07 novembre 2007

Sur les 15 ans d'Ecosy (II)

Suite des opérations, voici la contribution d'Antonio Gambini, ancien Bureau Member d'Ecosy représentant le MJS - et aujourd'hui assistant parlementaire de Benoit Hammon, député européen socialiste français.

A few reflections

Antonio Gambini, ECOSY bureau member, 1999-2003

I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute to ECOSY's debate by sharing a few reflections with the readers of this book commemorating the 15th anniversary of ECOSY.

What impressed me the most when I joined ECOSY bureau, with comrades such as Anders Lindberg, Luke Akehurst, Pierre-Antoine Molina, Alexandra Kramm, Federica Mogherini and Enzo Amendola, to name but a few, was the very high level of the political debate. In a later life, hearing debates in "higher" circles of the European socialist and social democratic family, such as the PES Group in the European Parliament, I have, quite frankly, never been that impressed.

At that time, the most lively debated issues were European federalism, European defence, "society issues" (drugs mainly) and of course enlargement.

But today another range of issues have emerged powerfully. Issues such as purchasing power, linked to stagnant wages and increase in prices of basic necessities (housing, energy, food, healthcare), or the organisation of the "labour market" (as they say), linked with flex-security. This should be a welcomed development for us, as these concerns are, historically, our "speciality". However, electoral campaign after electoral campaign, we seem to lose ground, not only to our traditional conservative and liberal opponents, but also, in a few cases, to political forces on our left.

The role of a socialist political youth movement, and its contribution to the overall family, should also be that of breaking new ground in terms of ideas. Other comrades have to run governments, ensure visibility of a message in the media, organise electoral machines.

Now more than ever, the European socialist and social democratic family needs the input of the young European socialist movement, able to overcome gridlock by majority voting, ambitious enough to tackle the challenges of the day and courageous enough to convince and campaign despite the scepticism of party leaderships.

Sur les 15 ans d'Ecosy

Dans 2 semaines, ECOSY célèbrera son 15ème anniversaire sur le site qui l'a vu naître, à La Haye. (Si vous voulez y assister, il n'est pas définitivement trop tard mais il est vraiment plus que temps, faites vous connaitre au secrétariat du MJS - 02/512.12.18)

En avant-première mondiale de la publication qui marquera cet évènement, je vous livre les contributions de deux figures historiques d'ECOSY et du MJS Belge.

La première est celle de Yonnec Polet, ancien secrétaire général des jeunes socialistes européens et aujourd'hui conseiller politique du Parti des Socialistes Européens.

On the road to an enlarged organisation with higher ambitions
Yonnec Polet, Secretary General, 1999-2001 and 2001-2003

Bureau member, Vice President and twice Secretary general; no surprise that ECOSY played an important role in my life. Being involved in ECOSY, you always remember the excitement of working and sharing political adventures with people from all over the continent. ECOSY is a political experience but it is also a living experience. I do not know any group where you can have so much fun while at the same time having so many interesting discussions, campaigns and common struggles. I have met many interesting people and I have been enriched by all these encounters. I would like in particular to mention Hugues Nancy and Jan Krims, both Presidents during my mandates, and also Philip Cordery and Pau Solanilla, my predecessors, for their precious cooperation. ECOSY could not have been that dynamic without Frida Lopez, who contributed greatly in the organisation‘s work.

The period 1999-2003 was a very interesting political time and the existence of ECOSY goes alongside the evolution of the European integration process. Europe and Social democracy were sailing through new horizons. In 1997, most of our parties came to power, with a number of unprecedented victories described as the pink wave. Unfortunately, the centre-left majority did not take advantage of the situation. The period of dominance for progressive governments did not last for long; the right wing parties quickly developed strong rhetoric while also playing with people’s fears, migration, insecurity and terrorism in the lead. Conservative thinking conquered public opinion and, except for a few exceptions, the pendulum leant to the right. The end of the 90s triggered extensive talks about this new period of historical importance. It was a moment of reflection for the Future of Europe and a decisive time for the European integration project. Looking back, I believe ECOSY adopted the correct political approach at that time.

With the upcoming European Enlargement, we were denouncing the two trends threatening the EU project: First, a less solidaristic EU where the motto “I want my money back” and the “juste retour” that undermined solidarity between countries and people; Second, the risk of a paralysed EU, incapable of overcoming its political divergences as the number of member states was about to increase dramatically. The convergence of these two trends prevented the EU from adopting the correct strategies towards the harnessing of globalisation. This dynamic increased the fears of the EU citizens in relation to their ability to compete on a global market as well as the impact of Eastern European workers, perceived as weakening further their standing in the EU labour market. This was the time when the EU should have given a clear signal on the irremissibility of the three European integration equal pillars: Economic growth, social progress, democratic culture. As good as it was, the Lisbon strategy did not answer our citizens concerns. The slogan of the 5th Congress in Vienna in 2001 “Europe for the people not for profit” made clear Europe’s obligation to take people’s concerns into account. In that sense, ECOSY was vocal during the Youth Convention in 2002, in the run up to the drafting of the new European Constitution, for its insistence on raising the issue of a Social Europe. Unfortunately the President of the Convention did not consider the youth demands. The referendum in France and in the Netherlands demonstrated that the European Social model needed the guarantees that a Social Treaty could have provided.

