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Bijdrage Melkert aan eerste Maarten van Traa debat

Datum nieuwsfeit: 01-03-2001
Bron: Razende Robot Reporter
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Partij van de Arbeid



Voorzitter Tweede-Kamerfractie Partij van de Arbeid


Passion! The lifeline of social democracy.
Sometimes he would take me aside and virtually beg me to let the adrenaline flow freely in an age where the 'power of imagination' had become too much down to earth. Even if the result was not as striking as he would have wished, Maarten van Traa never conceded to total acceptance, but stuck to being one hundred per cent constructive and loyal all the same. In 1987, I delivered my maiden speech beside him, newcomers to the Chamber that we both were. The occasion was the first major debate on asylum policy. The introduction of a new international agenda that has been keeping us intently occupied ever since.

In his last report for the party, "Voorbij de waterlinie", he dealt with two matters by which he was absorbed: the cancellation of the division of Europe (in the ongoing spirit of another passion politician, Willy Brandt) and a search for new ways for international organization, so that 'knowledge, income and power and the costs of a better environment be shared more fairly, also on an international scale.' He would have frowned and grumbled about much that is going on right now: in the Dutch Labour Party, in social democracy, in Europe and elsewhere. But at the same time, Maarten would have felt thoroughly happy in this age, in which the governmental responsibilities that many European social democratic parties now have assumed are causing them to interact more frequently than ever.

It is a real honour for me to address you here in this first Van Traa-debate.

Tonight, I would like to explore some of the perspectives for a progressive policy, together with you, and in dialogue with Anthony Giddens. As time has been limited I will just very briefly assess where we are after the second half of the nineties took us far up the third way. I'd like then to identify areas and goals for change. And I will argue that is an attitude that counts for lasting results, more than a specific programme. And that domestic achievements need to be transformed into global ambitions in order to make change really happen.

After a long period of deficit politics, we have now entered an era of surplus politics, creating an opportunity for fulfilling old and new ambitions. In Dutch politics, we are right now defining the destination of the social-liberal coalition. The key question is whether there will be a commitment to use this opportunity to get closer to the ancient ideal of an amalgam of freedom and equality.

People want to be free, but they distrust the freedom of today that will make them helpless and dependent tomorrow. Equality presumes a willingness to maintain common provisions at the highest levels of quality and accessibility.

For the center left, it has never been so clear: our future is about commitment and engagement, here at home, within the European Union, and abroad. The future is about commitment to social justice and a strong economy. It is about commitment to openness and change, embracing change, and shaping change for the better and the interests of the many, not the privileged few.

We have made remarkable progress.
What in essence we have achieved is a rearrangement of the welfare state, solidarity being restored by balancing government benefits with a stronger sense of individual responsibility. With welfare to work programs; radically ending youth unemployment; and modernizing the workforce through innovative family leave legislation. Together we reinvented our core social-democratic values of opportunity for all, responsibility by all, and community with all and made them relevant again to our time.

In brief, understanding that change, that transition to the new Information Society, and shaping that change for the better that is our assignment.

The real work is starting just now. As the fundamentals in our part of the world are all right, how could we build upon these? And how would we manage to bridge the gap, not to the 21st century but to the 19th century circumstances in which millions of people are still living and dying today? How do we organize a progressive agenda of commitment? Where should we identify the need for change and the need for engagement to make change happen?

Innovative initiative

The first goal lies in the challenge in the midst of extreme global competition to establish a solid coalition with'socially sound' entrepreneurs and managers as allies of social democracy against the one-dimensional shareholder capitalism. We are getting used to and at times even excited by an eruption of creative destruction; of international, technologically propelled economic dynamics, of new entrepreneurship and fantastic innovations. The atmosphere of societal optimism that this brings along is extremely valuable. It makes it easier to appeal on the general interest than would have been the case in a climate of pessimism and insecurity.

But as well as prosperity, these economic dynamics produce risks and inequality: in income and wealth, specifically at the top; inequality of opportunities between low skilled and high skilled people. The international financial dynamics are footloose and fancy-free. And the economy is boundlessly expansive, invading numerous other spheres and terrains of life. Just as social democracy has made a vital contribution to the organization of the industrial capitalism and to the reconciliation of economic development and the standards of social justice, likewise it will now have to give guidance to the international, knowledge intensive service economy. By providing a high-grade welfare state that will enable an embedded or responsible capitalism, which leaves room for social protection while at the same time making innovative entrepreneurship possible.

The winning formula, accepting and promoting social policy as a productive factor, requires partnership between politics, industry, trade-unions and the civic society. It is the social-democrat dream to see innovation and initiative serving the common interest, not only individual ambition or greed. Bill Gates sr. begging the president of the US to rethink his promise of a trillion dollar tax cut is our unexpected ally in getting across that it does make a difference how to handle the harvest of a sound economy.

