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San José, Costa Rica
23-24 January 2012

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Council

Financial Crisis, Markets and Democracy, Climate Justice: SI Council in Costa Rica

23-24 January 2012

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Latifa Perry


 
The Council of the Socialist International met in San José, Costa Rica, on January 23-24, hosted by the National Liberation Party (PLN), bringing together leaders and delegates from social democratic, labour and socialist parties from around the world (list of participants). H.E. Laura Chinchilla, President of the Republic of Costa Rica addressed the opening of the meeting, which was focused on the current financial crisis and on climate change, key questions in the concerns of the global social democratic movement today. The Council also discussed the strengthening of the International, as the organisation approaches its XXIV Congress this year.

Opening

Introducing the proceedings of the first Council meeting to be held in Costa Rica, the SI Secretary General Luis Ayala greeted the many achievements of the PLN during their different terms in government which have made the country a good example of the success of social democratic policies. Social democrats, he stressed, were today globally at the forefront of providing progressive leadership and proposing solutions to the financial and climate crises and the Council meeting was an opportunity to define together current priorities and objectives to move ahead. He thanked the PLN for their hosting of the meeting and invited its president to address the Council.

On behalf of the host party, Bernal Jiménez extended a warm welcome to Costa Rica to all those participating (full text). The party president expressed the satisfaction and pride felt by the PLN in bringing the global organisation of social democrats to his country, the oldest and least interrupted democracy in Latin America, which aspires, he said, to be carbon neutral by 2021 and has for the last 62 years had no army, instead prioritising the welfare state. For many years, he added, the PLN had been in government carrying out policies which reflected the values and principles of the International and its member parties, and would continue to play an active role in the life of this organisation.

In his opening remarks, SI President George Papandreou thanked Bernal Jiménez and praised the role of President Chinchilla and the PLN as a force for progress and prosperity in Costa Rica and for its people, turning their country into an example of sound environmental policies and protection of natural wealth in the world. Speaking about the very political nature of the financial crises, he pointed to the urgent need to put markets to work for the common good and to keep the democratic process on top of speculators and others who were undermining financial stability and growth in the real economy. The SI president underlined in his opening speech the commitment of the International to put forward policies required to overcome the current crisis and make a difference on climate change.

President Chinchilla, in her address, expressed her satisfaction to be amongst representatives of political parties belonging to the social democratic family from all regions of the world. Costa Rica, she explained, was a country in which the importance of sustainable development was fully understood and where human resources were the most valued assets. The strength of such a sustainable development with emphasis on the quality of human resources had enabled Costa Rica to diversify production and become more competitive, vital in times of global economic turmoil. The President underlined that for over six decades, Costa Rica had prioritised public spending on the improvement of living conditions and opportunities for the people, saving the resources that would have been spent on weapons and soldiers to invest them in health and education, priorities for social democrats throughout the world.

Redefining markets in a democracy

Discussions on the Council agenda began with a keynote address by the former president of Guatemala, Álvaro Colom, reflecting on the accomplishments of his administration in fighting poverty and drug trafficking in that country over the last four years. He emphasised the importance placed by the National Union for Hope (UNE) on the defence of political and individual freedoms in Guatemala which were in danger of being eroded under the new administration. In this regard, the SI secretary general drew the attention of the Council to a recent SI statement expressing deep concern over the political harassment suffered and travel restrictions imposed in the days prior to the Council by Sandra Torres Casanova, of the leadership of the party, which prevented her from attending the meeting.

Another specially invited key-note speaker from Central America was the member of the leadership of the FMLN and President of the Parliament of El Salvador, Sigfrido Reyes. During the first session, the gathered delegates were also addressed by SI Honorary President Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas (PRD, Mexico) and SI Vice-President Alfred Gusenbauer (SPÖ, Austria), both members of the SI Commission on Global Financial Issues, which has since 2008 met regularly as a forum for high-level exchanges on the financial crisis under the chairmanship of Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz.

More than three years on from the outbreak of the global financial crisis, it is clear that economic problems are now deeper than ever. Growth in the global economy is slowing, and citizens across the world are suffering from increasing unemployment and cuts to public services. Actions long called-for by the Socialist International, such as the redesigning of the global financial architecture, better regulation, promotion of sustainable growth and the strengthening of social protection are more crucial than ever. All these issues came out clearly in the contributions made by commission members, party leaders and other delegates on the first main theme of the agenda, 'Redefining markets in a democracy and overcoming the crisis with growth in the real economy' (full list of speakers).

