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12.3.05

The Progressive generation 

Hello, it has been a very long time, and i'm not sure if anyone else but me has been reading this for the last 6 months, but anyway i'm putting stuff up here as a warehouse for politica and philsophical thought that interests me and also probably people of the centre left or even social liberals.

Below are a couple of articles from the guardian discussing a centre left network report and manifesto, very intersting, especially the manifesto ALP supporters, this concerns you!

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The progressive generation declaration: Europe's progressive future 

Note: this post contains parts I and II of the manifesto

Statement of purpose

The process of European integration has been under way for over fifty years now, but it is still rare for politicians from EU Member states to meet informally to discuss political ideas and the future of public policy. That is especially true for young politicians, most of whom are far too busy getting to know their own national political systems to be able or willing to invest much time in getting to know their foreign counterparts and their views. When they do meet, it is usually through formal channels: in bilateral or multilateral meetings or through European political party events. These meetings tend to focus on the short term rather than the long term and more often than not involve formal debate rather than informal exchanges of view.

Policy Network is a progressive think tank founded in the 1990s with the support of a number of heads of government including Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Giuliano Amato, Gerhard Schröder and Göran Persson. Its aim is to stimulate debate and encourage the cross-fertilisation of ideas among politicians on the centre-left in Europe and across the world. Policy Network is now keen to ensure that as the process of European unification enters a new phase, young politicians who will help shape tomorrow's political future get to know each other at an early stage and start developing joint ideas as to how future policy challenges can be met. We want to be ready to implement our ideas when our parties are in power. Most politics is inevitably oriented towards the short-term. It is driven by the electoral cycle that dominates everyday political life. But many of the issues which need addressing require a longer-term approach.

'Progressive generation' brings together young politicians (which we have defined as under 40) from the EU's current and future Member states, including at least one of member of government or parliament per country, with an equal number of men and women taking part. Our aim is to ensure the continuity of the activities of Policy Network as a new generation of politicians make their way onto the political stage. Our intention is to form a permanent network for the exchange of ideas and the formulation of new policy initiatives, the usefulness of which it is hoped will extend beyond the borders of just one or two Member states - indeed beyond Europe. 'Progressive generation' is not a reference to who we are. Rather it is what we hope to become and what we strive to achieve: a network of European politicians who will look to each other for stimulation, ideas and advice as we pursue our political activities - including parliamentary careers and government office -, helping to set a direction for progressive politics in Europe over the next twenty-five years, with a 'rolling' focus on the medium term (five to ten years). We will use our public meetings across Europe to entice more young people to join us in discussing the theory and practice of progressive politics.

Politicians must be visionary and show leadership. But they must also ensure that their policies and the way they are presented are in tune with the mood of the nation. The Democratic campaign in the recent US presidential election demonstrates what happens when they are not. More importantly, politicians - who tend to spend much of their time in artifical environments - must anticipate changes in the national mood. We are conscious of the fact that the battle to win the hearts and minds of voters is first and foremost about outlining the values that define us. But it is also about identifying the challenges that lie ahead. Too often in the last few decades the centre-left has been reactive, responding to a rightwing agenda. It is time to seek a role-reversal and to set a progressive agenda for the decade ahead and beyond. This declaration touches on some of the issues that should in our view be part of that agenda. It should not be taken as definitive or complete. Nor will every signatory agree with every single aspect of it. Rather, it aims to sets the scene. It will form the starting point for the debates that will take place in the regular Policy Network thematic working groups, in which the members of Progressive Generation will play a key role.

