PES activists forum 2009: championing equality for all
Sep 12th, 2009

At the PES activist forum this afternoon, I attended a workshop entitled “Towards a fair society – Championing equality for all”. The session was refreshingly interactive, giving the audience the opportunity to interact directly with the speaker panel right from the beginning. No long speech, just discussion. The panel included Rhonda Donaghey (SIPTU, Ireland), Lisa Pelling (FEPS Research Group), Michael Leiblfinger (Rainbow Rose) and Niall Crowly (Former CEO Irish Equality Authority).

PES balloons at the Trinity college

PES balloons floating over Trinity college

Niall said that in this time of economic difficulties, governments unfortunately tend to cut funding for equality programmes, which are too often considered as the kind of secondary policy you can only afford in more positive times. However, according to Niall, an “equality crisis” preceded and led the economic crisis we are going through. Studies show that not only do the most vulnerable groups benefit from equality policies, but the society also does, for a more equal society is a more peaceful, healthier, and happier one. Therefore we should focus on putting equality at the core of the public debate in Europe, and protect the infrastructure that is in place to implement it.

Addressing the issue of discrimination against immigrants, Lisa Pelling suggested we change the way we look at immigration. We need immigration as our societies are aging and our population is shrinking. Therefore immigration is a chance for us, and we should even be proud that so many people choose to migrate to Europe. Building up on Lisa’s ideas, a participant said we should reaffirm that any citizen has the right to find their freedom and well-being anywhere in the world. He added that we should also be very strong in stating that countries that do not respect LGTB rights are simply breaching human rights.

As for people with disabilities, Niall points out that we haven’t yet moved in a position where it is part of our common sense to accommodate difference. It should become common sense and only positive action will enable us to move towards more equal societies. Rhonda closed the workshop calling upon the participants to act daily against all kinds of discrimination so that in five years from now we can see a more diverse European Parliament, free of extreme-right parties.

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Socialist re-enchantment at the La Rochelle summer university
Sep 3rd, 2009

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”.

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The political culture of Generation Y aka Generation 2.0: Openness, Ethics and Humility
Jul 10th, 2009

A week ago I published a post about Generation 2.0 that dealt with the cultural consequences of the digital revolution. Yesterday, I discovered on Twitter the term of Generation Y thanks to @boriswandoren. The statement “Generation Y” is used to qualify the generation roughly born since the end of the seventies, which is the first one to have massively integrated the use of digital technologies in their daily lives. Boris Wandoren, Jon Worth and I engaged in a Twitter debate about the necessity of Generation Y values to be represented more in politics, which led Jon Worth to write a blogpost disproving the generational argument, stating that the main issue in today’s politics is more the structural difficulty of political parties to integrate “risk takers, leaders, people with drive, people with ideology, and bind them into a party structure”. Julien Frisch picked up this post, partly agreeing with Jon while arguing at the same time that there is some truth in the generational issue.

I still believe it is a matter of generation. But don’t get me wrong, I do not mean it is simply a question of replacing elder politicians by younger ones. That would be too easy. To paraphrase Jon, “it’s more important than that”. The generation question is not only an age question; it is much more relevant as a cultural question. Many young people still think like older generations while some elder people embrace the cultural changes younger generations bring in. Take the example of the 1960s cultural protest movement. Back then, not all young people were culturally liberal hippies! Some were conservative. They were the same age though. Yet looking back in history, at that moment it’s the values of the young progressive hippies -joined by their open-minded elders- that won the cultural battle.

The relevance of the generation question is more culture than age-related. So what is the specific culture of Generation Y and how does it matter? According to the Wikipedia articles I could read on the topic in English and French, what characterises Generation Y -at least in Western countries- is the following:

  • They didn’t grow up with the apocalyptical threat of the cold war.
  • They have integrated the moral transformations of the 1960s/1970s.
  • They haven’t known the world without AIDS.
  • They were young enough when computers and portable electronic devices started to widely disseminate so that they could gain an intuitive command of these technologies, much better than that of their parents.
  • They were born at a time when ecology started to raise interest in the wide public.

