The conference provided a platform for interesting debates on a wide range of topics as well as an opportunity for social democrats and socialists in the national parliaments of the EU to strengthen their ties.
The first day of the conference started with an introductory address by Thomas Oppermann, chairman of the SPD parliamentary group and host of the conference. Mr. Oppermann listed the myriad challenges Europe is currently facing and displayed a strong resolve to move the progressive cause forward. Mr. Oppermann’s opening remarks were followed by the first work session on “Progressive Parties in Times of the Populist Uprising”. Katarina Barley, secretary general of the SPD, gave an account of the momentum the German social democrats have gathered since the nomination of Martin Schulz as candidate for chancellor. Ms. Barley stressed the importance of a self-confident stance vis-a-vis populist forces in order to win back voters. Social democrats should take pride in what they have achieved and emphasize that they are the ones uniting society and offering real solutions for people’s problems.
In the next keynote, Andreas Schieder, chairman of the Austrian SPÖ parliamentary club, outlined the modus operandi of populists, which usually involves the claim that they are the true representatives of the people while in reality they exclude large parts of society and promote divisions. Mr. Schieder went on to describe the state of Austrian politics in wake of the election of Alexander Van der Bellen as president of Austria as well as the positive impetus brought by the new party leader Christian Kern.
Next up on the agenda were the country reports. Each delegation presented an assessment of the current situation in their respective country. What became clear was that European countries are dealing with very similar challenges, namely rising nationalism, migration and finding ways to foster sustainable economic growth.
The work session was continued during the dinner, which included a keynote by Olivier Faure, chairman of the Socialist, Ecologist and Republican group in the French parliament. Mr. Faure gave a retrospective about the recent developments in the French presidential race, which has been remarkable in its unpredictability. The projections on who has the best chances of winning are constantly changing, which has created a curious dynamic.
The following day, Stavros Theodorakis, founder of To Potami and chairman in the Greek parliament, joined the conference and presented the Greek perspective on some of the most pressing issues in Europe. Since Greece has plenty of experience in dealing with populist political actors, Mr. Theodorakis could share some valuable insights on how to cope with them. One important message was that the refugee challenge is not a Greek problem, but a European one and thus needs a European solution.
The second work session “Tackling Inequalities and Creating More Just Societies: The Future of EMU” was the next item on the programme. Input was provided by Marcel Fratzscher, President of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), who noted that inequality is rising in many countries, including Germany, as a result of a lack of social mobility and equal opportunities. Mr. Fratzscher stressed that social inequality has a large economic cost and has to be addressed in order not to risk a failure of the social contract. Alex Bodry, Chairman of the LSAP group in the Luxembourg parliament, continued with a keynote on this topic and concluded that ambitious objectives are needed while a certain level of pragmatism must not be omitted from any effort.
After a lively debate, the focus shifted towards security policies in the third and final work session “Towards a New European Security Architecture”. Raphael Bossong, Expert on EU counterterrorism policy at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), noted that in the field of counterterrorism there are no obvious solutions. Rather, an integrated approach, as well as better cooperation between European countries, are essential.
Meryame Kitir, Chairwoman of the Belgian sp.a parliamentary group, presented the situation in Belgium, which has been struck by terrorism multiple times in the recent past. Ms. Kitir emphasized that the fight against terrorism must not lead to gross violations of basic rights and that sound judgment is needed to maintain a viable balance between freedom and security.
One of the more tangible results of the gathering of the chairpersons is a discussion paper titled ‘Convergence, Investment, Employment’: Towards the completion of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). Philip Cordery, MP for the Parti socialiste in the French parliament, as well as Olivier Faure presented the paper and underlined the need for a long-term vision and structural reforms.
Find below the press conference delivered by Thomas Oppermann and Olivier Faure at the end of the 3rd Conference of the Presidents.
Find here a photo gallery of the event. By use, please mention the following copyright “#ProgressiveEurope | @JacobundAlex”.