SPD chairman: Austerity is an ideology, not a successful economic strategy

Oppermann: "Martin Schulz is a chance for Europe." [Industriegewerkschaft Bergbau, Chemie, Energie /Flickr]

A victory for Martin Schulz in the German election will be a chance for Europe to bring an end to “unsuccessful” austerity policies and bring back social justice to Europe, Thomas Oppermann told euractiv.com in an interview.

Thomas Oppermann is the Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Parliamentary Group in the German Bundestag.

He spoke to EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos in Rome.

A social Europe is finally part of the Rome Declaration, but now EU citizens are asking what is next. What should they expect?

After the financial, economic and refugee crises, it is urgently necessary for Europe to come up with a social agenda. Many people are afraid that globalisation and digitalisation are going to jeopardise their jobs. They want clear answers on how a minimum of security can be achieved.

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Thousands of EU citizens gathered today (25 March) in Rome to celebrate but also deliver a wake-up call to their leaders to improve policies and address the rise of nationalism across Europe. EURACTIV.com reports from Rome.

And what’s the role of the EU’s socialist parties?

One of the major problems is that we have growing inequality within European societies as well as among EU countries. As a transnational democracy, Europe has a bright future if we are capable of overcoming these inequalities, or at least reducing them.

That means we need more investments in modern infrastructure, job creation, education, technology and innovation. Europe is dependent on a strong economy. The social market economy only works well if we have growth and economic stability.

So, you are claiming that the austerity-driven policies that have been followed all these years have failed?

What we need is a reasonable consolidation. The public debt exploded after the international financial crisis. We needed tools to limit deficit spending, but austerity is an ideology, not a successful economic strategy. We need to make more investments and overcome the austerity ideology.

Tsipras asks Juncker if the ‘European acquis’ applies to Greece

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sent yesterday (23 March) a letter to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker asking if the bloc’s acquis communautaire applies to all EU countries without exception or it’s applicable to all except Greece.

Is the German election a chance for Europe in this direction?

Yes. Martin Schulz is a great chance for the future of Europe, as is Emmanuel Macron. He [Schulz] is undoubtedly a pro-European and he has sensitivity for widespread inequalities. So, we need a new political and economic strategy for Europe that aims to bring back social justice in the EU.

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Can all the EU countries move on together and at the same pace?

We already have one, two, three different speeds. The eurozone is a different speed than the complete Union of 27. In some areas, progress is only possible if you have a coalition of the willing. A good example was the financial transaction tax through enhanced cooperation. The enhanced cooperation of 11 countries is currently the only hope that we can tax financial markets adequately.

This is a very crucial thought for us because it does not make any sense to have more flexibility in deficit spending if we don’t tax international companies and financial markets adequately. That has to be answered in one context.

Last week, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble attacked Foreign Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel because he praised the Greek government for its financial achievements. Is the German government divided over the issue?

We have two different approaches. Greece will not get out of the crisis if they continue cutting social programmes. What they need are structural reforms that will help create the state.

They need a system of adequate taxation, to fight corruption. This is absolutely necessary but we cannot leave them alone. We have to support Greeks during that process.

They have achieved a primary surplus and we should continue to support the Greek government.

Greece's lenders shift from austerity to reforms

The Eurogroup took a small step on Monday (20 February) towards the completion of the second review of Greece’s €86 billion rescue programme, placing the emphasis on reforms over austerity to reduce the country’s huge debt pile.

So, the word Grexit does not exist in the German Social Democrat vocabulary.

People who speculate about Grexit in these days are playing with the fire. We should not expel any country from the eurozone. It is bad enough that the UK has voluntarily left the EU.

We should not forget that Europe is under pressure from inside and outside. From outside, Trump and Putin, having to deal with 27 different nations, would love to see the EU fall apart.

From inside, Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders are eager to help them in the destruction of the EU. We should not allow them to do that.

At the conference, some socialist politicians, also, expressed concerns about Turkey’s Erdogan.

We should not allow Erdogan to threaten the EU. He is moving quickly away from European values. He is busy in deconstructing Turkish democracy and now it does not look like Turkey will ever be able to join the EU.

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