The Council of the Socialist International, chaired by SI President, António Guterres, and hosted by SI Belgian member parties and the Parliamentary Group of the PES, met at the European Parliament, in Brussels, Belgium, on 10-11 April.
After welcoming participants to the Council, Elio Di Rupo, Chair of the Parti Socialiste, PS, declared that continuing work on Global Progress addressed key concerns for socialists and social democrats. These concerns were, he said, how to build a humane society, which integrates economic and financial globalisation, and new technologies. To give meaning to people's lives, eradicate hunger and poverty on our planet, guarantee respect for human rights in all parts of the world, turn individual freedom into a reality, offer equal opportunities to every person; a society in which peace and security are assured. The International, he concluded, constituted the only international political organisation capable of "contributing decisively to governing globalisation. The only organisation capable of promoting solidarity throughout the world".
Patrick Janssens, Chair of the Socialistische Partij, SP, in his address, focused attention on one of the challenges today: the knowledge-based society. "The traditional gap between haves and have-nots", he reflected, "is shifting to a gap between know and know-nots. And we should be greatly concerned because the gap is ever more widening. Obviously this gap does not only exist within but between countries and regions as well".
"Our challenge is to create equal opportunities in the knowledge-based society within and between countries", where clearly, he stated, education and lifelong training were paramount.
Enrique Barón, Chair of the Parliamentary Group of the Party of European Socialists, welcomed the Council to the European Parliament. The building embodied, he continued, the open processes in which the European Union now worked, with each member keeping its own personality while affirming the interdependence in fundamental areas such as politics, economy, ecological and social models. He stated the EU had to be aware of its responsibility as a major global economic and business power. Globalisation, he asserted, had to be based on shared values, which included the respect of human and minority rights, concluding that the International through its structure and nature was the political force best placed to respond to globalisation, and all those in the family knew the responsibility they bore.
SI President, António Guterres, Chair of the Socialist Party and Prime Minister of Portugal, took the floor and reflected on recent electoral successes and breakthroughs of SI member parties around the world. These included successes in Greece, Georgia, Peru, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and since the Congress of the International, in New Zealand, Mozambique, Chile, Croatia, Finland, and Dominica. He also paid tribute to efforts in Spain and Senegal.
Platform on Global Progress
Turning to the theme of "Global Progress", António Guterres underlined that while social democratic values and principles remained constant, the global democratic socialist family had to adapt to new circumstances, and he signalled two challenges in the modern world. Firstly, the transition to a knowledge-based society: "There is a socialist answer to the knowledge-based economy and society, it is a learning society", he declared, and so it had to be in order to avoid the risks of exclusion. Secondly, the globalisation of economies, markets and communications and cultures: "We socialists have learned to live and to take profit from market economies in our societies, in our countries. But a market economy has to live together with a regulatory State and with a strong civil society. The same does not apply worldwide. We have a market economy worldwide without sufficiently efficient regulatory bodies, without a strong worldwide civil society. That is why globalisation has brought so many benefits to humanity, and has also brought so many situations which are unacceptable to humanity". Global progress, he continued, was the socialist answer to globalisation.
Felipe González, Chair of the Global Progress Commission, emphasised the importance of developing a truly global platform to include and represent "the thinking, ideas and proposals" of all in this large international family, with coherent regional platforms to address specific priorities. He went on to note historic changes in society, "of such enormity that we can call it a change of era", that necessitated a debate on the elements and concepts, which defined the new situation and took into account the positive and negative aspects of globalisation. Such historic changes were the advance of the 'knowledge' or 'information' society and 'the new economy'.
González underlined that the driving force for future debate would not only be "that we want to make the new economy compatible with social cohesion in each society and internationally, but that we want to show a model which is more sustainable socially and economically". This, he said, would have concerns for the environment, peace, political stability and governance at all levels.
Turning to the role of the SI as an instrument for global progress, González stated: "We are the most extensive, widest organisation with the greatest number of militants, men and women, sympathisers and voters in the world... It is an organisation with unimaginable potential to change the reality which we propose to change for all".
Following a number of contributions, it was agreed that the discussion would continue at the next meeting, on which occasion a "Platform on Global Progress" would be agreed, incorporating the movement's vision and its policies and values.
Socialist International Campaigns
Another central theme of the work of the Council in Brussels was the discussion of four campaigns, which were agreed and launched by the International. These different campaigns set their objectives on: 'Cancelling the debt of the poorest countries and providing them with unrestricted market access'; 'Making the fight against poverty in Africa an urgent priority'; 'Stopping violence against women'; and 'Abolishing the death penalty'.
