In opening this Council meeting in Geneva, first of all I have to inform you that our President, George Papandreou, cannot be with us this morning. Greece is going through extreme weather, extreme heat. There have been fires last night, there are a number of victims reported. When we were working together with our Vice-Presidents in the Presidium meeting last night, George intimated to us the anguish he felt for his people at home and his sense of responsibility to be back in his country at this moment of need and at this moment of urgency.
So, very early this morning upon learning the latest news, he took the very first flight and went back home. He has entrusted me with the job of conveying to you his personal best wishes for a successful meeting. He knows how much you care for this International, which has become part of his life, as it is part of the life of us all.
So, I would propose in opening this meeting this morning, that we agree to convey to George Papandreou and to all the Greek people our deepest and most fraternal solidarity at this hour. If you would agree, I will transmit this message as the very first decision of this Council.
Thank you very much.
One of the hallmarks and one of the fundamental commitments of democratic socialism has been, and remains, peace. Together with Willy Brandt, who was elected President of the International in this very room, where the Congress of the Socialist International took place in 1976, we learnt that peace is not everything, but without it nothing is possible.
In these times of interdependence and global challenges, there are no longer national, local or regional conflicts. Every conflict, no matter how seemingly distant or remote, touches us, not only on a human level engaging our political commitment, but also affects how we live together as citizens and our future as nations.
Reflecting a task that is a daily concern in our International, but which also highlights one of the main priorities of today’s social democratic movement, this meeting of the Council will focus on the central theme "Working for global peace and stability in a world of conflict without borders".
As opposed to those who exploit differences, conflicts and confrontation to further their own political ends, we social democrats, by definition, work to overcome differences and are engaged in eradicating the causes of conflicts and promoting peaceful solutions to them.
The commitment of the Socialist International in the search for peace in the Middle East has been and is a clear example of that conviction and approach. And so it is natural that today in the opening of this meeting our attention turns to that region. The presence of the President of all the Palestinians, Mahmood Abbas this morning together with our comrades from Fatah, fills us with pride. This meeting will express to him our solidarity with his efforts for peace and for a future of justice for the Palestinian people. We also welcome the presence of our Israeli comrades: the Labour Party candidate in the recent presidential elections, Colette Avital, and the leader of Yachad/Meretz, Yossi Beilin, for whom this city of Geneva has a special place in his striving for a Middle East in peace.
The desire for peace, democracy and sovereignty has also been the driving force behind the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon and our International has accompanied the citizens' movement there in its efforts for life, for democracy and for reaffirming the country's independence and integrity. Walid Jumblatt, the leader of our member party in Lebanon, is here with us today and will present his vision for Lebanon, and for the future to which he, along with others, aspires.
Iraq is a reality which deeply affects us every day. Along with our anguish at the continuing vulnerable situation in which the Iraqi people live, we express our solidarity with the country’s leaders who persist tenaciously and courageously in their efforts to build a free, democratic and peaceful society, to end terror and to be able to advance as a sovereign nation in the building of a modern, inclusive society, with opportunities for all. Leaders such as Jalal Talabani and Masood Barzani have had their place in this political family since many years. Now they return, one as President of the Republic of Iraq and the other as President of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Northern Iraq, joined by a group of progressive leaders from the different social and political components of the country to discuss with us a new way forward for Iraq.
In relation to the situation in the Balkans, the International has carried out initiatives over the years to contribute to peace in the region, always acting as a stabilising force. Confronted with issues of such complexity, social democrats have never been absent in the work to achieve greater understanding, to ensure the existence of democratic, inclusive, multiethnic, multifaith and culturally open societies in the Western Balkans.
We have highlighted the responsibility that falls to the international community in the region and we promote today a new political dimension in the relations of Europe and the international community as a whole with Serbia and Kosovo. Our International is permanently following, and is fully involved in, developments in the Balkans and at this Council we will look once again, together with leaders from our parties in that region, at the priorities for our political action there.
We will also have the opportunity at this Council to share the latest developments in a process of national reconciliation which the International has been supporting and accompanying, that of Côte d'Ivoire. After five years of fratricidal war, today we watch with hope the efforts being undertaken to end hostilities there.
The International will continue to work with the Ivorian people in their search for a new way of living together, in democracy and with tolerance, thus securing for themselves a future which will begin to be built with the holding of elections during the first part of 2008.
With reference to the Caucasus, we will be able to listen to our comrades from Armenia and Azerbaijan speaking on the situation in that region. The Socialist International has closely followed the democratic advances which have been made there in an often difficult environment, and in the context of conflicts which have been ongoing for some considerable time. We have always encouraged those who share our political ideals in the Caucasus to build more integrated and united political groupings of the democratic and progressive left.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, Colombia continues to be an open wound, and in this Council we will turn our attention to a situation that is ever more unacceptable - guerrillas, paramilitaries, deaths, hostages. For social democrats and for our comrades in that country, security is only possible with truth, more freedom, and more democracy.
In Nepal, with our presence there at the beginning of this year, we greeted the peace agreement signed between the government and insurgent rebels with great optimism. With this signing, began the process of bringing to an end the armed conflict which had cost over 13,000 lives over 11 years.
At this Council, former Prime Minister Sher Bahadour Deuba, and our comrade Sushil Koirala from the Nepali Congress Party, will share their thoughts with us, as the country prepares for the holding of elections which will open a new chapter in the life of this Himalayan country.
The other major theme of this Geneva Council is that of climate change, which we started to address at the last Council meeting in Santiago, Chile. Global warming is having a negative effect on the climate and environment in every part of our planet. Developing a new model for energy use and restructuring the global economy in line with that, requires solid, authentic and experienced political leadership, combined with the work engaged upon by the international scientific community.
Action on this matter is urgent and has become a priority for our International. A problem of the magnitude of climate change is a challenge which can only be understood and tackled on a global scale.
Here in Geneva, we will officially launch the SI Commission for a Sustainable World Society, with the proposal that it be headed by Ricardo Lagos, former President of Chile and a Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on Climate Change, and Göran Persson, former Prime Minister of Sweden. They will speak to us on the current outlook in the fight against this devastating phenomenon, on the prospects for the meeting at the end of this year in Bali, and on the projections for a new international agreement beyond 2012. Among other leading figures participating in this discussion will be our friend, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Kemal Dervis.
Dear comrades, we gather in a city which houses international bodies, and we feel at home here, particularly as we open this meeting in the headquarters of the International Labour Organisation, whose aims and goals are our own. Even more so when it is our friend, comrade and member of this worldwide family, Juan Somavia, who receives us. To him and to our Swiss comrades, in particular Moritz Leuenberger, a Socialist, Minister and Member of the Federal Council of this country, here with us today, we give our sincerest thanks.