Tirana Conference

Sat 15 Jul 2000

On political parties in civil society

PES and European Forum

Tirana 1-2 June 2000

Fatos NANO, President of SP – Albania, emphasised the importance of co-operation between the social democratic forces of the Stability Pact and the EU countries. Strengthening the democratic structures in the region is an essential element in the isolation of Milosevic. Together we should try to replace the NATO soldiers and replace them by social democratic missionaries. According to Nano, Albania is ready to be integrated into modern society.

Skender GJINUSHI, President of the SDP – Albania, stressed the fact that the implementation of stability is impossible without institutional reform. In implementing these institutional reforms the region can learn from the vision and experience of the Western countries.

Akis TSOHATZOPOULOS, Vice President PES, emphasised the crucial role of political parties in political life. According to him, political parties are the "flesh and blood" of the political system. The task of the parties is to control the democratic institutions.

Lena HJELM WALLEN, President of the European Forum, stressed the fact that democracy is not a perfect political institution; it has to be fought for every day. Compromise and consolidation in the political field are keywords in the functioning of democracy.

First session: "PARTY ETHICS"

Chair:

Jan Marinus WIERSMA

Speakers:

György HEGYJ (MSzP, Hungary)

Greg BURTON (The Labour Party, UK)

INTRODUCTION by Jan Marinus WIERSMA:

Development of party building in the Balkan region within the framework of the Stability Pact is a common responsibility of the PES, the Forum and the foundations. The role of the political parties belongs to the core business of political life.

Fundamental roles for political parties:

  • formulation of policies
  • selection and recruitment processes
  • educational role
  • communication between government and electorate

Theoretical requirements for a democratic political party:

  • transparent structure
  • open clear party rules
  • democratic decision making
  • effective leadership (delegation)
  • diversity in debate (pluriform but also consensus)
  • openness to voter attitudes
  • clear ideological background
  • flexibility
  • good recruitment system
  • sustainable organisation
  • efficient and transparent financing mechanism
  • clear and strong profile; investment in the communication of the message

The objective of the session is to come to some sort of ‘Roentgen’ picture or analysis of the parties in the region and provide them with some practical solutions for the problems they have to cope with.

The case of the Hungarian MSzP:

Mr HEGYJ stressed the inevitability of making compromises, especially as a governing party or part of a coalition. He also mentioned the problems in Hungary, such as the small size of the middle class, weak civil society, danger of populism, a large number of Hungarians living abroad.

The case of The Labour Party (United Kingdom):

Mr BURTON explained that The Labour Party has managed to win the elections in 97 through its ability to modernise the party and to create consensus.

Modernisation / changes in:

  • selection and recruitment procedures
  • communication with members (evolution of communication system; IT)
  • policy making (decentralisation)
  • relationship with electorate (triangle government – party – electorate)

REACTIONS AND QUESTIONS TO THE SPEAKERS :

Mr WIERSMA (Vice President PES):

Internal party democracy and membership are two crucial issues in the building and functioning of political parties.

Mr VALK (PvdA):

Relatively easy to adopt a formal democratic party structure; more difficult to establish a democratic party culture. Respect towards others, room for internal debate (political minorities have the right to exercise pressure) and the realisation that compromise is not a defeat are crucial elements of a democratic party culture.

For the development of a democratic culture independent media are also essential.

Mr DOKLE (SP, Albania) stressed the complexity and importance of the triangle government - party – electorate and the necessity of mentality change. After all these years of dictatorship there is a strong legacy of the old mentality.

The rest of the debate concentrated on the following issues:

  • the need for a mentality change after the long years of a one party system,
  • the need (for the ability) to compromise
  • the dilemma of consensus vs. debate that is inherent in political life. There should be enough room for internal debate, but finally consensus should be reached (aligned to the ability to compromise)
  • triangle of government-party-electorate; the party has a communicative role towards the electorate. Communication with the electorate is important.
  • Co-operation with NGOs that proves to be difficult in some SEEC.

CONCLUSIONS:

All political parties are affected by a negative mood among population.

Main focus should be on:

  • communication with the electorate. Party has an intermediary role in the triangle government – party – electorate. It must keep in charge of change. It must keep the government sharp on necessary reforms and changes.
  • the need for mentality change (through training programs and recruiting of young members)
  • parties should be aware not to become a one-issue party (i.e. in co-operation with NGOs)

Second session "IMAGE OF THE PARTY"

Mr. SWOBODA (Vice President PES) introduced some crucial dilemmas/ contradictions concerning party image:

Image vs.

