The Progressive Governance Summit, the largest conference for progressive politics in Europe, attracted hundreds of guests from Europe and North America to Berlin this year. Among the speakers were German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, several federal ministers and numerous other international top-politicians.
Democracies are currently under unprecedented pressure. The Russian war of aggression, climate change, energy crisis, inflation, fascism and right-wing populism: the strain on liberal societies is enormous. Yet there are ways for democracies to develop resilience, to deliver on the promise of progress and a better future. When progressives join forces, form new alliances, it can be a first step in the right direction. It was under this premise, this motto, that the Progressive Governance Summit took place last week, with numerous top politicians, journalists from all over Europe and 450 guests coming to Haus Ungarn in Berlin, with thousands of other participants following the conference online.
In his address on the state of democracy to the summit, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that it was now important to “stand together” against authoritarianism. “Because authoritarianisms always divide, polarize, and separate people into warring camps”, he said. “If we agree on this one fundamental understanding, we may disagree on the details and on tactics”, the Chancellor added, outlining his blueprint for future cooperation for progressive leaders. “That is why”, he further stated, “for all of us, this is definitely not a time to indulge in what Sigmund Freud once called “the narcissism of small differences. In the case of Germany: Yes, certainly, Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals are different parties – or else there would not be three of them. But our differences are truly insignificant when measured against the democratic, liberal and progressive values that we hold in common”, Scholz said.
In unusually sharp language, Scholz condemned Russia’s policies. He accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of not only waging a war against Ukraine. “They consider their war against Ukraine as part of a larger crusade, a crusade against liberal democracy.” Scholz also announced that Germany would continue to supply weapons to Ukraine for as long as necessary.
The chancellor’s remarks at the Progressive Governance Summit spread around the world. It was reported on by CNN, the Washington Post, the Guardian, Reuters, Deutsche Welle and numerous other media outlets. A detailed media review of the event can be found here. For scheduling reasons, Olaf Scholz had to cancel his in-person participation on short notice. The speech was recorded shortly beforehand in the Chancellor’s Office and played exclusively at the Progressive Governance Summit.
In the summit discussion with U.S. Author Anne Applebaum, the editor-in-chief of the Guardian, Katherine Viner and Wolfgang Schmidt, head of the Chancellor’s Office and Scholz’s top aide spoke for the Chancellor. Applebaum had only recently made it very clear how she sees Germany’s role in connection with the Russian war of aggression. “I think everybody would like Germany to take a leadership role,” she said on Anne Will’s talk show in September, Germany’s most influential political talk show. In the discussion between Viner, Applebaum and Schmidt, the Chancellor’s office chief defended the German government’s policy and, in contrast to Applebaum’s position, suggested that Germany still needs to settle into its leadership role. Asked why Germany continued not to supply heavy battle tanks to Ukraine, he replied that a single weapons system could not determine victory or defeat in a war. The debate between Applebaum, Viner and Schmidt was part of broad, sometimes controversial media coverage. Opposition parties criticized Schmidt for some of his statements. Details of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s speech and the debate between Chancellor Schmidt, Anne Applebaum and Katherine Viner can be found here.
The challenges facing progressive politics, particularly in questions of labor market and social policy as well as energy policy and redistribution issues, were also discussed by Labor and Social Affairs Minister Hubertus Heil, public policy professor and chair of the Progressive Center’s Academic Advisory Board Anke Hassel, European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans and “Zeit” politics editor Anna Mayr. During the discussion, it became clear how closely intertwined the challenges of transforming the labor market and the energy sector are. Redistribution will be one of the biggest tasks of the state in the near future, there was unanimous agreement. To illustrate this, during the discussion Hubertus Heil rephrased the famous quote by U.S. political consultant James Carville, “It’s the economy, stupid,” into: “It’s the welfare state, stupid.”
Federal Family Minister Lisa Paus, U.S. Representative in the House of Representatives Conor Lamb and “Zeit” journalist Anna Sauerbrey debated the future of democracy. In the debate, Family Minister Paus called for young people to be more involved in political processes as a matter of urgency. “Because at the moment we are not only playing with their future, but even with their present,” Paus said. U.S. politician Lamb told of how he was able to prevail in the last election campaign in a district that had previously been firmly in the hands of the Trump camp. “It is possible to win back people’s hearts and minds,” Lamb said.
Already the evening before the conference was dedicated to transatlantic exchange and the idea of alliance building. the conference. The Progressive Center, which organized the Progressive Governance Summit now for the fifth time, had invited guests to an exclusive reception – which served as the official launch of the PGS. In the process, the select group of about 80 guests took a trip to both sides of the Atlantic to explore the state of the progressive politics. In 13 short interviews, politicians, academics and journalists described the situation in their respective countries. They included British journalist and filmmaker Paul Mason, Green Party leader in the Netherlands Jesse Klaver, Canadian Member of Parliament Heather McPherson, Friedrich Ebert Foundation Chairman Martin Schulz and many others. How progressive transatlantic relations can be strengthened was then discussed by Green Party co-leader Ricarda Lang, U.S. Congressman Conor Lamb and European Parliament Vice President Katarina Barley.
On the day of the conference, experts discussed upcoming issues and challenges for the progressive camp in a total of 19 sessions. Anke Hassel, head of the advisory board of the Progressive Center, and Michael Werz, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC, set the framework for the coming day in their introductory speeches. In doing so, Hassel emphasized that the response to the poly crisis should not be a selective problem-solving approach. “Economic insecurity, social injustice, the climate catastrophe, authoritarianism, the crumbling rule of law: we cannot solve one of these challenges without addressing the others,” she stressed.
Werz emphasized from a geopolitical perspective that “without the strong transatlantic reaction” to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “all of our lives might have looked very, very different than they do now.” He pleaded for building bridges that “connect not only generations, but also regions.”
Werz’s and Hassel’s words prepared the ground for the guiding questions of the conference. What approach should the progressive camp take on security policy? What political narratives convey the promise of progress despite the current precarious state of global affairs? How can abrupt energy and security policy changes be justified? What regional issues arise from the new geopolitical situation? Which alliances can bring about ajust transformation? How can progressive parties become more inclusive, more accessible, and thus more sustainable and effective? What can political newcomers achieve, and what new coalitions might accelerate the path to progress? We will publish a summary of the sessions on our website soon.
A Summit Reader has been published for the conference, in which selected Speakers also discuss some of these questions in debate contributions.
The Progressive Governance Summit takes place annually. It brings together an international network of progressive leaders to share policy content, methods and practices, how to win majorities, and once in power, how to effectively govern. The PGS network includes activists to heads of state, who work from the local to the international level. #PGS22 was supported by 25 leading progressive political foundations and think tanks.