Sixteen political parties created the Party of the European Left in May. Bringing together the socialists and communists could strengthen the sometimes disparate leftist GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament.
Italian Communist Fausto Bertinotti (middle) heads the European Left
For the time being though, communist, former communist, socialist, Trotzkyist, pacifist and feminist members of the European Parliament (MEPs) work together in the GUE/NGL, the fourth-largest parliamentary group in the EP. MEPs from the ten old EU countries and observers from new members Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Slovakia have brought their number to 57.
GUE (Gauche Unitaire Européen) was first established by parties from France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain in 1994 and augmented a year later by the Nordic Green Left (NGL) -- Danish, Finnish and Swedish parties.
"The 'progressive forces' who want a different Europe must work together to counteract purely liberal aims in Europe," GUE/NGL president and French communist Francis Wurtz told Deutsche Welle.
That can be a problem with a mixed bag of 17 political parties with ideological differences.
"Every national delegation in the group can vote as they wish," Wurtz explained. "If the group can't agree, it's no problem."
The new European left
But that may change, since communists and socialists founded the new pan-European Party of the European Left (EL) in Rome in May. They announced there that they would campaign together for European Parliament elections in June.
They may have been too hasty. The EL hasn't been running a pan-European campaign.
"The EL is a sort of 'core Europe'," Hendrik Thalheim, press spokesman for the German PDS, an EL founding member, explained, referring to the common currency used to denote the heart of the EU. The Nordic countries, who have a "more distanced" relationship to the EU, and some of the "more orthodox" communist parties decided not to be part of it.
Thalheim reckoned it would take at least five years until the EL developed. He stressed that it was not intended to be an umbrella organization for leftist parties but a party in its own right. In the long-term the EL could well replace the GUE/NGL.
In the meantime, the parliamentary group continues to do its work, relying on cooperating with other groups to press shared aims. The various political shades within the GUE/NGL allow for unexpected and effective coalitions, Geneviève Fraisse, a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research CNRS and an independent MEP representing feminist aims, said.
"It's often been productive to have alliances with the Greens. We have frequently worked together, when there were votes," Fraisse said. "When it comes to civil liberties or moral questions we have joined forces with the liberal group. When these three small groups cooperate they can sway the majority."
On some issues the GUE/NGL does achieve broad consensuses among its members. Take the existing draft of the European Constitution, which the group generally opposes, because the document assures EU citizens an "open market economy where competition is free."
MEP Hans Modrow of the PDS summed up group's activities: "(The GUE/NGL) is the other voice that stands against the policies of the neo-liberals, that opposes the policies of the (European) Commission and the European Council."