EuroCité Survey on PES Activists

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Eurocité conducted a pilot survey on the sociological and political profile of PES Activists during the PES Convention “Re: new” held in Brussels on 25 and 26 November 2011. This initiative, which was facilitated by the PES, aimed at providing the party with qualitative data and feedbacks on PES Activists’ experience. Against this background, Eurocité has a project to analyse in detail the link between the European and the local levels of political decision-making, which PES activists embody and reinforce. In that respect, the present survey is a first step aiming at identifying relevant areas and questions to be explored between 2012 and the next European election in 2014. Moreover, this whole project is a component of EuroCité’s general work and reflection on the future and the identity of European social-democracy, and in particular the electoral analysis.

The terms and objectives of the survey have been defined by the Eurocité Brussels Branch on the basis of an exchange with PES officers in charge of PES Activists (Terence Connolly and Laure Delcroix).

To start with, there was a general agreement to consider the November 2011 PES Convention as a unique opportunity to meet with mobilised PES activists coming from as many EU member States and PES member parties as possible. The participation of various Eurocité team members to the Convention provided the human resources to make use of the potential of the event by multiplying interviews with the activists.

To prepare the interviews, EuroCité devised a single questionnaire addressing a variety of issues: the respondents’ demographic and party affiliation profile as well as their background as PES activists, elementary indications about their political views, their position in the articulation between European and national parties as well as their position in both structures, their appreciation of decision making processes, and finally their expectations and enthusiasm as regards coming challenges and campaigning configurations.

The resources involved in the survey were limited, with unpaid volunteers preparing the questionnaires and conducting the interviews, with no extensive experience in the area of sociology. As a result, it was agreed between EuroCité and the PES that the survey would be considered as a pilot qualitative experience devised in order to identify relevant areas for a more professional research. It was also agreed that the survey’s results should not be given a quantitative interpretation. In fact, the sampling, both because of the number of interviewees and because it was impossible to ensure that they would be fully representative of the PES activists, does not allow for the collected data to have a statistically representative value. In short, there is no attempt to suggest that the survey’s outcomes capture a precise mapping of the European activists’ role and importance in all national and local contexts. Rather, it shall be regarded as a quality opportunity to listen to committed activists willing to share their time and experience, in order to identify key fields where further, more scientific research undertaken by EuroCité would help to improve the PES’ knowledge of its activists and of the potential they represent.

More generally, it is EuroCité’s hope that the present work will be instrumental in triggering, within all the European social-democratic family, more reflection on the nature and the future of the experience of European party activism.

The results of the survey show some interesting features in the sociological profile of PES Activists who were part of the sample: mostly coming from western EU Member States, they often spent one or more years residing in another EU country, and although their professional profiles vary a great deal, a significant proportion of them work in close relationship with the political sphere. In average, the interviewees have been PES Activists for 3 or 4 years.Regarding political views, the interviewers noted that an overwhelming majority of the interviewed PES activists shared convergent views on some crucial issues in terms of electoral alliances or economic priorities.

Regarding the position of PES activists within their local, national or European parties, the survey provided interesting qualitative feedbacks on their perceptions and their actions but failed to show a straightforward tendency. However, on a number of issues such as the importance of PES activists in local meetings or the obstacles met in the national party to advocate EU messages, PES activists seem to share a common diagnosis, which suggests that further research on the base of experience could prove useful.

Profile of respondents

In this section, the authors of this survey provide some data on the profile of the interviewees. Clarifying the respondents’ profile illustrates the limitations of the chosen methodology, and how the data presented in this article can help identifying priority areas for further research, without necessarily being fully representative of all PES Activists.

The total number of interviewees was 27, coming from 11 EU Member States and 12 PES national member parties1. 14 of them came from a capital city (suburbs included).

In addition, the authors of the survey found the following elements:

  • The respondents were 34.5 years old in average.
  • 18 respondents were men, while 9 were women.
  • Nearly half of the respondents (13 out of 27) said they were members of a “City Group” of PES activists.
  • In terms of professions, the biggest group was the group of students (7). At least 5 respondents worked as political advisors or in projects and structures related to political actors (including trade unions). Another 5 worked in the public sector. There were also 2 researchers/academic staff and 2 consultants.
  • 14 out of 27 respondents had had a life experience outside their country of nationality, including years-long life experiences and respondents currently living outside their country of nationality. This is a particularly high proportion compared to the European average it is likely to be so among party activists too.
  • According to the respondents, the average length of their membership of the PES as “PES activists” was 3.4 years.
  • 19 out of 27 respondents said they had been active as social-democratic activists during the 2009 European election campaign.
  • When asked to tell how many PES events they had attended in the last two years, the respondents gave an average of 3.2 events2. This figure does not include four respondents who gave answers such as “all PES events” (for example due to their professional activities).

