Watching Socialist and Social Democratic Party leaders from across all EU member states, at the Party of European Socialists Council in Madrid, stand up to condemn the way neo liberal policies had lead to the unleashing of the worst economic crisis in decades and demand a new social Europe be forged - with the first ever joint manifesto for the European Elections being launched as a basis for doing that, a palpable sense of history being made rippled through the applauding crowd of hundreds of PES Activists and international leaders.
Socialists have long believed that socialism cannot ever be built in one country, that international solidarity is a cornerstone of progressive politics, and that in a time of global uncertainty where the transition of capital and labour forces sees no borders that the social democratic solutions to those problems must be transnational. The launch of a joint platform, born out of a grassroots, international consultation process, involving socialist party members from all 27 EU Member States that gives European-wide policies to build a new social Europe, is the first time in history that this level of cooperation between social democratic and socialist party's has ever taken place.
The process that lead to the production of this manifesto is possibly the biggest, most transnational consultation process that has ever taken place. Each party that is a sister party of the PES and PES Group in the European Parliament was invited to hold debates, seminars, discussions for activists, and to submit proposals for the manifesto under six key themes. A special internet portal was set up, called Your space where proposals could be uploaded in formats such as video, and the debate was continued by PES Activists logging in to joining the blog debate. The consultation was a big success: 300,000 visitors, 500 posts, 100 videos, 1,350 members on the Facebook group, more than 60 written contributions from PES member parties, NGOs, Foundations and activists. During that process over 3,000 activists became PES Activists during the process meaning that the PES now has over 13,000 international activists drawn from sister parties across the EU. A draft manifesto was drawn up on the basis of that consultation, and discussions within the PES between member parties took place to modify the manifesto before it was adopted by the PES Council - a mini-Congress with voting representatives from all member parties at the start of December. The PES manifesto was adopted in Madrid by over 232 delegates from 33 PES member parties, and over 300 grassroots activists from all over Europe.
The manifesto was put to a symbolic vote at the PES Council as each sister party's representative gave a short speech of support, many hailing the possibility of rebuilding social Europe and implementing the radical new manifesto, including Zapatero, leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) twice elected to govern on a progressive manifesto in Spain and George Papandreou leader of the Socialist International, who both talked of the need for more Europe, but more social Europe, and how the strength of the manifesto showed the strength of social democratic thinking as the only answer for a socially just and ‘people first' answer to the global economic crisis. Socialist Party leaders from former Eastern bloc countries were visibly moved as they gave their speeches; for whom membership of a truly European wide party fighting for social democracy within the European Union and based on genuine international solidarity, but also on consensus and partnership working in which they are full democratic partners means so much given that next year will be the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall.
The PES manifesto features over 60 concrete proposals including: A European strategy for smart green growth to create 10 million new jobs by 2020, new financial market regulation including hedge funds and private equity, Climate-changing emission reductions for industries such as transport and construction, a European Pact on Wages for decent minimum wages in all EU member states and initiatives to step up the fight against the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation, the creation of a European Women's Rights Charter, extended childcare entitlement rights, a European Common Energy Policy based on sustainability, energy security and independence, diversity of energy sources and solidarity between member states in the event of energy crises, a strengthening of anti-discrimination legislation to ensure equal treatment on grounds of gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and proposal to strengthen Trades Union rights by developing "a European framework for cross-border collective bargaining and collective agreements. In addition, we will work to promote decent working time, meeting health and safety standards, and a fair work-life balance", are all just some of the radical examples from the manifesto.
So in June 2009 each sister party, including the Labour Party, which, despite allegedly trying to water down many of the more radically progressive parts of the manifesto, will be standing on a common social democratic platform to fight the European elections. So often in the UK the European Union is denounced by both the left and the right - for either its bureaucracy and supposed encroachment on national decision making, or for the expansion of neo liberal policies and marketisation in even more of the public realm, most recently proposals on health and railnetworks have been identified as new areas for the failed dogma of marketisation - yet few socialists in the UK realise that the reason the EU has been so relentlessly right wing in many policy areas is because the European Parliament has had a right wing majority - there is no reason why socialists and social democrats cannot have a majority if successful in the European Elections and enact their manifesto. Having now a common radical platform including sixty concrete policy proposals gives an exciting new dimension to those elections and has the potential for PES member parties to start to fight those elections on European issues rather then warping the debate to national issues that have little bearing on the work and legislation that comes out of the EU.
In this vein PES President Poul Nyrup Rasmussen said "The conservatives have had a majority in Europe for the last four years. What have they done to make a fairer society? They have ignored the interests of ordinary hard-working families. We want to take Europe in a new direction creating a fairer society and putting people first."
"Our manifesto gives voters a clear choice between the PES and our opponents. A clear choice between a progressive European Union in which member states work together to tackle the economic and climate crisis for the benefit of all the people of Europe, or a conservative European Union which places our future in the hands of the market."
As neo liberalism has gone global the fight for socialist solutions has gone global - or at least Europe wide, this manifesto is one in which every social democrat in every sister party can be proud - but also one that has seen the beginnings of a truly international party taking place, one that is and will unite social democrats and socialists from across Europe more closely then ever before and believes firmly in the process of grassroots participation to move towards common goals and to design common policies to ensure that Europe is a force for social progress in which people really are put first, not the market, and that can act as a bulwark against neo-liberal entrenchment and deepen workers rights and decent work for all right across the EU.
Samuel Tarry is the Chair of Compass Youth and on the NEC of Young Labour.
PES Manifesto can be downloaded here