Europe is still in the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic largely determines our working and living conditions. The economic and social effects of the crisis caused by the coronavirus are dramatic, affecting in particular the poor and the people working and living under precarious conditions. The statistics don’t show the real dimension of the problems, because emergency measures like short-time work dampen the effects of the pandemic. Unemployment will increase considerably and poverty as well. And in this situation social inequalities are increasing. According to a recent study of Oxfam there is a huge gap between the poor and the rich.
The rich are becoming even more rich and the poor poorer. The European Left early developed a platform about the issue “how to get out of the crisis socially”. Comprehensive activities in five areas have been requested: protection of the population, economic reconstruction and social-ecological transformation, defense of democracy, peace and disarmament, international solidarity. (“The corona crisis and the consequences for European politics”)
In the current situation with a Europe-wide lockdown, first and foremost everything has to be done to protect the people. The EL strongly supports the European Citizens Initiative “Right2Cure”, for free and universal access to vaccines and for making the vaccine a common good. The operational capacity of healthcare systems has to be improved. As EL we demand the creation of a European Health Fund funded by the Ecb. And we launched a campaign under the slogan “Protect the people, not the system”. The population must be protected, socially and economically. We need a rescue plan for workers and their families. In case of income losses, financial compensation is needed.
We need a fundamental change in European politics. In the crisis it became evident, that the predominant neoliberal policy is not able to address the crisis in a proper way. Therefore, some essential elements of the European austerity policy must be abandoned. The Growth and Stability Pact must be suspended. The Recovery Fund “Next Generation”, adopted by the European Commission and the Governments after a long and controversial negotiation, represents a remarkable change of the European financial policy giving for the first-time money as grants and not only as credits to the states. But it’s quite clear that the European Commission and the majority of European governments want to return to the previous neoliberal austerity policy when the crisis is over. It’s the task of the Left to make the changes permanent that have been made in order to combat the crisis. These changes should be taken as a starting point for a radical change of European politics. The Growth and Stability Pact has to be abolished and not only suspended. And it has to be prevented that the Recovery Fund is linked to the European Semester and the financial means for the different countries are bound by restrictive conditions. The effect of the Recovery Fund depends on how it will be implemented. There are controversial discussions as we can see it for example in Italy. The goal of that Fund is not only to address the social needs but also to be used at the same time to support the ecological transformation and digitalization.
A core element of the future European policy is the Green New Deal. The European Commission is campaigning for a “European Green Deal”. The objective is to have the EU climate neutral in 2050. Main elements are investments in environmentally friendly technologies, the decarbonizing of the energy sector, energy efficiency for buildings, cleaner and healthier private and public transport. The question, however, is whether the European Green Deal, as proposed by the European Commission, adheres to the neoliberal dogma, which is to be feared. And the concept of the Commission is certainly insufficient in terms of objective and scope, but nonetheless worth dealing with. The EL is involved in the debate about a Green New Deal and wants to play major role coming up with an own comprehensive concept oriented on welfare.
We need public investments in infrastructure, social services like healthcare, social housing, education and culture. A green transition of industry is necessary. But we also need to protect the workers and employees affected by this process. For the Left the connection between ecological requirements and social needs is crucial. “Just Transition”, promoted by Ituc, is a concept to combine ecological transition with social protection. A left concept of a Green New Deal must go hand in hand with the expansion of workers’ rights. But not only the workers’ rights should be strengthened, the workers themselves should be directly included in a new industrial policy. A left Green New Deal has to be combined with economic democracy.
A “Conference on the Future of Europe” is currently prepared. The conference aims to bring together politicians, civil society and citizens to rethink the integration process and to examine how the EU should be reshaped in the light of the ongoing crisis and the immense challenges like the climate change. The start of the Conference, initially envisaged for May 2020, was postponed due the pandemic, and it’s now foreseen for May 2021. It should start with a Joint Declaration, on which the European institutions and the Council of the EU are working. This conference should be taken as an opportunity also by the EL to present their vision of the future of Europe. It’s an opportunity to discuss which consequences have to be drawn from the crisis.
It’s of great importance how the conference will be organized. It should be a broad and open conference involving in particular the representatives of the civil society like the Ngo and the trade unions. We agree with the European Trade Union Confederation (Etuc) that “Social Europe” should be at the centre of the conference. It’s necessary that the Pillar of Social Rights, adopted by the European Commission, will be transformed in binding social rights in form of a “Social Protocol” as a part of the European Treaties. And, of course, the Treaties themselves and how they have to be changed to achieve another Europe have to be a subject of the debate.
There is no doubt, a broad and intensive debate on the future of Europe is necessary. The EL is engaged in this debate. The European Forum, organized by the EL together with other progressive and ecological forces, is a platform for such a Europe-wide debate. This was also this year the case with many interesting panels addressing very important themes like the combat against growing social inequality, social-ecological transformation or a human migration policy, including also assemblies of women, trade unionists and the youth.
We want to intensify our political discussions. We are in a deep social upheaval which contains threats but also opportunities for another European policy. For a more social, more democratic, more ecological and more peaceful European policy which have to be taken by the Left. The magazine Quistioni is intended as a platform for the necessary political debate, not being limited to the EL itself, but involving other progressive politicians and intellectuals.
Heinz Bierbaum is President of the European Left. He is a sociologist and economist.