Rede Franz Thönnes – Ostseekonferenz 20./21.10.2001 (englisch)

Franz Thönnes,
Chairman of the SPD of Schleswig-Holstein
and Deputy Chairman of the SPD parliamentary group in the Bundestag

„The Social Democratic Way of the
Knowledge Society“

2nd Northern Network of Social Democrats
Baltic Sea Conference
Lübeck 20-21 October 2001

Embargoed until: Beginning of the speech

Only the spoken text is valid



A warm welcome to you in the lovely hanseatic city of Lübeck – a town that plays an important role in the development of the Baltic Sea region today just as it once did in the history of the Hanse. I am delighted that you were able to come to Schleswig-Holstein and that we can host this conference with the support of the federal SPD.

Looking back on almost a decade of Baltic Sea co-operation, the original visionaries have proven to be realists. Today, the Baltic Sea region is one of Europe‘s regions of the future. It offers a common economic potential to the entire continent. And just as importantly, decisions on the future shape of Europe are also being taken here.

· The Eastward enlargement of the EU is a significant opportunity for Europe as a whole.
At the same time, new challenges emerge: Interests are growing more diverse. Competition is increasing. New regional centres of development will form, and decision-making processes are becoming increasingly complex.

· The success of the Eastward enlargementwill depend on the comprehensive reform of the European Union as a whole and its development into a community based on the democratic participation of citizens, social justice and economic growth.
· The Baltic Sea region can develop into a model of a Europe of regions, where boundaries no longer separate, but direct and close co-operation create joint opportunities and facilitate the achievement of common goals.

For these reasons, Baltic Sea policy is becoming increasingly important both within an enlarged EU and beyond:
The larger the EU becomes as a whole, the greater the importance of a common Baltic policy for the region and the adoption of a common voice in Brussels.

Nevertheless, Baltic Sea co-operation must also provide opportunities for Non-EU Member States to take part in shaping European developments. The Baltic Sea is hence a common bond for Europe as a whole. This bond must be strengthened.

At the same time, the Baltic Sea region is in direct competition with other large European regions. The choice is clear: Unless the North-East of Europe takes a common stand within an enlarged Europe, it is in danger of becoming politically and economically marginalized.


Despite all the success so far:
· Baltic co-operation is still confined to the hands of governments, experts and administrations.
· Baltic policy is still too often reduced to economic policy.
· And still there are many more grand plans than actual co-operation projects.

I am sceptical whether this is sufficient in a phase where discussions on Europe‘s future are growing increasingly concrete and regional competition is becoming fiercer.

This situation requires us to define common aims and set common priorities. We must have the courage to move on from Baltic co-operation towards a common Baltic policy. This is particularly the case for our social democratic parties. We see our prime task in supporting and intensifying co-operation in the Nordic region and the new democratic States. Our goal is a European Region:

· of democracy and human rights,
· of economic dynamism and social justice,
· based on a social market economy and the use of existing capacities for the benefit of the entire region.

This is why the Baltic Social Democratic parties in particular need to intensify their co-operation.


Today we will begin by considering the ‚knowledge society‘. I do not need to underline its significance.

When searching the internet a few days ago for current texts on the knowledge society, the search engine – it was Google – scored over 21,000 entries.

Of course I did not read them all.

But even if I had, I probably wouldn‘t be able to tell you anything new today.

The beauty of the issue is:

Everybody talks about it.
Everybody knows it is important.
Everybody knows the facts.
And everybody knows that it will change our future.

I do not wish to repeat the facts or preempt our speakers. I think it is understood that the transition to a knowledge society signifies a change in paradigms, with immense economic, governmental and social consequences.

How can this process be structured politically and socially?
Can it be structured at all?
And if so, do we simply wish to minimize social impacts while maintaining our position in global competition?

These questions are justified.

An analysis of developments so far reveals that this process can indeed be steered by other influences and is directed by key players, although not necessarily by politics.

· Despite all globalisation:
Economic parameters are set by the USA. Whether it is patents, scientific research, rights or players – in the area of communication and information technology, most decisions are taken on the other side of the Atlantic.
· Despite all calls for common European action:
50% of the EU budget continue to be spent on agriculture and only one tenth of this sum on measures shaping the knowledge society.
· And irrespective of all optimistic forecasts concerning the knowledge society:
Who really discusses the kind of blueprint to emerge for the future?

Almost 10 years ago Björn Engholms ‘Think Tank’ gathered here in Schleswig-Holstein to discuss the development of a communication society and its political, social and economical implications.

Their reports still make valuable reading today. Not only because they provide a range of concrete suggestions. But also because they make suggestions for active political influence. My impression is this: Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in computer processing capacity, but no comparable increase of political imagination or political courage to actively shape this development of society – on the left as well as the right.

Discussions on the future of the knowledge society often focus on valorization, international division of labour or individual flexibility. And rightly so.
If however the knowledge society signifies a comprehensive paradigm shift in all areas, it must not be viewed on the basis of valorisation or economic competition alone.

Our vision for future co-existence is not of a society divided into the “information poor” and the “information rich”.

Enlightenment, the democratisation of societies, the tradition of the welfare state, respect for human rights, equality of the sexes, acceptance of ecological responsibility and readiness for sustainable policies and international solidarity – these principles are more firmly rooted in Europe, particularly the North, than in other parts of the world. These values must finally play an equal role in discussions on the future of the knowledge society.

This is the task of Social Democracy, particularly in the North of Europe.


