Poul Nyrup Rasmussen: ‘conservative ideology is one of political expedience, opportunism and old doctrines’

Article published on March 16, 2009
Article published on March 16, 2009
The president of the party of European socialists and former prime minister of Denmark says that June 2009 will be more about political choice than ever before. A left-wing perspective on the EU election campaign

The European elections are about a political choice between a progressive Europe that works together to renew the social market economy and a regressive, conservative Europe which leads us down the road of a market society. This is the difference between shaping our future and putting the fate of our countries and people in the hands of the market.

The economic crisis is putting real strains on government finances, social stability and the coherence of the European Union: we are facing a series of unprecedented challenges. Now is the time for change, but not just change in any direction. The party of European socialists (PES) calls for the reinstatement of the core values of the European social model. Values such as co-operation, solidarity and equality have been sorely lacking over recent years of conservative dominance at European and national level. Hence the PES election slogan: People first: a new direction for Europe.

PES manifesto: ‘principles’, not ‘ideology’

Despite what the right may say, the European social model has been an unchallenged success story throughout the 20th century. We are rightly proud of it. Now, in the 21st century, a new Europe is emerging: an enlarged Europe, a Europe transformed by new technologies and new knowledge, a Europe where people are living longer and healthier lives. But it is also a Europe which has left millions unemployed, socially excluded, in poverty and uncertain about the future. There is still a lot to do. Although us social democrats are faced with a very different set of social and economic circumstances to those faced by past generations, we remain as faithful as ever to our founding values.

The conservative European people’s party calls it 'ideology’ and ‘a dream’. We call it having principles

As proof of their endurance it gives me great pride to present the PES manifesto. In 2008, in co-operation with our thirty-three socialist, social democrat and labour member parties, we constructed a programme of concrete measures to present to the European electorate. We listened to people through a wide-ranging public consultation, involving grassroots activists, trade unions, NGOs and foundations from all over Europe. Our manifesto consultation website received 300, 000 visits and over 600 written contributions. The result? A vision that shows that we do our politics in a different, more participative way from our liberal and conservative opponents. A vision for a renewed, progressive Europe which applies our abiding ideals to the fast-changing reality of the modern world. The conservative European people’s party calls it 'ideology’ and ‘a dream’. We call it having principles.

(Image: PES)To generate debate and discussion amongst the people of Europe, we spread the word about our manifesto as widely as possible. We are organising a series of European days of action on which our member parties across the EU will hold events on the same day on a common theme. The first was held on the weekend of 7 and 8 March, on the topic of ‘Championing gender equality’. From Lisbon to Tallinn and from Athens to Dundee, PES parties will be organising meetings, forums and actions. What’s more, our new election website features a public blog as well as photos, videos and twitter feeds, and we are about to launch an interactive online channel with full-length programmes on the campaign. When we say we want dialogue, we mean it.


The manifesto is made up of seventy-one concrete proposals to transform European co-operation and deliver real change. It firmly rejects the argument that due to globalisation we can no longer afford our social model. Our programme for Europe is therefore one of safeguarding employment and living standards against the recession, tackling climate change, promoting social justice, security and fairness in a globalised world. These reforms are essential to secure the future well-being of European citizens and society as a whole. They are vital to ease the pressures on people across the EU who are facing an everyday struggle to make ends meet because of the economic recession; rising living costs, increasing unemployment, with almost 17 million people in Europe already out of work and many more in precarious jobs who are among the first to be hit by slow growth; the ever-present risk of home repossessions; and social inequalities, with some 78 million people – many of them children – living below the poverty line or at risk from poverty.

(Image: PES_

Now as always we need to be open to new challenges, new opportunities and new social realities. But as social democrats, we know that we have to make important choices about how to respond to these. After all, it is when things change, when we arrive at a fork in the road, that strong values are most urgently required. This is why conservatives, faced with the current crisis, respond so unconvincingly with their support for unrestricted markets. Their ideology is one of political expedience, of opportunism and of old doctrines.

PES member parties have succeeded in making progress a reality where they are in power at regional and national levels. And now, if voters ask us what the social democatic family will do to improve things, we can hold up our manifesto to show how a strong progressive block in the European parliament could change the direction of Europe. It shows that we are a force for change; in a direction that is smart, inclusive and true to our principles.