The Good Society debate is thriving in Europe

Henning Meyer

Thursday, 02 May 2013

The Good Society Debate, that was launched five years ago by the SPD Secretary General Andrea Nahles and the Head of the Labour Party Policy Review, Jon Cruddas MP, has certainly made a splash in Europe. According to a study by the Institute of Democracy Research of Göttingen University the debate, which has been driven by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Compass and Social Europe Journal, is one of the most striking attempts to redefine social democracy for the 21st century and has triggered a wide international debate.

The most recent phase of the Good Society Debate took place in the German context. Following the well-received English book ‘The Future of European Social Democracy: Building the Good Society’ edited by Jonathan Rutherford and myself, Christian Kellermann and I have recently launched a German Good Society book. Published as part of a leading German intellectual book series (Edition Suhrkamp) the book sets the Good Society Debate into a German context and – linking up with this year’s 150-year anniversary activities of the SPD – seeks to make a new contribution to the German debate about the future of social democracy.

Such an adaption to national contexts works very well because from the beginning the Good Society Debate has been designed not as a proclamation of a new social democratic narrative but, moreover, as a value and analysis driven social democratic agenda that can and needs to be adapted to different national circumstances. Based on a modern understanding of social democratic values and an examination of today’s defining social, economic and political problems, the Good Society Debate provides an intellectual framework and a political toolbox that offers, but not dictates, solutions.

Over the last five years all contributors to the debate have laid important foundations for the future of social democracy. But the Good Society Debate is not over. Far from it. As Andrea Nahles said at the launch event in Berlin: over the last five years many more problems have emerged that have not been worked into the Good Society approach to the extent necessary. The fundamental erosion of trust in the European Union is certainly one of the most pressing issues, but also the development of a global understanding of social democracy. In view of supranational issues like economic regulation, tax avoidance and evasion, global warming, international security and global inequality there is a lot more work to be done. There is now also global interest, particularly from Asia, in the Good Society Debate.

So what are the next steps? Going forward, in my view, we need to do three things: first, we need to continue to sharpen and develop our approach for social democratic parties in Europe, second we need to develop a European Good Society that could help stop the hollowing out of European integration, and third we need to enter into global discussions about the Good Society to find out where our intellectual debates can connect with what is discussed in other regions of the planet.

To date we have only laid the foundations and much more work remains to be done, so let’s get started!

Henneing Meyer is Editor of the Social Europe Journal

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