Europe's progressive future

1. The need for a new political enlightenment

For a brief period following the end of the Cold War, the people of Europe - and particularly young people - could be forgiven for thinking that a new and extended era of peace and prosperity had dawned for our continent. The Berlin Wall had come down and Germany was reunited. One by one, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe came in from the communist cold and began preparations for membership of the European Union - a peaceful and rapid transition in most countries. The Maastricht Treaty was signed and EU Member states took measures to reduce budget deficits, stimulate economic growth and reduce unemployment, modernising the economy and increasing individual freedom and prosperity. Progressive governments in Europe and around the world demonstrated that a fully functioning market economy need not be the enemy of, but can be the key to, social progress. In the second half of the 1990s, millions of new jobs were created across Europe and the poorest members of society finally began to share in the spoils of growth. A new sense of global optimism led American historian Francis Fukuyama to proclaim the 'end of history' and the triumph of liberal democracy as the only viable political system. But in Europe as elsewhere, this sense of optimism soon gave way to a growing feeling of unease. Yugoslavia was torn apart by a bloody war, which Europe was unable to prevent and did too little, too late, to stop. The Maastricht Treaty became the subject of heated debate in several EU Member states and marked the beginning of the spread of euroscepticism beyond its traditional political homes, the UK and Denmark. The 'new economy' internet bubble burst just as the new century began, triggering a period of economic downturn in many EU Member states. Germany, Europe's largest economy, proved unable to cope with the huge cost of reunification and an economic recession that destroyed millions of jobs. At the same time, the arrival of large numbers of (illegal) immigrants and refugees from around the world began to cause pressures and tensions in many European societies (though not in all). The collapse of communism in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe left many - but especially the elderly - unprepared for unbridled competition in the free market. Democracy and a new middle class flourished in most of those countries, but at the same time a new class of exorbitantly rich oligarchs emerged and structural poverty reared its ugly head. Worrying anti-democratic trends began to develop in Russia, while Belarus remains an isolated authoritarian state on the border of the EU. Global warming proved to be a real threat, not just a figment of the imagination, and Africa continued its descent into pandemic and poverty. But the biggest blow to our false post-Cold War sense of security came on September 11, 2001, when Islamic fundamentalist terrorists struck the United States, killing thousands. The Madrid bombings of 11 March 2004 (one year ago today) acted as a wake-up call to anyone who thought that such an attack could or would never happen in Europe. Today, Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction pose perhaps the gravest threat to civilisation.

Many of these post-Cold War developments have been tackled head-on. Peace, albeit a fragile one in some parts, has been restored in the former Yugoslavia. An International Criminal Court has been set up, though regrettably without the support of the United States. The global economy is on the path to recovery. Progressive governments have made great strides forward in strengthening the economy and bringing people out of poverty as a result. The Kyoto protocol on climate change has just taken effect. And the world appears to have woken up to the threat posed by international terrorism, and has begun taking steps to defeat it. But many issues still require urgent attention, issues on which the centre-left has so far failed to seize the initiative.

If the progressive centre-left in Europe is to develop appealing ideas and effective strategies, it must continue the process of overcoming the deep divisions that have been created by the war in Iraq. Of the signatories to this declaration, some supported the war, others didn't. But we all agree that even though there are many lessons to be learned, there is no point in fighting the battles of the past. Whatever the merits of going to war, our goal now must be for Iraq to become a stable and prosperous democracy - and for lasting peace to be achieved in the Middle East. As part of a more effective multilateralist approach every country must do whatever it can to help achieve those goals. And the centre-left in Europe must once again develop a unity of purpose and a sense of direction of the kind that characterised it in the early to mid-1990s on the bread-and-butter issues our voters are concerned about - as well as the new issues that are making their mark on society. Failure to do so means handing victory to conservative and right-wing liberal parties as well as to populists of the left and of the right. Their easy solutions to complex problems will not work, but they will have broad appeal as long as the centre-left doesn't present credible alternatives.

