Socialists tackle global issues in Geneva

Chile's Luis Ayala, secretary-general of the Socialist International Keystone

Peace and stability, sustainable development and climate change are heading discussions at a two-day meeting of the Socialist International Council in Geneva.

This content was published on June 30, 2007 minutes

Around 400 left-leaning delegates are attending the session, which opened on Friday with an address from Swiss cabinet minister Moritz Leuenberger, a member of the centre-left Social Democratic Party.

Among those taking part are leading players from the Middle East, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Lebanon's Walid Jumblatt, leader of his country's Progressive Socialist Party.

Speaking on Friday, Abbas said the recent "bloody coup d'état" in Gaza by Islamist group Hamas should not be used as a pretext for halting peace efforts.

"I call on the international community to support the resumption of negotiations on a permanent basis," he said, while at the same time urging nations to isolate Hamas.

The meeting is taking place at a time when the Socialist International (SI), which brings together around 160 social democratic, socialist and labour parties worldwide, is looking to play a leading role on major global issues.

"The SI wants to rediscover a role that it has perhaps lost in recent years," said Swiss parliamentarian Carlo Sommaruga, who has been involved for several years in the workings of the organisation.

Strong pedigree

This is a view shared by Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and the last Swiss representative to sit at the heart of the SI. Ziegler describes SI as the oldest, most important and most international of all the political organisations.

"The SI's golden age was under the presidency of [former West German chancellor] Willy Brandt – elected at the Geneva congress in 1976 – when it was really active on the international scene."

The sociology professor, who specialises in developing countries, cites the support given to the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua and to clandestine social democratic parties in the former Soviet Union.

"Under the guidance of [Brandt], the SI played a part in the collapse of the Soviet Union and championed the causes of national liberation movements in developing countries. But since then the SI has seen a return to European ethnocentrism, losing sight of its commitments in Africa, Latin America and Asia," Ziegler said.

Sommaruga agrees that the organisation has taken its eye off the ball: "For the past two decades, SI meetings have been barely more than gatherings of leading socialists."

Election monitors

Chile's Luis Ayala, secretary-general of the SI, unsurprisingly gives a more upbeat assessment, underlining the organisation's contributions to promoting democracy by, for example, dispatching international observers during elections.

"Our organisation carries out important work, despite its modest budget [almost SFr3 million ($2.45 million) in 2007]," he said.

Whatever the truth, the movement now wants to have more of a say on the burning issues of today, for which it favours a system of global governance.

Leuenberger, who is Switzerland's environment minister, took up the theme in his address to the meeting when he once again called for a worldwide tax on CO2 emissions to finance measures to offset the effects of global warming.

"Those countries most affected by change would be the main beneficiaries," he told delegates.

It remains to be seen whether the SI can ensure socialism has an influence on a liberalised and globalised world, but Sommaruga, for one, believes it can.

"The SI has a part to play on the international stage as it already does in Geneva in dealing with conflict situations and sustainable development," he said.

swissinfo, based on a French article by Frédéric Burnand in Geneva

In brief

The Swiss delegation to the SI is made up of Moritz Leuenberger, the country's enevironment, transport, energy and communications minister, Pierre-Yves Maillard, vice-president of the Swiss Social Democratic Party, and parliamentarians Liliane Maury-Pasquier and Carlo Sommaruga.

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Birth of the Socialist International

The International Workers Association, the official name of the First International, was founded on September 28, 1864, in London.

Following a split between anarchists, Marxists and the Paris Commune, the First International collapsed and in 1889 gave way to the Second International, comprising socialist movements.

The Socialist International was created in Frankfurt in 1951. It currently brings together 161 political parties and organisations from all continents, of which 52 are in government.

The SI's president is Greece's George Papandreou.

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