Report from the Beyond Growth 2023 in the EU Parliament

From May 15 to 17,2000 activists, scholars and concerned citizens assisted in-person at the “Beyond Growth” conference in the EU Parliament, organized by 20 MEPs of diverse parties. Another 2,900 online guests followed the speeches and contributions of 150 speakers in 7 plenary sessions and 20 focus panels. The conference, of which the ECG movement was a supporting partner, was the second of its kind after the first “Post-Growth 2018 Conference” in the Parliament in September 2018. The array of topics ranged from the ecological foundations of economic growth to political strategies and measures to overcome growth to cultural, philosophical and decolonial insights to the topic. Special focus was given to potential new metrics that could replace GDP, but also to different policies from industrial to fiscal and monetary policy and their potential contributions to a postgrowth economy and society. Among the speakers figured internationally reknown experts like Johan Rockström, Joseph Stiglitz and Robert Costanza; advocates of transformative change and renegade economists like Kate Raworth, Jason Hickel, Giorgos Kallis or Timothée Parrique; young climate activists like Agata Meysner and Anuna de Wever; and decolonial thinkers from the Global South like Liepollo Pheko (Trade Collective), Ritu Verma (Garleton University) or Farhana Sultana (Syracuse University).

On behalf of the ECG, Bridget Knapper from UK, Walter Kern and Gerald Morgner from Germany, Christian Felber from Austria, and Jacqueline Hofstede from the Netherlands were amongst the participants. We used this unique gathering for increasing our knowledge both on the topic as well representing the movement, for networking and consolidating our advocacy work in Brussels, including its funding, as well as for envisioning new projects and initiatives. We met people from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Better Europe, Salvia Foundation, Fondation Charles Leopold Meyer, the Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll), ZOE, Club of Rome, and outstanding persons like Tim Jackson (Surrey University), Liepollo Pheko (Trade Collective), Sandrine Dixson-Declève (Club of Rome) and Robert Costanza (University College London). We also handed over signed copies of the French version of the ECG book to Pascal Durand MEP (S&D) who was the Parliament’s rapporeteur on the famous CSRD (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive) and to Philippe Lamberts MEP (Greens) who chaired the conference.

Already the day before the EU conference, Bridget took part in a gathering of civil society organisations. Hosted by the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, European Environment Bureau, Friends of the Earth Europe and others, 78 people (out of 150 applicants) met to share approaches and discuss themes in preparation for the next days. Bridget hosted a workshop on rethinking business together with Melanie Rieback from Post Growth Entrepreneurship. Many good connections to partner organisations were formed and the group will meet again in October to review the conference and plan next steps.

Our general impression was that this second conference on the topic far exceeded its expectations as for participation, movement-building and motivation. Repeated standing ovations were never experienced in the “hemicycle” which was the main event hall capable of hosting 1,500 people. We saw spontaneous action and were even singing a song at the end. It seemed that this building which is a powerful symbol of indirect – representative – democracy, was kind of “occupied” by citizens with a deep and legitimate concern that is not addressed by their formal representatives. The key aspect was strong disagreement with “green growth” and “sustainable growth”, two terms used by members of the Parliament and the European Commission in their (online) addresses to the participants. Ursula von der Leyen, who opened the conference in person, said: “A growth model centred on fossil fuels is simply obsolete.” That is, certainly, not the least that is required, but it is more than just a step further since the last conference. May we not have to wait another five years for the next one, and may the ECG movement be on the panel again!

Walter Kern, Bridget Knapper, Christian Felber.

→ ECG press release

→ Christian Felber’s contribution to the EEB Magazine “Imagining Europe Beyond Growth

→ Christian Felber’s contribution at the Post-Growth 2018 Conference

→ Article in The Economist

Timothée Parrique’s answer to The Economist