I am pleased to present my report to this SI Council in Oslo and I wish to thank the Norwegian Labour Party for their warm hospitality here in a country and a region which have meant so much to our International. I would of course like to recognise in particular Thorbjørn Jagland and Gro Harlem Brundtland who over the years have contributed so much to the work of our organisation. Today, the strength of the Socialist International, based on our embrace of common values, is evident throughout Europe, where nearly two dozen of our member parties are in government, either alone or in coalition, and many others are making vital contributions and are central to the political life of their nations.
We gather in Oslo to further develop the Socialist International's expanding role in the world. Our ongoing efforts toward achieving greater `Global Solidarity', the theme of our meeting, focus on three principal issues: strengthening democracy and defending human rights, furthering humanitarian action and promoting initiatives for peace, and combatting poverty by investing in people. These goals are at the core of what it is to be a social democrat today.
The Socialist International works in numerous ways toward achieving global peace and stability. Leading members of the Norwegian Labour Party and many other of our member parties have been committed to that goal through their role in the Middle East peace process, particularly in bringing about and furthering the historic Oslo Agreements. The recent peace agreement in Northern Ireland owes much to the commitment of three of our member parties: Northern Ireland's Social Democratic and Labour Party, led by John Hume, the British Labour Party, led by Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the Irish Labour Party, led during much of the peace effort by Dick Spring.
The Socialist International continues in every region of the world to encourage dialogue, promote peace and strengthen democratic alternatives, as we are doing, for instance, in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the Caucasus. We recognise that it is the responsibility of the international community to prevent the escalation of tensions and promote the resolution of conflicts. Guided by our commitment to increasing solidarity - locally, within regions and between continents - the Socialist International remains at the forefront of this effort.
Following the decisions taken at the Council in New Delhi last November, we have continued during this period coordinating and implementing the work of our International and its different bodies.
As part of our continuing efforts to support the peace process, a meeting of the SI Middle East Committee, SIMEC, was organised on 14 March in Cairo, chaired by Bjørn Tore Godal of our host party here in Norway. The meeting was hosted by the National Democratic Party, NDP, of Egypt and was attended by participants from our Israeli and Palestinian member parties, the Israel Labour Party, Mapam/Meretz and Fatah, as well as by delegates from other regions. During a special gathering of the Committee, delegates were also addressed by Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestinian Authority and leader of Fatah. Among the participants from our host party were Youssef Wali, NDP General Secretary and Minister of Agriculture, Kamal El-Shazly, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Mohamed Abdellah, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Egyptian Parliament, and Osama El-Baz, political advisor to President Mubarak.
In its statement, the Committee expressed deep concern over the stalemate in the peace process and called on all parties to implement their commitments in accordance with the Oslo Agreements. It further called on the sponsors of the peace process to continue their efforts to encourage negotiations on all tracks with a view to achieving a just and comprehensive peace, bringing security and stability in the region. The Committee also underlined the importance of President Mubarak's initiative to render the Middle East region free of all weapons of mass destruction.
Prior to the meeting of the Middle East Committee, the SIMEC Working Group on the Kurdish Question met on 23 February in Stockholm following its reconstitution at the SIMEC meeting held before the New Delhi Council meeting. The Working Group meeting was hosted by the Swedish Social Democratic Party, SAP, and chaired by Carl Lidbom, SAP. It considered the current peace talks in Iraqi Kurdistan involving the Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, expressing its encouragement of them. The future programme of work was agreed and will include a visit by an SI delegation to Turkey in the forthcoming period and a subsequent meeting of the Working Group hosted by the French Socialist Party in Paris.
Peace and stability also were high on the agenda of the SI Committee for Central and Eastern Europe, SICEE, meeting which was organised by our International in Sarajevo on 4-5 May. The Social Democratic Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina, SDP BiH, and the Social Democrats of Bosnia and Herzegovina, SD BiH, both SI member parties, and the Independent Social Democrats of Republika Srpska were at the centre of our discussions on the peace process in their country and the prospects for a social democratic advance in the elections scheduled for September 1998. In the meeting which was chaired by Co-Chair Piero Fassino of the Italian Democratic Party of the Left, PDS, Zlatko Lagumdzija, leader of the SDP BiH, and Selim Beslagic, leader of the SD BiH, acknowledged the opportunities afforded by greater stability within the area. The Committee heard from Milorad Dodik, Prime Minister of Republika Srpska, who reported on the remarkable work of his newly-formed government. SICEE recognised the new phase which had opened and called for the full application of the Dayton Accords.