How did the period of EU enlargement affect ECOSY’s development? It was the time of ECOSY’s own enlargement; a positive move to integrate new member organisations from Central and Eastern countries, giving more credibility and legitimacy to the organisation. We had launched a successful Working group, which laid strong foundations for the subsequent enlargement of ECOSY.. I should also mention that the former debate between tenants of ECOSY and of the European section of IUSY was vanishing, with a consensual view of the relevancy of ECOSY. At that time, the PES did not follow our request of enlarging itself to Central and Eastern parties. I believe it was a mistake, as it would have accelerated their preparation for EU admission and their ability to take up challenges before their citizens. Today, the PES member parties are going trough difficult moments in the “New Europe”. It might be a point of reflection regarding an early integration of parties and youth organisations from the Western Balkans.

In these four years, ECOSY doubled the number of member organisations and of events, and more than tripled the number of participants to its events. It was a period of innovation: the first Leaders Conference (in Brussels), the first Winter University (In Werptfhul), the first large Conference between Congress (in Arnhem), the first event in the Balkans (in Belgrade), the first Euro-Arab Dialogue (in Beirut with IUSY), and the first summer camp with more than a thousand participants (in Attersee). What a growth! It was also a period of solid cooperation with IUSY’s Presidents Umberto Gentiloni and Alvaro Elizalde and Secretary Generals Lisa Pelling and Enzo Amendola on different matters; delegations in the Middle East, our relations with social movements, papers on the rise of far right movements and involvement in the Western Balkans. ECOSY and IUSY have a mutual interest in such synergies which consolidate the social democratic youth movement.

This period of positive transformation had consequences on the functioning of ECOSY and, later on, its political orientation. I always considered that one achievement of ECOSY is the feeling of ownership of each member organisation. The principle of equal representation of member organisations, although not perfectly democratic in terms of membership size, is a guarantee to give space to smaller organisations. The debate at that time on amending the statutes was difficult as the member organisations were divided regarding the accuracy of changing this very fundamental characteristic of the organisation. Let us add that ECOSY’s great asset relies upon its majority voting system, which has contributed to the creation of real political debates in the organisation as well as to the adoption of visionary positioning. .

One must also underline the change in ECOSY’s political orientation. European social democracy was nurtured by the debate on the Third way and the reform of social-democratic thinking. If that debate in itself, between pros and contras, was not on the agenda, the organisation saw a shift in terms of political leadership. It was not only the reflection of an enlarged organisation but of the political orientation within our mother parties.

If ECOSY did not enter the debate regarding the Third way, it made a clear decision to debate with the new social movements for another globalisation. Our presence together with IUSY in Porto Alegre (tens of young socialists), Firenze (a thousand ECOSY people) and other Social Forums paved the way for the participation of the social democratic family. Points of divergence with the PES emerged at times but today we can gladly observe that the Global Progressive Forum is member of the International Council of the WSF. Today, the World Social Forum has lost its dynamism but we should not undermine the role it played and its potential. We have been amazed by the number of young people attending the European Social Forum of Paris, London and Athens. ECOSY has a role to play in fostering convergence among progressive people and promoting our ideas in these forums.

Being present in these forums is also a way to increase the visibility of ECOSY. I must confess that it was always difficult to reach large audiences and mainstream media. Organising campaigns, in other occasions than those of European elections, was a breakthrough in this regard. The objective was to pass our message and to reach new people: “Education is our future”; “Fighting social injustice”; “Enlarged Europe”. It was one more means to advance on the way to an ever-integrated organisation.

At the end of the day, our objectives are simple: influencing EU politics and getting more people on board. Were we successful? We have put a lot of effort to influence the PES and the PES Group. We have not always achieved our objectives, yet this is the best way for ECOSY to be influential: raising awareness, stimulating raising discussion and contributing to the drafting of documents.

ECOSY will benefit from a generational process: more and more ECOSY veterans will achieve high functions in their respective parties. This will help the organisation grow. Already today, several MEPs have a background in ECOSY. It is now the responsibility of the current generation to use this network profitably.

Concerning reaching new audiences, ECOSY has always had the inherent problem of international organisations: Being the business of a small group of people, far away from the interest of the leaders, distant from the members. ECOSY should always pay attention not to fall in that trap. As ECOSY takes its strength from its member organisations and from its grassroots members, a good combination of the two must be the objective. Involving leaders is as important as reaching the grass roots. The question of individual membership was not further developed because of obstacles in terms of implementation. Was that a missed opportunity? Time will tell, but in the era of mass communication, all means of involvement should be envisaged.

Mandate after mandate, the same issues are faced; visibility, influence, front runner in thinking and acting. It is the destiny of each political movement. I am confident that you will demonstrate that European Young socialists are ready to take up the challenge and promote our ideas. I am proud to observe that ECOSY is growing steadily and got recognised as a credible interlocutor in the European Social democratic family and outside, in the European Youth Forum, with European organisations and in the World and European Social Forum (with the GPYF).

ECOSY is a great tool for progressive young people, with great achievements we can be proud of. It has always been a front runner in European policy: integrated, innovative, democratic. Let’s continue the adventure started in 1992: Europe needs a strong voice for young people! Europe needs ECOSY!