagnating or even shrinking. Is there any real hope of reversing this trend?
SS: These are times like the one we are going through now, where societies and also every citizen are confronting their conscience and their history. Cyprus and Europe must remember what fascism and the far right mean, because we have had a painful and terrible experience. All the more so for our country, Cyprus, which is still paying the price for the ideological concepts of the far right and chauvinism.
The responsibility of the Right for the growth of the far right is grave. The Right in Cyprus, but also in Europe too, have blurred their boundaries and differences from the far right of every type. They cooperate, collude and even co-govern. Indeed, the fact that the Euro-Right reproduces the unhistorical “two extremes theory” by equating the left with the far right – as the President of the European Parliament, Ms Metsola, who originates from the EPP, recently did – serves the far right and its objectives and plans.
In Cyprus things are even clearer. Let us not forget that both Anastasiades and Nikos Christodoulides and Anita Demetriou owe their election to office to the ultra-right ELAM, while ELAM gave DISY the votes it needed in Parliament to close down the Cyprus Cooperative Bank and to pass State Budgets. DISY and ELAM literally became co-governing pots with leading officials from the leadership moving from one to the other between them.
The current confrontation between DISY and ELAM is not about the substance of political positions, but rather a fight for the votes of the far right. All this strengthens the far right, but at the same time reveals its deeply systemic character.
As far as the Left is concerned, it has and continues to wage a hard struggle in arduous conditions, both in Cyprus and in Europe. There are countries where the Left’s figures are stagnating, but at the same time, in recent years, very positive messages are being registered. Sinn Féin is the leading force in Ireland. In Belgium, the Workers’ Party of Belgium is the rising force in the country.
AKEL, together with the Social Alliance that we have formed, has the potential to record a very positive result and secure our two seats in the European Parliament. Therefore, we are not just hoping that this course will change. We are working and fighting to change this course. And I must tell you that we are optimistic and determined.

Leave a Reply