The European Parliament elections in June 2024 will be of huge significance for the future of the European Union—a Zeitenwende. Critical action must be taken in the rest of this decade if the EU is to achieve the 55 per cent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions targeted for 2030 and to mobilise the international support required to meet the +1.5C ceiling on global temperature increase set in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
There will be other critical dossiers too, including external affairs and enlargement, in the context of the continuing war in Ukraine and the explosion in the middle east unleashed in October 2023. Social policy measures to pre-empt an anti-ecological backlash from the right gaining traction will be vital. So will a genuine industrial policy fit for a globalised world, rather than one merely constraining national ‘state aids’. Overall, a ‘beyond growth’ framework focused on wellbeing for all, rather than gross domestic product, is key.
Progressives will, however, want to open new policy envelopes, advancing their agenda. These could include greater democracy at work and social ownership, renewing the drive for welfare systems which de-commodify labour, rebalancing paid work and caring responsibilities, pursuing redistribution to reverse the growth of inequality and standing up for socially mobile, diverse, integrated societies.
Recognition of the need for much greater investment in public goods, from child development to youth skills to adult public health, should be accompanied by making the mutual borrowing initiated by the Recovery and Resilience Facility permanent. Making credible commitments on climate finance and rebuilding fraught relations with the global south will require significantly greater external funding. The EU budget must be scaled up, with matching expansion of the ‘own resources’ derived from taxes on the wealthy, high emitters, financial speculators and big corporations.
While the Polish populists have been dislodged from power, Viktor Orbán is unrepentantly using Hungary’s national veto where applicable to stymie progress and even ally with the Kremlin, snubbing the rule of law. In any event, the prospect of enlargement to well over 30 member states means the issue of treaty reform and with it a decisive move towards a federal Europe is unavoidable. The EU must act in the spirit of the citizen-led Conference on the Future of Europe—vital if ‘open strategic autonomy’ is to win credibility on the global stage.
To make any of this happen, a progressive majority will be essential in the next parliament, with the Spitzenkandidat principle this time being implemented in the selection of a new president of the European Commission. There are, however, signs at national and European levels that some in the centre-right family are looking towards a reactionary majority in the hemicycle, based on a transactional approach to the far right—including accommodation of its xenophobia towards asylum-seekers.
European Parliament elections have often been referred to as ‘second-order’, fought largely on national issues, yet these votes will be first-order for Europe as a whole. Mobilising a substantial progressive vote depends on presenting a common agenda, especially on those key issues—climate and biodiversity, war and peace—which escape the ‘national container’. The luxury of political sectarianism cannot be entertained: liberals, greens and radical leftists, as well as the predominant social democrats, must all be part of this progressive bloc if it is to prevail.
To this end, between now and June Social Europe is running a series of agenda-setting articles, which will add up to a progressive ‘manifesto’ capable of gathering the widest and deepest support. The authors will be drawn from all progressive parties as well as independent thinkers and practitioners.