This week the new European Commission took office and started to work on addressing many of the key challenges facing the European Union and its member states over the next five years. Similar to the 2009 Commission, Juncker’s team has almost double as many Commissioners belonging to the centre-right parties than to the centre-left (15 Commissioners belong to centre-right parties, 8 members belong to the Socialist & Democrats (S&D)). As there have been indications that this Commission is likely to be more politicised than previous ones, the political affiliation of the Commissioners could prove more important in the future in determining the overall work of the Commission.
As Juncker set out in his opening statement before the European parliament in July 2014, the new Commission faces an unprecedented set of challenges: the legacy of a number of short-term measures implemented during the financial and economic crisis, large economic disparities between member states and a loss of confidence in the EU as an institution that has taken hold not only of traditional “critical friends” but also formerly extremely pro-European states. Given this set of problems that the new Commission is facing, it is a good time to ask what the Left’s answer to them is and what priorities the Socialist & Democrats (S&D) should focus on over the course of the next five years.
- Stimulate growth and protect against globalization. As Mark Leonard argued in a recent Fabian pamphlet on the EU, Labour should lead on formulating an economic agenda of the European centre-left that demonstrates how the EU can be used as a vehicle to ensure the international competitiveness of member states, particularly against global players such as China, while at the same time offering a buffer against some of the negative consequences of globalisation, which continue to place downward pressure on wages and working conditions. One of the most significant issues in this context over the coming years will be the negotiations around TTIP. The European Left must ensure that a potential agreement protects welfare, consumer and environmental standards but it also offers an opportunity to set global trade benchmarks that allow the EU to compete with other global players.
In addition, the Left should push for action on the European level on tax avoidance particularly given the most recent allegations that multinational companies were able to drastically reduce their tax bills by channeling money through Luxembourg.
- Formulate a new social agenda for Europe. Efforts to formulate a new European social agenda are urgently needed. As Colin Crouch recently argued in the Social Europe Journal, the European Left must make the case for Europe being more than a simple trading bloc. Instead it must ensure that that the single market is not implemented in isolation from any form of social policy. This includes addressing imbalances in income and distribution. While specific policies on wages for example are impractical to harmonize given the different approaches of member states, some coordination on the European level is necessary to ensure no country finds itself at a significant disadvantage and common priorities are agreed on.
A new social European agenda should also include tackling the significant level of youth unemployment that still exists across Europe. The European Left must champion policies that ensure that young people are able to access jobs, apprentice- or traineeships.
- Tackle the democratic deficit. Finally, Labour should lead a centre-left effort to tackle the democratic deficit on the European level. As has been widely discussed, trust in the EU as an institution has been eroded in recent years and it appears questionable if particularly younger generations view the European project as a vehicle to address many of the economic challenges they face. The European Left must make the case for a new EU narrative, harnessing renewed support for the Union.