We are progressive politicians on the centre-left. No single or simple definition can do justice to the breadth of the meaning of the term 'progressive', but one of the things it stands for is a commitment to political change and social improvement, often by governmental action, on the basis of a pragmatic, inclusive and consensual approach. The centre-left has a proud history and a remarkable record, including the introduction of minimum health and safety standards, a substantial reduction in working hours, the introduction of the minimum wage, the emancipation of women and minorities, the provision of education and affordable health care for all as well as the creation of a social safety net including a universal old age pension. Progressive political parties, working with their allies in civil society, created and modernised the welfare state. The emergence of a new and large middle class is largely - though by no means solely - the result of policies aimed at ensuring equality of opportunity for all. But as we set out below, the coalition for social progress which binds together the working and middle classes cannot be taken for granted. Maintaining and strengthening it requires making some tough choices. And just as today's voters have given up traditional party and ballot box loyalties, we believe that progressive political parties must become more transparent and less tribal in the way they operate and organise themselves. They must also improve co-operation among one another (as is already happening in several countries) to create a movement for social change that is able to take on neo-conservative politicians and their ideas. Current progressive thinking owes much to social democratic modernisation policies of the last decade, to the green crusade of the 1980s and to the liberal economic reform agenda of the 1990s. In the years to come, we must explore how we can move beyond stale party boundaries and galvanise progressive forces in a way that puts the interests of citizens first. We need, in other words, a new political enlightenment.

2. Progressive values and the agenda for reform

Our aim is to modernise and strengthen the European social model to ensure equality of opportunity and social progress for all, with policies designed to fight poverty and social exclusion and to support hard-working families. We strive for societies characterised by a strong sense of community in which individual freedom, choice and responsibility, a genuine free market (where all costs including environmental and social externalities are factored in) and efficient, accountable and customer-driven public services play a central role. By acting together, using all public and private tools at our disposal, we can and must transform society. The elimination of poverty, unemployment and social injustice remain our key objectives. Individuals must be given the opportunity to realise their full potential - and may be expected to seize that opportunity. Removing the established structures that hold people back is not enough: we must also continue to take active steps to ensure genuine equality of choice. If we succeed, society as a whole will reap the benefits.

· 1. Freedom, choice and responsibility for all

Progressive politics has allowed the right to monopolise the concept of freedom - despite them only ever having paid lip service to it. It is time for the centre-left to assert its role as guardian and promoter of the politics of freedom, choice and responsibility. We must strive for a society in which citizens live free from the fear of (violent) crime and terrorism. We want to live in a world in which all dictatorships are replaced by pluralistic, democratic states in which everyone has the right to vote and in which every member of society can play a full part in the political process.

We need to acknowledge the importance of ensuring that individuals and other societal actors (such as private companies, but also government at all levels) are made to take responsibility for their actions. Just as society imposes punishment when freedoms are breached, so we should not hesitate to apply appropriate and proportionate sanctions when breaches of responsibility take place.

A free society is one in which individuals are able to take control of their own lives and achieve their full potential. That is not the same as creating full equality. Redistribution of income from rich to poor has an important role to play in achieving greater fairness and providing equality of opportunity. But it is not the only or even the most effective way to promote a more just society in the longer term. Our aim should be to equip every member of society with the tools they need to build a better future for themselves - starting at birth. Equality of opportunity is not enough. We need to create genuine equality of choice, by providing everyone with the information and the means they need not just to have access to, but also to be able to exercise the same wide range of choices in life as everyone else. Choice should not be the preserve of a small elite; it must be a tangible reality for all.

Freedom also means freedom from unnecessary state interference. The state has a central role in looking after our wellbeing - guaranteeing our physical security and acting as a safety net where markets (or one's family, or society) fail - see below. But just like the market, the state is not an end in itself - it is a means to end. The more we can empower individuals to look after themselves and the less we ask of the state, the better. State intervention should only be used (and welcomed) where it enhances the ability of all members of society to live their lives in freedom - in the broadest sense of the term. Our conception of freedom is not be limited to physical liberty and material security: it also implies citizens being able to play a full part in society and the lives of communities, including access to heritage and cultural life.

· 2. A fully functioning free market and a viable welfare state

The left should be the leading advocate of a fully functioning free market economy: one in which companies generate a normal profit and in which cartels and monopolies do not exist; one in which the pricing mechanism takes account of social and environmental externalities, one in which consumers are adequately protected. One of the paradoxes of the market economy is that for it to be genuinely free in the original economic sense, a substantial degree of regulation and oversight is required.

