THESE testing times are when political parties prove their mettle. At a meeting of progressive politicians from 14 European Labour parties, held in Dublin yesterday, the dilemma was clear -- how do you restore public finances, and at the same time create jobs, grow the economy and protect the vulnerable?
Whether we like it or not, Ireland is at the forefront of that battle. And it's a battle we have to win. If we believe in having good public services, if we want good schools and good hospitals, if we want to grow our economies and create more and better jobs, as we all do, then we cannot hand over our destiny to financial markets.
That is why Labour's mission in Government is to restore our economic independence and to achieve economic recovery.
In fact, if you look across Europe, it is countries with strong left traditions that have some of the best records on fiscal discipline. In reality, commitment to strong public finances is not a right-wing idea.
What we have to do is combine responsible budgets with jobs, growth and fairness. It isn't easy, but we are making progress, in Ireland and in Europe.
When I first became Tanaiste, there were only six prime ministers or deputy prime ministers in Europe from progressive parties. Today, there are 12. Recent election victories in France and Holland are having an impact. This has been hugely significant for Ireland. Since the election in France in particular, there has been an important shift in Europe's approach to the crisis.
Not only has Ireland secured a commitment to deal with our bank debt but, at European level, the jobs and growth compact has come right up the agenda.
This week, the French parliament voted to ratify the stability treaty -- something we did in Ireland by referendum. President Francois Hollande has made it clear, as Labour did in Ireland, that stability is not an alternative to growth -- it is a platform to build on.
What we have to do is build a new model of growth for a new era. We have to translate innovation into new products, new companies and new markets. But we also have to show that our politics is not just about institutions or statistics, it's about people.
And nowhere is that more true than in dealing with unemployment, especially among young people. That is why the jobs and growth agenda in general, and tackling youth unemployment in particular, will be at the centre of Ireland's European presidency next year.
Above all, the left has to show that it is genuinely progressive. There can be a tendency on the left to focus on conserving past achievements. I understand that. But we can never be conservatives. We have to be reformers. We are at our best when we are moving ahead, embracing the future and building it. The reforms to the Junior Cert announced by Ruairi Quinn are a good example.
None of this is easy. But, progressive politics has never been easy. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Labour Party in Ireland. The people who founded the Labour Party came from thatched cottages and tenement buildings.
They had nothing but their courage and the energy of their ideals with which to build first a movement, and then a better world. Their example is our inspiration.
Eamon Gilmore TD is Tanaiste and leader of the Labour Party