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Progressive Governance Conference 2003

  • Date(s)
    11 July 2003
  • Location

On Thursday 26th and Friday 27th of February 2004, Policy Network hosted a British-French-German dialogue on the ‘Future of European Social Democracy’. The seminar, organised in collaboration with the German Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and the French A Gauche, en Europe brought together centre-left politicians and thinkers from the UK, Germany and France.

The event was not an attempt to establish a social democrat directorate of the big three – though some commentators in the Italian press may have thought otherwise - but a gathering of Europe’s three largest countries to discuss common problems and explore common solutions. The seminar was convened under Chatham House rules, which provided an open environment for the participants to consider the common challenges and opportunities we are facing across Europe.

Over the two days the participants addressed three key issues: visions and values, growth and prosperity and the new politics of insecurity. The event also marked the launch of a new Policy Network publication, Where Now for European Social Democracy?

Visions and Values

The seminar was opened on Thursday afternoon by Peter Mandelson, who also chaired the panel on visions and values, at which Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Sigmar Gabriel and David Miliband spoke.  Throughout the afternoon’s discussions, there was general agreement that all European social democratic parties, in or out of power, must renew their political ideas while remaining true to core values of the progressive Left. Here, two essential questions were the focus of the discussion: who are we, and where are we going? As Peter Mandelson pointed out in his article for Where Now for European Social Democracy?

[…] there is the challenge of demonstrating to voters what relevance our values have in the modern age. What is ‘social justice’ in societies where traditional conceptions of class-based policies have become meaning-less and where there is no longer a clear, solid and shared concept of ‘fairness’ between the better-educated, progressive elite and the increasingly disconnected elements of a fractured working class?

Globalization in its many forms has challenged social democrats to look for new policies that reflect their values in a way that is both progressive and relevant. Societies are changing demographically and culturally, and the new agenda for social democracy has to focus simultaneously on wealth creation, poverty reduction, environmental sustainability and international security, as well as on the traditional questions of public service reform and the extension of democracy.

Discussants agreed that progressives should be proactive in their response to these challenges. Social democrats should not passively present globalization to the electorate as a fait accompli which cannot be managed or regulated. But social democrats should not respond defensively either. A retreat to the false security of protectionism, for example, would ignore the realities of globalization and conflict with the central social democratic values of internationalism and social justice. The social democratic response must instead take the form of policies which shape globalization.

The need to rethink the pillars of the Welfare State - fairness and redistribution - was discussed at length. Despite huge financial efforts, not only has social inequality increased over the past 20 years, social mobility – the passport out of poverty – has become the exception rather than the norm for the major part of our societies. Participants argued for a dynamic vision of social democracy.

Patrick Diamond, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Sigmar Gabriel put forward for discussion three approaches in Where Now for European Social Democracy? to make ‘empowering socialism’ a reality: the Welfare State must change its mechanisms of redistribution and increase its efficiency, possibly through a new fiscal policy; a new form of ‘professional social security’ was proposed to tackle rising employment insecurity; and, governments should begin the fight against inequality at the earliest possible stage to make sure that a child born into poverty is not doomed to stay at the bottom of the pile for his or her whole life.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn summed up what he thought this process was about in his article. He argued that this was about a return to the origins of socialism, and the empowerment of the citizen.
Growth and Prosperity

An obvious starting point for the promotion of progressive visions and values is a new approach to innovation, growth, work and prosperity in Europe. The second session on Thursday addressing this issues was chaired by Michel Roth.  Patricia Hewitt, Angelica Schwall-Düren and Jean Pisani-Ferry introduced the discussions.

In their preparatory essays, Angelica Schwall-Düren, Jean Pisani-Ferry and Roger Liddle presented the seminar with a number of key themes that formed the basis of the session’s discussions. They argued that globalization is not a simple race to the bottom, even if that is how it is sometimes perceived. To respond to the fears of our citizens, the seminar put economic growth, labour market reform, and research and development at the top of the agenda. Central to all of this is the need to revitalise the Lisbon process as a means of developing a sustainable European social model.  In its fourth year, the Lisbon economic reform agenda has made at best limited progress towards its goal of creating the “most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010”.  It is imperative that the Lisbon agenda is embraced by progressives as a vehicle for addressing Europe-wide issues of unemployment, economic migration and an ageing population.

