The 2015 PES Congress in Hungary: Perspectives from three activists

My experience at the 2015 PES Congress in Budapest: Sercan

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It was very nice to meet so many Comrades from all over Europe. I had a lot of very interesting conversations about the challenges of Socialism, Social democracy and Feminism in Europe. We also talked about counter-measures for the high rate of youth unemployment in the European Union.

To be honest, the Congress by itself was not as interesting as I thought it would be. There was no discussion about the Resolutions, one out of four Social Democratic Party leaders joined us (My Party leader Sigmar Gabriel was also not part of the Congress) and there was just ONE social democratic Commissar. What a wasted Chance! I think with this attitude we cannot be the strongest Party after the next elections for the European Parliament. National Parties need to rethink their attitude towards Europe. We need more than just nice speeches during election campaigns. We need real participation at the European level and good, new and progressive ideas!

My experience at the 2015 PES Congress in Budapest: Mo

It was my first ever PES Congress, so naturally I was excited! I was left satisfied but not ecstatic about the whole thing. Budapest was a great city to have held it in. Probably the best part about PES was the fact that I managed to meet so many fellow social democrats from other countries. I was reunited with some of my friends from Reggio Emillia and ended up talking to people from the Finnish social democratic youth for several hours! Plus, some of the speeches were interesting and it was good to get different perspectives from people who had the same values as I did, but different perspectives about how to apply those values in their own countries.

One of the things I really didn’t like was the way the election was conducted. It ended up as an election with just one candidate (A North Korean election) and the delegates basically voted for nearly every resolution nearly unanimously. It was unnerving, and seemed ironic, especially since the interactive screen said “United for democracy” which sort of mocked the proceedings in the hall. PES must introduce OMOV-One member one vote, so activists can also vote.

Finally, I spotted an interesting political divide in the conference. Slimani, chair of YES (Young European Socialists) made a strongly leftist speech, calling for action against austerity, relief for Greece, and various other things. The senior PES people who were there, including the prime ministers and opposition leaders of many countries (E.g Stefan Löfven, Pedro Sanchez, Antonio Costa ) didn’t seem too interested. Then, later on, we had a fringe PES meeting, where many PES activists expressed frustration about the organisation and the bureaucratic way in which it operates. The PES MEPs listened sympathetically but again gave no concrete answers. There’s quite a divide between young and old and between MEP/Staff and activists in PES. Either way, I enjoyed the conference, though it wasn’t brilliant, and I hope they make some improvements.”

My experience at the 2015 PES Congress in Budapest: Henning

This blog post will be divided into two parts: Part one “Why Budapest?” refers to the importance of holding the Congress in Hungary. The second part “Impacts and shortcomings” deals with the actual (policy) issues which have been discussed. Furthermore, it also raises a (personal) critique on some shortcomings that should be mentioned in order to making future Congresses even better.

Why Budapest?

Holding the 2015 PES Congress in Hungary is a fantastic demonstration of European Social Democracy’s international solidarity. Hungary has been led by an authoritarian right-wing party for more than half of a decade. Formally, the “Republic of Hungary” does not exist anymore, since the Fidesz government removed the term “Republic” in 2012.

This goes hand in hand with political reforms such as the “Press and Media Act” adopted in 2010. This act tightened government control of the broadcast sector and extended regulation to print and online media. It also removed a passage of the constitution on the government’s obligation to prevent media monopolies. Executive directors of all public media are now elected by a national authority (itself elected by a two-thirds majority in the parliament…). Not surprisingly, these directors are adherents of the ruling party. Its leader, Viktor Orban used his party’s two-thirds majority in parliament to implement this and other legal acts that threatend fundamental democratic rights and dismantled Hungary’s democratic institutions. At the same time, polemic against Romani people created a climate of fear and pushed this community even more to the edge of society. This climate is reinforced by the openly fascist blood and soil party “Jobbik”.

