Foreword by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Chairman of AGP Foundation G. A. Papandreou
28 April 2005 -
The mission of the Andreas Papandreou Foundation is to become a centre of exemplary contribution to the areas of social research, political analysis, conflict resolution /settlement and the building of peace, in accordance with the spirit and vision of Andreas Papandreou.
The connection between theory and political practice remained a central question for Andreas Papandreou throughout his political career, and thus remains a significant component of Foundation philosophy and the core determinant of its direction. In this context, and guided by the ongoing necessity of evaluating the meaning, content and the future of contemporary European social democracy as expressed through political parties, the Foundation organised a workshop, in co-operation with the Office of the European Commissioner A. Diamantopoulou, titled “The Contemporary European Social Democratic Party: Looking Ahead”. The workshop gave many international figures from the world of politics and scholarship, the opportunity to participate in a constructive dialogue on the question of shaping and developing a contemporary Social Democratic Party according to contemporary reality.
A critical point of concern is the way in which European Social Democratic Parties of the 21st century must evolve and adapt their policies to a new set of givens at the local, and especially the European and global level. More specifically, the globalised economy, the expansion of Europe toward the east, the dynamic formation of information society and the disappearance of cultural borders, influence local communities both directly and indirectly. The role of the contemporary Social Democratic Party in this context is of decisive importance, as it is called upon to shape the new era according to its own values; to challenge the hitherto dominant neo-liberal market-society paradigm, and pave the way toward a more democratic social and political culture at a local and global level.
During the course of the workshop, the need for the contemporary European Social Democratic Party to recognise at once the need to modernise and to change radically its structure and functions, emerged as a dominant concern. The existing organisational structure is unable to address the challenges of the new environment. Traditional party mechanisms and structures of participation must be rethought, as must the process by which new members are inducted. The party must adopt a more open character and strengthen its links with the social base, to reinvigorate interest and provide people with the inspiration to become involved.
The need of Social Democratic Parties to modernise and to cultivate their social platform is one which has achieved ample recognition in the last years. This process of modernisation must place great emphasis on the strengthening of party relations with the institutions and forces of civil society, on the incitement of citizens for active involvement, if a new revitalised political culture is to evolve. As the workshop discussions indicated, the synthesis of a new political project, based on fruitful conclusions which emerge from comparative studies of European party models, will provide the contemporary Social Democratic Party with the necessary tools to address the demands of mobilising citizens and of ‘direct democracy’, at the party level. After all, the forces of civil society constitute a vibrant and vital component of political culture and fertile terrain for the production of ideas and political stimuli.
The party-political implications of Information Society was also a dominant theme during the workshop sessions. The dramatic increase in the capacity for communication represented by new technologies, is impressive and must be utilised. Information society makes possible a more direct and substantial communication capacity between the party and the citizen. It is also conducive to the task of forging stronger links with young people. The utilisation of new methods and techniques in the evaluation of the myriad voices, interests and ideas - diverse societies, communities, cultures, political views - offers an advantage to the contemporary European Social Democratic Party in relation, not only to the realisation of goals but also to the development of future strategies.
The message is optimistic. The contemporary Social Democratic Party can indeed give expression to progressive social forces, can open new horizons and offer new perspectives. Discussions and deliberations of the kind undertaken in these workshop sessions must be central to the developmental process, so that the crucial questions and concerns can lead to outcomes which inform and shape policies decisively. Only in this way can theory, ideology and practice be meaningfully and successfully integrated.