On top of these factual data, respondents were asked to quickly describe their main reason to become PES activists, and to tell what they considered to be their role as PES activists. The answers mentioned below are only a summary of the most frequently heard.

On the one hand, frequently mentioned motivations include the need to build or develop a European or an international political “mind” or “identity”, including the need not to see the EU as an economical union only. Other respondents were more specific and mentioned work they are doing in structured European political networks (e.g. ECOSY), or their will to “europeanise” national parties or to make political life develop in a European party/frame. Finally, one interviewee said he saw a “professional” interest into PES activism.

On the other hand, the descriptions provided on the role of PES activists were more diverse and elaborated:

  • Three respondents mentioned the “promotion of the European project” or the need to “speak for the EU”, and one said he believed that the PES activists should also work to convince the social-democratic activists who are still reluctant to Europe.
  • Others insisted on the creation of a bond (or “solidarity”) between different national parties, and on the strengthening of European political awareness. Some of them explained there is a need of an integration process between national parties in Europe, and PES activists can establish much-needed connections. Being PES activists could also help them to mutually understand European as well as different national party structures.
  • The above sometimes appeared as a necessary condition to work on pan-European subjects with a long-term vision, and to promote harmonised positions. Some mentioned their will to work pragmatically on EU policies. This goes together with a will to be heard as activists, and to have interactions with the European socialist structures (PES, S&D Group, MEPs). The interviewers heard that being “politically inspired”implies that these structures take into consideration what people think at grassroots level.
  • One interviewee was more specific and said he saw this as part of a necessary move from the current situation where EU decision-making seems to be just “a trade exchange between national decision-makers” to a situation where real EU parties could mediate between citizens and decision-makers. Another respondent mentioned the need to create European power relationships between EU political actors in order to have a role in decision-making. The same person considers that the PES could replace national party structures in relation to EU policies. Another respondent mentioned the need to “give Europe a face”, with the PES becoming a well-known actor.

To sum it up, one of the interviewees mentioned that European party activism seemed to him “as obvious as the right to vote”, since without European level political awareness, one would only be able to react to problems without taking part into real decision-making. As a consequence, there is a general feeling that the role of the PES activists should be further developed, which does not exclude a real awareness that being granted a direct decision-making role (e.g. vote on party positions) would not be easy to manage for the existing structures.

Political vision on three crucial issues

The interviewers wanted to get an insight of the diversity and of the potential consistence of the interviewees’ political vision. However, because of the format of the interviews, we decided to limit ourselves to three questions.

The first one was about respondents’ preferred choices in terms of alliances with other political parties. The second and the third had to do with policy contents, and targeted areas that are key for social-democrats today: in the cases of the current financial crisis in Europe and of environment-related policies, the dominant conservative discourses tend to frame the debate by presenting alternative policies as economically costly and inefficient, while progressive forces are struggling to build different policies. In both cases, it was tempting to ask whether PES activists accepted or rejected the currently dominant frame.

 Preferences to prioritise alliances

Before interpreting the table below, it is to be noted that all potential allies do not exist in all countries. For instance, Greens or left-wing parties are less present in central Europe. Similarly, liberals and centrist parties do not exist as parliamentary parties in many countries such as Spain, Portugal or Austria. As a result, the sensitivity of many respondents may influenced by the situation in their country, regardless of what could seem logical in terms of naming possible allies in the European Parliament.

List your preferences when it comes to prioritising alliances with other political families:
1st choice 2nd choices 3rd choice 4th choice
Greens 13 9 1
ALDE 1 4 2 5
GUE 11 4 3
EPP 1 7 2

Left-wing and centre-left political families come first in PES activists’ preferences. The Greens are seen as natural 1st or 2nd preference allies by 22 respondents, and they are mentioned by a total of 23 respondents. For the GUE parties, the respective figures are 15 and 18, a clear majority too. However, it has to be mentioned that some interviewees mentioned only one preference, which shows that a three parties left-wing coalition is not obvious to all social-democrats.

