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Baltic Sea Future Radar
Perspectives of social democracy in the Baltic Sea Region

pdfPerspectives of social democracy in the Baltic Sea Region

At the beginning of November around 35 progressive young politicians from the Baltic Sea Region gathered in Gdańsk to discuss the current challenges facing Europe, i.e. populism and the relationship between social democracy and society. Young politicians from the nine European States with Baltic coastlines came to Poland as guests of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which hosted the fifth Baltic Sea Future Radar workshop.

04-07 11 2016

The three-day event was kicked off by Agnieszka Wiśniewska, a journalist from the Polish magazine Krytyka Polityczna, who - along with the moderator Adam Traczyk, president of the Think Tank Global.Lab - discussed with the participants the current crisis concerning the Polish Constitutional Court and the role of the European Commission. Following President Andrzej Duda's refusal to swear in the judges 04-07 11 2016appointed by the previous parliament, and also the resistance of Beata Szydłos' government to publishing the Constitutional Court's ruling on the new law on the functioning of the Constitutional Court itself, its ability to act has been severely reduced. As a result, the European Commission has launched a rule of law mechanism, which aims at reviewing the rule of law in Poland through dialogue with the Polish government. Traczyk asked whether the behaviour of Poland's government could damage the image of Poland in Europe. Wiśniewska said it could, but she added that the current Polish government was not solely to blame. After all, she argued, during the previous parliament, when the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People's Party (PSL) were in power, five judges were appointed to the Constitutional Court, instead of the mandatory three - and this was also unconstitutional. In the following round of discussions, the questions raised most often were those concerning whether the EU should intervene in national matters and also those concerning the relationship between democracy and the rule of law. Adam Traczyk concluded the discussion, pointing to the fact that by joining the EU, Poland acknowledged its principles and procedures. "Now, one cannot complain when Europe checks if everything is in order," he said.

04-07_2016To start the second day of the workshop, Dr Werner Eichhorst, head of the Department of Labour Market Policy in Europe at the Institute for the Study of Labour (IZA) in Bonn, talked about the digitalisation of work. In his lecture, he focused on the opportunities and risks of a digital world of work and particularly highlighted the possible consequences for social and labour rights. For him, the causes of an increasing flexibilisation of the labour market are globalisation, demographic change, changes in the legal environment and collective agreements as well as technological progress in general. It is the "digital revolution" especially that is expected to bring about major changes for the world of work. Consequently, the question arises as to how labour market policy and social protection systems should be adapted to the new challenges. For Eichhorst, at the core here is the question of how to guarantee the proper protection of employees and, at the same time, how to tap the potential of new ways of working. Eichhorst also emphasised the fact that future changes in the workplace can hardly be predicted in a reliable way. Hence, aside from the well-known negative scenarios of a gradual replacement of human labour with machines, it is also possible to imagine consequences that are positive from the employee's point of view. For instance, the digitalisation of labour could relieve employees from routine, physically demanding work processes and thus make room for creative work. In addition, it should be considered that digitalisation will probably not replace entire workplaces, but only certain areas of work processes that have so far been performed by human labour. This applies mostly to routine tasks without face-to-face contact. Moderator Filip Konopczyński from the 04-07 11 2016Kalecki Foundation asked how a progressive social policy should react to the challenges of digitalisation. In his response, Eichhorst mentioned seven aspects: 1 - a stronger focus on future-oriented education is essential. 2 - the participation of women in the workforce must be increased. 3 - there should be better integration of migrants in the labour market. 4 - it is necessary to extend working lives; however, this should be linked to opportunities for lifelong learning and economic incentives for good and healthy working conditions. 5 - the sustainable organisation of work at plant level must be guaranteed. 6 - flat organisational structures should be extended. 7 - Eichhorst called for the establishment of favourable conditions for a progressive and mobility-enhancing working environment. In this context, there is a great deal of room for politicians and social partners to actively contribute to the digital change in workplaces, as well as on the national and European level.

