We MEPs are all in Strasbourg this week for the final plenary of the European Parliament before the European elections, and there’s a lot to get through. However busy this week is, there will still be a great stack of issues landing in the in-tray for the start of the new 2009-2013 Parliament. It’s up to the people of Europe to chose who they trust to lead the EU for this next stage; and that’s precisely the point: choice. This election is about two very different visions for the Europe, and the state of the EU five years down the line, when the next Parliament is drawing to a close, will depend on the choices made by voters across the EU in just five weeks time.
Some might call this an exaggeration. But think about it this way: in 2004 the right was able to create a majority in the European Parliament. That Parliament went on to ratify the Barroso Commission, the most right-wing for decades. And this conservative and liberal dominance of the European institutions, in alliance with right-wing parties in power in a majority of the Member States, has presided over a period of deregulation, attacks on public services and workers’ rights and economic and social crisis. Just yesterday the Commission predicted that the EU economy will contract by 4% this year, and even this could prove over-optimistic. Not a very impressive end-of-term report, is it? And if it were not for the work of the progressive minority – in the Parliament, Commission and Member States – it would have been even worse.
As I told President Barroso in the Parliament today, we need a new recovery plan, funded by all levels of government, and a new social plan to protect the unemployed and vulnerable. We need Eurobonds to help support those new Member States who cannot fund their own economic stimuli. And above all we need a Commission which shows some real leadership. At the current rate there will be 27 million people unemployed in the EU by next year: that’s 27 million reasons to do more.
But now we have a chance to change all that. With a progressive government in the US, this is a unique opportunity for progressives in Europe to take the lead too. After all, the EU can make a much more positive difference, as past examples show. Over the last decades groundbreaking projects have been achieved by the EU which have really changed people’s lives for the better: the single market, the euro and the structural funds all make an everyday difference for hundreds of millions of ordinary people. Even smaller-scale projects can change the sort of Europe we live in – think of the students studying abroad on the Erasmus programme, the injustices tackled by the European Convention on Human Rights, the holidaymakers and businesspeople benefiting from smoother, easier, cheaper travel from one part of the Union to another.
Over the past five years the right has failed to make use of this potential. It seems to have little more than the failed recipes of the past to offer. The PES, in contrast, has a clear, concrete, ambitious plan [see http://www.pes.org/en/content/pes-demands-new-direction-europe-first-hundred-days].
Now if that’s not a ‘choice’ I don’t know what is...