Lucy Anderson MEP, in the current issue of CHARTIST, sees some grounds for optimism in the outcome of European elections.
The UK Labour Party did well in the European elections in May, and now has 20 MEPs, increasing our share of the vote by nearly 10% since 2009. Unfortunately the Socialists and Democrats Group as a whole and the wider Left did not make the gains that had been hoped for. Despite this, there is a positive mood amongst socialists and like-minded potential allies in the new European Parliament. We are determined to use our powers and influence to challenge the European Union inter-governmental consensus on the need for cuts in social security and public spending together with even greater deregulation of labour markets. Instead, we want to be key players in helping to build a new model of European-level rights and protections, quality jobs and solidarity.
More widely, the highly regrettable increased number of far right extremists in the European Parliament has attracted much media attention. But even when they bother to attend and participate, their presence is likely to increase constructive co-operation between the Left, centre-left and mainstream centre-right rather than result in any real danger of fascist populism hijacking the legislative and political agenda. Individual far right MEPs have already failed to gain any positions of influence within the Parliament. It was also good to see that in some Member States strong support was given to parties who were explicit in their opposition to ‘pro-austerity’ politics and policies, especially Syriza in Greece.
Labour MEPs voted against Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission President for reasons of principle and not to pander to euroscepticism. As Finance Minister and then Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Juncker played an important part in consolidating the country as a haven for tax avoidance, and in his capacity as President of the eurogroup of finance ministers he was instrumental in pushing through the harsh bailout packages for EU countries hit hardest by the banking crisis and recession. Furthermore, despite running on a platform for Commission President mentioning ‘responsible climate change policy’, Juncker did not commit to support for further binding targets on reduction of carbon emissions or to concrete environmental protection measures.
Policies of the EU and of ‘pro-austerity’ governments have certainly not helped close the income gap between rich and poor.
Nevertheless, early signs for incremental progress for the Left in the next five years are encouraging:
- Initiatives and funding to tackle youth unemployment such as the EU Youth Guarantee programme are continuing to be prioritised and extended, helped by the efforts of outgoing socialist employment commissioner László Andor. At least 7.5 million young Europeans aged under 25 are not in education, employment or training. In the UK, as pointed out by the House of Lords EU Committee, the Tory-led Coalition are refusing to implement the EU Youth Guarantee programme and make proper use of the funding streams available.
- The European TUC and the trade unions here and in Europe are pushing strongly on a new start package for jobs, social protection and investment, including a change in European Commission country-specific economic recommendations to reflect these goals. On employment rights, the Posted Workers Directive is likely to be targeted for further review to help prevent ‘social dumping’.
- Although vigorously opposed by the UK, the Financial Transaction Tax is still on the table. There also seems to be a growing will behind the concept of a European Minimum Wage, perhaps as a proportion of average national earnings in each country, and the urgency of tackling unequal pay for women.
- The Socialists and Democrats Group remains opposed to the inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement procedures circumventing national law in US or Canadian free trade deals with the EU.
- In September, discussions will begin again on the controversial EU Fourth Railway Package, which includes a draft proposal opening up passenger rail services further to compulsory competitive tendering, partially rejected by the European Parliament in February 2014 much to the dismay of the Commission. This debate will have particular resonance for current Labour Party policy formulation on ending the current UK rail franchise system.
As former Guardian European Editor John Palmer said in his article in Chartist earlier this year, ‘to argue for EU democracy is not to buy into the neo-liberal, conservative politics of the present EU leaders. But it is to recognise that even now a European Union, increasingly integrating the economies of 28 different countries, has far more capacity than even the largest countries to set very different economic and political priorities to those of capital’. Fundamentally, given our powers to shape and approve the EU agenda and budget, make binding legislation, as well as champion vital social and political issues, the potential for positive democratic action through and with the European Parliament is obvious.
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