„Towards a new Europe“ was written in big letters above the entrance of the Palazzi dei Congressi in Rome, where the Party of European Socialists met on Saturday, 2 March 2014. Advertisements often suggest that “new” is always better, but a critical mind should question if this is true.
When we arrived the meeting had already started: party leaders from all over Europe delivered speeches, and politicians addressed the audience with video messages. The star of the day was Martin Schulz, who was elected top (and only) candidate to run for the office of EU Commission President. Martin Schulz got more than 90 per cent of the votes. Sometimes the focus shifted to other people, amongst those Matteo Renzi, the new Prime Minister of Italy. Speakers from different countries wished him the best of luck for his ambitious plans to reform almost everything in Italy.
We also have plans for reforms, but at European level. In this view we brought along postcards that explain our idea of a new democratic Convention.
During the Congress we talked to many participants about our idea of a new EU Convention - a democratic and inclusive forum where the big decisions about the future of the Union are openly debated between politicians, civil society and citizens. Most of the politicians agreed with our analysis of the problem and our demand for more democracy in Europe. Yet the way to get there is not the easiest one, the reason why some of the people we talked to had doubts. No one ever said that democracy is easy and comfortable.
While we had expected most of the things we heard at PES Congress there are some outstanding messages we should keep in mind. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat promised that there will be no back-room decisions when the new Commission President is elected. Many speakers saw the process of announcing candidates before the election as a huge step forward. Renzi declared that he wants to use the European Semester to create a space in which different opinions about the EU can be discussed. That is not that far away from our ideas.
Martin Schulz entered the stage as the final speaker. He held a very personal and impressive speech, yet with many general sentences. He announced only a very few concrete actions. Schulz wants a new Europe that focusses on a few relevant topics. Most decisions are to be dealt with at the local, regional or national level. We will see whether one person alone can realise this aim. Never once I heard the word Convention from the stage, and also the adopted PES Manifesto does not even mention it. So far the European Socialists’ “new Europe” rather is an empty word.
Text by Daniel Lentfer