No respondent mentioned EPP parties as first preference allies, and only one did so as a 2nd preference. Still, 9 other activists mentioned EPP member parties as possible 3rd or 4th preferences. The Liberal-Democrats (ALDE member parties) were mentioned as possible allies by 12 activists. Of these 12 occurrences, only one was a 1st preference, 4 were second preferences and no more than 2 were 3rd preferences.

Boosting the economy through public investment or through public debt reduction and budgetary cuts?

During the last couple of years, PES member parties, where they were in power, have been submitted to hard pressures to implement budgetary cuts in order to “salvage” the economy – southern European countries are the most patent examples of such cases, because these countries have been targeted by the markets and because Socialists were governing in Greece, Portugal and Spain. However, in all Europe, left-wing parties were pressed to endorse “austerity” measures and cuts.

Do you think the economy should be boosted through investment/public investment mainly, or by making of public debt reducing/budgetary cuts a priority?
public investment first 16
Selective public investment 6
Selective cuts 1
Debt reducing and cuts first 2
« Both » / Refuses to choose 2

There is no doubt that a clear majority of the interviewed PES activists refused to support cuts. 22 out of 27 preferred to tackle the crisis giving a priority to public investment over debt reducing and budgetary cuts.

At the same time, a number of respondents gave more elaborated answers, showing their approach was not only ideological. Some supporters of a public investment solution believe that in various EU countries, there is a need to better control public spending, and to plan it according to real resources – but they believe that in the current context, further cuts are totally inappropriate. Others insisted that not all public investments are useful. This is why we mention “selective public investment” in the table above. An interviewee gave examples of much-needed investment areas: schools, transport infrastructures (railway, canals), employment intensive sectors. Another insisted on mentioning at the same time areas for increased public investment and areas for necessary budgetary cuts. Some respondents missed time and space to explain “new paradigms” that could not fit in the limited alternatives suggested in the question.

The highest growth rate or the preservation of nature as the main priority ?

Over the last years, the PES and many of its member parties have been actively promoting the idea that more “green growth” was needed. However, as various debates as national level show, it is still a wide-spread idea that giving a priority to environmentally-friendly policies has a social and economical cost. As a result, especially in the context of the crisis, it becomes sometimes more difficult to focus on nature preservation measures since they could be seen as potential threats for businesses and jobs (such as the debate on nuclear energy, deleveraging the car industry or setting green taxation schemes).

Is it more important to achieve the highest growth rate, or to consider the preservation of nature and sustainability as the main priority even where it implies substantial changes of our way of life?
Do not believe there are mutually exclusive choices to make 8
Nature protection first 16
Growth first 3

It seems that the majority of the PES activists interviewed were particularly keen on giving a strong priority to nature protection seen as a necessary long-term choice3. This was the answer of 16 respondents, while only 3 were of the opposite opinion.

In addition, respondents showed a real reflection. One third of them refused to choose between the two alternatives included in the question, because they felt that presenting nature protection and growth as mutually exclusive options was wrong. In a convergent way, many interviewees supporting “the preservation of nature and sustainability” insisted on the word “sustainability”, indicating that their preferred option does not necessarily go against growth. Symmetrically, one of the few participants who chose growth said that what was really needed was “to manage to live between today and tomorrow”, bringing sustainability back into his comment.

Many remarks focused on the need of a new growth model based on different, sustainable ways to conceive the concept of growth. According to them, the indicators used by economists and decision-makers should reflect not only private sector earnings, but also the way economic actors spend and use resources, including natural resources: “finding the right combination”.

PES activists as links between the PES and the local/regional or national party

On a general viewpoint, it should be noted that most of the respondents describe themselves as “links” or “link-makers” between different levels of party politics: European, national and regional/local. Some of the interviewees underlined that the “top-down” (from European to local) dimension was more important, in their participation in the party as PES activists, than the “bottom-up” (from local to European), because the low level of European awareness in national and local party branches was an obstacle.

From local/regional/national levels to the European level

The study focused on the perception of PES activists as links between the European and the local or regional level of politics.

First, the PES activists were asked whether they see their role as carrying messages, priorities or concerns from the local/regional/national levels to the European policy-making level, and, if so, if they encountered any obstacles in their activities. The objective was to analyse whether activists see themselves as a transmission canal from the national or regional party to the PES (or other European-wide organisations) or to policy-makers (MEPs, members of the Committee of the regions).

