Building on our strengths

Luis Ayala, Secretary General of the International, looks at the workings of the Socialist International

Issue 1, Volume 48, 1999

During the nineties the membership of the International has doubled from close to 70 members in all categories to more than 130. We also now maintain relations and work with some 70 other like-minded parties worldwide, that is a total of over 200 parties.

This process of expansion of the International, which we have managed in the last few years, is a natural consequence of the vision and legacy of men like Willy Brandt, Olof Palme and many others: a vision and legacy which were anchored in the universalisation of our common values.

I learnt with Willy Brandt, during the years that I had the privilege of working with him, that the problems of our comrades in the most remote places of the planet are common and shared problems. And that their solution was dependent in most cases on the commitment and involvement of us all. In leading our efforts for peace during the Cold War, and towards North-South cooperation in the struggle for development, Brandt instilled in our International a vision of one humanity.

This has been the basis upon which the International has so greatly expanded beyond its earlier European limits. With that special combination of actors in the front line, side by side, with those who care, who share responsibilities, we have given meaning to our International, to the values and principles we stand for.

With this concept of global solidarity, of a common agenda, that the problems of others are also our problems, its architecture has been advanced today in every region of the world. In this process of real internationalisation, social democracy has gained in influence and credibility as a political force. And so, the `quantitative' aspect of our organisation has become a `qualitative' one.

Now the task before us is one of consolidating and deepening the engagement of our members with this very different International which includes new actors, new issues and new realities.

We need to continue deepening and strengthening the global character and the new multifaceted nature of today's International. We need to harness the potential of our members to strengthen our common work, and also to bring in every perspective, so enriching our political answers and initiatives.

At this time of greater interdependence and of a need for structured, common work and proposals, we can take pride in the fact that we are now present through our members in all regions of the world.

The challenge is to work more closely together, developing our organisation and strengthening our commitment to a global vision. In the age of globalisation and of the globalisation of politics, we should be mindful that our success will depend, as well, on our unity of purpose and our efforts to coordinate on a world scale.

The member parties of our organisation are geographically diverse, but they also come from countries diverse in terms of their size, scale of economies, stages of development and political systems.

Key to the working of our International is its ability to address the problems posed by this diversity in an integrated way. Thanks to our accumulated experience, we are more capable of finding the right responses.

We have widened our vision so that every issue finds its place on the International's agenda, from Africa to Central and Eastern Europe, from efforts for peace in the Middle East to democracy in Malaysia - we include the local scope as well as a global outlook.

Nevertheless, at the end of the nineties the world has gone through changes in a way that makes it less and less ordered.

While the world and its economy go forward ever more globally, on occasions one has the feeling that political responses are ever more local, weakening the fabric of global society. Even within our International itself we sometimes come across the concept of `far away' and `distant' countries.

In this atmosphere, the mechanisms of global cooperation seem to falter. Within the International we also appear to suffer the consequences. For instance, our resolutions or statements would seem to be undervalued, or underrated, in the eyes of those who consider themselves not directly affected by the issues involved. But we should not lose sight that for the peoples in Algeria, in Peru, in Burma, or in Equatorial Guinea, these expressions of collective will have an enormous value.

Equally, the importance of the International's activities for such countries and beyond should not be underestimated. Our International undeniably serves as a forum, a network in which people meet, make contacts and share experiences. Innumerable initiatives, programmes and bilateral projects for interaction have resulted from these contacts and from these meetings convened by our organisation.

This cementing of partnerships and networks is also very much the outcome and product of our work.

It is reasonable to ask what more the International can do at a practical level, for example lending support to a party in difficulty, or assisting member parties during elections in newly established democracies. We can step up our efforts to highlight certain world situations, we can channel energies to address these matters, and we can provide an international platform for drawing attention to the issues.

But we have yet to properly equip our organisation to do more; we have not provided ourselves with the means, nor the mechanisms. This is an issue which has been with us for a long time; we need to examine it and go forward with proposals.

One important aspect of advancing the aims of the organisation is to provide it with a sound financial basis, thus empowering it to carry out its work. The payment of a fee by the members is crucial to this: it is a normal and a natural way to finance an organisation, and provides the International with its independence and autonomy and greatly assures its credibility.

We have left behind us the times of large deficits, the piling up of debts, and of budgets and financial documents with restricted circulation. We now live in times of balanced income and expenditure, of living within our means, of public accounts and of transparency in our financial affairs. We have also succeeded in spreading the financial responsibility among all the members of the organisation.