The Committee also focused on the very serious situation in Kosovo and other developments in the Balkans. It emphasised that it was vital that dialogue without preconditions be initiated and agreed to send a mission to the region to help reduce tensions and contribute to the search for political solutions. The next meeting of the Committee will be held in Bucharest, with the cooperation of our Romanian member parties.
The SI Mediterranean Committee was convened in Rome on 6-7 March at a meeting hosted by the Democratic Party of the Left, PDS, of Italy and chaired by Raimon Obiols, Spanish Socialist Workers Party, PSOE. The main theme of the meeting was `The development of the Euro-Mediterranean relationship - The follow-up and furthering of the Association Agreements and the policies of partnership'. The Committee agreed on a resolution which reaffirmed its commitment to these Agreements, and called for their ratification and a relaunching of the process begun during the 1995 Barcelona Conference which aimed to develop policies guaranteeing peace and democracy in the region.
The Committee expressed its deep concern at the continuing tragedy of the Algerian people and declared its hopes that a dialogue would be established between those forces which reject violence and terrorism.
The Committee also considered the new political phase in Morocco and extended its best wishes to the new Prime Minister, Abderrahmane Youssoufi, leader of the SI-member Socialist Union of Popular Forces USFP, whose programme of work had been overwhelmingly approved by the new parliament. The Committee adopted a motion supporting the USFP and the Moroccan democratic forces and congratulating the USFP on having formed the new government.
The Committee, which will hold its next meeting in Brussels in November to further address the Euro-Mediterranean situation, also discussed preparations for the Socialist International Euro-Mediterranean Conference due to be held in the first quarter of 1999.
Security and stability in the South Caucasian states of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan were the main themes of the meeting of the SI Peace, Security and Disarmament Committee, SIPSAD, held on 10 May in Tbilisi. Organised in collaboration with our member party Citizen's Union of Georgia, CUG, and chaired by Committee Chair Günter Verheugen, Social Democratic Party of Germany, SPD, this was the first meeting of the Socialist International to be held in the Caucasus. In its resolution to be presented to the Council in Oslo, the Committee acknowledged the successful implementation of political and economic reforms in Southern Caucasus and called on all parties to make every effort to achieve solutions to conflicts within and between individual states, including through procedures mediated with the UN and the OSCE. It also emphasised the need for peaceful cooperation within the region, especially in the fields of protection of human, civil and minority rights as well as economic development. The next meeting of the Committee will focus on current disarmament issues and will be held in collaboration with the relevant bodies of the UN in early November 1998.
In its efforts to strengthen community participation in governance, the SI Committee on Local Authorities continued seeking ways to promote programmes of social responsibility at grass-roots level. At its meeting organised on 2-3 March in Abidjan and hosted by the Ivory Coast Popular Front, FPI, delegates, including many mayors, shared experiences and contributed widely on the questions of legislation, financing, cooperation, infrastructure and decentralisation. The meeting was chaired by the Committee Chair Philippe Busquin, SI Vice-President and leader of the Belgian Socialist Party, PS. The Committee was rightly concerned with making politics accessible for all through decentralisation and encouraging politics of proximity, so leading to more direct contact between governments and citizens in an increasingly globalised world.
The Committee also discussed preparations for the second Socialist International Conference of Mayors which will be held in early October 1998, following our successful first Conference held in Bologna in 1995. Our conference will take place in the Moroccan city of Fez with the collaboration of the USFP and will bring together mayors from our member parties, guests and experts from different regions and continents.
The members of the Global Progress Commission met for the second time in Madrid on 16-17 March to continue its discussions on the issues under its mandate and to review the Commission's programme of activities. The meeting was chaired by Chair of the Commission, SI Vice-President Felipe González.
It was noted at the meeting in Madrid that in the Commission's first year of activity, advances had been made in relation to the content of the seven main points outlined in the introductory paper, `A new International for a new world - renewing the Socialist International - the new project'. Although the material produced during this year of work was extensive and could provide a foundation for a first draft document, it was felt that debate around the seven principal points should continue.
It was reported that during the previous year there had been three seminars, one in Costa Rica, another in Chile and a third in Madrid, three round tables and two meetings with the Parliamentary Group of the Party of European Socialists, in addition to the two meetings of the Commission members. Some 25 papers have been published, in three languages. Since the Madrid meeting, seminars were also held in Seville, Rabat and Brussels.