Do you see your role as carrying messages, priorities or concerns from the local/regional/national levels to the European policy-making level?
Yes 19
No 7
No answer 1

Asked on the type of actions they implemented (or they could think of) in support of this local/regional -Europe link, PES activists mentioned in priority campaigning and organising meetings or debates with policy-makers (MEPs).

Whether they organised these actions or they did not, interviewees mentioned several obstacles which impeded them from carrying messages or concerns from local/regional or national to the European level: the lack of involvement or willingness in the local section of the party to devote some time or energy to speak on European issues, resulting in a distance from the base of the activists. Similarly, some interviewees mentioned the lack of time and energy to organise debates or debates on European issues. Another obstacle which was frequently mentioned by respondents is the party’s structure (seen as a « bureaucracy »). Some respondents referred to « internal power fights » which prevented them to build a link between the local and the European levels of politics.

From the European level to the local/regional/national levels

Secondly, PES activists were asked whether they saw their role as carrying messages, priorities or concerns from the European to the local levels of policy making.

Do you see your role as carrying messages, priorities or concerns from the European policy-making level to the local/regional/national levels?
Yes 20
No 6
No answer 1

The actions PES activists declared they implemented (or could implement) to support the existence of such a link included the numerous opportunities to talk to or co-operate with “traditional” activists of the local parties not used to European politics. In practice, this would mean organising activities on European issues or dedicating time, during meetings, to talk about European issues. Some respondents even mentioned they wrote articles on Europe in local branch journal (or website).

The obstacles they testified to have encountered were numerous and similar to those mentioned in the first instance (from local/regional to European). Many respondents mentioned the misperception, among “traditional” activists of European issues or the lack of clear involvement on Europe. More precisely, it must be noted that such a misperception is not seen as necessarily anti-European but just influenced by national debates and a national background. Such a misperception or lack of interest represented clear obstacles for PES activists. Moreover, some PES activists mentioned the “difficulty to find (financial and human) resources to engage actions toward the population”. Another stream of answers referred to the national structures of the party: interviewees declared it is difficult to “speak about Europe with the national staff of the party”.

Some interviewees enlarged the perspective of the analysis. For instance, one respondent stated that, more generally that the only PES, “national parties don’t really deal with European parties yet”.

Asked on which solutions they could think of in order to overcome obstacles in both the links, PES activists mentioned the need to allow, at the PES level (but not only) more financial resources to PES activists. Many respondents mentioned the need to organise more events on European issues, to organise more exchanges. In order to do so, they claimed there is a need to create a special fund from the PES (or special structures dedicated to PES activists), which would allow autonomy and resources for actions. More generally, PES activists told the PES need to trust them better (through training or information sharing). On a longer term perspective, some respondents mentioned the creation of EU-wide constituencies (cf responses to VII. b) as a necessary incentive for activists to implement efficient actions and to be recognised in the future.

Positions of PES activists in the party

Going more into details in the different levels of organisation (European, national and regional), PES activists were asked to question their relationship with national member parties, not only as political organisations but also as communities of activists and thinking.

Opportunities to speak

The first question referred to the PES activists’ perception on the opportunities they have to speak when issues relating to European policies are debated in the party at different levels (regional, local, national). On this point, the respondents are clearly divided.

Do you think that PES activists are given the opportunity to speak when issues relating to European policies are debated within your party at national level? Regional level? Local level?
Yes 13
No 13
No answer 1

Actually, the comments PES activists made during interviews on this question showed a clear divergence between member parties. Among the “yes” responses, it should be noted that many interviewees underlined that opportunities to speak (let to PES activists) existed in specific cases: “in Brussels” or “during European elections”. One respondent stated that the opportunity did not exist but PES activists created it anyway: “the initiative to speak in debates on EU issues comes from PES activists themselves”.

Among the “no” responses, interviewees observed that, in the national party, “there was no link between delegates to the PES and PES activists” and that “PES activists do not exist [as such] in the national party”. However, it seems that further work is needed to better capture the reasons invoked by national parties for neglecting (or, on the contrary, for taking into account) the existence and the relevance of PES activists. How could PES Activists be heard and thanks to which instruments (or skills)? Moreover, it would be helpful to analyse in details which national parties are seen as “allowing more opportunities to speak” to PES activists and the basis of which evidence.

Differences in political values

Asked whether they feel a difference of political values in terms of European policy between their fellow national activists and them, PES activists massively observed the existence of such a difference.

