Dear comrades, dear friends,
On the 23rd of May the Social Democratic Party of Germany, SPD, will be celebrating its 150th anniversary, an occasion which will provide an opportunity to look back at its history and its achievements, and to pay homage to the memory of all those who contributed during these 150 years. We add our voices to those celebrating this anniversary with our best wishes.
The Socialist International, from its early foundation, also carries with it the struggles of many generations since the 19th century for the values and principles that unite its members and which we stand for today. This instils in us all the responsibility to act in line with those principles and carry forward the struggle for the realisation of the dreams and the aspirations of so many throughout the history of our movement.
With all this in mind, we want to address in this open letter a number of issues that have been raised in statements, comments and articles made available to the media by representatives of our members in Germany in recent days not within our organisation, but publically, which need to be addressed and clarified in a transparent manner.
In the press it has been reported that:
- The SPD criticised the International for expelling the parties of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt only after they left office (Die Welt 04.05.13, Neues Deutschland 05.05.13, Focus 06.05.13, Mitteldeutsche Zeitung 07.05.13, and Junge Welt 08.05.13)
By the beginning of the 1980s, years before we personally were connected to the SI, the RCD of Tunisia and the NDP of Egypt were already participating as guests in activities of the Socialist International. They were made full member parties of the organisation at the SI Congress held in Stockholm in 1989, hosted by the Swedish Social Democratic Party.
To now accuse the President and Secretary General of being responsible for the presence of these parties among the membership of the organisation is a distortion of the truth and a deliberate attempt to place the blame historically on others. We wholeheartedly reject this, along with references to the SI and its officials as being corrupted, which are totally unacceptable.
The Ethics Committee, whose responsibility it is to recommend new members, to monitor adherence to the Ethical Charter of the organisation and to propose sanctions in cases of non-compliance, had not at any time proposed the expulsion of these parties, while a number of SI parties maintained direct bilateral relations with them. Regrettably, one of these was the SPD, a member of the SI Ethics Committee, as can be seen in the visit of a high-level delegation to Tunisia in the week prior to the tragic immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in December of 2010 and the beginning of the democratic revolution in that country. (link: RCD SG receives delegation of SPD parliamentary group).
The Socialist International itself was completely absent from Tunisia since the mid-1990s and there has been no activity or presence of the organisation, or of its President or Secretary General, in that country despite many invitations and requests by other members for activities and meetings there. In the case of Egypt, a Council meeting chaired by Willy Brandt was held in Cairo in 1990, centering on the search for peace in the Middle East with a high level presence from Arab and Israeli leaders, and subsequently meetings of the SI Middle East Committee were held there, in 1991 and 1994, on the same issue.
In the absence of any decision by the SI Ethics Committee on the RCD and the NDP, the President and Secretary General took the extraordinary decision to end the SI membership of these two parties, in order to defend the integrity of the organisation.
At the recent XXIV SI Congress, we proposed a change in the composition of the Ethics Committee, and it was agreed, to include for the first time a balanced representation from all regions of the world in the membership of this Committee.
The International, in its attention to developments in the Arab world has been working consistently in support of a broad range of democratic political forces, who are participating regularly in its activities. The Arab struggle for democracy has continued to be a central focus of attention in the work of our organisation, as can be seen in different initiatives, for example the Council meeting in Athens in 2011 (web link), or the Committee meetings in Crete 2011 (web link) and Istanbul 2012 (web link), or the visit to Yemen 2012 (web link).
- “The SI has not made any substantial contribution in regard to the excesses of the financial markets or other global challenges” (quote by Sigmar Gabriel appearing in die Welt 04.05.13, in Süddeutsche Zeitung 05.05.13, and Neues Deutschland 05.05.13); it is also reported that ‘unfortunately, the SI has become silent’ (in the same newspapers).
From 2000 through to the last SI Congress held in September 2012, the SI committees relating to the economy were under the chairmanship of the SPD: the SI Committee on the Economy, Social Cohesion and the Environment from 2000 to 2008; and the SI Committee on Economic Policy, Labour and National Resources from 2008 to 2012. Those committees met regularly in different parts of the world, produced and published a variety of statements, reports and documents which were adopted at SI Council meetings, and at the XXII SI Congress held in Brazil in cooperation with the PT with the participation of President Lula (web link), and at the XXIII Congress held in Athens hosted by PASOK (web link).