And let's here not only talk macro-economics. It should be our great ambition to finally breakthrough the glass ceilings of the unequal opportunities of the sexes. There are no excuses left: unemployment going down, demographics slowing down, education sky-high, talented female migrants remarkably visible. This is all above the values in the daily lives of hard working ordinary people, trying to do the most difficult of any modern job: raising children . Do we really manage with our sound macro-management to assist the micro-reality of families and their stressy restlessness of commuting between breakfast and night shift, between child care and shopping, between school and work? Our societies are organised on the principle of profit and quantity; and people are focused at the ambition to be good parents and to achieve quality. Who will manage to make those ends meet? We need urgently to acknowledge that too many talents are still left out and we need to act vigorously for change.

Public service reform

The second goal of change is a thorough reform of the larger public and semi-public establishments. It is here that the preference for public arrangements and institutions reflecting community spirit must amalgamate with the courage to modernize and reform. This leaves us with an awkward paradox of today: as a reaction to a world in constant flux the government and her 'protecting' institutions should also be set in motion, precisely to guarantee stability, security and protection on the longer term.

The stakes are high. Too often, government has become the bottleneck in delivering high quality services. Bureaucracy has become a synonym of institutionalized mistrust, between authorities, executives and citizens. In my opinion a sound commitment of implementing change requires less (immediate) legislation and more room for experimentation. Evaluating results, fine-tuning further planning, straightening out initial problems: that should be the key to lasting reform. It is neither top-down nor bottom-up: rather, it is the outcome of a constructive dialogue between all parties involved.

A new generation of political leadership should rethink the instruments and mechanisms of formal authorization and replace them more by processes of informal consultation and guidance. Such an attitude would serve citizens in their role as consumer, patient or client. And no doubt also motivate many people working in public servicing. Let's not underestimate the indicators that working in the public sector in the eyes of too many people has slowly turned into an inferior kind of earning one's living. How did it happen that the teacher, the doctor, the nurse and the policeman lost their status of being our guardian or angel? Am I now too romantic? Or are we touching the hard core of the revaluation of the common good?

We must transform our government institutions into modern, dynamic 21st century service-oriented organizations demand-driven, transparent, accountable, approachable, close, flexible and friendly. The basic values behind these changes are: empowering people with opportunities, giving them responsibility where they want it, creating and restoring communities (thus improving our social capital).

Let me take the example of community policing, after too many years of debate now at the eve of a breakthrough. Confronting crime, bringing law enforcement closer to the people is all about strengthening the moral fabric of society. Police officers visibly assisting citizens, delegating their administration to a new service organization that is underway in The Hague and in other places.

In the past weeks, I have enjoyed the luxury of spending a lot of time in police stations, and also at schools and hospitals. Here we are tonight as policymakers and intellectuals and may be a handful who qualify otherwise. And we are investigating about commitment. Well, here's the commitment that I have seen: a heartwarming effort, day and night, among nurses, surgeons, janitors, teachers, police officers, and cleaning ladies. This is not taking place in brand new buildings with the latest equipment shining on marble floors. It is happening in unpretentious rooms, simply decorated, in dedicated teams of people without much career perspective carrying a disproportional higher responsibility for the future of their pupils, their patients, junkies and offenders. Contributing to civilization. In Zwolle I met with teachers of children with learning difficulties, who were faced with the absence of commercially available teaching materials. They had joined forces in their free time to develop their own tailor-made educational devices and software. It is at schools, in hospitals and in police stations where much of the negative leftovers of the positive developments of information and individual choice are being dumped: the consequences of violence on tv, cultural shock experience, divorce, lack of social control, pedagogic failure. Everybody agrees society is getting more complex all the time. Why do our systems and salaries still reflect the mood of the seventies?

Let's not fool ourselves: here's the booby trap for preserving the spirit of community and access to welfare for all. People see the growth of the common wealth and they demand common provisions to be of the same high standards as they have grown to be used to at home, at work or on holidays. They like not be bothered by having to take care by themselves of their education, old age care and safety. But they do demand quality. To borrow Giddens' phrase: I do not want to live in a country where elites massively opt out from our collective services. Where people with money buy their own safety in their guarded communities, their own health clinics and their own private elite schools. Where people don't care about the environment because it doesn't bear a price tag. Large scale opt-out effectively means the end of solidarity in our society. Is that dangerous? Yes, it is extremely dangerous. For our social contract is built on solidarity: the government collects taxes and provides essential services for all. Those with higher incomes, contribute more. We consider that fair. Our challenge, now, is to ensure that government services are of the highest quality, so that nobody will want to leave the system. Both here domestically, as well as internationally.