Do you feel a difference between your political values and the political values of the other national party activists in terms of European policies?
Yes 21
No 5
No answer 0

The respondents mentioned they felt they were “more consensus-, compromise-oriented while [national activists] were more frontal”. As they mentioned regarding the obstacles they faced to set a link between European and local levels of party politics, PES activists highlighted there was a misperception of Europe among “traditional” activists. Many respondents even stated they felt they were more federalist, in favour of European solidarity or interested in European issues than the average activist of the party.

One respondent said this misperception should be analysed as “part of the solution and not the problem” since “Social Democrats could become victorious at national level but often fail because of globalisation and Europe”.

The decision-making process of the national party on European issues

After the perception of their opportunities to speak and their differences of values, PES activists were asked to comment on their views on their national party in terms of an organisation taking official positions and organising debates. More particularly, PES activists were asked whether they thought the decision-process (on European issues) in the national party was transparent enough.

Do you think that your national party works in a clear and transparent way when it comes to define positions on European policies?
Yes 7
No 19
No answer 0

Around one third of respondents see the decision-making process of the national party as transparent and clear. Many respondents wanted to clarify that, in many instances, the communication of the positions to activists was less “clear and transparent” than the decision-making process itself. Once again, further analysis would be needed to determine what activists recognise as good practices in terms of clear and transparent decision process on European issues.

Asked on which aspect should be improved to tackle such as lack of transparency and clarity, PES activists mentioned the need to make more “exchanges with other parties’ leaders”, the need to have dedicated people in charge of Europe in the national structure of the party and, when such task exists, to better communicate. Respondents also called for more “pedagogy” on European issues toward all activists, they mentioned “transparency” and “freedom to speak” as key factors to renovate party structures. They also wished their national party could “promote, at all levels, discussions on EU policies” and they called the national structures to have the courage to speak about Europe in their relations with the media, so that Europe would be more present in the national debates.

PES activists’ feelings about their positions within the PES

Do PES activists think they are consulted the appropriate way ?

The interviewers allowed respondents to comment on their yes/no answer. Some of them chose to do so, showing a form of political maturity anchored into sound reflection.

Do you think PES activists are consulted in the appropriate way?
Yes 16
Yes but could be significantly improved 2
No or not enough 9

While a majority (16 out of 27) of respondents said they believed that they are consulted in the appropriate way, a relevant minority (9 interviewees) said the opposite. More interestingly, many of them all submitted constructive critics or innovative ideas.

As an example, one of the critical activists mentioned that things could be made a lot more interesting if only PES activists were consulted earlier in PES processes, to be heard on questions such as the choice of the campaigns to be launched – as opposed to being consulted only to promote and disseminate campaigns after they have been chosen. The same interviewee also mentioned the possibility of consulting activists in advance on major Council or Congress declarations.

Another interviewee recognised that the limits of the current consultations are linked to the organisation of the PES and the fact that member parties’ international secretariats are its main statutory institutional interlocutors. The same respondent cautiously mentioned the idea of appointing spokespersons to speak more visibly on behalf of the activists. For instance, national parties could be encouraged to appoint some activists among their delegates to PES Councils and Congresses.

Another respondent mentioned the possibility of additional work on promotion of consultation initiatives, so as to involve national parties in the dissemination of internet-based exchanges conveying messages coming directly from the PES’ general secretariat and presidency.

Main experience as PES activists

To increase the chance of capturing the respondents’ perception of their experience as PES activists, the authors of the survey decided to ask this question inspired by the “Most Significant Change Technique”4. The respondents were asked to describe what their main experience as PES activists had been. The core idea was to collect stories from the grassroots level in order to capture what interviewees considered as the key times of their socialization as European party activists.

A number of activists mentioned a meeting such as the Convention where the survey was conducted (4) or another major PES event (3) such as a Council or a Congress. Among the Councils mentioned, one should note the Madrid Council (2008, adoption of the PES manifesto for the 2009 election).

Some interviewees also chose to pick other events organised specifically for activists, such as the Vienna Activists Forum (2), or events organised by/for activists during electoral years (4) during European election, EU treaties referenda or national election campaigns (initiatives of German, French, Italian and Hungarian parties). These answers show some consistency with the respondents’ reactions to questions on their main motivations and role, where many indicated the need to develop a transnational identity for the social-democratic political family, giving a particular relevance to the activists as solidarity and connections builders.