At the outset of the financial crisis in 2008, the SI established a special high level Commission on Global Financial Issues (web link) which focussed directly on the crisis, putting forward authoritative views on social democratic priorities and issuing reports and statements regularly to SI bodies and to policy-makers, such as the G20 (web link), and the public, with pointed and solid views. Commission members included Elio di Rupo, Prime Minister of Belgium; Eero Heinäluoma, Speaker of the Finnish Parliament and former Finance Minister of Finland; Alfred Gusenbauer, former Chancellor of Austria; Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, former Prime Minister of Mali; Shri Arjun Sengupta, Indian National Congress; Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, founder of the Party for Democratic Revolution, PRD, Mexico; Antolin Sánchez Presedo, economist, PSOE, Spain; Fozia Wahab, Chair of the National Finance Committee of the Pakistani Parliament, PPP; Fathallah Oualalou, former Finance Minister, USFP, Morocco; Anatoly Aksakov, former Member of the Board of the Russian Federation Central Bank, A Just Russia Party. Its meetings were chaired by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz.
The ongoing crisis has consistently been high on the agenda of successive Presidium and Council meetings which included the participation of heads of state and government, heads of UN organisations and leading economists: New York 2008 (web link), Montenegro 2009 (web link), New York 2009 (web link), Dominican Republic 2009 (web link), New York Council June 2010 (web link), New York Presidium 2010 (web link), Paris 2010 (web link), New York 2011 (web link), Costa Rica 2012 (web link). Further, the impact of the crisis on different parts of the world was equally regularly addressed at regional meetings: in Guatemala (web link), Dakar (web link), Argentina (web link), Albania (web link), Moscow (web link), Namibia (web link), Brazil (web link), Moldova (web link) and Cape Verde (web link). Subsequent to all those activities, the financial crisis was at the top of the agenda of the XXIV SI Congress held in South Africa in 2012 (web link) and most recently at our Council meeting in Portugal in 2013 (web link). A permanent feature of these meetings is the participation of leading representatives from other parties and organisations such as the US Democrats - the Chair of the US Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission appointed by President Obama was a speaker at our last Congress - or from the BRICS where, apart from our member parties in those countries, we regularly have high level participants from India and China.
Global issues of crucial importance are seriously and consistently addressed by the SI. Its Commission for a Sustainable World Society, on climate change and sustainable development (web link), engaged key members of the international community and our family worldwide in the search for meaningful agreements on climate change. This high-level Commission was co-chaired by former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos and former Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, and its distinguished membership also included other former heads of state and government. In a sustained programme of activities across the globe, the Commission engaged in discussions to advance the position of our organisation on these questions and published a comprehensive report on its findings. The proposals of the SWS Commission were presented at the United Nations headquarters in New York (web link), at the COP15 in Copenhagen (web link), COP16 in Cancun, where decisions reached met many of its calls for actions (web link) and COP17 in Durban (web link), and we put forward our views to the COP18 in Doha. Our most recent Council held in Portugal in February 2013 (web link) agreed on the establishment of a new Commission on Equality, and on a new Campaign to stop violence against women.
- “The SI does not provide any longer a platform of social democratic debates within a global framework” (Sigmar Gabriel quote published in Süddeutsche Zeitung 05.05.13, Focus 06.05.13, and Neues Deutschland 05.05.13)
The development of the SI as a global organisation, drawing strength from the different political forces around the world that share our principles and values, was a founding goal which took a qualitative impulse with the vision and commitment of Willy Brandt for achieving a truly global International. Along this journey, the SI has become the common house for peoples and parties from all regions, with the background of different struggles and different histories. During the last two decades, the membership of the Socialist International has more than doubled. Today there are 154 member parties (web link), of which 54 are currently in government (web link). Further to that, there are 44 parties aspiring to join, having applied for membership. This development of the organisation has not only brought more legitimacy and substance to the global discussions, in which we are also joined by a number of like-minded organisations and guests, but have also strengthened the social democratic voice in all regions of the world. In this process, not only has social democracy gained in prominence and authority, but has contributed in strategic questions such as the advancement and consolidation of democracy, the resolution of conflicts, and provided many examples of good governance. In addition to being a forum for debate, the Socialist International has also become a more valuable place for sharing and learning from each other.
During recent years, the qualitative progress has been accompanied by a quantitative one, as there is hardly any political system today in different nations of the world where there is no social democratic political force. This is matched as well by the fact that at our global and regional meetings and in other initiatives of the International there are more and more participants.
- It is reported that the SPD is critical of the SI ‘apparatus’, that apart from the secretariat there are almost no structures (Neues Deutschland 07.05.13) & There are organizational deficits: Democratic standards are not met (Focus 06.05.13)
The SI has clearly defined structures and organs as set out in its statutes (web link). These are the Congress, Council, Presidium, Ethics Committee, Finance and Administration Committee and the Secretariat. At the last Congress in September 2012 these structures and organs were renewed and reformed, not only to respond to the current needs of the International, but also to reflect a fair geographical balance of its entire membership. Furthermore, the last Congress changed the statutes to ensure that all the structures of the organisation were openly and democratically established, including direct elections of candidates for the President, Secretary General and the members of the Presidium.
