The “narrow victory” of the European People’s Party (EPP) at the May EU elections make Jean-Claude Juncker the natural candidate for the European Commissionaccording to socialists who gathered in Brussels this week.
European Social Democrats met in Brussels this week to exchange views publicly for the first time since the May European elections.
Gathered in the headquarters of the Foundation for European progressive Studies (FEPS), Massimo D’Alema, director of the institute, and Pascal Lamy, former director general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), presented their analyses of the state of the Left four weeks after the European elections.
‘The beginning of European democracy’
For the leadership of the European centre-left, despite a “narrow victory” for the European People’s Party (EPP) at the European elections, Jean-Claude Juncker is the natural candidate for the European Commission Presidency, and as such, is representative of the will of the people.
“For the first time it’s not the national governments that are behind it but the people and the European Parliament,” Massimo D’Alema declared.
“This is only the beginning. It may not be a brilliant beginning, but it is the beginning of a European democracy, and if we stop it now, there will never be candidates again,” he warned.
Asked why the left would support a man that represents everything the left has been fighting against during the campaign – fiscal austerity and conservative policies – the former Italian prime minister stressed that Jean-Claude Juncker is a “man of compromise”.
“Juncker is a European leader, he is able to make compromises and he is not a falcon of the right. We’ll see what happens but a lot will depend on the equilibrium of forces in the end.”
Change on the right
The Socialists are optimistic about their ability to influence EU policymaking during the next five years. They see political forces inside the institutions shifting, and claim the conservatives themselves are showing signs of change.
“The EPP won the elections but they are not self-sufficient,” D’Alema remarked. “There is talk of flexibility, investments and new commitments and we need to fight for the respect of these new commitments, which are the results of the socialist governments,” said the FEPS director, underlining the “important contribution of the Italian government” in this “new direction”.
For D’Alema, Italy and the forthcoming Italian presidency of the European Union “will have a role to play in taking new directions” and expressed the hope that more time will be devoted to “discussing content rather than portfolios”.
“We need to push for change; there are signs that show that there is a real possibility for change. The Conservatives are aware that change is needed because they lost lots of seats in favour of populist and Eurosceptic parties.”
The Left, a ‘global force’
More broadly, the Socialists do not see the last European elections as a failure on their side and feel much stronger on the European stage.
“In the European Parliament, the EPP and ALDE together have lost 90 seats,” D’alema continued. “If we take the Greens and the European left into account, right and left have more or less the same weight in the Parliament today. In the Council, same thing: in 2009, Socialists were out of the governments, today we have 12 prime ministers and if we add governmental coalitions, the socialists and progressists are in power in 16 EU countries,” he stressed.
For D’Alema, the “dogmatic and rigid” vision of austerity “will have to give way to a more flexible vision and commitments on growth and employment”.
But those commitments will need to be translated in “concrete terms”. D’Alema believes energy and industry should be leveraged to boost employment on the continent and that a “real global progressist platform” will have to be promoted, “not only on policies but as true progressist thought about global challenges.”
Pascal Lamy stressed how important it was to “put in place a global platform that will produce a real intellectual criticism of market capitalism as we know it,” saying “we have nothing convincing so far.”
“There is a demand from other regions in the world for that and there is no coherent approach of global challenges such as environmental issues, inequalities and even peace,” he said, adding that think tanks like FEPS “can take that initiative and cooperate”.
Socialists wants to boost global cooperation with all parts of the world, but the USA remains a privileged partner and the trans-atlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) is the “cornerstone of that relationship”.
For Lamy “a market of 800 million people is better than a 400 million one”. However, he explained, this is “sensitive political ground” in which the approach needs to “shift towards protecting the consumer”. He claimed this was the “clear message” sent by European citizens at the last elections.