The following answer is also consistent with previously mentioned items: one interviewee mentioned with some emotion the time her party mentioned PES activists in its fundamental programme for the very first time. No doubt there would be more similar testimonies if more national parties took steps in the same direction.

Where do PES activists see themselves and European social-democracy in the coming years ?

The final questions aimed at measuring the will to further and deeper engage into European party activism in the coming years. The survey looks into the possibility to boost this engagement thanks to changes into the PES’ way to deal with the core time of European democracy: the election of the Parliament and the election of the European Commission by the Parliament. Activists were also asked to name the main challenges to be addressed by European social-democrats in the coming years.

The European Campaign 2013-2014

Our first question measured the interviewees’ commitment to participate to the next European election campaign. The answers are clear: all of them are willing to do so, with only one expressing doubts about the practical possibility to do so.

Will you be active during the next EU election campaign?
Yes 26
No 0
Maybe 1
Do not know 0

Transnational lists of candidates

Given the current problems faced by the European Union to move towards democratic institutional reforms, the possibility for citizens to vote for transnational/trans-European lists of candidates sponsored by European parties may seem like a utopia. However, it has its supporters within the PES. Furthermore, this idea has received a cross-party support within the European Parliament, as many MEPs are aware of the need to create a stronger bond between European citizens and their institutions to increase their legitimacy.

During the previous parliamentary term (2004-2009), the European Parliament adopted a resolution5 mentioning that during the present phase of reflection on the future of the European Union6, the following questions should also be discussed: […] in what way can European lists of European parties be established for the European elections, to further the formation of a European political sphere?” This was part of a report prepared by the German social-democrat Jo Leinen. The European Parliament then kept on working on the subject, with a new initiative report on a Proposal for a modification of the Act concerning the election of the Members of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage of 20 September 1976, prepared by the Committee on Constitutional Affairs and its rapporteur, Andrew Duff, a British liberal.

The report proposed by the Committee7 in April 2011 is particularly clear and proposes that an additional 25 MEPs be elected by a single constituency formed of the whole territory of the European Union; transnational lists would be composed of candidates drawn from at least one third of the States, and may ensure an adequate gender representation; each elector would be enabled to cast one vote for the EU-wide list in addition to their vote for the national or regional list: voting for the EU constituency would be in accordance with the closed list proportional system; […] proposes that an electoral authority be established at EU level in order to regulate the conduct and to verify the result of the election taking place from the EU-wide list.”

The idea seems in the same time limited (because of the low number of MEPs who would be elected in the single European constituency) and very ambitious because of the innovation that such a constituency would represent. However, the Parliament has postponed its plenary vote at least until March 20128.

Knowing that such debates are barely mentioned in national media, including party media, it was interesting to hear a feedback from PES activists.

Would you support transnational lists of candidates for these elections?
Yes 22
No 3
Maybe 1
Do not know 1

An overwhelming majority of respondents supported the idea of transnational lists of candidates. However, a number of them also wanted to comment on the conditions of such a proposal’s implementation. Some mentioned the possible obstacles to its feasibility. They were aware, in particular, of the risk not to be fully supported by voters, with the possibility of negative effects on participation in case of a further decreasing attention from the national and local media. Weak support by national parties was also mentioned as a potential obstacle. Not surprisingly, some respondents found useful to reassert the fact that only part of the MEPs would eventually come from such transnational lists – while the others would still be candidates in their own country.

At the same time, there were optimistic and creative comments. Some believe that such a change could help triggering people’s interest in this election as a way to express their European citizens’ identity. It could also be a challenging opportunity for communication on EU citizenship, making visible the application of existing electoral law defined in EU treaties (the right to vote and to be elected in all EU States). One interviewee, who portrayed himself as a “convinced regionalist”, also had the idea to work on cross-borders lists in European regions where there are existing solidarities and which already form coherent “euro-regions” (e.g. French-speaking Belgium and French Nord; French and Spanish Catalonia). Another expectation was the need to insist on the European competences of the chosen candidates, to make sure they would be praised for qualities that are consistent with the questions at stake in the EU election.

Primary elections to elect the social-democratic candidate to the presidency of the European Commission

This is another example of a political and institutional initiative promoting the development of European citizenship. As a matter of fact, it was directly part of the debates of the November 2011 Council, just before the Convention. In fact, the Council adopted a resolution called “Selecting our common candidate in 2014”9, that describes a primary election process where national parties retain a real, but far from total autonomy in the organisation of the vote.