The third discussion panel, moderated by Dr Magda Leszczyna-Rzucidło from the Ignacy Daszyński 04-07 11 2016Centre, focused on the question of how the forces of social democracy can react to today's challenges through populist movements. At the beginning, Leszczyna-Rzucidło demonstrated the broad spectrum of the topic of populism. There is left-wing and right-wing populism, the latter of which often carries anti-European or anti-American connotations. Both types of populism are characterised by a negative attitude towards social elites. According to Dr Giorgia Bulli from the University of Florence, despite some similarities, there are clear differences between the two movements. Right-wing populism, which originated in the 1990s, focuses primarily on social inequality between people, both in terms of gender and ethnicity. Modern left-wing populism, on the other hand, 04-07 11 2016concentrates on other aspects and is characterised by a different style of communication. Dr David Bebnowski from the Institute for Social Movement Studies agreed with Dr Bulli. According to him, there is a clear-cut distinction between right- and left-wing populism. While right-wing populism builds on "solidarity through exclusion" (for instance the anti-Islamic attitude of the AfD), left-wing populist concepts of parties like Podemos aim at total inclusion. Bebnowski blamed the growing support for populist demands on the "broad consensus of the parties at the centre of the political spectrum", which manifests itself in a lack of political discussion. Instead, discussion increasingly frequently takes place on the margins of the political debate, where left- and right-wing populists are politically active. Prof Dr Emilia Zankina from the American University in Bulgaria agreed with this assessment, though only to a certain extent. "Today the phenomenon of populist parties can also be found in the political centre", she said. Most frequently, this is "a thin-layer populism", under which there is room for "any ideology". According to her, populism is a "political strategy" which nests in democratic structures but is itself deeply anti-democratic. If we are to find positive aspects to the current rise of populist movements, it would be the political mobilisation of citizens, even though an observer may not like the political direction that is being taken. However, this is the traditional field of action of social-democratic policies: the political education of citizens.

In the subsequent workshop stage, the participants discussed the topics of "the digitalisation of the world of work", "social democracy and populism", "EU-Russia relations" and "the anchoring of social 04-07 11 2016democracy in parties, trade unions and social movements" using the World-Café method. On the third and final day of the event, the young politicians presented the outcomes of the discussions they had held on the previous day. They perceived the digitalisation of work mostly as an opportunity, but at the same time they emphasised that it is absolutely necessary to secure the achievements of the welfare state. Of particular importance in this respect is that trade unions and the EU use their potential influence. Secondly, it is possible to respond to this new challenge through proactive education. Under the heading "new education in a new economy", the politicians discussed, among other topics, the greater involvement of digital technology within schools. For example, those who are able to devise their own 04-07_11_2016apps can participate in the new digital world of work more easily and perceive the challenge of digitalisation as an opportunity. The participants discussed a double strategy for addressing the challenge in the right way. On the one hand, it is necessary to use social media to a greater extent, to create platforms and to actively participate in discussions in existing forums. On the other hand, it is important to draw on one's own strengths, which in this case is political debate at the local level. This strengthening at the local level is important in the context of the (diminishing) anchorage of social democracy. Social engagement often starts locally, which is why it is important to convey to potential activists not only "the seriousness of the situation", but also the fun that can be had from political commitment - only a combination of these two can ensure the necessary motivation. The clearest difference of opinions regarded the question of the future of EU-Russia relations. While some claimed sanctions on Russia are a necessary political means of exerting pressure, others indicated that so far they had hardly yielded the desired results. The participants only agreed on the fact that a dialogue between Russia and the EU is necessary, but should not become an end in itself.

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All in all, the participants and organisers came to a positive conclusion of the seminar. It is noteworthy 04-07 11 2016that for the first time participants from all nine Baltic Sea States - Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Sweden and Denmark - took part in the event. The participants reiterated their desire to continue the dialogue, both under the auspices of the Baltic Sea Future Radar and beyond. For example, thanks to the FES format, an intensive working exchange was initiated between young social democrats from Schleswig-Holstein and Estonia. After the last visit of the participants from Schleswig-Holstein to Estonia, the Estonians announced a return visit to Schleswig-Holstein in the coming year.

 

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