This article is part of our special report Social Europe: Bringing back democracy at work on the EU political agenda.
There is no alternative to the European Union, but it needs to offer an ‘agenda of hope’ to Europeans, Udo Bullmann, MEP, the new leader of the Socialist and Democrat group, said in an interview with EURACTIV.
The next elections to the European Parliament are to be held in May 2019, with far-right parties widely expected to build on their recent gains at national levels in Europe.
“What is the real reason behind the surge of populism in Europe? People fear to lose their jobs, they ask themselves if their kids will ever get a pension, they wonder about their social identities. All this is driven by fear which is the vehicle used by right-wing parties in Europe”, said Bullmann.
“We can answer these fears with a new and more accurate legal framework. And this agenda should be an agenda of hope,” he added.
The popular German deputy was elected as leader of the European Parliament’s second largest group in March, but faces a challenge to maintain its influence in the next mandate.
However, he has long been critical of the direction of the Juncker commission and its predecessor run by Jose Manuel Barroso.
No alternative to Europe
“We have always called for the European Commission to take the concerns and the needs of the European citizens seriously and to make sure the benefits of the European Union do actually reach them,” Bullmann continued, adding that the EU executive “could have done more these past years in that regard, given its mandate will soon end.”
Bullman pointed to the need to better address the conflicts and challenges facing Europe at home and abroad.
“Migration, north-south conflicts, climate warming, environmental disasters, diminishing of natural resources, political participation are some of the challenges Europe is currently facing. And the question is how the European Union should act to tackle them.”
“Because, there is no alternative to the European Union of course. It has to come up with the proper answers,” he stressed.
“Where can the European Union look at to get inspired? At the United States of America, with their radical, liberal economic model? At China, a giant looming at the horizon, where human rights do not count much and where there is little civic participation in the political processes,” the MEP asked.
“When people from abroad look at us, they feel we have enough tools in our hands to strengthen the transformational shift to a more sustainable and social-oriented economic order,” said Bullmann.
In fact, the European Commission that will emerge after the European elections will have to use them in order to orientate its politics anew if it wants to answer citizens’ fears, he stressed.
To do this, it should also orientate its actions towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals agreed by the United Nation, a range of policy targets aimed at eradicating poverty, environmental protection and improving health, with a view to meeting the 2030 deadline, he said.
“The 17 goals reflect a deeply humane and profoundly democratic programme. They make it very clear that we have to take an holistic approach and use horizontal thinking in our political processes. Only in doing so will we be able to save our world and make sure our future will be socially fair and economically viable,” he said.
“The European Commission is at the forefront to implement this agenda, of which we saw so little these past years,” he added.
Breaking the silos
Within the European Parliament, the S&D group has been actively working on defining this new agenda, said Bullmann.
“In my group, we have engaged in the last 12 months what I would almost call a revolution, that is, in changing radically the way we work and address the different political issues”.
“Budget, environment, digitalization, migration, climate change, all the problems we are facing now are linked to one another, you just cannot only address one aspect of the problem and ignore the others,” the MEP said.
“This means we shouldn’t talk about economics without talking environment. At the same time, we have to be careful we are not addressing environmental issues in a way that only an elite can afford an unpolluted and safe environment,” he warned.
“We have to make sure that citizens who live at the cities’ outskirts, thus being particularly exposed to diesel fumes, or those unable to pay for organic food simply because they cannot afford to, that they to are granted access to a better and safer environment,” Bullmann insisted.
“Because we see Europe and the world going through major transformations, we, as politicians, cannot bring only one answer to solve one problem. Let’s break out the silos and integrate an holistic approach, otherwise we will not succeed.”