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People First - A new direction for Europe

Sam Tarry provides an eye-witness account of a first for the European left

Socialist and social democratic party leaders came from across all EU member states to the Party of European Socialists Council in Madrid, to condemn the way neo-liberal policies had led to the unleashing of the worst economic crisis in decades. They demanded that a new social Europe be forged - with the first ever joint manifesto for the European Elections in June 2009. 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 joint platform was born out of a grassroots - international consultation. It involved socialist party members from all 27 EU Member States. European-wide policies to build a new social Europe have been set. It is a historic first for cooperation between social democratic and socialist parties.

The process that led 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 the 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 where proposals could be uploaded in formats such as video, and the debate 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 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.

Having a common radical platform 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 at least gone Europe-wide. This manifesto is one in which every social democrat in every sister party can be proud. The process has seen the beginnings of a truly European party with international potential taking place. It has united social democrats and socialists from across Europe more closely then ever before. The process of grassroots participation to move towards common goals and to design common policies will help ensure that Europe is a force for social progress in which people really are put first, not the market. That is how the Left can act as a bulwark against neo-liberal entrenchment and deepen workers' rights and decent work for all across the EU.

PES Manifesto can be downloaded here:
http://www.pes.org/downloads/PES_manifesto_2009-EN.pdf