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PES Democracy Network launches “Enhancing democracy: our main priority”

On the 21st and 22nd of November, PES Deputy Secretary General Marije Laffeber and the Chair of the PES Democracy Network Tanja Fajon welcomed delegates of PES member parties, vice-presidents of the S&D Group at the European Parliament, former ministers, experts on gender issues and young progressive academics on the occasion of the second PES Democracy Network high-level meeting – organised by the PES with the support of the Karl-Renner-Institut, the Foundation for European Progressive Studies and the European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity –  to discuss how to protect and enhance democracy in a historical moment where our EU values are being challenged. 

The main aim of the PES Democracy Network, chaired by Tanja Fajon, who is also Vice President of the S&D Group in the European Parliament, is to promote and strengthen the European democracy and equal societies within the EU, as well as to reinforce social democracy as a banner in the fight against populism and electoral abstention. The PES key priority is to enable citizens to be heard and this message was delivered through a video launched during the event.

On Friday 21 November, “My democracy matters. How to protect it?” was the core question of the event, structured in two main parts: the book launch “Problems of Representative Democracy in Europe. A challenge for progressives”, a collection of articles written by young progressive academics as a result of the two years research project ‘Enhancing Democracy pre and post EU enlargement’ of the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), the European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity (EFDS) and the Karl-Renner-Institut – where there is also a contribution made by PES President Sergei Stanishev; and a public debate, moderated by PES Deputy Secretary General, Marije Laffeber.

After a warm welcome by Karl Duffek (Director of the Karl-Renner-Institut and Vice-President of FEPS), the event was opened by the keynote speech of Andreas Schieder (Head of the SPÖ parliamentary group), who stated that; “we need to take the risk of more democracy”. According to mr Schieder, protection and the inclusion of minorities should be part of our democracy and, in order to enhance this democracy, we should foster more possibilities for citizens’ participation. This should be done at all political levels, but especially at the European level.

The book launch was introduced by Ian Marinus Wiersma (Vice-President of the European Forum), and moderated by Maja Nenadovic (political consultant, human rights trainer and researcher). Tanja Fajon, Andreas Petö (associate professor, Dept. of Gender Studies, Central European University) and Hannes Swoboda (former President of the S&D Group in the EP) closed the first part of the debate. Mr Swoboda talked about the role of civil society focusing on the way we must combine civil society movements with political structures.

Tanja Fajon opened the public debate stating that; “Democracy is not just democratic principles, the rule of law, media freedom, fight against discrimination, respect for integrity and human dignity: democracy is a process we should all strive for constantly. We want to make sure that citizens can live in fair societies where democracy prevails in all areas of life and where the rule of law is a reality”.

Jörg Leichtfried (Vice-President of the S&D Group) opened the first panel which focused on the most vulnerable groups targeted by populist rhetoric. Honourable speakers contributed to the success of the event: László Kovács (former Hungarian Foreign Affairs Minister, Former EU Commissioner and Member of the PES Presidency) helped the audience to better understand the current state of play of democracy in Europe, stating that in “Hungary it is not a matter of enhancing democracy, but how to rebuild it”.

Henri Nickels (Head of Sector Equality, Equality and Citizens’ Rights Department of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights) offered an overview of the situation of migrants, Jewish, Muslim and Roma population in EU as targeted groups of intolerance and hatred speech.

Aurélien Mazuy (President of Rainbow Rose, the network of LGBT Socialist, Social-democratic and labour activists in Europe) raised the attention toward LGBTI community which are used as scapegoats by extremist groups, inviting the progressive family “to be very vigilant and do not let this phenomenon grow”.

The second panel was strongly focused on gender thanks to the participation of Marju Lauristin (Vice- President of S&D Group in European Parliament and member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs); Sonja Lokar (CEE Network on Gender Issues), Conny Reuter (Secretary General of Solidar) and PES Women President (and FEPS Vice-President) Zita Gurmai. The progressive family is losing the voting support of women, and this was one of the problems highlighted and discussed. It is necessary to engage civil society organisations and NGOs if we want to promote inclusive participation which “contributes to preparing communities, societies and entire countries to address opposing points of view, forge compromises and solutions, and engage in constructive criticism and deliberations. It helps communities develop functioning forms of democracy for government, corporations and civil society”.

PES Deputy Secretary General Marije Laffeber moderated the high-level discussions and underlined that; “our values form the moral compass of the PES and its member parties to build progressive societies in today’s world. We work to make sure that citizens can live in fair societies where democracy prevails in all areas of life, to enable citizens to be active participants in society and to decide on their common future”.

Towards a new mechanism to respect the rule of law in Europe

In Vienna, the PES Democracy Network dedicated part of the working session on Saturday 22 November to the rule of law mechanism, following the last meeting of the network in The Hague on February 2014, and with the aim of fostering a constructive dialogue in our political family in order to effectively advocate for a legitimate and transparent procedure.

During the February meeting,  Frans Timmermans, as Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister, called in his keynote speech for a “Copenhagen mechanism” to be set up to ensure compliance of all member states with EU common values and the continuity of pre-accession criteria. This is something that the PES has been promoting for some time, and which we fully support.

The rule of law is a backbone of modern democratic, pluralist societies and constitutional democracies and one of the main values on which the European Union is founded. We strongly believe that all Member States should comply with fundamental values of the Union and the requirements of democracy and the rule of law, not only while being candidate countries but also once they have joined the EU.

A full report of the event will be uploaded soon.

Pictures can be found here.

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