This list is certainly not comprehensive, and more importantly not entirely relevant to all geographies, but it is still good food for thought. Although these Wikipedia articles give a good description of Generation Y’s culture, they do not relate it to political behaviours. And that’s where we get back to the point I wanted to make.

The emergence of this new culture will have a long-term impact on politics. My guess is that Obama’s election is the first visible sign of what the political legacy of Generation Y will be. I believe that the future of politics lies in Openness, Ethics and Humility:

  • Openness because, thanks to digital technologies, the public debate has become much more open to citizen’s direct interaction, which also leads to the necessity for institutions to be more transparent. Openness also because tolerance is one of the defining values of Generation Y that believes in sexual liberties and the promotion of minority rights.
  • Ethics because in the past decades there has been a growing disenchantment about politics as a consequence of recurring corruption scandals and a perceived discrepancy between what politicians say they stand for and what their behaviours are.
  • Humility because in today’s world one can become an idol in just a minute, only to fall back as quickly into anonymity, because the world has become so complex that no ideology can pretend to have all the keys to world peace, because we live in an interdependent world where the fate of the richest is linked to that of the poorest.

There is a growing demand for a new way of doing politics. However, there is still not quite a satisfactory offer. Stay tuned: more posts coming up on Generation Y, the open society and what it means for politics.

Update on 11 July:

Boris Wandoren’s take on the topic: http://www.clermont-citygroup.eu/2009/07/11/is-it-more-important-than-the-generational-issue/comment-page-1/#comment-454

and the amazing article by Kevin Kelly on digital socialism: http://www.wired.com/culture/culturereviews/magazine/17-06/nep_newsocialism?currentPage=all

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Tired of legislation and taxes? Head off to the libertarian paradise!
Jun 26th, 2009

Thanks to Compass Youth for drawing my attention to this amazingly funny (and so true) video.

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Abortion is an ‘aberration’ worse than pederasty, says Spanish PP head of list
Jun 2nd, 2009

In an electoral meeting on 29 May, head of PP European list Jaime Mayor Oreja expressed its support to Cardinal Antonio Cañizares’ assertion concerning a recent report on sexual abuses perpetrated for decades in Catholic schools in Ireland, reports El País. Mayor said that Cañizares is right when saying that what happened in Ireland was not as bad as “the hundreds of lives destroyed by abortion” and he claims to not understand the scandal Cañizares’ declarations created. The head of PSOE European list, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, said that the PP vision is not “the majority perception of society” and that Mayor is trying to criminalise women who have made their choice. The next day, in a meeting in Esplugues de Llobregat (Barcelona), PP President Mariano Rajoy tried to avoid references to his support for Mayor. Spanish Socialist President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero also reacted by asking Mayor to “withdraw his declarations which are 30 or 40 years old”. “We won’t allow Mr. Mayor Oreja to impose his morals” on Spanish society, Zapatero added.

For the record, Major Oreja also refused to support the declaration condemning General Franco’s regime 70 years after his coup d’état in the plenary of July 2007. “Why should I have to condemn Franco´s regime?”, he said. “I did not condemn Franco, I praise the democratic transition. How can I condemn what represents, without a doubt, a very big part of Spanish society?”, he added.

Now, is Jaime Mayor Oreja really the kind of guy you want to see making decisions for you at the European Parliament? The PP is allied –among others- to the UMP, the PdL (Berlusconi’s party) and the CDU. All these parties are gathered in the European People’s party, strongly claiming their Christian values, which to them are “true values”. I don’t like to draw the fear card -that’s too much of a right-wing tactic- but this is a little scary, isn’t it? Please, mind your vote.

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Why I am (openly) a socialist
May 25th, 2009

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.

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It is time…
May 23rd, 2009

13 days to go before the European elections.

Not quite used to it, I am watching the 8 o’clock news on France2.