In the modern globalised economy, large corporations play an increasingly powerful role. Their activities are sometimes difficult to scrutinise and the absence of adequate controls has led to several well-publicised crises. At the same time, company boards award themselves big pay rises while asking employees to tighten their belts. This creates tensions - with shareholders, who feel they don't have a big enough say in the running of the company; with workers, who feel they are paying for the lavish lifestyles of their employers; and in society, where the growing wealth gap between the super-rich and the average person generates anger and resentment. Shareholders need to be given a bigger say in the way companies are run. Workers need to be to be given a bigger stake in our economy, as well a fairer share in its spoils, by making them shareholders - and by ensuring that labour is not taxed at a higher rate than capital. And society must develop an ethos of individual social responsibility (ISR) to mirror the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Those who gain the most from society must give the most back. This principle is already well-established in the United States, where personal charitable giving is much higher than in Europe.

Arguably the biggest threat facing our welfare state today is an ageing population in many countries. Fewer children are born and people live longer than they used to, assisted by medical advances which produce increasingly expensive new treatments and remedies. As the baby boom generation retires, there will be fewer people left to pay the bills. A solution should be found along the following lines:

Young people have to start anticipating for their own retirement and longer lives by saving more for later - through savings and (higher) pension contributions and by accepting to work for longer. This may require the introduction of an element of compulsion where one doesn't already exist.

The current generations of workers will have to work longer, pay a higher pension contribution, or accept a lower income in retirement.

The state and the market must work together to create a combination of public and private pension provision that not only will prove sustainable, but one that also provides solid guarantees for the security of the financial system - giving workers the confidence to invest in their own future.

An intelligent immigration policy - such as a green card system which targets the skills for which there is a shortage - should be pursued. Immigration is not the only answer to the problem of an ageing workforce. It would provide short-term relief for a long-term problem and would generate difficulties of its own: pressure on public services, space scarcity, the future retirement costs of immigrants themselves. Immigration as the only answer to today's economic problems is the equivalent of building up state debt to pay for current government expenditure: it amounts to passing the buck to future generations.

Better and more affordable childcare facilities will enable parents, in particular women, to take up paid work or work longer hours, and could help reverse declining child birth rates.

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Demographic variations and different social security systems mean that each country has to develop the solution that will work best for itself. But in a Europe of open markets and free labour mobility, we have a responsibility to each other for making sure that a lasting solution is found.

3. High quality, customer-driven public services

Public services such as education, health care, social housing, transport and policing need to be modernised to take account of the expectations and wishes of their users. All citizens should have equal access to the same full range of basic public services, and where feasible they must be able to choose between different providers on the basis of transparent and reliable price and quality indicators. We should recognise, however, that factors such as geography (sparsely populated regions), education (the ability of citizen-consumers to differentiate meaningfully between competing services) and cost (the fact that increasing choice artificially may lead to a higher average cost of the service provided) place natural limits on the degree of choice we can hope or expect to offer.

Citizens should have a direct say in how the public services they make use of are provided - and what the nature of those services should be. There is no inherent reason why public services should be provided only by the state. The state's role is to regulate and guarantee access, to set and enforce standards and to police fair pricing. The private sector should play a role in the provision of public services, but only where this leads to higher quality, lower prices and increased choice.

The focus of public services will have to shift to respond to societal and demographic changes such as a higher proportion of women in work and an ageing population. The provision of high quality universal child care and care for the elderly should be among the new key priorities for progressive politics.

As the cost of public services such as health care grows, and as citizens become wealthier and the middle class grows further, the cost of non-essential public services can increasingly be met by users paying for them directly out of their own income, rather than through the state - to the extent that this does not undermine universal access to basic services. Allowing individuals to pay for some services directly instead of through the tax system can increase choice, improve the responsiveness of public services to their users' demands, and can ultimately allow for taxes to be lowered, without negatively affecting the quality and quantity of public services or the principle of solidarity that underpins them. When they are the result of a more efficient public sector, greater equality of opportunity and increased consumer spending power, lower taxes are the logical consequence of progressive politics and policies.