Would you support the idea of PES primary elections to elect the EC president candidate?
Yes 22
No 2
Maybe 0
Do not know 3

Again, this idea was met with an overwhelming support. Like in the case of the transnational lists, some interviewees added comments to their answers. One interviewee said he would favour a broader use of primary elections, in order for each national party to also elect its national European Commission member candidate.

The few negative answers were backed by interesting questions, such as whether it European citizens are prepared to understand such a primary election, or whether voter should be encouraged to vote for a programme rather than for a person. Comments about the level of preparation of voters and national parties are similar to those heard about the idea of transnational lists of candidates.

It must be noted that respondents’ answers to questions 6a and 6b show a relatively high level of familiarity with the European party’s debates and positions.

Campaigning in other EU countries

The answers to this question are in line with the fact that some interviewees had mentioned such an experience in their description of their most important experience as PES activists.

Would you be ready to campaign in another EU country?
Yes 26
No 0
Maybe 1
Do not know 0

The high rate of positive answers can be seen as a sign of enthusiasm. However, some activists also made common sense remarks about the fact it is more useful to campaign in a country where you can speak the language, and about the need to have some budgetary support to organise such initiatives in a useful way.

Main challenges for the PES and social-democracy today

Respondents were offered a minute to name what, according to them, are the main challenges for social-democrats today. This question was let open on purpose, consistently with EuroCité’s objective to allow activists to freely raise concerns and suggestions. The following answers provide ideas for further research to be undertaken in a focused way.

Many respondents clearly addressed the current marginalisation of the left-wing in national and European institutions, with answers (9) such as: “win national elections!”, “, “come back to power”, “achieve a change of majority”, “achieve leadership in the EP and the EC”, “make sure to be heard”, “connect with voters”, “the people!”. Others (2) revealed frustrations relating to their party’s record: “be honest, hold to commitments”, “come back to real social-democracy”. Some insisted on the fact that their national and European parties had a tough job compared to their political opponents: in the context of a crisis, the right-wing is in its natural role when promoting reduced public spending, while social-democrats have to articulate complex choices to promote long-term development.

To address these difficulties, “communication” in itself was also mentioned as one of the key challenges (2), along with the need to prioritise policy areas and key measures in social-democratic messages.

Other respondents (3) contributed to show that PES activists feel the emergency of a reinforcement of social-democracy’s identity as a European political party, to face the rise of nationalisms and the trend towards competition between European countries. They felt that addressing such challenges goes together with the capacity for the PES to really unify all European social-democrats in European policy-making processes. They were aware of the cultural differences between PES member parties in Northern Europe, Latin Europe, and post-communist Europe, but believed this is one more reason to require a clear definition of social-democracy’s basics together.

Several interviewees (6) used this opportunity to mention policy areas. Answers included employment, equal opportunities, social security, education, economic and tax integration, energy policy and green growth, enlargement choices, migrations, or even international relations in general. This is to be read in conjunction with the above mentioned will to develop the European party into a protagonist able to give a face and a political programme to European policy-making.

Finally, some interviewees (4) also consider there is a need to modify the institutional architecture of the EU, or at least to change the mind of political players. The desired changes have a lot to do with a shift from an inter-governmental Europe to a politically organised Europe that would be readable for citizens and voters. Some went further and mentioned their wish to see the EU moving closer to a federal State.



1 – Two interviewees were members of two national parties at the same time.

2 – Attendance to the 2011 PES Convention was considered as part of the events attended, which was made clear to the interviewees in case they raised the question. As a result, interviewees who were attending the Convention as their first PES event were automatically counted as having attended one event.

3 – This is also consistent with respondents’ answers in terms of preferred political alliances.

4 – The Most Significant Change Technique or “story approach”, or “Monitoring without indicators”, has been developed by Rick Davies, in first instance for monitoring and evaluating complex participatory development programs. A clear and useful Guide can be downloaded free of charge: When fully implemented, it is an interesting tool for a continuous monitoring and adaptation through a project’s life cycle. In the present case and in the frame of this cycle of interviews, only elements of this methodology were used.

6 – This report was adopted in March 2006, during the so-called “reflection phase” between the French and Dutch negative votes on the Constitutional Treaty and the negotiation of the Lisbon Treaty.

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Antoine Bargas