What to expect from the 2023 Beyond Growth Conference 2023

By Nele Adolphsen.

The 2023 Beyond Growth Conference hosted by the European Parliament (EP) is approaching fast. The three days event taking place in Brussels from 15-17  May brings together an impressive array of high-level speakers including leading academic thinkers, EU officials, and activists. Research & Degrowth (R&D) is contributing to the event as an organising partner with our own focus panel and several of our members participating in different plenary and panel discussions. What can we expect from the event? And is the idea that we are in need to do away with the growth model becoming mainstream – now that we are discussing it in the institutional realm? Well, not quite – but the event opens important spaces for discussion.


The EU conference is not the first of its kind but the first of its scale. An earlier version took place in 2018 – already back then the brainchild of Greens/EFA Co-President Phillipe Lambert. However, this time around the event prides itself on 1) allowing for discussions across institutional boundaries, with both Commission President Von der Leyen and EP President Metsola demonstratively part of the opening plenary. And 2) on enjoying much wider cross-party support. The conference is the initiative of 20 members of the European Parliament from five different political factions and is supported by more than 40 partner organisations – thus, it can hardly be considered a niche green party event.


What does the programme have to offer?

The event is free of charge and technically anyone can join the talks. However, participating in presence is difficult at this point due to high interest reflected in registration numbers. This comes as no surprise looking at the impressive line-up of speakers including Vandana Shiva, Tim Jackson, Jason Hickel, Mariana Mazzucato Giorgos Kallis and Adam Tooze – to only name a few. Over three full days the conference is then structured in six different plenary debates complemented by 20 focus panels that delve deeper into the specificities of imagining and designing a European post-growth future.

Overall, the programme intrigues by allowing space for macro discussions while simultaneously addressing concrete policy challenges and proposals. How can we design a welfare system that is independent of economic growth? What is needed to unlock a just and sustainable economy through Universal Basic Services? And what could a financial system that is fit for a post-growth economy look like? It is truly worth taking a look at the programme and following some of the events – even if it is only via the live stream.

Highlights outside the official programme include a ‘lobby tour’ organised by CoroporateEuropeObservatory. The guided walk around Brussels’s European quarter seeks to illustrate how ‘corporate capture’ of the EU institutions presently hinders a radical social and ecological transformation. In addition, civil society actors advocating for social and environmental justice are invited for a full day of discussions and alliance-building at the movement hub Mundo-b. Apart from these official side events, it is also worth keeping an eye out for any happenings surrounding those speakers who travelled to Brussels specifically for the occasion. Activist and ecofeminist scholar Vandana Shiva, for example, is giving a separate talk at the Flagey Cinema on the evening of May 15th.


How is R&D contributing to the programme?

R&D members Brototi Roy, Jason Hickel, Giorgos Kallis and Giacomo D’Alisa will be speaking at six different plenary and panel debates (see here). In addition, R&D is organising a focus panel that centres on the importance of narratives for realising post-growth futures and is titled ‘Which Prosperous Future? Confronting Narratives of Growth’. The panel is designed to be both a debate between and a reality-check of some of the major growth narratives currently experienced and envisaged. It will include representatives from degrowth, post-growth and green growth offering their perspectives on new potential narratives.

The aim here is two-fold: First, the debate should offer ideas, strategies and inspiration for decision-makers to feel more confident in bringing up post-growth economic policies within the institutional realm and their constituencies. A secondary aim is to allow for what the rest of the conference does not do: That is a more direct confrontation and debate between the different strands of thought present at the event. After all, the umbrella of ‘Beyond Growth’ brings together a nevertheless heterogenous group of participants that put forward different visions on how to design a prosperous future for all within planetary boundaries.


Has Degrowth now entered the mainstream?

Indeed, ‘beyond’ does not necessarily mean doing away with growth altogether – which is where the fault line of this event potentially resides. To give an example: One of the conference’s goals set by the organizers is to allow for discussions around economic policy indicators beyond GDP and shift the focus to indicators that account for well-being instead. Rethinking prosperity in this way is needed and is increasingly even accepted in mainstream economics. However, such an acknowledgement does not necessitate a policy vision in line with a radical Degrowth agenda.

Radical degrowth acknowledges that growth itself is the problem. Thus, we cannot reorient towards a well-being economy and simply see what happens to growth from there nor can we pursue some qualitatively different version of growth. Instead, the reality imposed by our planetary limits and the present unjust social and geographical distribution of wealth will require some sort of downscaling of the economy. One is thus well advised to keep in mind that this event does not constitute a home run. Nor does it signify Degrowth suddenly making headways into the policy sphere.

Instead, it opens crucial spaces for discussion. The first post-growth conference in 2018 marked an important milestone for the Degrowth movement and so does its continuation this year. Increasingly, decision-makers find themselves confronted with a perceived dilemma: Growth is seen as the basis of prosperity but continued growth on a finite planet is impossible. From this follows a willingness to engage with and discuss proposals for how to solve this dilemma and prosper without growth. Such increased openness is reflected also in material terms, with the European Research Council only recently allocating a 10 million Euro research grant to an interdisciplinary research project on a ‘post-growth deal‘ at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Still, it remains rather unlikely that politicians in the upcoming 2024 EU elections attempt to appeal to their constituency based on a Degrowth agenda. But maybe after this year’s Beyond Growth Conference they are one step closer towards breaking with the idea that a successful political agenda must include economic growth.


You can still register for the event here.


Nele Adolphsen is a student of International Relations with an interest in planetary politics, political economy, and political ecology. Previously, she studied European Studies in Maastricht where she conducted research on far-right ecology and the interconnection between misogyny and climate denial.