Julie Ward on the Party of European Socialists Congress
A handful of British Labour members, including the highly competent Chi Onwurah, attended the PES (30th anniversary) Congress which took place in Berlin over two days in October, hosted by the governing German SPD. The Congress heard from heads of state and government including German chancellor Olaf Scholz.
PES has 33 full members from the 27 EU member states plus Norway and UK. There are 14 associate parties, including Fatah (Palestine), Meretz (Israel) and the CHP and HDP opposition parties in Turkey, plus 14 observer parties from countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Moldova and several Balkan states.
With the next European elections on the horizon, much of the focus was on how to win sufficient support to become the biggest group in the European Parliament with the greatest number of commissioners. The Congress motto “With Courage For Europe” was intended to focus minds on the campaign ahead in the context of the war and Putin’s weaponisation of energy supplies, with the resulting global crises and geopolitical shifts.
Maltese prime minister Robert Abela and UK Labour’s Anneliese Dodds seemed to forget they were addressing an international gathering and defaulted to detailed domestic agendas as if addressing audiences back home. It was a disappointing performance from Dodds, who previously served as a Labour MEP. Speaking on a panel entitled ‘Respect in the World’, she failed to answer a specific question about what EU-UK co-operation might look like under a Labour government. There was nothing from Dodds about common security or participation in Horizon Europe, the high-value cutting-edge scientific research programme where we previously led the field, and no mention of the hugely popular Erasmus+ education and youth exchange programme. Neither did the shadow secretary of state for women and equalities mention gender equality, which was high on everyone else’s agenda thanks to PES Women president Zita Gurmai’s tireless high-level campaigning.
PES Women conducted their business immediately before the main Congress, and Jackie Jones, former Welsh Labour MEP, was elected to the Executive Bureau. Disappointingly, there were no UK Labour candidates for the main PES executive body. If we are to rebuild strong relationships with our closest allies, we should strive for a seat at every table. The loss of Labour MEPs is lamented by our friends in Europe, with Brexit serving to weaken the EU, emboldening Putin in the process.
Most of the speakers affirmed strong support for Ukraine, including the supply of defensive weapons and help with post-war reconstruction, with the final Congress resolution reflecting this common position.