With regard to the future activities of the Commission, it was confirmed in Madrid that a European regional meeting would be held on 17-18 June 1998 in Berlin. A regional meeting with African parties was foreseen for later this year in Dakar, with a regional meeting in Asia to follow in Dhaka. Latin American and North American regional meetings would be held during the first half of 1999.
Before I report on our activities in Latin America and the Caribbean with deep sadness I must inform you that I have just returned from the Dominican Republic where I attended on 13 May the funeral of our dear friend and comrade José Francisco Peña Gómez, leader of the Dominican Revolutionary Party, PRD, SI Vice-President and Chair of the SI Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean, SICLAC. Hundreds of thousands of Dominicans poured into the streets in a massive demonstration of national grief for a man who will be sorely missed in his own country and in our International. His long and steadfast leadership and his generosity in the struggle for democracy and social justice and his deep determination until the moment he died will remain an inspiration to us all.
The response of Latin America and Caribbean social democrats to the process of globalisation was at the top of the agenda when the SI Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean, SICLAC, met on 23-24 March in Santo Domingo. Close to one hundred delegates took part in this meeting hosted by the Dominican Revolutionary Party, PRD, and chaired by Peña Gómez in what was to be his last activity for our SI family.
The meeting's second theme was `Defining priorities for governments with social responsibility: policies for education, health and social services'. The Committee also received reports on national situations from delegates in a year in which many Latin American countries face elections. The Committee adopted a number of statements on national issues, including resolutions on Cuba, demanding action on the US embargo and looking toward better prospects for democracy; on the role of the Central American Parliament in regional political union; the Committee's concern for Oscar Eid Franco of the Bolivian Revolutionary Left Movement, MIR-NM; and the political deadlock in Haiti. The Committee also expressed support for the Aprista Party and other forces of democracy in Peru, the Puerto Rican Independence Party, PIP, in this the 100th anniversary of the invasion of Puerto Rico, and for the Sandinista National Liberation Front, FSLN, in Nicaragua.
A meeting of the SI Committee on Human Rights, SICOHR, was organised in Manila on 25 April in collaboration with the Philippines Democratic Socialist Party, PDSP, and was chaired by Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development, British Labour Party. Participants from all continents discussed topics raised at the meeting of SICOHR held in London last year prior to the New Delhi Council. The Committee debated strengthening and promoting social and economic rights and improving understanding of a rights-based approach to economic and social issues. Delegates also discussed the critical issues of racism and xenophobia. Discussion papers were presented on ways to deal with complaints about member parties' human rights records and how to respond to appeals for action on extreme human rights violations through a proposed `rapid response' network among SI member parties.
This meeting also provided us with the opportunity to deepen cooperation with our Asian member parties and emphasise the priority of social, economic and cultural rights, which are jeopardised amid the current regional turbulence. The next meeting of the Committee will be centered around the fiftieth anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights and their promotion and enhancement in the new century.
Since our last Council, there have been a number of successes at the polls for our member parties and parties closely associated with our organisation in all parts of the world.
Legislative elections in Chile on 11 December resulted in the ruling centre-left coalition, including SI members Party for Democracy, PPD, Social Democratic Radical Party, PRSD, and the Socialist Party, PS, winning 50.6 per cent of the vote while the right-wing Union of Chile received 36.2 per cent. The ruling coalition won a 70-50 seat majority in the lower house. However, even though pro-government candidates took 11 of 20 Senate seats up for election, the opposition retained its majority in the 47-seat body due to the constitution inherited from the military regime which created 10 appointed Senate seats.
In Jamaica the ruling SI-member People's National Party, PNP, was returned for an unprecedented third consecutive term with a landslide majority in the 60-seat parliament in the elections last December. The PNP won 50 seats against 10 seats for the Jamaica Labour Party, JLP.
The election of Kim Dae Jung to the presidency on 18 December marked the first peaceful transfer of power to the opposition in South Korea. This was the fourth time Kim Dae Jung had stood for the post, having suffered imprisonment, kidnapping and death sentences during successive military dictatorships for his pro-democracy stance. Leading the National Congress for New Politics, he gained some 40 per cent of the vote. Amid severe economic difficulties for South Korea, he called for the South Korean people's trust as the country entered a `year of harsh trials'. The new president and his supporters have maintained a close relationship with the SI for years, a point underlined by the presence of our President Pierre Mauroy at Kim's inauguration.