Yet we have failed collectively in two things. Our operational funds have effectively decreased, with a number of parties paying the same, or lower, fees than ten years ago. Secondly, there are a number of parties which do not fulfil this condition of membership.

Nevertheless throughout the nineties we have managed to utilise scarce resources in an effective way, carrying out an increased number of activities successfully.

There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that the question of how our International will widen its financial base is a task that should not be postponed but needs to be addressed and carried out in a proper manner, because wherever we look to increase our current capabilities, the organisation will need to have more funds at its disposal.

Alternative funding is part of the solution if it is open, if there is a consensus on how to go about this process, and only if it is a stable, sustainable source of finance. But it cannot be, in my view, a substitute for the membership fees which continue to be the price to be paid if we are to guarantee our credibility.

Furthermore, member parties cannot contribute less while asking the International to do more.

Why not create, for instance, as has often been suggested, a fund for democracy, for training schemes, for electoral programmes? Why not work towards these goals, together with, whenever possible, foundations of our member parties? Why not pool such resources and energies?

The International has the potential to do, and to be, as much as its members are prepared to empower or enable it to do.

In the life of the International, different times have required different responses. We have managed to reflect in the presidium our global nature, but we have not been able to accommodate the idea of giving some Vice-Presidents greater and more specific responsibilities to improve the effectiveness of the body, although of course a number of Vice-Presidents have assumed reponsibilities as chairs of committees.

The possibility of a small group of Vice-Presidents, along with the President and the Secretary General, working together to further the work of the presidium is worth exploring.

The meetings of the International must continue to be democratic fora for reaching decisions with the participation of all. Our Councils highlight our diversity in which all our member parties contribute to our vitality and our unique ability to address today's challenges.

It is in the nature of our democratic procedures that member parties can always make proposals on how the Council meetings are organised and it is important that we maintain the integrity of the Council.

When we think of the Council of course we turn to our many committees, which it establishes. They inform and move forward the work of that body at every meeting. Our committees provide important and searching analysis, whether on specific themes or on regional developments, and, of course, because the world is changing rapidly and we need to keep apace with it, the status of our committees should continue to be reviewed after every Congress.

As our structures reflect who we are, it is important to note the increasing number of women playing crucial roles in the life of our organisation and we need to ensure that they are fully integrated and represented in all the bodies of our International.

An issue uppermost in our minds is that of communications, image and visibility of our International. We have to start to recognise today that the International is far more visible than it was in the past, but nobody should be satisfied with where we are now.

The very growth of the International has prompted great interest in some regions of the world - for instance, anyone who was in Romania, or Senegal, during our recent meetings will have seen the enormous attention we received in the press.

In Latin America, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, people want to know more about us and there is much interest in our activities, from Tbilisi to Bamako, from Caracas to Katmandu, and this is reflected in the press coverage.

Nevertheless, we receive less attention in the big media centres, in Western Europe and North America. These are highly competitive news markets, where news is becoming a commodity, where journalists interview each other and where the focus is on the messenger rather than on the message.

Potentially we are now at a point in Western Europe where the dominance of our parties in government can improve the situation. Social democracy worldwide is now a mandatory point of reference and this affords more opportunities to raise our profile, but requires the commitment and active involvement of all our leaders.

So in many parts of the world we are newsworthy, but how do we make our message have more impact?

A concerted communications strategy should include a greater role for our members in their own countries, who could give greater visibility to the work of the International.

With our scarce resources, the International has managed a number of things in this area.

When we talk today of the presence of the International on the worldwide web and using the Internet as a tool for communication, we are discussing an already well-established presence dating from 1995. It is a well-used resource: for example, since our last Council meeting in November until today, close to 400,000 visits to our pages have been registered.

The section of our magazine on the trilingual website has been a highly cost effective way of achieving a long term aim of providing Socialist Affairs in French and Spanish, as well as in English.

Of course we have to continue moving forward on this, be open to change and new ideas. We are already working, for example, on the setting up of the intranet for our organisation.

However, at the same time within our concept of `one world' we should be aware that a number of our members do not have access yet to this technology, and as a democratic imperative, we have to actively invest in helping our members to be able to take advantage of new technologies.

The documentation we produce, reports, newsletters, circulars, and other materials, guarantee accessibility for all our members. A great deal of care and effort is taken to ensure the quality of these documents as they are important information tools.

In my view, for the International to move forward we must bear in mind four key points. Success depends upon a real strengthening of the global and truly international nature of our organisation; maintaining a unity of purpose and our common vision; enhancing cooperation among our member parties and strengthening the capabilities of the organisation; and finally, reinforcing the democratic procedures, inclusion, integration and our common will.



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