  • reality/ product
  • tradition
  • transparency (financial / structural)

Other crucial elements concerning image are accountability to the public (connected with openness and transparency and relations with media) and coherence of the party vs. individuality

PD Romania :

Mr SASSU introduced the PD, part of a ruling coalition. According to Sassu there is a general mistrust in political parties in Romania. Being part of a ruling coalition and confronted with the difficult social economic situation the PD is faced with the dilemma of compromise – electorate expectations. It has to pursue unpopular economic measures.

The PD’s main focus is on a good communication with voters. It is very active in organising debates, concerning good governance, party program, consolidation of economic policies, reconstruction of local communities; reforms of public institutions, attraction youth.

The PD has managed to attract young people.

SPD Germany:

Mr WEICHERT introduced the SPD that had been in opposition for 16 years. He stresses the importance of the triangle government-party-electorate. The party has an intermediary role between government and society; it has a communicative function towards the society and a control function towards the government.

Changes in society demand changes in political parties; continuous process of reform is important.

It is important to avoid relying on popular leadership and role of the media; active membership is crucial.

REACTIONS AND QUESTIONS TO THE SPEAKERS:

Mr DOKLE (in reaction to PD, Romania) mentioned the fact that coalitions of parties without the same political programmes pose a problem, but also give a new vision or dimension. A fragile balance needs to be found between the own identity and consensus.

Mrs HJELM WALLEN (PES) and Mr PINTO SCHOLTBACH (PvdA) asked the PD to explain the tactics for attracting youth. Pr PINTO SCHOLTBACH asked if the PD has any problems.

Mrs JASHARI (PSDK Kosovo) explained the difficult situation in Kosovo. Political parties and politicians suffer from a bad image among the population.

The priority for Kosovo is the building of transparent democratic civil society. Concerning the improvement of the image of parties in Kosovo the crucial points are:

  • independent media;
  • internal discipline
  • recruitment leadership

Mr MILO from the SDP Albania mentioned the fact that coalition forming is also an issue of image. Essential elements for coalition forming is to have a common goal and a compatible image, but still keep one’s own identity.

Mrs ANANIEVA (BSP Bulgaria) complained about the general mistrust of the Bulgarian population in politics. The image of social democratic parties has been affected due to continuous infighting (leadership conflicts). Pragmatic political programs are needed in Bulgaria, according to Mrs Ananieva.

Mr WIERSMA (PES), in a reaction to Ananieva, stressed the importance of a professional attitude in working on the image of party and coping with the lack of attraction of voters. Self-criticism and professionalism (f.i. in campaigning) are two key words in this respect. Professional campaigning depends on the link between leadership – party (image of a party is for a great part linked with the leader).

Mr VALK (Dutch Labour Party) also stressed the importance of self-criticism and integrity concerning image making and attracting voters.

Mrs DADE (SP Albania) came back to the need for compromise and mentioned the fact that the SP has found the way to compromise (by not just striving after shortsighted selfish goals). The SP has also managed to rebuild its own image. "The SP has both the electorate and the image".

REACTIONS OF THE SPEAKERS:

Mr SASSU admitted that the PD has problems with internal communication and the exodus of important leaders. Concerning attraction of youth Sassu mentioned openness and future orientation.

Mr WEICHERT added to the reactions of Mr Wiersma and Mr Valk that the only alternatives to political parties are better political parties.

CONCLUSIONS Mr SWOBODA on the second session:

  • attraction of youth is a problem for all countries.
  • attractiveness of a party relies on issues like integrity, respect and sincerity
  • in the case of coalition forming it is essential to create a climate of co-operation but to keep your own profile.
  • It is crucial to find a balance between (strong) leadership – image party

Other key elements concerning image:

  • modernisation of the social democratic parties without loosing the traditional "social aspects"
  • openness, both towards newcomers and outsiders (keeping own identity)

CONCLUSIONS first day by Mr Wiersma:

It is important to take the differences in background and situation of the countries into account. Still, there are common issues regarding the role and image of political parties:

Dilemmas:

  • compromise vs. expectations (being in government / coalition)
  • consensus vs. debate
  • leader vs. party

Issues to work on:

  • mentality change; change of party culture (generational change)
  • modernisation (youth, IT)
  • selection procedures
  • interchange with civil society
  • transparency / openness
  • better analysis of electorate in transition countries
  • decentralisation
  • awareness of dynamics of political parties (parties are not static)
  • awareness of destructive effects of "infighting", short sighted ambitions
  • awareness dominance leadership - party

Second day; first session: "OBTAINING POLITICAL GOALS"

Mrs HJELM WALLEN (European Forum) introduced the session by advancing the thesis that obtaining political goals is not just gaining power. Furthermore, political power has a price (finding compromises, balances), which means that a party in power is never the same; it has to adapt its political goals.