· 4. From diversity to community

"Wir riefen Arbeitskräfte, und es kamen Menschen"
(We called for workers, and human beings came) - Max Frisch

Over the course of the last four decades, enormous progress has been made in emancipating society. Women and minority groups (ethnic minorities, gay people) in particular have benefited from legislation that enshrines the right to equal treatment. A steady process of individualisation and secularisation has increased individual freedom and choice. But the disintegration of the traditional fabric of society, while liberating for most, has also led to new forms of social exclusion for a minority: people without job or income, family or friends. Most people welcome the disappearance of a collective morality imposed from above. But we accept that there will always be a need for a moral compass - one that takes freedom, emancipation, tolerance and respect for both society and its individual members as its starting point. We should work to re-establish a commitment to solidarity and a sense of duty towards society among all its members, in particular among young people. As a practical measure, we consider that all young people should be required to undertake a form of community service as part of their education process.

We must strive for greater social and cultural integration and better mutual understanding. That means the rejection of all forms of racial discrimination - and a determined fight to root it out where it occurs. It also calls for the acceptance by newcomers of the fundamental values of our society, as laid down in constitutions and human rights charters, such as democracy, the rule of law, full equality between men and women and respect for the rights of gay people.

Solidarity requires a shared sense of belonging and common destiny. When that shared sense is missing, the very foundations of our welfare state come under threat. If the middle class feel that they no longer benefit from a welfare state based on solidarity, they will no longer be willing to support it. In order to preserve solidarity and maintain the welfare state, newcomers should gradually build up their stake - through the concept of 'earned citizenship'. This concept been applied successfully by progressive governments through policies such as 'welfare to work' and the introduction of more stringent rules on benefit entitlement. Their aim is to create a more activist welfare state, where the focus is on generating jobs and filling vacancies rather than encouraging reliance on state benefits. At the same time, such policies make it easier to win and sustain public support for a range of relatively generous benefits for those who really need them.

· 5. Working together in the global village

The war in Iraq has caused deep divisions with the European centre-left and beyond. We must learn the lessons of the last two years and apply them to the way the international community deals with international crises and threats - and above all making sure they don't arise in the first place.

The UN and international law must be reformed. The United Nations was founded in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Its charter and working methods reflect the realities of that time. But the rules created over 50 years ago are no longer able to deal with the challenges and threats we face in the 21st century. Current arrangements are no longer credible or effective in an international environment where the main threat is no longer confined to one or several nations but includes a disparate collection of terrorist rogue groups for whom borders play no role. Furthermore, we cannot tolerate a situation where international law dictates that we must stand by and watch a humanitarian crisis unfold because it belongs to the 'internal matters' of a country. When human life is at stake, international law must apply the laws of humanity.

The European Union itself must also do more to make the world a safer place. On 1 May 2004 ten new member states joined the EU, and that in itself constitutes an important contribution to the security and stability of our continent. Soon, when they meet the criteria for membership, others - including Turkey - will follow. In the long run, it is difficult to envisage a stable European Union without Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, the Caucasus states and the states of Central Asia making big strides towards democracy and prosperity. The Eastern dimension of the European Union should therefore be given the highest possible priority.

The newly enlarged European Union must develop a credible and effective foreign and defence policy. Member states must be prepared to give up their power of veto in order to become more effective together, and to invest more in creating a more credible defence capability, including an appropriate role for the EU's neutral Member States. The new EU constitution represents an important step towards achieving those aims and although it is far from perfect, it deserves to be ratified.

None of these changes will have any impact if more is not done to remove the sources of conflict in the world. Third world poverty will continue to be a source of tension and conflict and provide terrorists with fertile ground for spreading their message and recruiting new foot soldiers and sympathisers. The sale of weapons to regimes that oppress their own people and threaten their neighbours - or are likely one day to do so, should be stopped. In the Middle East, a lasting peace must be found which allows two independent states, Israel and Palestine, to live side by side without fear. And as long as war and dictatorship are with us, the world community has a duty to ensure that all those who flee conflict and persecution across the globe are given refuge (and a humane welcome) in a country or region where they are known to be safe.

