Thursday 20 September 2012

Relaunching Europe

The Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament have launched their Relaunching Europe website. The initiative is about creating an alternative to the current policies and direction of Europe, and it invites people to submits ideas and questions. Hannes Swoboda, the leader of the S&D group, was in Hamburg recently for a talk that produced this video for the launch of the site:

There will be a debate in Brussels for people to debate the direction of Europe on the 3rd of October, but hopefully there will be events outside of Brussels to increase accessability.

S&D Ideas

It's a listening and communication exercise - which suggests that there won't be many new announcments at the PES Congress this month - but the group is outlining some ideas on the website that add a bit more detail to Swoboda's idea of a Social Compact that he called for during the State of the Union speech last week. Here's a list of some of the ideas:

  • The current Troikas should be expanded to include advise from the International Labour Organisation and similar organisations so that expertise and concern for employment and growth is reflected in policy.
  •  They demand a commitment on social cohesion in the Van Rompuy report and a pact for social cohesion within the treaties.
  • The financial markets must be better regulated and the rating agencies must do their job in a more transparent manner. We have to control high-frequency trading.
  • We have to ensure that tax evasion and avoidance are tackled.
  • We need stronger private and public investment to create employment. But Europe is seeing a reduction in public investment, as opposed to the policies in the US and Japan. And there is money for investment. Tax evasion costs €1 trillion a year in Europe. Just one quarter of this money could boost public investment by 40%.
  • We need a financial transaction tax.
  • Europe must launch an efficient union for banking supervision that reaches beyond the eurozone, accompanied by comprehensive banking reform across Europe.
  • We need an adequate European budget that stimulates growth.
These ideas need to be further fleshed out: what would a Social Compact contain? The idea of a Social Compact to balance out the Fiscal one is a nice idea, but I'm not sure what it would mean in practice: should Member States commit to a certain level of social protection (and how would this fit in with the Fiscal Compact - would European solidarity bridge some social spending gaps while there's fiscal reforms, or would it just moderate the timescale and austerity of the current Troika system)? More details on the better regulation of banks and financial markets would be welcome: what changes to the recent legislation are necessary?

There are also some more broader views and principles:

"We must not only solve the economic and social crises but also the democratic one. In several countries, notably Germany, parliamentary participation and national sovereignty are at the heart of the debate. But what is overlooked is that it is not the EU that threatens sovereignty, but the financial markets and the rating agencies which dictate interest rates and spreads.
But we are also seeing increasing de-democratisation. The European Council is increasingly taking more and more decisions, including on the EU budget. But who are the Council and the President of the Council accountable to? Neither the national parliaments nor the European Parliament. The Troikas too act in a democratic vacuum with no accountability.
[T]his means strengthening parliamentary participation and the European Parliament and the national parliaments must co-operate closely.
 Referendums can strengthen democracy in Europe if they are held at European, not just national level. We must have the courage to speak out clearly against growing nationalism. We have to organise referendums in a way that does not allow the outcomes in individual countries to dominate the others and undermine the European project."
I like the connection with the working poor in Germany; the S&D Group (and PES) need to have a broad message of social justice and how it can be delivered through the EU for all citizens, rather than  a simplistci dicotomy of strong versus weak Member States. The commitment to better parliamentary democracy and cooperation and to European referendums is very interesting, but really should be fleashed out.

How far are these ideas just Swoboda's and not those of the group or the PES Europarty? It all depends on if the PES come up with a good manifesto with clear policy commitments come the 2014 election - that will be the real test. But Swoboda took pains to refer to the agreement in his group for these ideas during the State of the Union speech. What difference this initiative will make depends on what use people make by contributing and what use the S&D make of them.

They invite people to ask questions on Facebook or via Twitter.

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