Research and development in Europe is currently far behind the US in terms both of public and private investment. How we address this essential investment for the future is a part of the social democratic challenge. It is also an issue that has to be dealt with at both the national and European level, since a knowledge-based economy and labour market reform are the two elementary preconditions for stimulating economic growth.

A key part of the discussion on research and development spending was human capital investment.  Job creation depends mainly on the reform of labour markets, in order to respond to changes over individual life cycles, and to give businesses the flexibility to organise production to meet the challenge of the competition of a globalized market. Management of the labour market needs not only adaptability in the short term, but also responsibility in the long term. Social democratic governments can do this by investing in education and training policies that match the life cycles of individuals, life long learning is the point of departure.

Sigmar Gabriel, former Prime minister of Lower-Saxony and Deputy Chairman of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung asked:
How much autonomy and personal provision may be expected in our society, how do we create more individual decision-making authority, which risks in life require collective protection, which public welfare interests must be financed through taxes of all citizens instead of through the social insurance contributions of labourers and white-collar workers?

Social democrats are often confronted with the dilemma of increasing economic growth and prosperity whilst maintaining social justice and equality. In tackling this challenge, modern progressives should not compromise the core values of the Left, rather their agenda must remain ambitious.

The Progressive Governance Conference was the largest ever gathering of international centre-left leaders, policy-makers, politicians and thinkers. 12 world leaders, and over 600 participants from more than 30 countries attended, including Bill Clinton, Pascal Lamy, Javier Solana and many more. 48 hours of discussion and debate concluded with a Public Symposium of world leaders - Lula, Adrian Nastase, Vladimir Špidla, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Peter Medgyessy, Helen Clark, Thabo Mbeki, Göran Persson, and Tony Blair – chaired by Peter Mandelson.
In October 2002, Policy Network was charged with the intellectual, political and logistical planning of the Conference. The thorough planning process took several stages:

    * Policy reports commissioned from international experts.
    * Launched by a seminar at 10 Downing Street and followed by a series of working groups at the London School of Economics on the key policy areas: the New Welfare State; Public Service Renewal; Corporate Reform; 21st Century Citizenship; Science, Technology and Risk; Migration and Social Integration; and Global Governance.
    * Preparatory Conference held at Warren House. Second drafts of the reports were discussed, and overlapping themes examined.
    * Publications released immediately prior to the conference: Progressive Politics, ‘The New Progressive Agenda’; Progressive Futures, an abridged collection of the expert reports .

The Conference opened on 11th July 2003, with a plenary session, followed by a dinner at the Guildhall, with keynote speeches from Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

The Saturday 12th July session began with Working Group Breakfasts, followed by a Roundtable between President Ricardo Lagos of Chile; President Bill Clinton; British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw; Prime Minister Jean Chrétien of Canada; and EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy.

The afternoon Working Group Sessions that followed were an opportunity for the whole conference to engage in detailed discussions of the expert policy reports written on each of the seven policy themes.

An array of world leaders and international statesmen spoke at the Dorchester dinner including: President of Poland Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Vladimir Śpidla, Prime Minister of Hungary Peter Medgyessy, Prime Minister of Poland Leszek Miller, Prime Minister of Romania Adrian Nastase, Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark, EU Foreign Affairs High Representative Javier Solana. The dinner was hosted by Tony Blair.

Sunday 13th of July’s session began with a Political Strategy Breakfast Seminar. The conference closed on a high note, with a Public Symposium bringing together an array of progressive world leaders.

After the close of the conference, an international leaders' summit was held, and a communique issued setting out a commitment to a progressive agenda.

A full report of the conference is available in Policy Network’s journal Progressive Politics, ‘Progressive Governance London, 2003'.

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