giovedì 12 novembre 2009

Social democrats need to work more closely together in Europe

From London 

Down, but (definitely) not out

Social democrats need to work more closely together in Europe to reassert a policy agenda reflective of their values.

Social-democratic parties are not dominating decision-making in Europe. The recent gain in Greece was matched with losses in Germany and Bulgaria, and in Portugal we retained control but lost absolute majority. This decline was reflected in June’s European elections, when the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament dropped from 200 to 184 seats. There are challenges to face, and we need to set aside time to properly reflect upon these losses – but we should not dwell upon them. More importantly, we, as social democrats, need to reassert ourselves with a policy agenda that reflects our values, reminds people what we stand for and reignites their trust in us.

    At European level, social democrats need to organise themselves as a party of opposition. This will require greater co-ordination of social-democratic politicians throughout the three main institutions: the Council, Commission and Parliament. Structural changes to the workings of the PES (Party of European Socialists) to foster networks between the three will be necessary to encourage a united effort to deliver on policies that will improve people’s lives.

    The policies we prioritise need to reflect our core values. We are the underdog and will face battles at every stage of the legislative procedure, from European Parliament committees to final drafts from the European Commission. But being the underdog does not mean that we need to roll over: it means we need to show some teeth. We must continue to use our networks of trade unions and NGOs, and remind activists within them why social-democratic ideals are the principles we want to resonate throughout Europe. It will be a struggle, but if the fight is for a just cause this will help to reawaken the passion for our beliefs, and trust that we are working towards them.

    Reform of the financial markets is a fight worth having, and one that we should be dominating. Our values are rooted in solidarity, equality and democracy, and these transfer directly to the reforms that social democrats are calling for on this issue. Our priorities should be reform of the market so that it serves the real economy; the enhancement of accountability and transparency throughout the system; the shutting down of tax havens and introduction of a financial transaction tax; and an end to a bonus culture that encourages recklessness and imprudence.

    The political message is simple and effective: we are on the side of the people. We are making sure that the current economic crisis cannot happen again and we are united in achieving these aims.

    But there is a problem: our message is unclear. The necessary co-ordination between the national parties, European institutions and European party is yet to be demonstrated.

    Not only are we struggling to get to grips with the issue, but those on the right are impinging upon our ideals and claiming them as their own. That is a victory for our ideology – but it won’t help us at election time, or with the range of other policy priorities. Sarkozy and Merkel have both been seen as more progressive and willing to allow a supervisory body to regulate the financial sector than some social-democrat parties. They have come across as being on the side of the people, and hijacked our traditional territory.

    Financial reform is key for people living in the European Union and in the rest of the world. But there are more policy areas that we need to consider, including Social Europe and delivering on the Climate Change Package promised during the last parliamentary mandate. We need to re-engage with our networks, co-ordinate a bold message and reflect our values in our political priorities. By doing this we will rebuild trust and the belief that we are on the side of the people.

Katy Dillon, Social Europe Journal