In formulating and obtaining political goals we must listen to and represent the people (electorate). Key word is interdependence (both on other parties and other countries).

PvdA:

Mr PINTO SCHOLTBACH talked about the strong tradition in the Netherlands of coalition building and of co-operation with civil society.

He mentioned the transformation of the political programme of the PvdA that was needed after gaining power and forming a ruling party coalition. The PvdA changed its attitude; it abandoned the strategy of polarisation and instead focused on the similarities (and co-operation) with the other parties.

The aims (and successes) of the ruling "purple" coalition have been

  • the creation of jobs (reduction unemployment)
  • balance the budget
  • reorganisation welfare state

Mr VALK (PvdA) stressed the fact that Dutch politicians are good in finding compromises. According to VALK a compromise is not a defeat; compromise is a victory.

REACTIONS AND QUESTIONS TO THE SPEAKERS:

Mr MOLDOVAN (PSDR):

  • Strong polarisation in Romania.
  • Improvement of relationship with civil society is necessary

Mr DOKLE (SP Albania):

Process of dialogue and compromise finding between political parties just started in Albania. There is still too much polarisation.

Mr MALAJ (SP Albania):

Dilemma of SP, gaining power in 97:

  • expectations of the electorate versus necessary policy requirements of the government

Keywords in gaining and formulating political goals are the support of the civil society and a good analysis of economic problems.

Simeon POBULIC (Social Democracy of Serbia) explained the situation in Serbia where 70% of the population is against the ruling regime but does not support the opposition. The opposition in Serbia is highly polarised. It has now united just with the aim to gain power in the upcoming elections and then be able to write out "free and fair" elections.

SECOND SESSION: KOSOVO

Mrs JASHARI (PSDK) talked about the change of the political spectrum after the war and introduces the PSDK, that saw the intervention of NATO as a protection of human rights.

According to her the most important task now is to eliminate the aftermath of the war and to build political democracy in Kosovo. Crucial in the building of a democratic structure is the participation of citizens. Other requirements are economic growth and social insurance.

The international community, and specifically Albania, has a crucial role in maintaining the present borders and developing political democracy in Kosovo. Mrs JASHARI expresses concern about the deteriorating situation (violence against the Serb minority).

Mrs JASHARI was of the opinion that the international community does not do much, but realises that Kosovo has to rely on its own resources.

Besim BERISHA (PSDK) categorised the problems in Kosovo. The main concerns are the disintegration and lack of co-ordination within parties, the bad image of political parties and the disappointment of the Kosovar people in the West.

Arben QIREZI (FES)

Political spectrum in Kosovo is not yet clearly crystallised.

Majority party members of the in total 28 political parties in Kosovo are Albanians.

Serb minority is not represented.

FINAL REMARKS AND ADVICE to the representatives of the political parties of the Stability Pact countries by Lena HJELM WALLEN, President of the European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity.

Steps to be undertaken in the near future as a follow-up to the Tirana conference:

  • use of the network, strengthened during the conference in Tirana
  • report on the discussions and conclusions of the conference to the own political front
  • a concrete "follow-up" to the conference, by using the obtained knowledge and information in building and developing the political parties and in solving the existing problems (relations with civil society, electorate etc.)
  • reports on this concrete follow-up / development to the PES and the Forum

CONCLUSIONS OF THE CONFERENCE by Mr WIERSMA:

A close co-operation of the PES with the social democratic parties in SEE is important. Our presence here stresses the support of the PES for the social democratic forces in SEE.

During the conference we have made an analysis of the general situation in the SEEC, concerning the building and developing of political democracy. We have composed a checklist on the things we should do:

  • support and consolidation of parties
  • stimulation of projects attracting youth
  • development of projects reaching middle section of parties (regional branches)

This conference in Tirana is not an incidental happening. With the conference we have started a so-called Tirana process in order to develop concrete programs for the stabilisation and democratisation of the Balkan region.

The foundations will play a more prominent role from now on in the more organisational work that has to be done to provide for a concrete follow-up to the conference.