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A Place for Europe at Liverpool 2011

Submitted by on 14 Sep 2011 – 14:51

Glenis Willmott MEPGlenis Willmott MEP, Leader European Parliamentary Labour Party

This year, for the very first time, we meet in Liverpool for our annual Labour Party Conference.In the 12 months that have passed since our last gathering in Manchester, the political landscape in Britain has transformed.

Ed Miliband has established himself not only as our strong and principled Party Leader, but as the voice of all those in our country who, though they may be struggling in the current economic climate, have ambition and hope for our country.

He has asked tough questions of the Tory Government, and also of our Party. How are we to address the cost of living crisis facing British families? How will we meet the British promise that the next generation should always do better than the last? How we can build stronger communities? How can we transform our organisation into a modern and effective mass movement for change that provides the answers to today’s great policy challenges?

I am confident that this Conference will cement Ed’s position as the bold and confident Leader of a renewed Party that offers a real and ambitious alternative for our country.

Of course, in Europe too it has been an eventful year, though for very different reasons.First the deepening financial crisis in Greece, then bailouts for Ireland and Portugal and now the wider and still unfolding uncertainty across the entire Eurozone.

The implications of this financial turmoil for the future of the European Union are immense and how the EU and its 27 member countries respond will define the fortunes of our continent for generations to come.

Yet the increasing assumption among too many is that the current turmoil is simply evidence that the EU itself is fatally flawed.

It is this view I want to challenge at this conference. Because while no one can deny the real and serious problems the EU faces.It is also true that it is the prescriptions imposed by the European Right that are serving to make a bad situation worse.And it is up to the Left to offer the alternative.

And so the real issue Conference must address in terms of Europe is quite simple; why is the Left out of Government in Europe? What must we do to reverse the decline?

In 1999, 13 out of the then 15 EU governments were run by the left or centre left. Today only 8 out of the 27 governments have any socialist or social democratic involvement.

Paradoxically, one explanation may actually be the success of social democracy. In the post war years the ambitious agenda of social democracy in Europe delivered a welfare state that cared from cradle to grave, universal and free education, a national health service, decent rights for people at work.Today, across most of Europe they are accepted as the norm

And so, for social democrats, the political direction is no longer clear.From Berlin to Stokholm, London to Lisbon the fundamental question remains the same; where do we go from here?

Ed is right to say we have to re-found Labour.But that conversation must be held within the broader context of all us re-founding social democracy in Europe.

Answers must come from all parts of the Labour movement and beyond; from trade unions, from intellectuals and academics, from practising politicians, from activists, from single interest groups. But we also need to learn together with comrades in France, Spain and Germany because the answers in a globalised society will be international ones. Together we must build a new narrative for a new age.

The answers cannot be for Labour in Britain alone.This is a globalized world, and more than ever before, despite the apparent difficulties, Europe must be part of the solution. It is that work I hope will begin at Liverpool 2011.