The European Union and Eurozone are faced with significant, historic challenges in 2017. Destructive forces in Europe, expressed through far-right parties and their divisive rhetoric, and the rigid insistence on a financial/austerity policy model that cannot promote growth and opportunity for all are the major reasons why some of the fundamental institutional pillars of the EU should be reformed.
First and foremost, the role of the European Parliament should be strengthened, giving a more binding character to its decisions and resolutions. The efforts made by former President Martin Schulz were important, and his successor Antonio Tajani should speed up reforms in that direction.
One of the critical developments has been the establishment of the Financial Assistance Working Group – FAWG that aims at strengthening the transparency and accountability of the European institutions and creditors involved in Eurozone bailout programs. The Group has so far concentrated on Greece’s bailout program, enabling MEPs to play a bigger, more frequent role in influencing the often tortured course and content of the ongoing negotiations.
Here, the Eurogroup’s democratic accountability and transparency in decision-making must be accelerated, with all social partners being more involved at all levels of financial governance. Furthermore the European Social Pillar should be upgraded from a well-articulated document into a tool of best practices with regards to the protection of labour rights and collective bargaining. Furthermore, there must be positive steps towards establishing sustainable minimum incomes binding on all member states, especially for the most crisis-affected Eurozone ones.
The same goes for social and regional cohesion: it has been left unaddressed, thus causing a series of macroeconomic imbalances – structural unemployment, increase in poverty and social exclusion, expansion of undeclared (‘on the black’) jobs, unfair distribution of the EU’s structural funds and low investment rates, especially in the European periphery. The Stability and Growth Pact should be revised and serve its true essence, as it has become more of a divergent tool than a force that builds convergence between European societies and economies.
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All the above issues are linked to austerity politics and the role of conservative political forces that favour a tinyl elite group at the expense of wider social classes. At the same time, these policy gaps are also the outcome of the difficulty of progressive political forces in arguing convincingly in favour of growth and social justice and proving weak – at a European level – in developing an alternative policy plan.
The EUMed Summits, starting in Athens in September 2016, then in Lisbon last week, and the Progressive Caucus in the European Parliament, have developed concrete action, aimed at revitalizing the EU’s founding principles: social prosperity, growth, employment, respect for human rights and democratic accountability – all characteristics and tools to make Europe survive and thrive as a region of democracy and peace against the paralysing effect of the Far Right.
European citizens are evidently very disappointed in the social and economic model implemented in the EU. And it is also clear that the neoliberal, conservative forces that have led Europe into its biggest identity crisis since the 1950s cannot be the source of the solution.
Progressive forces need to assume their historic responsibility and intensify their political activities. It is time to proceed from the phase of drawing up ideas and good intentions to one of concrete policies, visible to and inspiring for the European electorate.
Dimitris Papadimoulis is Vice President of the European Parliament, MEP and head of the Syriza party delegation.