Presenting his election programme in Brussels on Wednesday (7 May), socialist campaign frontman Martin Schulz said the gender pay gap was “dramatic” and would be a priority in the EU if he became the next President of the European Commission.
“If my son gets a job, he gets 15% more salary than my daughter. This is a shame,” Schulz told a press conference in Brussels where he presented his programme.
“Addressing the gender pay gap, which is a dramatic one in Europe, should be an initiative of the next commission. It is a high priority,” added the top candidate for the Party of European Socialists (PES).
Schulz committed to having at least as many female commissioners as male commissioners in his team if he was elected. Currently, the commission has nine female commissioners out of a total of 28 posts.
Eurostat data shows that in EU member states Lithuania and Estonia, the difference in salary between a man and a woman exceeds 10% of the total median pay.
“I want to fight for jobs,” Schulz said. “Every proposal of the next commission must pass the jobs test. Does it create jobs? And, by the way, not lead to continuous traineeships,” he said, calling for “decent jobs with decent salaries.”
On Monday, the Portuguese government decided to exit its three-year bailout programme worth €78 billion. But, said Schulz, “I was in Portugal and I was astonished. The crisis is not over when a country gets back to the market and banks buy up their state bonds, if people are still without jobs.”
In his programme, Towards a new Europe, Schulz proposed measures to boost economic growth, such as an investment bank to aid small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in southern Europe. “I will set up an economic and industrial grouping of commissioners […] to better coordinate the priority of growth and jobs,” he said.
“The whole digital debate is completely underestimated, and I will put it in the centre,” Schulz added. “The investment in the digital infrastructure is an investment to create jobs and growth in itself.”
“It is a question of opening up monopolies. I am surprised that, in a market like the digital market, where monopolies exist, the commission doesn’t react.”
The claim will come as a surprise to Joaquín Almunia, the EU’s competition commissioner, who placed US tech giant Google under antitrust scrutiny over its dominance in the Internet search market. Almunia is a member of the Spanish socialist party (PSOE), affiliated to Schulz’s PES.
Schulz also said he will plan a crackdown on tax avoidance if he makes it to the Commission. Measures include a black list of tax havens, imposing sanctions, revoking the licenses of banks involved in tax fraud, or banning companies with branches in tax havens from getting EU money in tenders.
To him, a clearer definition of tax havens is needed. “Ask my opponent what he thinks, he was the prime minister of Luxembourg,” Schulz said in a swing at the centre-right frontrunner, Jean-Claude Juncker.
Lagging behind in France, Poland
In a poll released on Wednesday (6 May), the centre-right European People’s Party was polling at 216 parliament seats across European member states. It was 11 seats ahead of Schulz’s PES which was at 205. The liberals of ALDE were third (63), followed by the European Left (49) and the Greens (41).
“In the last week of opinion polls, S&D parties have lost ground in France and Poland, while EPP parties have gained in Spain, Romania and Poland,” the polling aggregator PollWatch said in a statement.
Schulz and Juncker are the frontrunners to become the next Commission president. The pair will face off in a televised debate on Thursday (8 May), which will be broadcast on the German-speaking television channels ZDF and ORF. On Friday, all the party candidates will participate in a debate in Florence, the second full ‘presidential debate’ before the elections.
But the decision on the winning candidate belongs to EU heads of states, who designate the new Commission President behind closed doors before putting the designated winner in front of the European Parliament for a confidence vote. Pundits speculate that the open race for the position could end up as a scam, as member states could well decide on a different candidate at the last minute.
However, Schulz refuses such a scenario. “To play with [the idea of nominating] such a third person is a dream come true for eurosceptics, who will say that democracy in Europe is not a reality,” he said.
Euroscepticism has become a central theme of the EU elections. Anti-European parties are set for big electoral gains in countries like the United Kingdom, France and Italy. “In this situation of hopelessness, people follow leaders who don’t have a solution for the problems, but have a scapegoat for everything,” Schulz said.
“[The eurosceptics] say Angela Merkel is responsible for all problems. It is like Gary Lineker said: ‘Football is a simple game. 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end the Germans win.’ This is not true, but people believe it,” he joked.
The European elections will be held in all EU countries on 22-25 May 2014. The European Parliament shall elect the commission president on the basis of a proposal made by the European Council that "takes into account" the election results (Article 17, TEU).
The European Parliament, parties and many others have pushed for European political parties to nominate their front-runners in the election campaigns, making these elections a de facto race for commission president.
But others have argued that the European parties’ push for their own candidates may not be the best solution. Raising expectations could easily lead to disappointment, Herman Van Rompuy has repeatedly said, calling for caution in case the European Council chooses another candidate than the winning party’s frontrunner.