In Guyana, Janet Jagan of the People's Progressive Party, PPP, won the presidency in a disputed vote in December. She was sworn in amid protests by opposition parties including the Alliance for Guyana, led by the SI-member Working People's Alliance, WPA. All parties agreed to an assessment of the vote by a team of election experts from the Caribbean Community, CARICOM, a process which was still ongoing as of mid-May.
In Costa Rica, José Miguel Corrales, candidate of the Party of National Liberation, PLN, narrowly lost the presidential election to Miguel Angel Rodríguez, the Social Christian candidate in polls held on 1 February. The PLN candidate won 43.21 per cent of the vote to the 45.54 per cent achieved by Rodríguez, a much narrower margin than public opinion polls had projected.
Having gained 10.6 per cent in the first round of presidential polls, SI-member EDEK Socialist Party of Cyprus, led by its leader Vassos Lyssarides, played a decisive role in the second round of voting held on 15 February. With EDEK´s backing, Glafkos Clerides, Democratic Rally, was re-elected for a second fifth-year term with a narrow victory over George Iacovou.
The Social Democratic Party of Denmark secured the continuation of its government in the vote held on 11 March. The Social Democratic Party defied the pre-election opinion polls, increased its share of the vote and together with its three coalition partners secured sufficient seats in the 179-member parliament to remain in power.
Abderrahmane Youssoufi, First Secretary of the SI-member Socialist Union of Popular Forces, USFP, entered parliament as Prime Minister of Morocco on 15 March. The USFP emerged as the largest party with 57 out of 325 seats at the legislative elections held in November. In the new seven-party coalition government, the USFP is responsible for seven ministries, the Independence Party, Istaqlal, five, and National Rally of Independents, RNI, five. Four ministers will remain appointed by the King and the Party of Progress and Socialism, PPS, and the Popular National Movement, MNP, each have one minister. Prime Minister Youssoufi stated that the priorities for the new government included improving social conditions, employment and education reform.
Results of France's regional and local polls demonstrated continuing electoral approval for the Socialist government's programme since the general election last June. In the balloting for the regional councils on 15 March, the Socialists and their allies won 39.6 per cent of the vote whilst mainstream rightwing parties won 35.65 per cent and the extreme right obtained 15.19 per cent.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation, following the removal of the three-year suspension of its activities and the release from prison of party leaders in February, endorsed the candidacy of acting President and Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan in presidential elections in March. Results showed that Kocharyan received 59.5 per cent to Karen Demirchyan's 40.5 per cent in the second round held on 31 March. Observers concluded that although the first round of elections fell short of international standards, voting was conducted in a generally orderly and honest way in the second round.
On 6 May voters in the Netherlands reinforced the position of the Labour Party, PvdA, as the country's largest party and leader of the ruling coalition and thereby ensured a new term of office for Prime Minister Wim Kok, leader of the PvdA.
In local elections held in Great Britain on 7 May the Labour Party was the leading vote-winner and gained control of an additional three councils. In separate balloting, and as part of the Labour Party government's plans to revive local democracy, Londoners approved by a wide margin a new Greater London Assembly, which will have an elected mayor and 25 members.
The Hungarian Socialist Party, MSzP, remained Hungary's strongest party after taking 32.25 per cent on 10 May in the first round of a two-stage election process. The centre-right Hungarian Civic Party, Fidesz, rose to second place and the Free Democrats, the coalition partner of the ruling MSzP, fell below 8 per cent as the country looked to the second round of voting scheduled for 24 May.
I would also like to mention that during this period I had the opportunity to participate in some of the Congresses which are a central part of the political life of our members.
Immediately after the New Delhi Council I attended the XXII Congress of our fraternal organisation the International Union of Socialist Youth, IUSY, in Lillehammer where Umberto Gentiloni was elected to succeed Nicola Zingaretti as leader and Lisa Pelling was elected IUSY General Secretary.
I also had the opportunity to attend the French Socialist Party Congress at Brest in November where François Hollande was elected first secretary of the party.
At the beginning of December, I attended the SPD Party Congress in Hannover where discussions centred on four key themes which aimed at further defining the role of social democracy in Germany and charting the course of the party for election success in 1998.
On 6-7 December in Warsaw I addressed the III Congress of the Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland, SdRP, on behalf of the SI. Delegates to the Congress elected Leszek Miller as Chair of the party.
I was invited to represent the International at the 50th ANC National Conference in Mafikeng in December. Thabo Mbeki was elected ANC Leader and will be the party's candidate for the presidential elections to be held in 1999. Making his last speech as ANC Leader, Nelson Mandela said: `I know that the love and respect that I have enjoyed is love and respect for the ANC and its ideals'. The Conference mandated the ANC National Executive to move toward obtaining membership of the Socialist International.