Following the conclusion of a constructive debate on the global economy, a resolution of the Council was adopted unanimously, outlining the priorities of the organisation at this juncture and in the medium to long-term, to redress the world economy in line with the objectives of recovering real growth, increasing employment, achieving stability and overcoming the sovereign debt crisis and its harmful effects in the rest of the economy. The document argues in favour of the redesign of global financial institutions, the effective regulation of the financial sector, new instruments for development and sustainable growth, addressing the eurozone crisis beyond austerity, and increasing competitiveness while defending social protection and investment in green growth.

Strengthening the International

Delegates discussed and approved the final report of the SI Working Group on Reform, which had been established by the previous Council meeting in Athens to prepare proposals on SI reform to be adopted by the Council meeting in Costa Rica. The group was co-chaired by SI Vice-presidents Eero Heinäluoma (Finland, SDP), who presented the report to the Council, Beatriz Paredes (Mexico, PRI) and Nouzha Chekrouni (Morocco, USFP), and had held two meetings last year, in Geneva in September and Marrakech in December.

The report covers different aspects of the functioning of the International, including matters of organisation, working structures, communication, women and youth, financing and election of the leadership.

Special Address by a Nobel Laureate

A special address was delivered on the second morning of the Council meeting by Nobel laureate and former president of Costa Rica Oscar Arias, who highlighted the peaceful spirit of Costa Rica, epitomised by its abolition of the armed forces in 1948. The words and actions of the social democratic movement will be central to bringing an end to conflicts around the world, he said, reinforcing his unflinching desire to continue struggling for peace and the arrival of a day when the countries of the world are filled with democracy, development and freedom, however long that might take. The ex-president’s inspiring words were greeted with a standing ovation by delegates, who recognised in his message of hope the true spirit of global social democracy.

Climate change and other decisions

The Council adopted a declaration on climate change, a main theme of the meeting which many contributors highlighted as a crucial area in which the International must continue its work. Entitled 'Climate change: The responsibility to make a difference', the statement calls on all member parties to lead by example, united behind the shared goal of the International's 162 member parties and organisations of a low carbon society with climate justice at its core. The declaration builds on the recent meetings organised by the International in South Africa, of its SWS Commission in Johannesburg last October and the meeting of environment ministers from SI member parties in Durban during the COP 17 last December.

Those present equally adopted a resolution calling for the examination of the case of Puerto Rico by the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation and approved a statement on the important question of freedom of speech and independence of the judiciary in Turkey, supporting the SI member parties in that country. The Council also endorsed a paper on welfare statehood in the Arab states produced by the most recent meeting of the SI Committee on Economic Policy, Labour and National Resources, chaired by Christoph Zöpel (SPD, Germany) who in his report to the Council included his paper on the Challenges of Human Security and Global Sustainable Development.

The Council unanimously agreed to the election to the Presidium of Attila Mesterházy, the leader of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSzP), proposed by his party as a replacement for the former SI vice-president from that country. Reflecting the full support and solidarity of the Socialist International of those struggling for democracy in Yemen, the Council approved the recommendation of the Ethics Committee in its report to upgrade to full member status the Yemeni Socialist Party, whose members and leadership have been at the forefront of the democratic movement. The Council equally welcomed the announcement of the definitive abolition of the death penalty in Mongolia, and the positive role played by the Mongolian People's Party (MPP) and the International in achieving this milestone. The Council also approved the report of the SI Finance and Administration Committee, chaired by Pertti Paasio (SDP, Finland), including the budget for 2012.

Delivering his report on the work of the organisation since the last Council meeting, Secretary General Luis Ayala also drew attention to planned activities in the coming months, including meetings of the SI Commission on Global Financial Issues and the Commission for a Sustainable World Society and of thematic and regional committees, to prepare motions, resolutions and documents which will be discussed at the forthcoming SI Congress. Equally, a number of elections and other key developments will be covered by delegations and missions of the International. Regarding the forthcoming XXIV Congress of the International, to take place in South Africa, the Secretary General reported on the good discussions and contacts concerning this event that he had held with the ANC leadership and that the dates of the Congress would be announced in the coming weeks in consultation with the members of the SI Presidium, which will also approve the Congress main themes and its full agenda.

In his closing remarks, the SI President expressed on behalf of the Council the deep gratitude felt towards the PLN for their fraternal welcome and warm hospitality and gave his personal thanks to all those who had expressed their support and solidarity to the Greek people, PASOK and him in their interventions. The International, he added, had taken important decisions at the Council which would strengthen its ability to to be a voice for progressive forces the world over.

 
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