Developing countries should go beyond current efforts to provide debt relief to the poorest countries and they should finally make real progress toward attaining the Millenium Development Goals. What is the point of adopting laudable aims when so little is done to make them a reality? The failure of previous generations to fulfil their commitments means that we have an even greater responsibility to do more. Barriers to trade that prevent developing countries from making economic progress (such as the trade-distorting aspects of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy) should be removed, and efforts to fight diseases such as Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis should not be dictated by the commercial needs of the pharmaceutical industry but by humanitarian considerations.

The Tsunami disaster has reminded us of the fragile condition of the earth's environment. We cannot prevent natural disasters such as the one that caused widespread destruction and loss of human life in South East Asia on 26 December 2004, but we can and must do more to protect our natural environment, most notably by fighting global warming and desertification. That is not just a matter of common sense, it is also our duty to future generations.

In achieving these international goals, Europe must continue to work with its strongest ally and partner, the United States, in a relationship marked by mutual understanding and respect - something which many in Europe feel has been lacking since the Bush administration came to power. This is partly out of recognition that the United States, as the world's only remaining superpower, continues to be the leading actor on the global stage. But it is also out of recognition that there is much more that unites us than divides us. The EU and the US both strive for a world in which freedom and democracy prevail and in which human rights are respected. We both support the free market as the best way to organise economic life. The fact that we do not always see eye to eye on the way to achieve these goals, and that we have important disagreements on issues such as the death penalty and the treatment of terror suspects, does not mean that our centuries-long partnership should now come to an end. On the contrary, it requires that we redouble our efforts to find common solutions to the problems we're facing, including contentious issues such as global warming and the prosecution of international war criminals.

· 6. Transforming democracy

When voters turn to populist politicians of the extreme left and right, it's largely because populists offer easy solutions to complex problems. These are solutions that often will not work, and that more likely than not will only make things worse. But voters find them attractive because they appear to tackle the very real concerns they have, or the fears they experience - and that established parties have ignored. When populists are able to win support, it's because traditional political parties fail to pick up signals of unease and unrest in society. Ridiculing, marginalising or even criminalising populists only serves to make them more popular and to alienate their voters, while emulating populists can only lead to short-term gain and long-term pain. Instead, we must formulate convincing and effective alternatives that go to the root of the problem.

Government at all levels must do more to develop policies that deal with voters' everyday concerns. And it must do so by involving citizens more closely in the process of policy development, by inventive, innovative means. Representative democracy should remain the core of our democratic system; government by referendum leads to government by no-one. But in today's individualised societies, citizens who are also consumers want a bigger say not just when it comes to the overall direction of public policy, but also when it comes to the detail of implementation. There are many examples around the world of how such involvement can be organised in a way that respects the role of representative democracy and yet reconnects citizens with the political system. Interactive decision-making in 'neighbourhood councils' and wider use of e-democracy are examples of such involvement.

The renewal of politics should also be applied at the European level. For too many years, decisions on the future of Europe were taken by civil servants, diplomats and politicians meeting behind closed doors. It should not come as a surprise that many citizens have become sceptical about a decision-making process that seems to have passed them by. But it would be a mistake to throw out the baby with the bathwater. The proposed European constitution sets clearer parameters for the relationship between the EU and its member states. The European Convention which helped draw it up was an important step towards greater popular involvement in deciding Europe's future. The initial rejection of President José Manuel Barroso's new European Commission by the European Parliament signals the gradual coming of age of EU representative democracy. As a next step, we need to take a fresh look at the policies we are pursuing in Europe. Many could be simplified and decentralised to reduce waste and improve outcomes, moving from the traditional, one-size-fits-all federalist approach to a selective, case-by-case approach to European co-operation, so that a decision to change the Treaty, introduce a new directive or opt for a non-legislative measure is taken not by relying on established EU orthodoxy but by making a level-headed and informed assessment of what would produce the best results, both for the EU as a whole and for its individual member states.

