We could dig deeper, for example to the Brussels Congress of 2004 when Poul Nyrup Rasmussen was elected President of the Party of European Socialists (PES) and Philip Cordery took charge of the General Secretariat. The most symbolic and easily identifiable point, however, is definitively 9 May 2006. On that day, the PES presidency decided to open up its regular meetings – such as those of the council, conference and congress – to grass-roots activists. Looking back, it is hard to figure out why all previous meetings had been held behind closed doors.
The first public appearance of French activists was at the PES Porto Congress in December 2006, when the Socialist Party’s Paris Federation sent more than ten comrades in addition to the official party delegation. That was when something really strange happened: they made their own amendments to the Congress Resolution. Numbers grew rapidly and it is now very rare not to see at least some French activists at PES events.
Here is my explanation: as party members, we had to campaign twice for a more united Europe through referenda in 1993 and 2005. Therefore, most Socialist Party members got used to arguing against nationalists and populists in public debates. This has strengthened our commitment towards European unification. Now, with the ability to make amendments to official drafts at every PES congress or council, this commitment has increased even further. A clear demonstration of this has been the introduction of a modification to the designation of the PES Spitzenkandidat within the Socialist Party statutes (Poitiers Congress in 2015). Thus, French Socialist Party members will take full part in the designation through their vote in 2018-19.
Now that they have their say in proceedings, engagement in the electoral campaign will rise accordingly. This will have two very interesting results: accountability and visibility for those who will put themselves forward. This is a very specific case, but could easily be reproduced amongst PES party members.
The election of a candidate is inseparable from another process: the drafting of the manifesto.
In 2008, with a view to the upcoming European elections the PES leader asked activists to take an active part in brainstorming on the manifesto. Workshops, plenary discussions and the adoption process were all stimulated by grass-roots and intermediary members. Unfortunately, at that time there was no room for debate on the Spitzenkandidat. In 2013-14, the process was completed by “knock the vote” training for canvassers.
In other words, the PES is now fully equipped to successfully manage a truly European campaign in 2018-19.