Socialist International leaders reiterate commitment to MDGs at annual meeting in New York

20 September 2010

On 20 September the Socialist International held the annual meeting of its Presidium with the participation of Heads of State and Government at the United Nations Headquarters. Taking place in connection with the Millennium Development Goals Summit, discussions centred upon the contribution of the global social democratic movement to the achievement of the MDGs, the outlook on the global economy, prospects for the forthcoming COP16 meeting in Cancún and the current negotiations for peace in the Middle East.

Members of the SI Presidium included President of the Socialist International and Prime Minister of Greece George Papandreou, SI Secretary General Luis Ayala; and SI Vice-Presidents, Michelle Bachelet, recently appointed UN Under-Secretary-General for UN Women; Victor Benoît, Leader of the Union of Haitian Social Democrats; Nouzha Chekrouni, Socialist Union of Popular Forces, USFP, Morocco; Massimo D’Alema, Democratic Party, PD, Italy; Alfred Gusenbauer, Social Democratic Party of Austria, SPÖ; Eero Heinäluoma, Social Democratic Party, SDP, Finland; Chantal Kambiwa, Social Democratic Front, SDF, Cameroon; Beatriz Paredes, President of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI, Mexico; Julião Mateus Paulo, Secretary General of the MPLA, Angola; Pia Locatelli, President of SI Women; Martín Torrijos, Chair of the Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean; and Adrian Severin, Vice-President of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament.

Amongst the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting were Alvaro Colom, President of Guatemala; Tarja Halonen, President of Finland; Boris Tadić, President of Serbia; Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq and an SI Vice-President; and Sukhbaataryn Batbold, Prime Minister of Mongolia. Other officials representing their Head of State or Government included Igor Luksic, Deputy Prime Minister of Montenegro; José Brito, Foreign Minister of Cape Verde; René Castro, Foreign Minister and Laura Alfaro, Minister of National Planning and Economic Policy of Costa Rica; Kamel Morjane, Foreign Minister of Tunisia; Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni, Foreign Minister of Ghana; Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Foreign Minister of Pakistan; Abraham Iyambo, Minister of Education of Namibia, and Nabil Shaath, representing Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority. Vuk Jeremic, Foreign Minister of Serbia and Haroldo Rodas, Foreign Minister of Guatemala, who accompanied their respective Presidents, were also present.

At the opening of the meeting, Luis Ayala noted that this was the third year that this kind of meeting was being held, and highlighted the commitment of the International to the work of the United Nations. Focussing on this year's MDG Summit, he reiterated the determination of the International to pursue all efforts towards the achievement of these goals. He remarked that eliminating poverty, hunger, disease, exclusion, environmental degradation and illiteracy, the creation of equal opportunities, and guaranteeing fundamental rights that drive the pursuit of the MDGs, were at the heart of our identity and vision as a global movement and signified the realisation of the values and principles for which our movement had always stood.

In his opening remarks, George Papandreou reflected upon the impact of the financial crisis on progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, stressing the role that the social democratic movement should play in ensuring that this remained a priority for all governments despite pressure to make cuts. The SI President also spoke of the need to ensure that the legacy of the financial crisis does not become one of unfulfilled obligations to the developing world, or of the abandonment of collective action on climate change due to the financial constraints now faced by both developed and developing economies. The introduction of a financial transaction tax, a carbon tax and green bonds could be steps taken to humanise globalisation, to counteract the politics of fear which was becoming more prevalent, and which would only lead to more conflict and not more prosperity.

In the debate on the achievement of the MDGs reflections were made with regard to the process by which these goals are currently being tackled, and how to give more emphasis to those which are most in danger of being missed. The MDGs, it was argued, need to be worked towards as a whole, not individually. Whilst progress has been made in some areas, in others there has been little or no advance. In this regard, former Chilean President and newly appointed Head of UN Women Michelle Bachelet called for more to be done to address the goals on women's issues and gender equality.

The uneven progress towards the MDGs was remarked upon by contributors from Africa, where there has been a very wide disparity. It was however underlined that this was not cause to abandon endeavours to meet the goals by 2015, but rather should prompt governments worldwide to redouble their efforts.

The meeting paid special attention to the current humanitarian situation in Pakistan, receiving a report from Foreign Minister Qureshi which outlined the true destructive nature of a flood which destroyed 21% of cultivated farmland, affected twenty million people and left an area the size of the United Kingdom or Italy underwater. He appealed for developed countries to better help developing economies such as that of Pakistan by giving market access and lifting restrictions on trade that are such a barrier to growth and to tackling poverty.