We need to reform our political parties, for the following reasons:

Many political parties still operate outdated mechanisms of internal 'democracy' that explicitly or effectively place power in the hands of a small elite. Ordinary party members expect and deserve a bigger say, especially when it comes to choosing the party leadership. In turn, greater membership involvement in leadership selection gives more legitimacy to a political system in which leaders play an increasingly important role.

Party membership is going down in most countries. Many citizens no longer see membership of a political party as the obvious and natural way to become involved in politics, and political parties as a result have become more isolated and inward-looking. Local political parties in particular should evolve to become civic organisations capable of organising social change at the community level, and local activists should be equipped with the advocacy and social entrepreneurship skills needed to make this happen.

One of the main tasks of political parties will continue to be the selection of candidates for public office. In exercising this role, greater emphasis should be placed on the need for politicians whose personal integrity is beyond question, and who will conduct themselves in an ethical manner when in office. Providing political parties with more substantial public funding in countries where this doesn't already happen should also allow for a reduction in the reliance of some parties on private funding - or at least allow existing ceilings to be kept in place.

Political parties must become more representative of society as a whole. While significant advances have been made in many countries over the last few years in improving the representation of women, ethnic minorities and young people in politics, much more should be done to ensure that the composition of political bodies better reflects the diverse composition of society, including through the use of mechanisms such as (informal) quota.

Political parties need to respond to the trend of ever larger numbers of floating voters, whose loyalties no longer belong to a single political party. They choose parties on the basis of specific policies or the quality of its leadership. Yet political parties continue to operate in very segmented ways. On the centre-left, Greens, Social democrats, old-style Socialists, Liberals and even some Christian-Democrats vie for same vote, even though many of their leaders, activists and voters often share the same broad outlook on politics and life. Rigid party political distinctions then no longer make sense. The centre-left should seek to break down the walls that divide progressive politicians from one another, and make a single broad appeal to progressive voters.

Finally, the media - both public and private - must be able to play a full part in the democratic process. In order for this to happen, transparent and competitive ownership rules are essential. As media moguls continue to increase the size of their empires across Europe and elsewhere, the threat to the pluralism of the media landscape increases. Progressive politics must be a staunch defender of a strong and independent public broadcasting function, while at the same time safeguarding and encouraging a competitive, pluralist and responsible private sector.

Progressive generation

It is often said these days that the politics of idealism is dead, especially among centre-left modernisers. We disagree. There's nothing more idealistic than leaving behind the ideas of the past, and solutions that no longer work, in favour of radical, innovative ways of addressing problems old and new - and thereby broadening the coalition for social progress that is key to sustaining our efforts. In the end, meaningful change can only be achieved by always being prepared to turn conventional wisdom on its head. Emancipated citizens don't think in terms of state vs. private, collective vs. individual, or even left vs. right. Neither should politicians. If we can find ways of working towards a stronger and more flexible economy, towards increased emancipation and individual empowerment, towards a sustainable and more diverse environment, and towards a peaceful, stable and more equitable world through policies that appeal not just to our traditional supporters but to the vast majority of the population as well, then the next generation will be the progressive generation.

Warren House, Surrey, March 11 2005

Matt Browne (UK)
Hubertus Heil (Germany)
Michiel van Hulten (the Netherlands)
Enrico Letta (Italy)
Eluned Morgan (UK)
Juan Moscoso (Spain)
Algirdas Paleckis (Lithuania)
Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Denmark)


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Third way away day 

Nicholas Watt

Young European politicians at a retreat outside London seek inspiration from the neo-cons to revive the centre-left vision, writes Nicholas Watt

Friday March 11, 2005

In the grand surroundings of Warren House, a 19th century pile on the outskirts of London where Edward VII used to wind down, the great and the good of Europe's centre left are gathering today for a brainstorming session.

