A socialist-led Spain can be at the heart of the sustainable revolution

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Spanish Prime Minister and candidate for reelection, Pedro Sanchez (C), gives a speech during an act as part of his electoral campaign in Santander, northern Spain, 19 April 2019. [EPA-EFE/Pedro Puente]

Spain’s socialist-led government can help re-start Europe by pushing its alternative to economic austerity and prioritising the fight against climate change, writes Udo Bullmann.

Udo Bullmann is the leader of the Socialist and Democrat group in the European Parliament

Across Southern Europe, the two great challenges of our time are playing out in front of our eyes.

Although the financial crisis may be over, millions are still feeling its effects. Unemployment, particularly among the young, remains far too high with the gains of renewed growth flow to too few people. While the bankers and speculators who caused the crash see their profits returning, the people most affected are still only just getting by.

Meanwhile, the effects of climate change are increasingly visible. From Greece to Portugal, droughts, wildfires and extreme weather conditions are becoming more frequent, a trend that is only going to get worse.

These two crises have been compounded by a decade of reactionary right-wing policies that have both restricted growth and failed to address either growing inequality in society or the menace of climate change. Millions have suffered under austerity, while big companies have been allowed to get away with paying virtually no tax. This has left fertile ground for far-right populism and extremism to grow.

However, Spain and Portugal under socialist-led governments have shown that there is another way forward. Pedro Sanchez has already taken important steps to find a new model of development based on shared profits, social cohesion, gender equality, and tackling climate change. Whereas right-wing populists try to find scapegoats, progressive governments are showing that even the most intractable challenges we face can be addressed.

If we have any chance of tackling climate change and creating a sustainable future for the world, Europe is going to have to play the leading role. Already the EU has done this in developing and supporting the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. These form the basis of how we can deliver prosperity, while not destroying our planet. For reasons of history and geography, Spain and Southern Europe must be at the heart of this transformation.

Spain lived through decades of right-wing dictatorship. This memory remains embedded in the Spanish consciousness – leading to a rejection of extremism and embracing the need to act as a united Europe. It is no coincidence that Spain was one of only two countries to support the creation of a European Constitution in a referendum. The recognition that we can only defend our interests and tackle the world’s greatest challenges if we act together, means Spain can lead the way on sustainable development.

Just as Southern Europe’s geography leaves it exposed to the worst effects of climate change, it also brings huge economic and ecological potential. The abundance of sun and wind can be harnessed to create a greener economy and bring millions of jobs to Southern Europe. We need a radical investment strategy, to put our economies on a sustainable footing. Spain and Southern Europe must be at the heart of this transformation, giving momentum to the whole Mediterranean region as a source of innovation and creativity.

This revolution, with the UN’s sustainable development goals at its core, must form the basis of the European Union’s work for the next decade. We need to use all the resources that we have available, particularly regional and cohesion funding, to support this move to a sustainable economic model – particularly focusing on transforming the economies of Southern Europe.

In the furore of an election campaign, it is easy to lose sight of these wider changes taking place. However, this weekend’s elections in Spain and next month’s European elections will be critical in setting the direction of our continent and the world for the next decades. We must give people hope that politics can change our societies and our economies, making them fairer and more sustainable. That starts in Spain, where we fully support PSOE in its fight against the corruption generated by the PP and the rebirth of the far right.

Let Spain help re-start Europe and let Europe lead the world on the path to a sustainable future.

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