The fourth annual meeting of the Presidium and Heads of State and Government from the Socialist International family took place at the United Nations Headquarters on Friday 23 September, in conjunction with the general debate of the United Nations General Assembly. The agenda for the meeting included discussions on the current impact and consequences of the global financial crisis, the contribution of social democracy to combating racism and intolerance and how to ensure the success of the COP17 Summit in South Africa.
In the absence of SI President George Papandreou, who had to stay in Greece to attend to urgent matters of government related to the negotiations in the eurozone, the meeting was chaired by the President of Iraq Jalal Talabani, a Vice-President of the SI. In a letter to the Presidium, the Greek Prime Minister underlined the positive and proactive role of the Socialist International and its members in campaigning for economic tools to encourage more sustainable and equitable growth and in elections, conflict zones, and global summits promoting democracy, peace, fairness, and equal opportunities. The leaders and Vice-Presidents gathered agreed unanimously to express their full support and solidarity to the SI President, his government and to the Greek people.
Participating Heads of State and Government together with President Talabani included the recently inaugurated President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, also a Vice-President of the International, President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia, President Boris Tadić of Serbia, Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Júnior of Guinea-Bissau, Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam of Mauritius and Prime Minister Igor Luksic of Montenegro, alongside José Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS). A number of ministers who headed their countries’ delegations to the General Assembly were also present at the meeting, among them Carlos Menocal from Guatemala and Otgonbayar Yondon from Mongolia. Arvin Boolell, foreign minister of Mauritius and Vuk Jeremic, foreign minister of Serbia, accompanied their respective government leaders at the meeting.
Members of the Presidium attending included the SI Secretary General Luis Ayala and Vice-Presidents of the International as follows: Victor Benoit, Union of Haitian Social Democrats, Nouzha Chekrouni, USFP, Morocco; Alfred Gusenbauer, SPÖ, Austria; Eero Heinäluoma, SDP, Finland; Chantal Kambiwa, SDF, Cameroon; Manuel Laguarda, PS, Uruguay; Beatriz Paredes, PRI, Mexico; Julião Mateus Paulo, MPLA, Angola; Mona Sahlin, SAP, Sweden; Miguel Vargas Maldonado, PRD, Dominican Republic; Carlos Eduardo Vieira da Cunha, PDT, Brazil; Ousmane Tanor Dieng, PS, Senegal; Martín Torrijos, PRD, Panama; and Pia Locatelli, SIW.
The current impact and consequences of the global financial crisis on different areas of the world economy and in different regions were discussed in detail by participants. President Tadić lucidly expressed the sentiment that in countries such as Serbia, their economic well being was to a large extent determined by the fortunes of the global economy, reflecting upon the difficulties faced by all governments in tackling the results of a crisis on a scale none had predicted. Underlining the need for a recovery based on growth, Prime Minister Ramgoolam warned that emerging markets were at risk of suffering a repeat of what happened in the developed economies due to global economic interdependence. Prime Minister Luksic also addressed the need for progressives to reclaim the ideas originating from our movement, as the correct response to the current situation, and by these means to regain electoral competitiveness.
In this regard, SI Vice-Presidents participating in the debate in particular called for stronger and more effective leadership on the European sovereign debt crisis, which it was argued could have been solved earlier with much less hardship if the political will had existed, demonstrating the need for concerted action and cross-border cooperation within a multilateral framework of shared responsibility and the pursuit of initiatives such as Eurobonds and a financial transaction tax proposed earlier by the Socialist International.
It was clear to all those present that the emerging economies would have to be part of the solution to the crisis with growth to date remaining strong in those economies, though its effects had nonetheless been felt. Addressing the crisis from a regional perspective, Secretary General Insulza of the OAS outlined that although Latin America and the Caribbean had seen a decade of prosperity, vast inequalities in distribution of wealth had yet to be tackled and countries on the periphery still suffered the effects of the global crisis, reiterating that there does not exist a solution to the current crisis that can simply be applied to a single region.
There was a strong consensus that elected representatives needed to have more control over the markets to prevent the kind of excessive risk taking that precipitated and exacerbated the global financial crisis, but that this would only be effective if the action taken by governments was coordinated at an international level. The responsibility of members of the global social democratic family was to ensure that this response prioritised growth in the real economy and job creation whilst finding ways to better communicate this response to the electorate.
On the theme of climate change, Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Júnior explained that smaller countries with more limited financial resources such as Guinea-Bissau were struggling to find the means to combat climate change. The need to take measures to counteract the increased vulnerability of some countries to climate change was also made by Prime Minister Ramgoolam and Minister Carlos Menocal, with Mauritius and Guatemala being amongst those states which suffer the most from its effects. The renewed difficulty in meeting the world’s growing energy needs from clean sources was underlined by the uncertainty over the future use of nuclear energy following the disaster at Fukushima nuclear power plant.
On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Durban Declaration, the need to reinforce the contribution of social democracy to combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance was underlined.
The subject of democracy in Africa was also highlighted, with participants benefiting from the interventions of two democratically elected African presidents on this issue. President Issoufou underlined the importance that the solidarity of the SI had played during the long years of opposition, and pointed to the recent election of President Alpha Condé in Guinea alongside his own as proof that the flag of social democracy is flying in Africa. President Pohamba also made reference to the active engagement of the SI in promoting democracy in Africa, a role which is particularly important today in light of the many electoral processes which will take place on that continent between now and the end of 2012, which were amongst the main themes of the recent meeting in Windhoek of the SI Africa Committee. Vice-Presidents from Cameroon and Senegal noted that their parties would participate in elections in which the incumbent authorities are taking anti-democratic and unconstitutional measures to stay in power, an unacceptable situation.
Nabil Shaath, from the leadership of Fatah, reported on the address of President Mahmoud Abbas to the General Assembly and the application submitted for full UN membership earlier that day. Shaath expressed the gratitude of Fatah for the support of the SI and its members, underlined by the upgrading of the party’s membership status at the last Council in Athens, and reiterated the commitment of his movement to non-violent struggle with the aim of securing a two-state solution.
Vice-President Eero Heinäluoma gave a report on the first meeting of the SI Working Group on Reform held in Geneva on 12 September and outlined the plan agreed for the future work of the group, with its next meeting due to be held before the end of the year.
Closing the meeting, the SI Secretary General drew attention to the forthcoming activities of the International, which includes meetings of the regional committees for Asia & the Pacific in Ulaanbaatar and for Latin America & the Caribbean in Porto Alegre, a meeting of SI parliamentarians at the IPU assembly in Bern, a meeting of the newly-established Special Committee on the Arab world to be held in Crete, and a meeting in South Africa ahead of the COP17 of the Commission for a Sustainable World Society and environment ministers from the social democratic movement. These will be followed by meetings of the Committee on Economic Policy, Labour and National Resources, the Committee for the CIS, the Caucasus and the Black Sea, and the Africa Committee. Further to the decision taken by the Athens SI Council in July to hold its next meeting in Costa Rica hosted by the National Liberation Party, PLN, the Presidium agreed that the Council in San José will be held on 23-24 January 2012.