This week, I felt there was actually much ado about nothing.
It all started with the results of the European elections on June, 7th . We had been campaigning for months. There was a huge window of opportunity for the left within the context of neo-liberal crisis. All that for… a conservative-eurosceptic-liberal grand coalition at the European Parliament. Business, as usual. All is for the best in the best of all worlds.
Shortly after, the 27 heads of state of the European Union unanimously nominated Barroso as their intended candidate to head the European Commission, despite the wide majority of commentators -journalists and bloggers alike- saying that Barroso should leave. The contrast was striking.
Anyone But Barroso campaign
In the beginning of September, Barroso presented his political guidelines for the five years to come to the European Parliament: a 50-page long document, which is 95% copy-paste of proposals or programmes that already exist. To make it clear: if Barroso were a student and had written a paper for school, the teachers would have accused him of plagiarism, and then, at worst, he would have been expelled from university, or at best, given a chance to rewrite his paper. But here again, despite the commentators’ criticisms, he got away with it.
On September, 16th, Barroso was reelected as President of the European Commission by an absolute majority of the Members of the European Parliament. There is nothing to complain about: Council unanimity, Parliament majority, his reelection is democratic, and unquestionable.
So business, as usual, will be ruling for five more years. Obviously, there is something wrong about all this. Does this mean trying to change things is worthless?
On my way back from Barcelona, I stopped at the lovely coastal town of La Rochelle where the Parti socialiste summer university was held. The sun was shining, people were in a good mood, and optimism was in the air. Journalists felt it too as for once in a very long time they wrote positive articles on the PS. What has caused that sudden turnaround? Could they actually feel the activists’ enthusiasm? Have they been seduced by the reforms announced by PS leader Martine Aubry? Or is it simply that they have finally realised that their approach to the PS in the past years has been overly negative? The PS is by far not only about internal fights. The PS is not dead. The PS is an activist party. It is alive and kicking, lifted up by the dedication of its thousands of activists, who relentlessly and voluntarily give some of their free time to the pursuit of their ideals because they refuse fatality, and decided one day to take their destiny into their own hands. I am regularly dumbstruck when I notice the gap between the party’s life as I see it from inside, and the image that is given by the mainstream media. I feel betrayed and usurped. I am happy to see that finally there are signs of change in this regard.
This weekend at La Rochelle, the activists’ enthusiasm warmed up my heart. Among the reforms announced by Martine Aubry in her opening speech, especially two of them were greeted by thunderous applause, spiced up by bravos and hurrays: the first one was about putting an end to the very French habit of plurality of offices, and the second one was about following the American model and opting for open primaries for the presidential election in 2012. Besides these two groundbreaking reforms, Martine Aubry announced the upcoming launch of a social network dedicated to PS activists and sympathisers. This “socialist Facebook” will be called Coopol from “coopérative politique”, political cooperative in French. I am thrilled by these three announcements as they all go towards a greater openness of the Parti socialiste.
Openness to the diversity of society by putting an end to plurality of offices. In order to renew itself, the Parti socialiste needs to promote more women, young people, people of foreign origin, people from any social and economic backgrounds. Not only will it better reflect the diversity of French society, but it will also convey that diversity engenders creativity.
Openness to our sister parties on the left and to the participation of our sympathisers to the party’s life thanks to the presidential primaries. I am convinced that the left needs to unite. We are driven by the same values. What differs is our vision of what is needed to reach our common ideals. I believe that is something we can overcome. The primaries will also give our sympathisers the opportunity to play an important role in the campaign, thus certainly giving birth to new vocations.
Openness to new means of political activism thanks to Coopol. This new tool will allow activists who share common interests to gather and act together despite geographical distance. Opening up the tool to sympathisers will also show that our party is a common place for debate, as well as a laboratory for political innovation.
Openness is a left-wing concept, and so is participative democracy and transparency. It was high time we reasserted it.
As Al Green sings, “a change is gonna come”.
The French PS is going through a severe crisis. Nobody denies it anymore. Everybody knows. It’s out there. It’s a fact. On a more positive note, let’s keep in mind that one has to reach the bottom of the swimming-pool so they can give a good kick and surface again. I hope that’s where we stand now.
Since I couldn’t help but notice the gap between the campaign as I know it from the inside, and as it is portrayed by the media -see previous posts here and there- I decided to try and find a new equilibrium -if only a little- by relating the campaign through the eyes of a eurosocialist activist.
The Party of European Socialists has been preparing these elections for almost two years. Two years of consultation, debate and action. Two years trying to catch the attention of 27 national presses, in vain. Two years of hard work only to realise -at the end of the race- that the national media are just starting to show interest in these elections, only two weeks before the vote. This is a deeply upsetting situation for activists.
The PES manifesto is the fruit of an unprecedented approach in Europe. This manifesto is the result of a democratic bottom-up process, and not top-down as it is still done in other European parties.