The discussions reflected a strongly held view that any action towards MDG achievement would have comprehensive success only if implemented in connection with initiatives on trade, the environment, women's issues and conflict resolution, amongst others, and that aid alone could not solve the problems of the developing world. In terms of foreign aid, the shortcomings of developed nations in meeting targets for spending on aid was also noted, a fact which has not been helped by the recent global economic downturn, but which was below the pledged level even during the years of growth.

Concern over the current state of the global economy and the management of the recovery and the impact that this would have on the achievement of the MDGs was expressed by a number of participants. The views of the International regarding the need to continue with efforts to return to sustainable growth, inspired by the vision of real human and economic development within the framework of a new global financial architecture were reaffirmed. This would lead to a financial system which worked in the interests also of those in the developing world and make it possible to ensure that financial institutions which contributed to the recession were prevented from once more putting the livelihood of citizens across the globe at risk. The idea of a global financial transaction tax, to provide much needed funding for development projects was once again raised, as it had been at the recent meetings of the SI Council in New York and of the Commission on Global Financial Issues on Poros, Greece. Such an initiative would require coordinated action, something which was yet to emerge from meetings of the G20 leaders.

Among national situations highlighted in the discussions, the ongoing plight of the Haitian people, who have not yet recovered from the devastation suffered as a result of the earthquake in January, and with much reconstruction still pending due to lack of funding, was addressed with concern.

Prospects for peace in the Middle East following negotiations recently relaunched by President Obama in Washington between Israelis and Palestinians were also discussed. The meeting heard an outline of the current round of talks from senior Palestinian representative Nabil Shaath, on the progress made to date and the prospect for a lasting peace for which the International has worked for many years. The possibility that greater involvement in the peace process by the wider international community could be of benefit was also raised.

The relationship between conflict resolution and development was also touched upon by President Talabani, who explained that increased stability in Iraq had led to it regaining its role and influence in the Arab world. He also underlined the importance of democracy in the fight against terrorism, with the recent free elections in Iraq an important milestone in that direction. President Tadić, who also set out his commitment to the resolution of regional conflicts and better multilateral cooperation, spoke of the efforts made in Serbia to strengthen and enhance relations with other countries in the region and beyond.

The negative consequences of the failure of world leaders to reach a legally binding agreement at the COP15 meeting in Copenhagen had been put into perspective by those affected and already suffering the consequences from the effects of climate change. For many developing countries, extreme weather conditions, desertification and loss of cultivable land are a reality that is already impeding progress towards development targets, as noted by both President Colom of Guatemala and Prime Minister Batbold of Mongolia. In addition, where funds are limited and climate change emergencies occur, resources that were to be dedicated to health and education programmes are often diverted to the immediate need to deal with such emergencies.

Throughout the contributions, the sentiment was clear that the achievement of the MDGs are interdependent upon all of the other issues discussed during the meeting, an idea referred to by President Halonen when she spoke of the different dimensions of the MDGs, incorporating economic, environmental and social factors. A global financial transaction tax, as proposed by the SI in its resolution on the global economy adopted during the last Council meeting, would provide not only a disincentive for speculation and excessive risk-taking, but also a fund that could be used to boost aid to developing countries and give renewed impetus to the fight against climate change. If climate change is not controlled and reversed, this would in turn hinder progress towards the MDGs, in particular given that the vast majority of those at serious risk from the consequences of climate change are in developing countries which have contributed only minimally to its causes, but will bear its full impact. Likewise, whilst conflicts occur and when democratic rule is threatened or ineffective, very little attention can be paid to the vital needs of those who the MDGs were designed to help. Peace between Israel and Palestine, for example, could be a catalyst for development in Gaza and the West Bank, and for the resolution of conflicts across the Middle East.

In the closing of the meeting, the Secretary General gave an outline of future activities of the International, and of the relevant Commissions in relation to the COP16 meeting in Cancún and the G20 in Seoul later this year, along with meetings of regional and thematic committees and preparations for the forthcoming SI Council meeting to be held in Paris on 15-16 November. The Presidium agreed that the agenda of the Council would include discussions on the Global economy, on Climate change and on Conflict resolution. In concluding the meeting, SI President George Papandreou remarked that the MDGs were about empowering people all over the world, and reiterated the need to work towards them with optimism, combating self-interest, nationalism and the politics of fear. He closed proceedings by thanking the participants for their contributions and looking forward to the next annual meeting of the SI Presidium and Heads of State and Government in 2011.