Here in the Baltic Sea region, a Social Democratic project for the “knowledge society” is particularly well placed for success.
· Northern European countries are leading today in the utilisation of new information and communication technologies. The Information Society Index ranks Sweden in second place behind the USA, followed by Finland, Norway and Denmark. Germany is in 13th position.
This index is particularly interesting because it not only considers the distribution of hardware, but also includes parameters such as the freedom of press, civil liberties or the proportion of higher education graduates.

· At present, no other European region is as well prepared for the knowledge society as the Baltic Sea region.

A study carried out by the EU Commission in August 2000 classes Sweden as the most innovative country of the EU, followed by Finland and Germany. Lithuania and Estonia, and also Poland are catching up fast. Their progress during recent years has indeed been remarkable.

In summary, there is considerable dynamism in the development of the Baltic Sea region.

· Baltic Sea countries not only possess the hardware, but also the software important for long-term success in the knowledge society:
· a rich and varied cultural heritage;
· by international standards, a well-developed network of higher education and an excellent educational system;
· a culture of social responsibility with highly developed welfare systems.

Can we therefore simply lean back and rest? I think not. In these fields too there is a need to catch up. Let’s not forget that letting up means falling behind – particularly in times of structural change.

This means we need to develop joint initiatives to ensure our continued improvement. We Social Democrats in particular must not stand still. We need to encourage concrete steps towards more intensive networking in education and training for the benefit of the people. Here we can build on our solid foundation of Baltic Sea regional co-operation.

We should increase our efforts towards a greater European and international focus of education and educational systems. We can work together to promote bilingual offers in kindergartens, schools and higher education. As we work towards even greater co-operation, we all have an interest in the mutual recognition of qualifications and the international certification of school and higher education careers.

The existing co-operation between the Baltic universities is a prime example for facing up to the challenges of the knowledge society in practice. I can only ask those present here for their whole-hearted support to the Baltic University programme and the virtual Baltic University. Both are important impulses for the future development of our region.

Education, however, is more than school or university education. Professional training in particular is likely to change radically in response to developments within the knowledge society. Here too we must learn from one another and increase the international focus of professional training. Why not complete individual modules of professional training courses abroad, for example? Pilot projects could determine whether practices now established as standards at universities could also work in professional training.

Based on our initiative, the German Bundestag is currently discussing a law which would extend job centre funding to training and further education programmes completed in neighbouring countries. This is an example of how the concept of transboundary training can be implemented in practice. Co-operative structures must now be established to enable this instrument to work effectively.

People have a right to actively shape developments rather than become victims. This has always been a central tenet of our common Social Democratic identity. Within the framework of Baltic Sea co-operation, we have always been aware that our political influence depends on our ability to transcend the fragmentation of our region and pool our resources.

There are many benefits in pooling resources and achieving synergies and especially in agreeing on a common direction of development.


All these discussions have an important focal point. I have mentioned it before, but will emphasize it once again:


Not long ago, we Social Democrats of Schleswig-Holstein once again affirmed that Europe’s political union is more than a core element and safeguard of political stability on the continent. To us, it is also the European answer to globalisation and the question of the future European intellectual and political identity of peoples and States.
Social democracy needs to play an active role in shaping these answers.

For Social Democrats, Europe is more than just an economic community. Above all, it is a political and cultural community of values. Social democracy is the soul of Europe.

The increased political engagement of Social Democrats around the Baltic Sea should aim to answer common questions.
There are good reasons for the continued development of the Social Democracy project.
This is why I envisage and also suggest:

• an annual “visionary conference” of the Social Democrats’ Northern Network to demonstrate that we are discussing future economic, social and political developments in the Baltic region together;
• increased transboundary co-operation of social democratic officers in local and regional parliaments, national parliaments, the European Parliament and the Conference of Regions, in order to implement common initiatives for the development of the Baltic region both nationally and on a European level;
• a joint discussion on developing the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference into a Parliamentary Assembly, as well as organising co-operation between Social Democratic Delegates on a more formal basis;
• active participation on a party political level in implementing the “Kaliningrad” pilot project recently announced by the Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov;
• intensified co-operation between the different working groups and committees of our parties, thereby contributing to the development of a democratic and civil society of citizens in the Baltic Sea region;
• optimisation of our internet-based lines of communication, contributing to greater transparency in the dialogue on our aims and activities;
• support for the social democratic parties in the young Baltic democracies through differentiated forms of co-operation;
• new impulses for co-operation in the area of Social Democratic political education in the Baltic region.

I am certain that this will lead us to common answers to the following questions:

• What is the identity of the Northern Social Democratic parties in the 21st century?
• What is Northern Social Democracy‘s response to globalisation?
• What is the contribution of Northern social democracy to European policy in the 21st century?

This weekend our discussions will focus on the knowledge society.

I am looking forward to interesting presentations and exciting discussions. I would like to take this opportunity to thank today‘s speakers:

· Dr. Bernd Rohwer, Minister for Science, Technology and Transport of Schleswig-Holstein,
· Dr. Heiko Roehl, DaimlerChrysler Research and Technology AG

We are also looking forward to tomorrow‘s panel discussion and the speech by the Prime Minister of Schleswig-Holstein, Mrs Heide Simonis.

We would also like to thank the Lord Mayor of Lübeck, Mr Bernd Saxe, for hosting tonight‘s reception, as well as the invitation to dine with the former Prime Minister of Schleswig-Holstein, Mr Björn Engholm.

I now declare the second Baltic Sea Conference of the Northern Network of Social Democrats open.