For almost a year -from October 2007 to July 2008- the PES ran an open and transparent consultation of activists, NGOs, and trade unions over four key topics that were to become the PES campaign axes for the 2009 European elections. Gathered in their local branches, the PES activists debated for months in order to write contributions to the upcoming PES manifesto. The Your Space website was also an innovation in the field of political debate. Internet users – either PES activists or not- were invited to post articles or comments on the topics of the consultation. I took part in all of this. The result? For the first time, a common programme for all Socialist, Social-democrat, and Labour parties of Europe -a manifesto for the Party of European Socialists that states our values, describes six common axes for our future actions, and develops 71 concrete proposals for a new direction to Europe.
An ambitious manifesto, an unprecedented approach, transnational and democratic. Something that had never been seen before.
In December 2008, this manifesto was adopted unanimously by member parties at the PES council in Madrid (watch video). I was there too. This moment gave me the shivers. Along with the hundreds of activists that were there, I shared the feeling that the adoption of this manifesto was the emotional symbol of what we were building together: a Paneuropean political force that manages to elaborate and promote a common project, beyond the boundaries of language and culture, thanks to the enthusiasm of its activists. All together, united. Definitely moving.
When I came back home, I was very disappointed by the French media coverage of the event. What was a major event, an unprecedented attempt at politicising the decisions made in Europe, was only reported through the participation of the freshly-elected head of the French PS, Martine Aubry. It is true that Martine Aubry was applauded warmly, but she was only one party leader among the 27 that attended the event. What mattered was not her attendance or the way it was received. What mattered was the adoption of a common manifesto to all centre-left parties in Europe, and the way we managed to get there. Unfortunately, this was -according to the media- not a big story.
What was also innovating enough to be worth pointing out is the fact that the French PS has fully adopted the PES campaign: manifesto, mottos, visual identity, and logos alike. The PS chose to launch its campaign at the same time as the PES campaign was launched in April in Toulouse. On that occasion, all PES heads of list from the 27 EU member states gathered at a bilingual event. It was fantastic to see the audience – whose diversity was shown by the variety of flags being waved- so enthusiastic. This event was covered by the media -well, a little. Just a little since, once again, facts were covered through a national lens: it was reported as the PS campaign launch, rather than the PES’s. In fact, it was the opposite.
May, the final sprint. Every Saturday, there was a European day of action, for which PES party members organised events all around Europe, on the same date, and on the same topic: the 9th Social Europe, the 16th climate change, the 23rd relaunching the economy, the 30th our manifesto. When I read the live twitter comments that our activists posted on the events they took part in, when I looked at the pictures of these actions on flickr, and felt the sense of unity they shown, I couldn’t help but think that there was something truly innovating and unique in the 2009 PES campaign. A common manifesto for 27 countries, democratically elaborated, the enthusiastic mobilisation of activists all over Europe, and the use of the latest Internet tools as a means of overcoming distance, are some of the PES campaign features that should have triggered the interest of the media and other commentators.
I have put a lot of thought into finding a pen name. Like many people, I chose to open a blog because I wanted to share some ideas – because I like writing too, obviously, otherwise you don’t do it. I also wanted to share what it is like to be an activist of the French Parti Socialiste and of the Party of European Socialists, showing another side of politics -and of the socialists-, and providing a different image than the distorted one you can see in the media.
So what pen name would be the most relevant? I thought about using a politically neutral pen name, like many do. I thought that perhaps hiding my true colours might give more impact to my ideas. It is unfortunate but I noticed that stating clearly my political leaning could scare people off, immediately discrediting whatever I might say. In the Brussels Euro-environment I live, very few people openly take sides on a party. Yet they all work more or less directly in European politics. Expect that here in Brussels we call it “European affairs” as if trying to make it sound less political. It is true that most lobbies – industries and NGOs alike – mainly intend to influence the civil servants at the European Commission, those must be “neutral” so to speak. I don’t believe in neutrality. One can try their best to be unbiased, of course. It’s actually a matter of work ethics for civil servants. But you can never be neutral. We all have certain values, and not all of us share the same ones.
Then why do some people get scared away by the sole fact of stating clearly what you stand for ? I can’t help but wonder. I think there is some kind of thinking that is quite common nowadays, and that says : political affiliation means dogmatism and indoctrination. I used to think that way too, I admit it. Although I have always felt quite passionate about politics, I committed to a political party rather belatedly. I was afraid of losing my freedom of thought, I guess. When I started my life as a political activist, I was very happy to realise these preconceived ideas were wrong. A political party – mine at least – is a place of exchange and debate. We don’t always agree on which way to go, that’s a fact. But what we agree on are fundamental values that drive our actions. A party is a political family. Family members don’t always agree with one another. On the contrary, families often have arguments, and that’s quite healthy actually. Yet families know what unites them. What unites a family is a set of values. And these values are not the same in every family. Mine are left-wing values.
Since I don’t believe in neutrality, since I believe politics needs to be redeemed, and since I am above all an honest person, I have chosen to be unequivocal in my pen name. I am a europhile and a socialist. I am Eurosocialist.