António Guterres stated that each targeted campaign had to address public opinion and mobilise the forces of the International to implement them worldwide.
It was unacceptable, he declared, in modern society that 1,300 people all over the world were waiting to be executed, and even more so that the death penalty continued to exist in the most developed economy in the world.
Equally that violence against women continued to be a daily problem in the twenty-first century could not be tolerated and represented "a basic violation of the principle of equality".
In relation to the debt situation of the poorest countries, it was evident, Guterres stated, that unless there was a very clear political will to cancel the debt, the problem would not be solved. The aim of the SI campaign was to achieve full cancellation of the debt of poorest countries in 2001.
Africa, he noted, was a continent "in which globalisation has proven to be totally unsuccessful", adding "we put people first, and we must put people first there where it is more difficult for them to have the full conditions of citizenship", therefore the fight against poverty in Africa was a top priority.
Introducing the campaign on cancelling the debt of the poorest countries, François Hollande, First Secretary of the Socialist Party, PS, France, fashioned the slogan of "zero debt in the year 2001" in a campaign which called for the real cancellation of debt as opposed to the hitherto "insufficient and partial" efforts. He proposed three initiatives to promote this aim.
Firstly, Hollande called for mobilisation in Europe. "The role of the Socialist International will be to look and check if the Europeans, the Fifteen, have cancelled the credits that are held over the poorest countries," he said. Secondly he asked for the United States to be involved in debt cancellation, through organisations such as the G8, so making the US more aware and engaged in the issue. Thirdly, Hollande raised the need to act with international financial institutions to change the method of intervention in the treatment of debt. He promoted, at the initiative of the SI, "a gathering of all NGOs that work not simply to cancel the debt of the poorest countries, but on the use of financial margins that could be thus freed."
François Hollande concluded his opening speech by emphasising that the campaign was not simply aimed at Africa, but at all of the poorest and most indebted countries. He added that once the objective had been reached of cancelling the debt of the poorest countries, then action should be continued on reducing the debt of the intermediate countries, which suffer a lot in their development from an excessive charge linked to their indebtedness. Finally, he called for the campaign to enlarge the capacity of the poorest countries to be part of and democratise international organisations.
Ousmane Tanor Dieng, First Secretary of the Socialist Party, Senegal, introducing the campaign on making the fight against poverty in Africa an urgent priority, outlined the pressing demands on the countries of the South to combine "sustainable human development with peaceful democracy". With 250 million people in poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, that is 45 per cent of the population, the challenge of realising such an aim and maintaining the results when achieved remained a very real one.
With the next SI Council to be held in Africa, Tanor Dieng urged that "at the national level each country, each party should develop a national programme for fighting poverty and at the international level specific actions should be taken firstly by European social democratic governments: by this show of solidarity an example would be given to the world", these actions should also be taken by other northern countries. He asked for institutions, such as the World Bank and the IMF, to be made aware of "the social dimension of adjustments and therefore the fight against poverty". In addition, he suggested NGOs fighting against poverty in developing countries should be associated with the movement and made aware that their work is consistent with what is being coordinated by governments in Africa. In conclusion, he stressed that debt reduction or cancellation and the fight against poverty were connected.
President of Socialist International Women, Ma Dolors Renau, introduced the campaign on stopping violence against women. She expressed her satisfaction that the campaign was being launched at this time, calling violence against women a "problem for the whole of society."
After giving wide-ranging statistics on violence against women in the world, Ma Dolors Renau declared that it "is a phenomenon that is difficult to eradicate," and is "the most open manifestation of inequality." She argued that "human rights for women always arrive later, after a long struggle and always in a weaker form," before adding that, "although 92 per cent of violence was carried out by men, it is a problem that includes the family and the whole of society."
Ma Dolors Renau continued that violence against women was a political issue of great importance and that "the State has the duty to protect all its citizens". She called for zero tolerance, as there could be no public or private reason to justify violence against women.
Although she declared that she could not give a definitive date when violence against women should stop, Renau did put forward some objectives. Firstly, she called for the application of commitments reached in Beijing. Secondly, she urged the European Parliament to enact a universal directive within the European Union to stop violence against women. Thirdly, she argued that international criminal courts should consider rapes in time of war as crimes against humanity. Fourthly, she wanted legislation on the status of refugees to be changed to cover women who have been or fear being attacked. Fifthly, she asked for integrated plans to be made to train security forces. Finally she said that there should be a committee that keeps an eye on media images and analyses content that favours violence against women.