In January, I attended the Dutch Labour Party, PvdA, National Election Congress in Amsterdam, held in preparation for the recent elections.
In February I attended the conference held in Florence by the SI-member Democratic Party of the Left, PDS, and four other centre-left parties under the title `General States of the Italian Left'. At this Congress the creation of a new movement - the Democrats of the Left - was announced.
Before participating in the SI Central and Eastern Europe Committee meeting, I attended, along with members of the Committee, the Congress of the Social Democrats of Bosnia and Herzegovina (formerly the Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina Social Democrats, UBSD).
I must now turn to the other losses suffered by our family in this last period.
Pedro París Montesinos, President of Democratic Action, AD, and SI Vice-President, died in early April in Caracas, Venezuela. He was untiring in his search for unity and renewal of the AD, a noted parliamentarian, state governor, minister, diplomat and a respected figure in the International.
Seydou Diarrah (Totoh), International Secretary of the African Party for Solidarity and Justice, ADEMA/PASJ, died on 8 February in Bamako, Mali. Always an active participant in the SI, Totoh will be missed by his friends and colleagues in the International.
Our congratulations go to Gro Harlem Brundtland, First Vice-President of the International, who was elected the fifth head of the World Health Organisation, WHO, in its fifty-year history in January and confirmed on 14 May by the WHO general assembly. Her first priority on taking office in July, she declared, would be to `place health at the top of the international agenda for development', with health sector programmes in poorer nations, the fight against old and new diseases and WHO management reform as particular areas of concern.
We also congratulate our friend and comrade Juan Somavía who was elected Director General of the International Labour Organisation, ILO, on 23 March. Somavía, who has participated in the work of our International, was Chair of the preparatory Council of the World Summit for Social Development held by the UN in Copenhagen in 1995. His election marks the first time in the 79-year history of the ILO that a representative of the Southern hemisphere has led the organisation.
Following the Oslo Council meeting, a re-design of the SI website will be launched at a new address (http://archive.socialistinternational.org/). The International's website has become a vital source of information on our organisation's background, composition and current activities. Our pages have received over 40,000 visitors since the last Council meeting. The new design will make navigation easier. Whilst retaining core pages on our organisation's background, statutes and declaration of principles, it also will incorporate new pages on forthcoming party activities, elections and meetings, and links to all our member parties with websites.
The Socialist International continues to carry out a global programme of work. In this last period our regional and thematic Committees have been active on every continent, despite a modest budget and the failure of some member parties to comply in a timely way with their financial commitments to the SI. We are proud to be in the forefront in actively responding to today's global challenges, but it is essential for our continuing effectiveness that all our members shoulder their share of the responsibility toward the International. In Oslo, the Chair of the Finance and Administration Committee, SIFAC, will report to the Council on our financial situation and I hope that those parties which are in arrears in the payment of fees will appreciate the need to fulfill their statutory obligations.
Having already mentioned a number of our forthcoming activities, I would also like to report that the SI Africa Committee, with its growing network of member parties and organisational contacts, will meet next in Bamako, the capital of Mali. It will be hosted by the African Party for Solidarity and Justice, ADEMA/PASJ, our member party which has been actively involved in the local election process. The African regional economy will be the focus of a forthcoming meeting of the SI Committee on Economic Policy, Development and the Environment, SICEDE, chaired by Antonio Guterres, Prime Minister of Portugal.
In line with our determination to deepen the global nature of our International, we are planning to hold our forthcoming Council meeting in Latin America, hosted in Buenos Aires by our two members, the Popular Socialist Party, PSP, a member of Frepaso, and the Radical Civic Union, UCR. The UCR and Frepaso will together contest the 1999 presidential elections and the Council will take place the first week of December of this year following the 29 November primary elections to select their presidential candidate.
The Socialist International is already looking toward the challenges of the next century, so I am therefore pleased to report that we have received an invitation from the French Socialist Party to have our XXI Congress in Paris. We foresee that it will be held in autumn 1999, which will provide the opportunity to organise for early April next year a working Council to focus on preparations for the Congress.
Before concluding, I would like to acknowledge the work of President Pierre Mauroy and of the member parties and comrades whose determined commitment gives true meaning to our International.
As the new millennium approaches the challenges remain great. But we have reason for optimism as our International continues to embody the aspirations of peoples everywhere and as we continue to strengthen our global action and solidarity to ensure that those hopes will be fulfilled.