Dear comrades, dear friends, George, Vice-Presidents, leaders, comrades with whom I have been working all this time to arrive here, making sure we will have a good Congress. The Socialist International is back in Greece for our XXIII Congress and I would like to be the first to thank most sincerely and warmly our comrades of PASOK and our President, George Papandreou. Thank them for their hospitality, for their friendship, for their support and enthusiasm for the International. I have had the opportunity to experience this at firsthand working with you, George, during the last two years.
At this time of interdependence and global politics, our International has not only grown larger since we met in São Paulo for the XXII Congress but, through our many initiatives and activities, we have been part of and shared in the concerns and the issues which matter to our members in the different regions of the world. By doing that we have strengthened the global character of our organisation and we have been able to take a lead on key pressing issues on the international community’s agenda today.
And we have become an organisation without borders, without borders between people, borders between countries, borders between cultures, strengthening and deepening the core values which define and identify social democrats wherever they are in the world.
And we have done so by taking a clear stand and working in what has been a particularly active and productive time for our International since our last Congress.
From climate change to migrations, from conflict resolution to the volatility in the world economy, from the food crisis to supporting struggling democracies. The International has not only added its voice and presence but has been at the forefront on many of these issues, offering an alternative for more democracy, for more fairness and for more solidarity.
Today, dear comrades, we are proud to bring together in this Congress delegates from more than 150 parties, from more than 120 countries, more than 700 delegates, who find in this organisation a common platform to share their ideals, to share their vision and to share their resolve to make a difference.
On the first issue that is on our agenda this morning, “Acting now on Climate Change”, we have been intensively working in the Commission of our International for a Sustainable World Society, together with Ricardo Lagos and Göran Persson, knowing that the world has reached a defining moment. In short, we act now or endure the consequences of doing nothing. From the launching of this Commission, from the meetings in Santiago and Geneva, we took its work to London with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, then to Santiago, Chile, with President of the Republic Bachelet together with President Lagos. We have opened up a vision, an opportunity for action by our movement now, to make a difference.
We will also turn in our Congress to “Working for Peace”, this fundamental commitment of our movement which remains as strong and vital as ever. That is why I am very proud too that we will be welcoming here the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, as well as the leader of the Israeli Labour Party, Ehud Barak, and our friends from Yachad.
We have here President Jalal Talabani from Iraq, with whom we are engaged in strengthening peace and giving an opportunity for democracy and political institutions in his country, in that troubled part of the world.
We have here the leaders of Lebanon, where we have been committed, as our many initiatives there reflect, to working for more democracy, for peace, strengthening independence, national sovereignty and defending human rights.
We also have with us leaders from the Balkans, an area where the International has also left an indelible imprint of its commitments, and I am very pleased to see here among us our friends President Boris Tadic of Serbia, Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev of Bulgaria, and Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic of Montenegro, and other party leaders.
We were a couple of weeks ago working for peace in Africa, in Côte d’Ivoire, with our friends of the Ivorian Popular Front, FPI. The International has become stronger in Africa and we are today, on that continent, also a platform and a vehicle for change, taking forward our message for peace and extending the limits of democracy there.
We have been in Nepal on various occasions during this last period as well, accompanying our members, also represented in this Congress, in their efforts to end conflict and move democracy forward there. We are pleased to see today that there is a Constitutional Assembly in place in that country, giving a new opportunity for peace and the democratic institutions to work.
We are joined by our friends from Colombia, who continue their struggle for the release of hostages and from the pain afflicting their country. Other friends and comrades from other parts of the world where the borders of conflicts have been pushed through by our ambitions for peace, are also together with us here.
One of the permanent characteristics of our movement is that even at the worst and the hardest moments of conflict, dialogue has never stopped here in this International, as we have seen for almost 30 years in the case of the Middle East.
We will hear from those who are struggling in the new democracies and those who are denied democracy today as well, such as our friends in Burma, in Belarus, in Zimbabwe and we will hear from the people who have pushed the boundaries again to new hopes, like those from Paraguay, from our friends from the Patriotic Alliance for Change, today under the leadership of the new President of Paraguay, our friend Fernando Lugo. Symbolic of all that someone from our movement can give in the struggle to achieve democracy, Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan will figure high in our discussions.
We will discuss here the theme “Setting the Global Economy on a New Path”. Following an active period of our Committee on the Economy, we have held discussions in Europe, in the transitional economies of Eastern Europe, in Asia, in Latin America, in Africa - all around the world. We have been working for an economy with equity, with employment and now with environmental responsibility. We have been tackling in our discussions the crisis sparked by unregulated markets by the current financial volatility, and the Congress is called on to advance new perspectives for our movement on this crucial question.
We will turn our attention to the food crisis with leaders from Haiti to Pakistan, from different regions that have been hit the hardest. We will, above all, discuss economic growth and development with opportunities for all.
At our Congress we will turn our attention to giving “Migration a Human Face”, an issue we have been working on from Mexico to the Philippines, from Moldova to the United States. North and South, East and West – to place people first on the migration agenda.
Our meetings, dear comrades, are only a moment in the life of our International, moments in which we crystallise our commitments, of what is an ongoing, permanent engagement, and which is expressed in the daily life of all our parties, in the daily life of our International. At this time of interconnected and also overlapping priorities, no-one can put in doubt, as is evident here today, that our organisation deserves all our efforts to move forward our programmes, our policies and to make true our collective vision.
Dear friends, dear comrades, when this International was created those who founded it, from the very beginning, wanted to change the world. They were few, they were not that strong, but they had already a global ambition. Today perhaps we are closer than ever to that ideal, if we have the courage to make a difference. This XXIII Congress is a great opportunity to do exactly that.
I wish you all a very good Congress.
Thank you very much, dear comrades.