Under the watchful eyes of Peter Mandelson and two former prime ministers, a host of young politicians from across Europe will put their names to a declaration that is designed to revive the third way.

Labelling themselves "the progressive generation", these under-40s hope their document will show the centre left can reclaim the political stage with classic third way ideas on promoting a market economy while driving up standards in public services.

The atmosphere at Warren House, where tomorrow's leaders are likely to spurn the chance of dancing the night away in a ballroom modelled on the hall of mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, will be slightly muted. This year's annual Policy Network retreat is a far cry from the days when third way warriors held sway in almost all the world's big industrialised countries - Bill Clinton in the US, Tony Blair in Britain, Gerhard Schröder in Germany, Lionel Jospin in France and Giuliano Amato in Italy.

Only Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder are still in power and both are diminished figures compared with the late 1990s, when it appeared they would be stamping their vision across Europe and the industrialised world. Mr Mandelson today makes clear how far the third way elite has fallen when he speaks of "past mistakes" - by centre left governments across Europe - who fell from power after "ignoring voters' genuine anxieties over immigration, unemployment" and a host of other touchstone issues. Two former prime ministers who made such mistakes - Giuliano Amato in Italy and Poul Nyrup Rasmussen in Denmark - will be on hand this weekend to provide tips on where they went wrong.

Michiel van Hulten, a former Dutch MEP who, as co-chairman of the Young Progressive Network, is the driving force behind today's declaration, admits he has his work cut out now that a mere five of the EU's old 15 members have centre left governments. In the late 1990s, the figure stood at 13 out of 15.

"We want to take a leaf out of the book of the neo-cons in the United States," Mr Van Hulten says. "They have been incredibly successful over the past 10 to 15 years in building up a public policy agenda, which George Bush is now implementing. This has been missing from the centre left, where the thinking has been short term and disjointed."

Drawing up policy ideas that can secure agreement across Europe, even among like-minded politicians, is an almost impossible task, as today's declaration makes clear. A proposal that all EU countries abandon their veto on foreign policy is understood to have been the subject of intense debate at the summit, with British representatives determined not to give up one of the prime minister's famous "red lines" from the EU constitution negotiations.

But the proposal stayed in. The declaration says: "The newly enlarged EU must develop a credible and effective foreign and defence policy. Member states must be prepared to give up their power of veto in order to become more effective together, and to invest more in creating a more credible defence capability, including an appropriate role for the EU's neutral member states."

Such language will barely raise an eyebrow in Mr Van Hulten's Netherlands, a relatively small EU country whose standing in the world would increase if large countries, such as Britain, abandoned their veto on foreign policy. But this passage may go some way toward explaining why one of the young British politicians in the "progressive generation" is likely to find himself engaged in an intense discussion in a far flung corner of the grounds of Warren House when the signing ceremony takes place. Tipped for the cabinet after the election, the Cabinet Office minister David Miliband will not want to be directly associated with a commitment that would be exploited by the Eurosceptic tabloids.

Other elements in the declaration will be warmly welcomed by Mr Miliband, one of the brains behind Mr Blair who wrote Labour's manifesto for the 1997 landslide election victory. In language that would do the prime minister proud, the declaration says on public services: "There is no inherent reason why public services should be provided only by the state. The state's role is to regulate and guarantee access, to set and enforce standards and to police fair pricing. The private sector should play a role in the provision of public services, but only where this leads to higher quality, lower prices and increased choice."

Where Britain feels uneasy about the proposal on foreign policy, German and French politicians at the retreat might fear the reception they will receive back home if they sign up to a document written in such Thatcherite language. Mr Van Hulten is relaxed. "This declaration is designed to provoke debate. I wouldn't say think the unthinkable, because that is what Tony Blair said. But we have to look at the horizon beyond the next election."

Mr Miliband may beg to disagree, as he rushes back to Labour's campaign headquarters after the retreat this weekend to see whether the Tories have pulled off another pre-election stunt.

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