News go by. The headlines: hailstones the size of tennis balls, shady insurance companies, children put in custody, sects – oh yes, that’s catchy, sects are scary – it even talks about Sarkozy’s facebook page, and Carla having a cup of tea with her lady friends and petting her brand new dog… that doesn’t feel right. I am waiting, listening carefully; I feel feverish. I am losing hope. Well, I guess it’s not for today.

But suddenly, there it comes!

On the 19th minute of the big TV monument that is the 8 o’clock news of the state-subsidised, pedagogy-oriented public TV channel, just two weeks before the vote: a report on the European elections! What a miracle. I was not even expecting it any more. Finally! So, there is still hope. Let’s see what it’s about. My ears and eyes are wide open.

Topic: “European elections: list registration closed”. Lists are presented one after the other. “The UMP is heading the polls for the time being. Its most media-friendly candidates, two ministers, Micher Barnier and Rachida Dati, candidates in the Ile-de-France region. Lagging behind, the PS is struggling to find its feet, weakened by internal disputes. Among its heads of list: Harlem Désir in the Ile-de-France region, Vincent Peillon parachuted in the South-East, and Henri Weber in the Centre”.

Hit pause: did you notice the use of positive terms for the UMP, and negative terms as for the PS? You didn’t? Well I did, and that’s the wake-up call that led me to start this blog. Read again:

UMP + heading + most media-friendly + two ministers

PS + lagging behind + struggling + weakened + disputes + parachuted

Let alone the fact that two candidates are mentioned for the UMP, a man and a woman, while only men are mentioned for the PS, even though it is championing gender equality. Do you see how unbalanced things are now? You might think I am being paranoid. Well I am not, this is but one example among many others – too many – of something that has become systematic. You heard me: SYS-TE-MA-TIC.

We are living in a world where the right-wingers have won the media and mind-domination war. It is time for the European progressives to face that fact, get on with it and fight back. We must restore some kind of balance in the media. It is time for us to take the floor back, and get heard.

Back to the France2 news report. The other lists are presented, 5 seconds each. “72 deputies to elect, spread amongst 8 regions. An artificial land division combined with heads of list that are uneasy to identify: here are two factors that probably explain somehow the lack of interests of voters in these elections. As a matter of fact, one of the key aspects in this vote, if not the most relevant, will be the low turnout rate.”

Report time: 2 minutes.

“Here are two factors that probably explain somehow the lack of interests of voters in these elections”. I am flabbergasted. What about the fact that less than two weeks before the vote, a TV report about the European elections only comes at the 19th minute of the evening news? Doesn’t it have anything to do with the matter? Who are they fooling? “As a matter of fact, one of the key aspects in this vote, if not the most relevant, will be the low turnout rate.” How can one state such a thing before the elections actually take place? Doesn’t France2, as a public TV channel, have a “key” role to play in favour of a higher turnout rate? In fact, this is also systematic. SYS-TE-MA-TIC. The media analyse these elections through national frames of reference. What is at stake is not national, so nothing is at stake. It is tiring. It is exhausting. It is depressing.

The Parti Socialiste and the Party of European Socialists, to which it is affiliated, have been fighting for months in order to politicise and europeanise these elections. Yet it does not show in the media. What is wrong, then? The French are not ready, people are not interested in Europe, Europe is too complicated: that would be the usual answer given. But it is nothing like that. Not this time at least. What is wrong is the UMP. The UMP and the European People’s Party, to which it is affiliated, are not campaigning. The truth is, it is of no interest for them to campaign as they are in power in most European governments. So they let time pass by, hoping no one will notice. As a consequence, the PS and the PES have no opponent to fight against. We want to debate. We organise meeting after meeting. Yet the media do not report on it. Why? It is simple. Because if they make a report on the PS, the media must make another one on the UMP, or at least give them a chance to react in order to be fair. But the UMP is not campaigning, and there is no available counterpart. Until the last minute the UMP had neither lists nor programme. No matter how outrageous that is, the media have hardly talked about it. This absolute scandal has been covered up by images of Carla in Chanel outfits.

The show must not go on.

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