There is profound reason for every democrat in Europe to be deeply worried about the proceedings in Hungary. Thanks to the – however, fairly limited – interventions of the European Union, this trend has been (partially) slowed down. Democratic internationalism seems to be needed more than ever.

At this point in time, we can be proud of the Party of European Socialists that demonstrated its solidarity with all the brave people who fight for democracy in this wonderful country. The Hungarian society is much more diverse and progressive than its government wants it to be. – I have been able to experience this by myself. Not merely by speaking to the fantastic Hungarian PES activists, but also in conversations with the Hungarian youth I made when exploring the city during night time.

Words of thanks and respect to the PES, to the Hungarian Socialists and to the citizens we met!

Impacts and shortcomings

The workshops as well as the plenary discussions and declarations addressed almost every issue that is at stake: Economic inequalities, the horrendous degree of youth unemployment in large parts of Europe and discussions about how to strengthen Social Democracy in these challenging times. Rightly, the European youth, being better educated than every youth in our history, has been identified as the key to fight extremism and populism.

The coverage of topics gave a rounded insight into the mentioned challenges as well as possible solutions that Social Democrats have to provide. In a similar vein, the declarations addressed these issues and called for a “European Investment Program” that ends a decade of disastrous austerity policies. They also made clear, that there will be no acceptance of a neoliberal TTIP that would endanger European working conditions. I strongly felt that European Social Democracy is pursuing the right agenda. The Congress identified our fundamental challenges and put forward convincing proposals how to address them.

However, the congress failed in its second task which is no less crucial: Involving hundreds of activists and participants and presenting an agenda on how to organize and how to build a powerful party that must be recognized as a convincing political alternative by European media and citizen.

In a mail letter following the Congress, the PES President Sergei Stanishev (re-elected with just 69 percent) wrote:

“Our main challenge for the European political cycle ahead of us is to win the European elections and to become the largest group in the European Parliament in 2019. This would allow us to have our common candidate elected as European Commission President.”

Well, there is no doubt that we have to win the elections in order to implement our progressive and socially fair policies. But, wait: This is not what he wrote (neither in this quote, nor somewhere else in his letter). Instead, he follows that it would allow us to bring our candidate into office. That’s not an end in itself. We want a Socialist Commissioner in order to pursue Socialist policies. Not in order to gain job positions.

However, this is exactly what I felt during the Congress. Activists as well as delegates were excluded from all great discussions. Instead, small circles held their discussions; elections and decisions in general have been made without any kind of plenary discussion. Even worse, the Congress proceeding in general was extremely confusing in terms of structure and organisation. Participants received crucial documents just two days (sic!) in advance. With such an organisational body, any kind of following electoral success is hard to imagine. Our positions have to come about as the result of heated debates, held by a plenum that is endowed with an extensive set of democratic rights. There have to be visible different political camps which have the capacity to attract European media in a same way this is happening at the national level.
Next year’s congress is not an electoral meeting – no excuses anymore!

It calls for:
– Introducing more space for actually debating PES positions
– Strengthening the impact of PES positions in terms of the parliamentary work of the S&D Group
– The right to speak: The right to participate in these debates for (at least a number of previously democratically elected) activists
– Transparent flow of information for participants as well as for activists

Four years on, we shall have a highly participatory and well-structured international organisation. The PES shall be endowed with a concrete policy agenda, hard-earned in internal democratic processes with a strong urge to be implemented. Then, we would not only be able to win the elections. We will also put forward a candidate who will stick to a clean-cut and binding political agenda – a strength no other political party will be able to offer.

Sercan Aydilek (Twitter: @AydilekSercan) (24), Mohammed (21) and Henning (23) are proud Graduates of Democracy (’15). Sercan is starting his job in a local authority in Berlin. Mo is studying Journalism at the Manchester Metropolitan University and Co-Chair of the Manchester Labour Students. Henning is currently pursuing an MA in Political Economy at King’s College London.

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