‘Social Europe’ to dominate post-electoral talks

Martin Schulz. Berlin, 2006. [Shutterstock]

Obviously disappointed by the results but still feisty, Martin Schulz, the Social Democrat candidate for the European Commission Presidency, made it clear to his main opponent, Christian Democrat Jean-Claude Juncker, that the battle “has only just begun”.

As the first elections estimates came in yesterday evening, leaving the European People’s Party (EPP) victorious, the centre-left Spitzenkandidat expressed his doubts about Juncker’s ability to form a majority in the European Parliament, a position shared by other candidates.

“The next president has to find a majority in the Parliament,” Schulz said, “a majority that will have to be built on the basis of a programme.”

For the European Socalists and Democrats (S&D), the next majority will have to respect three “core elements” if it is to get their support. Those are the fight against youth unemployment, the fight against tax fraud and tax evasion, and more control over the banking sector, Martin Schulz told the press in the European Parliament late last night (25 May) after the preliminary results were announced.

>> Read also: Piketty: ‘It is a surprise that a candidate for EU Commission president comes from a tax haven’

Calls for change

Despite an overall centre-right European parliament, the left and radical left parties made their highest scores in a majority of ‘bailed-out countries’ where austerity measures have had  tragic social consequences.

In Greece, the Syriza party (GUE/NGL) of Alexis Tsipras, who campaigned against austerity and the Troika programme, came out as the indisputable winner before, the ruling centre-right New Democracy party. In Italy and Portugal, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) are leading the pack, all sending “clear signals” that the current policies of spending cuts “do not work”.

“These policies have affected the poorest people, it was predictable. When you see the state of the country in Greece where people have no hope, it’s understandable that they turn to the left, a solid left,” said Bernadette Ségol, the secretary general of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

Speaking to EURACTIV, she said that trade unions’ demands for the next parliament will be to halt austerity and put in place “a big investment plan in quality jobs”, something she says is also shared by some EPP members, who want a “more social Europe”. The problem, in her opinion, are the German members of the European centre-right, “but they will have to realise they are not the only ones.”

“We want to work with MEPs who believe that Europe is more than free trade,” Ségol added.

“When you have 26 million people unemployed and no growth, it is difficult to say these policies are working, and the risk is that workers are going to be so fed up that European project will be affected,” she concluded.

Green offensive

Investments in jobs will also be the Greens’ prerequisite for support to a future majority, their candidate, Ska Keller told the journalists in Brussels, raising doubts both about Juncker’s political programme, and his ability to become the next president of the European Commission.

“For us, it’s very important to get out of the crisis, invest in a green economy in order to get people out of unemployment, to have sustainable jobs that will give a perspective to young people, and also fight against the climate crisis as well as stop the non-transparent and undemocratic transatlantic investment partnership,” Mrs. Keller answered, when asked what her group’s conditions to support the future president are.

She said, however, that “it is not clear at all” that the EPP candidate would become the next leader of the Commission since “the programmes are not clear”.

“We’ve seen Juncker in the debates, but he often said things that are not in accordance with the EPP programme,” she said.

‘Everything is possible’

The left is also counting on internal divisions in the EPP. Before the first estimates came out, the outgoing president of the European Socialists, Hannes Swoboda, insisted on the fact that the EPP “has lost many seats”, telling EURACTIV that “there is no reason for a grand coalition now that the EPP is smaller”.

S&D officials underlined that unity inside the EPP was in jeopardy, with the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban telling a local TV station a day before the elections that “there is no way” he could support Juncker’s candidacy “even if he wins”.

Before the final results were announced, Hannes Swoboda did not exclude the possibility for Martin Schulz to still become the head of the next Commission.

The Socialists and Democrats seemed confident that they will not be “easily circumvented” in the talks.

“Without the Socialists and Democrats, no majority is possible, if we find allies in the parliament to build a majority we are prepared to negotiate, therefore I’m looking with interest to next hours and days,” Martin Schulz said during his speech after the elections.

All European Election candidates have called for a more social Europe, whilst Europe is sometimes seen as a source of social dumping, especially in relation to posted workers.

The current establishment of a youth guarantee is considered one of the last legislation’s key advances on Europe’s social side.

To go further still, the issue of a common European insurance is gradually gaining ground, as is the idea of a European basic income. 

  • 27 May: European heads of states and governments to gather in Brussels to discuss the aftermath of EU elections

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