On 11-13 June the Party of European Socialists hosted its congress in Budapest, a location that had been chosen with care and for good reasons. In Hungary, right in Orban’s view, the party wanted to celebrate its values, debate positions and policies and elect its new board and president: A strong sign that socialism, freedom and democracy are alive and ready to fight back.
The weather brought perfect conditions with blue sky and temperatures over 35 degrees that encouraged the delegates to stay in the cool conference venue. The congress started well with the PES WOMEN’s annual conference marking its 20th anniversary on Thursday and various workshops organized by different actors such as Solidar, the trade unions, YES and others.
But right afterwards the first major surprise: Enrique Baron withdrew his candidature for president after decisive delegations denied him their support. Discussions during the S&D reception were accordingly heated and the mood of many delegates and activists ruffled. Enrique Baron had not been the much-needed candidate for the bold renewal of the party but still – it would have been a step in the right direction. 67% for Sergei Stanishev was the worst result ever for a PES president, even more without other candidate. It clearly shows that none of the two were the delegates’ preferred choice. In any case, it was not an open and transparent process that made Stanishev President but rather backroom deals reflecting the power play between national member parties.
On Saturday the congress continued in a similar manner. The debates on positions were held without delegates and activists who had to listen to discussions of a few chosen panelists. Even MEPs who prepared statements did not get the floor. Open discussions were apparently not part of the party leaders’ plan. (Side note: Stefan Löfven was the only socialist Head of State/Government that found his way to Budapest. All the others decided to stay away.) Hence, the resolutions were agreed upon beforehand and presented to the delegates without the possibility to influence the outcome.
Both, the election process and the debates, show that the PES is far from being a genuine European party to its members but a mere umbrella that barely covers the struggle between the national parties. After three years of standstill, only interrupted by a powerful election campaign, the Party of European Socialists is a shadow jealously shielded from members’ influence by those in positions to decide.
However, not everything was bad in Budapest. Not at all.
- The comparably high number of MEPs that were present, voicing their concerns and hopefully continuing to do so.
- The great work of the PES secretariat in making this congress happen in Budapest.
- The strong voice of YES with its newly elected president Laura, the only person on the panel daring to question the current state and the way of debating.
- The large number of activists from across Europe that seemed to outnumber the delegates if not in votes or voice but for sure in noise. These activists demand a party different to what it is like at the moment.
A transparent party that is not scared of conflicts.
An open party that fosters internal discussions.
A truly European party that overcomes national interests.
A fully democratic party that does not replace elections by backroom deals.
A member based party promoting the participation of all those involved.
A real Party of European Socialists.