Bullmann: Macron must decide if he is a ‘real progressive’ or not

Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament Udo Bullmann attends the 78th French Socialist Party congress in Aubervilliers, outside Paris, France. [EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON]

French President Emmanuel Macron has to make his political identity clear and clarify whether he is a “real progressive” who wants to contribute to a social Europe, S&D President Udo Bullmann told EURACTIV in an interview.

Udo Bullmann is the leader of the Social Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament. He spoke to EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos.  


  • EU budget should prioritise the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals
  • Social Democrats should go back to their roots
  • The “Progressive” family cannot be governed by segmentation
  • Macron needs to live up to his pro-European ideals
  • There is no EU-wide move toward Macron’s movement
  • Europe needs a dialogue about double standards as well as a “new deal” between west and east


You launched the Progressive Society initiative with a specific agenda. Why now?

We are at a crossroads. Our societies are undergoing fundamental transformations and complex challenges – not only in Europe but also globally.

These transformations, such as climate change, digitalisation, and large-scale migration, require us to reconsider our model of societal development. If we fail to come up with the right answers, we will see yet more inequality and alienation.

The new approach we need to develop needs to be a holistic one. I am convinced that, in Europe as much as globally, we should put the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals at the core of our economic and social model. However, it does not stop there. We also need to change our way of communicating with people. The empowerment of people must be at the core of our political messages. In other words: The new paradigm needs to be a bottom-up approach. If you want people on the ground to organize and be part of a change, you need a forward-looking approach, which puts them at the core.

If you talk to people in theoretical language and about ‘a multitude of the economic, social and environmental issues’, no one is going to listen and understand. It often is too complicated. If you ask people questions they can relate to, though, you start engaging with them. ‘Why are poor kids being poisoned by diesel pollution? Why do low-income families not have access to quality food?’ You cannot talk about the economy without talking about employment. You cannot discuss employment without environmental issues. And you really cannot think of environmental challenges without considering their consequences for social inequality either.

Is the S&D moving closer to the left?

The Progressive Society initiative is an indication of the progressive character of our movement. We want to re-define how we can remain faithful to our roots. We have to be a modern movement; we have to identify the challenges of today to provide answers for tomorrow.

The story of social democracy has always been, and always will be, to empower people.

Are S&D doors open to green and leftist parties?

Our project is broad and we are ready for mutual understanding of what is progressive. Our objective is to re-connect with citizens’ initiatives, neighbourhoods and traditional trade unions.

We are leading the progressive family. This family cannot be governed by segmentation; it needs joint ideas.

When it was about changing the course of the financial markets legislation, we were building on a coalition of social democrats and Greens, but also intelligent conservatives who had a social consciousness and decided to be on the side of the SMEs against the big financial industries.

This bottom-up approach reminds me of French President Macron’s En Marche movement. Do you see room for cooperation?

We acknowledge that Macron did well in France in a very critical situation. There was a choice between nationalism and Europe. He made a great effort to put Europe at the core of his campaign and turned the page towards a pro-EU stance. This is a value in itself.

However, Macron now needs to live up to his pro-European ideals. It takes more than marching to the “Ode to Joy”. One cannot be in favour of a “Europe for all” on the one side and on the other oppose the work and life balance package proposed by the Commission. We ask Macron whether he is a real progressive and contributes to a social Europe or not.

There are French socialists who have already moved to Macron…

It hurts seeing comrades leaving our movement. But one also needs to acknowledge that the French situation is very special. I cannot see an EU-wide move toward that.

How did you see the Commission’s Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) proposal?

I see the problems and the difficulties of Mr Juncker and his team. The Brexit, the new challenges, etc.

At the end of the day, as a European Social Democrat, I have to define a benchmark. Juncker said ‘we are the Commission of the last chance’. I hoped, and I am still hoping, that the MFF proposal would live up to this promise.

For instance, we, as S&D Group, would argue for an approach where the UN Sustainable Development Goals are used as guidance for the reform of the budget. So, you can have cuts in big agricultural businesses, but not in small family farms or cohesion policy. I would really appreciate if we could adopt a systematic approach to developing our budget lines. That is where we can have a political debate on where we are going.

What’s your opinion about the proposed conditionality between EU funding and the rule of law in the next MFF?

Of course, all EU citizens have the right and deserve to see that laws are implemented properly. If the Commission is critical with countries that do not defend journalistic freedoms, the right of expression or independent justice, then the rule of law provision is not to punish governments, but to defend the people.

The EU is an entity that is founded on the rule of law and we have to defend it. One cannot say ‘I don’t care about the legal obligations but the money is mine.’

On the other hand, of course, we need dialogue about double standards. If you look at the complaints of Central and Eastern European countries about the food industry offering a different kind of quality under the same label, I fully understand their complaints. Why should these consumers accept less quality?

Central and Eastern European countries claim that they have almost 80% of the automotive industries’ productivity of the Western European factories. ‘Why do we only earn 30% of the wages? they wonder. There is a huge wage gap between the eastern and western economies. This is not fair.

I am advocating a new deal between west and east. Societies have to understand each other. This will help to strengthen common ideas for humane policies on refugees and migration.

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