International commitment

That is why my third goal of the quartet of change focuses at modernization of the welfare state and public arrangements in an international context. A more mature and competitive European Social Model will be an indispensable adjustment strategy to the new circumstances. A trade-off between productivity, life long learning and leisure still is a curse to American entrepreneurial minds, but a realistic option for balanced deals between management and workers in Europe.

In the broader field of international relations there is cause for concern. Both the European Union and the United States have arrived in a period in which self-centeredness and maybe isolationism dangerously converge.

The Union will be preoccupied for quite a while with preparing a second attempt after Nice, with untangling the knot that is its expansion, its integration dynamics, the ethnic conflicts at its borders and the prospect of an ever increasing flow of immigrants. The US for the time being will focus on the Americas, on China and Japan and on the rogue states with whom Europe has a much more ambivalent relation. There is a real risk that a new round of extremely expensive arms proliferation will be announced. Europe has entered a new era of defence and security co-operation which sooner of later will make some eye-brows raise in Washington DC. Whilst military operators are meeting regularly in Brussels it is high time that political guidance should be defined as to Europe's engagement in eastern Europe, in Africa or may be the middle-east.

How does this coincide with the third way?
To be frank, there is a grain of truth in the cynical remark once made that 'the Third Way is closed for the Third World'. Much of it has been a matter of an intra-European and Euro-centric exchange of ideas and experiences. As if our new ideas on the relation between state, market and civil society would have no relevance for the African and Asian countries and vice versa. An international political approach to globalization should reach across the moats of Fortress Europe and the typically European model of societies should be made applicable to as many other countries and systems as possible. So that the idea of a global welfare state will gradually spread to encompass the world.

Transparency and accountability are particularly needed in the financial and trade world that is involved in supporting development. The elitist model of decision-making in institutions is out-dated. Poor people who might be illiterate and who have never even heard of IMF, World Bank or WTO have their rights too: the right to be heard and to be influential. We are slowly finding ways to create communities around these institutions, engendering debate, promoting scrutiny, and stimulating much more informed decisions at these bodies. But this is only half the story. Because people in the South will stand a much better chance if we in the North put our money where our mouth is and tear down our own trade walls, to start with the scandalously egoistic Common Agricultural Policy that unfortunately is ours.

Humanitarian engagement

The fourth goal of change comes closest to our ideals and is today still far at the horizon. But reality will impose upon us the need for adjustment to the facts of global life op people, the facts of ongoing migration. Look around and watch the differences. Between the green card ict-experts that are today the backbone of the US ict-industry and will tomorrow be indispensable for European economic dominance. And the illegals flowing into our common territory or for those member-states that have not yet subscribed to Schengen sneaking in via tomatoe-trucks risking their lives just for an entry ticket into our world. Also watch the children of the immigrants of the past decades and wonder when Europe at all levels of society will look like the US melting pot. And this is only the beginning. The entry of workers from central and eastern Europe could be delayed for a while but just as a matter of time. Free circulation of workers in the Union should be the ambition par excellence of social-democrats. It will take an enormous effort to conciliate its consequences with the vested rights and interests of the working community at present. There is no use to continue international development co-operation as it used to be in terms of one-way transfers. There has to be a new traffic design: easier legal access to our part of the world, and New Deals with the regions of origin. Europe could start this with the candidate member states, and may be try it out in partnership agreements with countries in Africa. What it boils down to is that internationalism should be regarded as an active political shaping of globalization. A design of a new progressive project for full-fledged citizenship across the world, with the utopia of a global welfare state as civil ideal. Still very far away in today's terms, but as soon as Blair and Jospin would join Schröder and Kok in developing a true common policy on asylum, migration and civil integration first steps would be taken inevitably bring us further away from inhuman trading practices and closer to that ideal of a world without frontiers.


Let me summarize: I have identified and briefly elaborated on four goals of change. A new commitment to innovative initiative, public service reform, transnational partnership and global citizenship. I consider those as necessary next steps after we started marching the third way. That march has been extremely important to define the drive and intentions of social democrats as opposed to conservative interest and societal fragmentation. From its inception third way was and is on inclusion, community and the common good.

The next steps are more complex to define. It is more about economic orientation and social intuition. More value-driven than top-down defined; more performance-driven than embedded into a perfect programme. It is the attitude that matters most. The tide still is on our side. Let the third way become a third wave. Let's surf that wave and draft a new agenda that:
- goes beyond the mere naming of new priorities ;
- goes beyond providing new money;

- is about investing in new forms of government;
- requires radical changes and new experiments;
- and is domestic and international at the same time.
Be sure: there is no magic bullet. There is a passionate desire for progress. And a practical capacity to act. It requires open political leadership, a political leadership that listens and acts, engaged as a world citizen, committed to the aspirations of ordinary people. Call it fusion, between passion and praxis.
Carry it along, as a tribute to our inspiring Maarten van Traa, "compañero !presente!"


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