Socialists and Democrats lash out at centre-right, pledge to restore social justice

The outcome of the German election is crucial for the future of the EU's socialist parties. [S&D]

The S&D hit out at conservative political parties across Europe and promised to end German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s policies. euractiv.com reports from Rome.

At the Together conference organised on 24 March by the Group of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament in Rome, left-wing politicians from across the EU presented their vision about the future of Europe.

Adopting a pro-federalist rhetoric with many references to Altiero Spinelli, EU socialists attacked the bloc’s centre-right parties, claiming that their political choices during the crisis have led Europe to a deadlock.

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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.

Socialists feeling “free”

S&D chairman Gianni Pittella noted that in order for Europe to recover from its sickness and get back to the ideals of 60 years ago, social commitment should take center stage in EU decision-making.

He stressed that socialists are now “free” after the collapse of the grand coalition with the European People’s Party, to set their own agenda and provide a social alternative.

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The Rome Declaration will be balanced and contain strong references to social issues thanks to pressure exerted by the EU’s socialist leaders, Gianni Pittella told EURACTIV.com.

“We need to change the austerity policies,” he said, adding that the fiscal compact should also change and turn to real investment in order “to restart eurozone growth”.

Pittella also attacked Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem for his recent statement against the EU’s southern countries. “He must be self-critical and resign because he cannot stay in that role and not even belong to the socialist family.”

Napolitano against Orbán

Former Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said that the EU has been facing a series of crises over the last 10 years, with the refugee crisis being just the latest one.

“We won’t get out of these crises if we remain stationary,” the Italian politician stressed.

Napolitano said that the declaration of unity by the EU’s remaining 27 states was just a “façade”, and harshly attacked the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

“Orbán builds walls against refugees, which unity are they part of?” Napolitano questioned.

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The German election

For the socialist parties, the outcome of the German election is crucial for their future.

A socialist source told EURACTIV that in the coming months the party would closely follow the developments in Berlin, as a victory of Martin Schulz seems a “one-way path”.

“A different scenario will put into question both the push to end austerity policies and the ideological orientation of EU socialism in general,” the source said.

Feeling the pressure from the rise of political forces on the left of the spectrum, EU socialists believe that they could form an alliance with these forces, with the Party of European Socialists (PES) as a basis.

Sergei Stanishev, president of the PES, told EURACTIV that socialists are “naturally a gravity pole” for someone who wants to see Europe take a progressive turn.

“I can tell you when I was re-elected as PES president, this was one of the elements to make PES a centre of cooperation with all progressive forces in Europe,” he said.

“We invite to our summits Greece’s premier Alexis Tsipras,” he added.

Merkel-Schulz tussle faces first dry-run

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party faces a first election-year litmus test against resurgent leftwing challengers when voters go to the polls on Sunday (26 March) in the tiny region of Saarland.

SPD MEP Jo Leinen (S&D), said that Brexit was a warning for all who play with Europe.

Referring to the German election in September, he stressed that Berlin needed to show solidarity with the weaker parts of the EU, breaking a long-standing “taboo”.

“I’m happy that Sigmar Gabriel has now launched the debate and Martin Schulz will lead this promise to have economic and social cohesion and bring the countries together, not divide them,” he emphasised.

S&D Vice-Chair Knut Fleckenstein (SPD) believes that for the time being, Schulz’s candidacy has proved to be a success story, not only because of the positive polls but also “because this party decided that European policy would be a core of our campaign and I think this is a good sign”.

“The new German government can show to our friends from the south that it was not Germany but the current conservative government that imposed austerity policies,” he said, adding that with Schulz, the end of austerity “is closer than some believe”.

“Germany will not continue the way Mr Schäuble is driving us and half of the continent,” he added.

Some countries need more time

Fleckenstein said that even in the socialist family, a discussion should be launched on whether all members want the same kind of EU.

“For the time being, I’m not so sure. I understand that some do not want to follow EU integration at the same speed, but they cannot prevent others from doing so,” the German politician said.

He stressed that a two-speed Europe could be acceptable as long as it is open for others to join later. Referring to the concerns expressed by some EU nations in Eastern Europe, he underlined that they should not be “in panic”.

“We have already been in this club for 60 years, we have got used to the idea of a closer EU integration. Others have only been members for 25 years and they are very happy to have their own sovereignty, freedom. So, let’s give some more time to some states and let the others go because if we don’t move we will lose out,” he warned.

‘Old’ socialists do not give space

However, some young socialists feel marginalised in the party.

Eva Kaili, an MEP with the Greek Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (S&D), told EURACTIV that socialist politicians under 40 were exploring ways to be more effectively involved in decision-making.

“My proposal is to have equality not only in gender but also in age,” she said. As a young politician is hard to be heard and affect a decision, she added.

“We have made an intervention in the European Parliament to create a network of people under 40, to have a member in the political council of each political group,” she noted.

“They don’t give space to young people and if they do so, they do it after we make some noise,” Kaili said.

S&D: Pasok is 'completely isolated' in our group

EXCLUSIVE / Greece’s Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) is “completely isolated” from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), and its attitude about the government’s negotiations with its creditors is “embarrassing”, sources told EURACTIV.com.

Pasok is Greece’s official member of the PES and often feels uncomfortable when leftist Alexis Tsipras is invited to the party’s summits or when socialist leaders show public support for his government.

French and Italian socialists are openly supportive of Syriza, while some eastern socialists express concerns.

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