Following its establishment at the last Socialist International Council meeting in Mexico, the SI Committee on Social Cohesion, Poverty and HIV/AIDS, held its first meeting in Vienna, in the Austrian Parliament on 22 May 2009, bringing together leaders and representatives of SI member parties from Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and Latin America to discuss an agenda which focused on ‘Fighting poverty in times of economic crisis’ and ‘Social Cohesion: a Social Democratic priority in the struggle for a fair society’.
The meeting was opened by the SI Secretary General, Luis Ayala, who highlighted the global nature of the issues to be discussed, as no single problem in today’s world could be taken in isolation. The large political family that was the Socialist International had globalised social democracy, he said, and we had every reason to be ambitious in our aims, pressing ahead in addressing the crucial issues of poverty and social cohesion, along with HIV/AIDS, as we work for a new international framework to deal with all the major challenges on the global agenda and in order to be coherent in our commitment to democracy and a more inclusive, fair and hopeful society.
Barbara Prammer, Chair of the Committee and Speaker of the Austrian Parliament, from the Social Democratic Party of Austria, warmly welcomed the participants. Speaking of the crises facing the world today, she underlined that poverty and the related problem of social cohesion not only affected the developing world but also developed countries. It was not a question for one country or region, she said, it was an international problem. All measures to boost the economy were necessary, but they were not ends in themselves, she said, and serious questions remained such as who would benefit from new funds, who would be left out, would gender be adequately reflected, what should be the role of the market or where should limits be set.
Following an overview of the work to be carried out in the coming period, the Committee unanimously elected Kwabena Adjei, Chair of the National Democratic Congress of Ghana, as its Vice-Chair.
The Committee held in-depth discussions on the main themes of the meeting, the first of which, ‘Fighting poverty in times of economic crisis’, was introduced by Maria João Rodrigues of the Institute for Strategic and International Studies of Lisbon, who addressed the problems arising from the financial and economic crisis, concluding that priority should be given to the creation of new jobs, the fostering of education and training, safeguarding jobs, protecting workers in the informal economy, and to a global new deal whose provisions would include adequate regulation, agreements for fair trade, measures to tackle climate change and a commitment to decent work.
Introducing the second main theme, ‘Social Cohesion: a Social Democratic priority in the struggle for a fair society’, Victor Benoit, leader of the Social Democratic Union of Haitian Social Democrats and a Vice-President of the Socialist International, described in detail the dramatic and serious situation facing Haiti as a case study in the need to solve the inter-related problems of poverty, discrimination and disease, especially HIV/AIDS, as a pre-requisite for achieving social cohesion. He singled out women in particular as extremely vulnerable in all these areas and stressed the importance of both the international dimension and that of political democracy, without which social cohesion could not exist.
In the rich and wide-ranging debate in which participants shared their diverse experiences and views, a number of common concerns and issues arose, including the need for the state to take an active role in confronting the present crisis, investment in jobs, health, affordable housing and education, international action in the field of development and trade, reform of the international institutions and the important role of trade unions. The situation of migrants and the role of women were also highlighted as areas of concern. All participants concurred that tackling poverty, social cohesion and HIV/AIDS was at the very core of social democratic values which placed human beings at the centre of the development agenda. They also agreed that in overcoming these challenges, a high level of representative and participatory democracy was required in both developed and developing countries as well as consistent international solidarity and cooperation. In concluding the meeting, the Chair observed that each crisis offered an opportunity and it was important that we, as social democrats, should seize it. In its future meetings, the Committee would aim to focus on specific situations and countries, drawing on their experiences and proposals in dealing with the issues on our agenda, and discuss concrete measures.
In terms of its work programme, the Committee agreed that the next meeting would take place in Accra, Ghana, and the following one should take place in Vienna in advance of the XVIII International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2010) scheduled there for 18-23 July 2010.