In conclusion Ma Dolors Renau declared that "it is fundamental that this campaign is one for all socialists, both male and female, committed to the basic respect of human rights."
The fourth campaign topic, on abolishing the death penalty, was presented, on behalf of Walter Veltroni, National Secretary of the Democrats of the Left, Italy, by Luigi Colajanni.
"The death penalty represents the most insupportable violation of human dignity and of the most important fundamental right, that to life". There were too many countries where the death penalty was still in force, it was stated. However he cited Ukraine and Albania, both of whom had signed the sixth protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, that foresees the definitive abolition of the death penalty in times of peace. He was also encouraged by the United States, "where each execution creates an unbearable contrast with the civilisation of this great democracy", as one State, Illinois, had declared a moratorium on the death penalty, due to so many judicial errors.
In a direct appeal, he called on those gathered at the Council to make "Europe re-launch its initiative of demanding the United Nations approve a moratorium on the death penalty, a resolution that suspends capital executions in every corner of the world, with the prospect of their total abolition".
In response to the argument for not interfering in the internal affairs of a state, he declared that "we do not believe, even in respect of cultures and diversity, of different forms of economies and societies, that the world can renounce its respect for fundamental human rights". He continued that "we believe in true 'modernisation' of these rights, in a new balance between the principle of national sovereignty and that of safeguarding human rights, in the limitation of traditional concepts which exclude the presence of moral judgements and behaviour in the sphere of international politics". He quoted events in Kosovo, Chechnya, Burma and Tibet to illustrate his point, before speaking of "a new internationalism - no longer ideological, but ethical and political - on the left". He then argued for a "reform of the UN and of its instruments, firstly by the introduction in chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter of an explicit reference to the principle, to the casuistic and modes of international intervention before evident violations of human rights".
He suggested that the disappearance of the death penalty "would be a great and indisputable sign of moral and civil progress". He concluded by calling on the International to deploy its strengths and arguments "for a true 'globalisation of human rights'".
Luis Ayala, SI Secretary General, presented to the Council the proposals for the Committees and Working Groups to be established for the forthcoming period to further the International's work on different areas of the world and on particular subjects of common concern to all of its members, as well as the proposals for their respective Chairs. He outlined the meetings and initiatives of the International programmed for the current year and presented a series of posters which had been specially designed to illustrate and promote the four SI campaigns.
On the basis of the proposals received the following Committees and Working Groups were established and the respective Chairs elected: Africa Committee - Ousmane Tanor Dieng (PS, Senegal); the Asia-Pacific Committee - Helen Clark (NZLP, New Zealand) and Takako Doi (SDP, Japan) as Co-Chairs; the Committee for Central and Eastern Europe, SICEE - Piero Fassino (DS, Italy) and László Kovács (MSzP, Hungary) as Co-Chairs; the Working Group on the 'Stability Pact' - Petre Roman (PD, Romania); the Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean, SICLAC - Raúl Alfonsín (UCR, Argentina) and Anselmo Sule (PRSD, Chile) as Co-Chairs; the Mediterranean Committee - Raimon Obiols (PSOE, Spain); the Middle East Committee, SIMEC - Thorbjørn Jagland (DNA, Norway); the SIMEC Working Group on the Kurdish Question (SAP, Sweden); the Committee on the Economy, Social Cohesion and the Environment - Christoph Zöpel (SPD, Germany); the Working Group on the World Trade Organisation - Erkki Tuomioja (SDP, Finland); the Working Group on the Kyoto Agreement - Siri Bjerke (DNA, Norway); the Committee on Local Authorities - Hermes Binner (PSP, Argentina); and, the Committee on Peace, Democracy and Human Rights - Milos Zeman (CSSD, Czech Republic).
The Council equally decided on the members of the SI Finance and Administration Committee, SIFAC, and proposed Gunnar Stenarv (SAP, Sweden) as Chair.
The Council also agreed on the future sending of high-level missions to Russia, the Middle East and Central Africa.
It approved as well a number of statements and resolutions on issues and developments requiring the urgent attention of the organisation, including the situations in Algeria; Belarus; Burma; Dominican Republic; Guinea; Haiti; Middle East; Mozambique; Peru; Togo; Ukraine; Venezuela and Western Sahara.