European Left at one in diversity: Socialist policy pact points way to one party

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The Independent Online
SOCIALISTS agreed a joint manifesto for next year's elections to the European Parliament at the weekend, a historic step in creating a continent-wide political party.

But the disagreements about how to proceed seemed to echo an old maxim: the first thing socialists nationalise is socialism itself.

Meeting in Brussels on Saturday, the 20 member groups in the Party of European Socialists agreed a manifesto. With 198 MEPs in the European Parliament out of 518, the Socialist group is the largest. It includes the British Labour Party, and John Hume's Social Democratic and Labour Party. Partner parties from Sweden, Finland, Austria, Switzerland and Norway were also involved.

The manifesto centres on eight main areas: creating jobs; achieving equality for women and men; protecting the environment; creating peace; regulating immigration and fighting racism; fighting organised crime; working for democracy; and building Europe.

The Socialists are hoping for gains at the European elections, though many constituent parties are in trouble. The Italians are under the shadow of corruption inquiries; the French were all but wiped out at elections this year; the Spanish Socialists won this year but seem set to do less well next year.

The parties are far from homogenous. As Michel Rocard, Secretary of the French Socialists, pointed out, some have come from countries where powerful Communist parties stamped the left with a different tinge. Some are parties with federal systems. Italy has three member parties. In Britain and Scandinavia, Social Democrat or Labour parties have often been opposed to the European Community.

So the manifesto is a complex product of negotiation. 'The final version was not easy to agree upon,' said Willy Claes, the Belgian Foreign Minister. 'Over a thousand amendments were made at different stages to the document.'

One too few, though. John Smith, the Labour Party leader, was embarrassed to be told that he was signing up for a document that said parties 'must' include a manifesto commitment to cuts in working time. This was explained away as a 'translation' error, since it contradicts Labour's manifesto.

It was only one of the areas where full agreement between the 20 parties was, not surprisingly, absent.

Reductions in working time is one of the most sensitive issues in European politics at the moment. 'There are different schools of thought in economics and social policy,' conceded Mr Claes.

The Socialists also have differences of opinion on how far the European Union should extend its powers. The manifesto speaks of extending qualified majority voting to all policy areas - thus removing the veto of national governments. But Mr Smith said only that this should be done 'gradually'.