The Socialist International also carries out its work through commissions, regional and thematic committees, and specialised working groups, all of which report to the Council. The current 10 regional and 8 thematic committees and working groups were established by decision of the membership at the most recent Council meeting held in Portugal in 2013 (web link). The committees and working groups are an important part of the life of the International and represent the basis upon which the Socialist International defines its work with the broad participation of its entire membership.
Key to the internal democracy of the organisation is the active involvement of member parties from all regions, proportionally represented in all the instances. This is an International for ALL its members, where everyone has a voice and is heard. As a democratic organisation, the SI works on the principle of mutual respect where each full member party, irrespective of size or origin, has equal rights.
- ‘Where once in their meetings political heavyweights such as Gerhard Schröder, Tony Blair and Lionel Jospin took the floor, the tone is set today by autocrats and despots’. (Focus, 06.05.13)
We are very proud that there are today, and in the recent past, so many worthy leaders within our global political family who believe in its cause, are committed, attend, and dedicate time and energy to the SI. Many of them have made the effort to take part in SI activities while in office, such as Prime Minister Elio di Rupo of Belgium, President Tarja Halonen of Finland, Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller of Jamaica, President Jalal Talabani of Iraq, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, President Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Prime Minister Victor Ponta of Romania, Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic of Montenegro, Prime Minister Igor Luksic of Montenegro, President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold of Mongolia, Prime Minister José Maria Neves of Cape Verde, Prime Minister Navim Ramgoolam of Mauritius, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia, Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali, President Alvaro Colom of Guatemala, Prime Minister António Guterres of Portugal, Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer of Austria, President Boris Tadic of Serbia, President Martin Torrijos of Panama.
Among former heads of state and government, who have been active and engaged within our movement or have undertaken responsibilities in areas of our work, are former President Ricardo Lagos of Chile, former Prime Minister Goran Persson of Sweden, former President Aleksandr Kwasniewski of Poland, former President Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa, or former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba of Nepal, along with numerous party leaders from all continents who participate in our debates, host meetings of our International or chair Committees. We are equally proud to have the members of our Presidium (web link), men and women from all continents who participate actively in our work, who are leaders in their respective countries and who have been elected to the Presidium through democratic, competitive elections, by secret vote at our Congress.
On the 8th of November 1999, at the XXI SI Congress in Paris, Gerhard Schröder addressed the opening of the Congress. That was the only occasion from the time of Willy Brandt to this date that we have had the opportunity to welcome a leader of our German member party at one of our major meetings.
- There have been numerous direct personal attacks, slander and false allegations against both the President and Secretary General of the Socialist International published in the German press, most recently in Neues Deutschland on 07.05.13, Mitteldeutsche Zeitung on 07.05.13, and in Focus on 04.05.13.
The XXIV Congress of the SI held in South Africa last year, preceded by a broad and inclusive process of consultations and discussions on reform of the organisation involving the entire membership, resulted in the most democratic Congress in the history of the International. For the first time, direct competitive elections by secret ballot were held to elect all the officials of the Socialist International. Candidates for President, the Vice-Presidents and Secretary General were submitted to the Congress for election, overseen by an electoral commission (web link) comprising representatives from all regions, including some former heads of state and government. Internal democracy, openness and transparency were the basis of the legitimacy of the entire process and of the mandate of all the elected officials of the organisation.
The personal, including defamatory, attacks do not have and never have had a place in our movement. Certainly not in an organisation which places a value on people, which stands for the rights of the individual, including their personal integrity, and respect for those democratically elected. All those who stood as candidates, and all those who were elected and not elected, are dedicated members who have loyally served our movement, and they all deserve our respect.
As we have said previously, we need to nurture solidarity amongst ourselves, within our organisation, and reflect this in the way we relate to one another. We need to encourage a culture of mutual understanding of our diversity, of respect for our different origins, of our different approaches and perspectives, through dialogue and transparency. We need to reverse the growing trend of narrowing political agendas to purely national or personal interests at the expense of the common purpose of our organisation.
What is very much needed, is ‘a new internationalism and a new culture of solidarity’, the heading we chose for our last Congress. At a time of crisis in Europe, and when we are still suffering the consequences of the grave downturn of the economy in different parts of the world, it is regrettable that the leadership of our German members should seek to divide the global progressive movement instead of closing ranks and consolidating it. Equally regrettable is the resort to false arguments to this end.
We both grew up in times of dictatorship in our respective countries; we both have witnessed the horrors of repression and tyranny, felt the pain and sorrow of having family members and friends imprisoned, and experienced the reality of forced exile abroad. This, along with the societal degradation and the violence and conflict, has influenced our desire to permanently work for democracy, human rights and the promotion of our social democratic ideals. This is fundamental to who we are, what we stand for, and in our commitment to our work for the Socialist International. As internationalists and socialists, we will always be on the side of those who strongly believe in the purpose and the goals of the Socialist International.
George Papandreou Luis Ayala
President Secretary General
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