Could Europe’s left-wingers be getting their second wind?
To find out, Euronews went to Athens to meet George Papandreou – former Greek foreign minister and current leader of the country’s opposition socialist party, PASOK.
This week he was elected to head Socialist International, the worldwide organisation of social democrat, socialist and labour parties.
The collective has long been perceived as an obscure throwback to old school socialism.
But with globalisation raising new issues and creating fresh divisions among socialists in Europe and beyond, Papandreou now faces the challenge of putting the organisation back on the political radar…
Euronews: “George Papandreou, few people in Europe know that your organisation still exists, so you have a lot of work ahead. What will you start with?”
George Papandreou: “First of all, there is, I think, a very big opportunity for Socialist International. We are 161 parties around the world, the biggest political organisation in the world. There is an opportunity to show our solidarity for new areas in the world, where progressive movements are developing, and this will be in Russia, in China, in the Arab world, working with the progressives in the US. Our traditional base is in Europe, but there are very strong parties in Latin America and other parts of the world also. We have the opportunity of showing our work in the area of justice, of fighting inequality and poverty, the area of democracy and developing participation, the area of peace, in supporting the initiatives such as the one that (Spanish) Prime Minister Zapatero has taken on, the alliance of civilisations, dialogue in alliance rather than culture clash.”
Euronews: “It’s often said that Social Democracy is not in the best shape in Europe these days. Which picture do you draw of the current situation of the Left on the Old Continent?”
George Papandreou: “First of all, we have quite a few Socialists in government in the European Union. Secondly, Europe has been based on struggles of the labour movement, the European Social Model. Thirdly, we are providing a very clear alternative. The Nordic model, I think, is one which many are inspired by which allows both for using the market, but using the market in favour of our citizens, and also creating a secure environment for change and development, making sure that our citizens feel that they have a welfare system which is providing them with what they need. And finally I would like to say that there is a very strong Socialist Party under the leadership of Poul Rasmussen and he is working very hard to unite our parties in a common vision for the European Union. And I think we can give a political vision to the European Union.”
Euronews: “Do you identify new trends in European conservatism?”
George Papandreou: “I believe that conservatives today are moving dangerously more and more towards populism. The world is facing problems but it doesn’t need populism, it doesn’t need fear-mongering. Their language is the language of fear, our language is the language of security. They, I think, are also using big government for the few. But we see government as empowering our citizens to deal with the new challenges of today.”
Euronews: “Why do European socialist leaders currently in office, such as Tony Blair, Jose Luis Zapatero and Goran Persson seem to avoid any common action at the EU level?”
George Papandreou: “More and more we are working together as Socialists in the European Union. Obviously there is one question and that is the democratic institutions of our European Union. We have to address this in a new constitution. We tried to and there will be more discussion about the future of Europe. My belief is that we need to strengthen democratic institutions, so that that way parties will play a role. The Socialist Party in Europe is, I think, the most organised, the most active and the most unified of all the political groups. It will be able to create and it does already today play an important role in creating a view of an alternative for the European path.”
Euronews: “What in ancient Greece can be a source of inspiration for people who look for new political directions?”
George Papandreou: “Ancient Greece is of course and inspiration for me and I think for many people. The idea of democracy and what it means today is something which we need to address, and looking back to how it began and the concepts around democracy will be fruitful for all of us. The word ‘idiot’ in English comes from the Greek word ‘idiotis’, which in Greek means someone who does not partake in public affairs, who is not part of the social and political workings and functions. So what we would take from that lesson is people like Plato, Socrates and Aristotle were always talking about inclusiveness, participation, direct democracy, the social responsibility we all have to our world. This is an inspiration. And how do we translate these concepts to democracy today in a globalising world? What does democracy mean in a globalising world? How do we make sure that our citizens around the world in every corner are not disenfranchised, but can have a voice? This, I think, is one of the major challenges we will have in our global village. And think here Socialist International can play a very important role in coming up with ideas about democratic governance around the world.”