Rodrigues: ‘This European Parliament can’t be led by a right-wing majority’

Maria João Rodrigues [Georgi Gotev]

The European Parliament on Wednesday (5 July) failed to agree a common position on the Commission Work Programme for 2018. In an interview with EURACTIV,com, Maria João Rodrigues welcomed this as a sign that the conservative domination of the legislature is coming to an end.

Maria João Rodrigues is a Portuguese Socialist MEP (S&D).She tabled a resolution on the future of Europe and the strategic priorities of the Commission Work Programme 2018.

In your resolution, you seem fairly unsatisfied with the work of the EU executive. What are your main criticisms of the Juncker Commission?

After the very painful year in 2016, the EU decided to prepare a roadmap for the future. The European Commission came up with a white paper proposing five different scenarios. In the European Parliament, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D group) made it clear that they were not convinced by any of these scenarios.

We think that a sixth scenario, focussing on doing a much better job on the EU’s top priorities, would be the most convincing option.

This was the approach when we started the negotiations on the Commission Work Programme for next year. Because the Commission will use this last annual work programme to implement its chosen scenario.

As Parliament coordinator on these negotiations, I proposed to the other political groups to use this resolution to work towards long-term solutions for Europe on different priorities: reducing social inequality, ensuring jobs with proper working conditions, implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change and define a much more powerful strategy on investment in the energy transition. We should also ensure we make the most of the digital revolution, not only for companies but also for citizens.

Another central priority is addressing the refuge crisis. In order to create a better solution, we have to come up with a real European asylum system, safe routes and humanitarian visas. This also means that we need to reform the Dublin system.

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How is the EU supposed to implement all these priorities?

This is the problem of financial need that we address in our resolution regarding the Commission Work Programme. We proposed three potential solutions. Regarding tax policy, we need once and for all to fight tax avoidance and tax evasion, to stop loosing financial resources. We also need to prepare a community budget, in order for the EU to have its own resources. We can no longer rely on national contributions from member states. We propose to establish this budget using a share of EU corporation tax, particularly on companies that naturally benefit from the single market. We also want to use the tax on carbon emissions.

Finally, we are also calling for member state contributions to the EU budget to be discounted from deficit calculations.

The Parliament was unable to agree a common position regarding the Work Programme. Why was this?

These are the basic ideas we submitted to the other political groups. But this time, the EPP (centre-right), ALDE (liberals) and ECR groups (conservatives) decided not to support these priorities, relegating the European Parliament to a low-key position for the up-coming negotiations with the Council. We can’t accept the reduction of the Parliament to a minor political player.

When these three groups refused to agree on these priorities, they said they would come up with a counter-resolution. The right-wing resolution was finally defeated during the plenary vote.

This is a major event because it means that this European Parliament can’t be led by a right-wing majority. They don’t have a majority.

Last year, we were able to adopt a resolution on the Commission Work Programme, with the support of the ALDE and EPP groups. Now, the situation is different because we announced that we will no longer play by the rules of a grand coalition. Our autonomy is absolutely clear.

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But in the European Parliament, the Socialists don’t have a majority either, even when they join forces with the Greens and GUE/NGL…

We don’t have a clear majority if the S&D, Green and GUE/NGL groups together are not enough to build an alternative coalition. What we have is an S&D group, the second-largest in the Parliament, leading progressive forces that can come from the Greens, GUE/NGL, and sometimes from the ALDE and EPP groups.

But the confrontation that we had during this session on the Work Programme for 2018 shows that we need to change to the composition of the next Parliament to gain a majority of our own. We are convinced that we can get the support of a majority of European citizens.

Are you optimistic about the ability of the Juncker Commission to address the different issues you raised in this resolution?

I keep some hope because the Commission itself recognises the need for another scenario for Europe. After the elections in France and the coming election in Germany, we will have choices to make, and this is why the Parliament must be clear and strong on building these decisions on the future of Europe.

What are the main obstacles to the progressive agenda you are fighting for? The Commission, the member states or the lobbies?

There are several lobbies resisting these priorities and they have the power to influence positions in the different institutions. But our main opponent in recent years has been the conservative coalition leading the EU project, which has been unable to find solutions to overcome the financial crisis, then the economic crisis, the social crisis, the refugee crisis … Crisis after crisis, we see that as long as Europe is led by conservatives, we will never have any solutions.