By Poul Nyrup Rasmussen
Today is Europe Day, the annual celebration of European integration. It marks the day in 1950 on which the Schuman Declaration was signed, launching the Coal and Steel Community: the start of what we now call the European Union. The declaration included a commitment to “the equalisation and improvement of the living conditions of workers”. It is this commitment to the welfare of all that makes our Europe unique in the world. Our welfare states, including European-wide rights for consumers and workers, offer a level of protection that exists almost no-where else.
But on Europe Day 2009 Europeans are in no mood to celebrate. The financial crisis threatening our savings and pensions has been superceded by economic crisis threatening our jobs. The rising food and energy prices we suffered before the financial and economic crisis came on top of years of attacks on our social and public services and a widening gap between rich and poor.
There is a growing belief among citizens that Europe, which has had a conservative majority in all EU institutions for the last five years, puts the market before people.
I believe that we must put workers rights and social rights before competition rules. With unemployment looming towards 27 million next year, and 74 million Europeans already living below the poverty line, Europe’s future is at the crossroads. There is a real risk of deep and permanent divides in our societies. We must put the fight for social justice back at the heart of European politics. We need to do much more to tackle the worst inequalities, protect and create jobs and actively support those without work.
The European conservatives say in their manifesto that a high level of social contributions “is a handicap for the creation of wealth”. We disagree and we can prove it: the most competitive economies in Europe are Sweden and Denmark, with the highest levels of social protection and the highest taxes. According to the World Economic Forum, they are the third and fourth most competitive economies in the world. They are the first and third most income-equal societies in the world. They come fourth and seventh on the Global Innovation Index. They consistently top quality of life rankings.
Conservatives have made it quite clear that they think globalisation means we need to work longer hours, lower costs, slash spending and dilute social services. We disagree.
Our manifesto for the European elections promotes social justice by making 12 concrete proposals for a ‘New Social Europe’ including decent minimum wages in all EU countries, protecting public services, strengthening rights to collective bargaining, and fair tax policies to guarantee the financing of our welfare states.
It is not just a difference in rhetoric. Take a look at the votes in the European Parliament. When European Socialists voted to exclude social services from the infamous Services Directive, the conservatives voted against. When European Socialists voted for an average 48 hour working week with no opt outs the conservatives voted against. When European Socialists voted for a new directive against discrimination outside the workplace the conservatives voted against. Just this week Conservatives refused to vote for strengthening rights to maternity leave.
To highlight the need to put social justice back at the heart of Europe the PES is organising, today on Europe Day, a ‘Day of Action’ across Europe on the theme ‘giving people a fairer deal’ with meetings, debates and street campaigning in at least fourteen. You can follow action via live blogging and Twittering on our website.
In the European elections in June you can express your choice of the direction you wish Europe to take. Our future is at stake.