Jean-Claude Juncker was elected European Commission president on the basis of a social, even hopeful ten-point plan for Europe. Now, MEPs bear the responsibility to hold him into account on these promises, writes Bernadette Ségol.
Bernadette Ségol is the general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).
I am an optimist – and I am optimistic about the new European Commission and the new European Parliament.
Some would say that the new European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, did nothing as Chairman of the Eurozone Group, nor as the longest-serving member of the European Council, to change the austerity policies that turned the financial crisis into a crisis of unemployment and inequality.
But I am optimistic that Mr Juncker genuinely believes that mistakes were made and that he now understands that the lack of social fairness is a major problem in today’s Europe. I give him a chance and welcome the ‘Agenda for Jobs, Growth, Fairness and Democratic Change’ he presented to the European Parliament before they voted him in as new Commission president.
He told the European Parliament that “it is not compatible with a social market economy that during a crisis, ship-owners and speculators become even richer, while pensioners can no longer support themselves.” I agree, and I believe he meant what he said.
I refuse to believe Mr Juncker would plunge into the deepest depths of cynicism by presenting a plan he does not intend to implement, particularly when he himself admits that the “trust in the European project is at a historic low”.
I particularly welcome his commitment to “an ambitious Jobs, Growth and Investment package” including “up to €300 billion in additional public and private investment in the real economy over the next three years”. I applaud the fact that he says he wants a fairer internal market – with a strengthened industrial base – and a fairer economic and monetary union. I also welcome his commitment to make Europe number one in renewable energies and to significantly enhance energy efficiency.
I am an optimist, but I’m not naïve. As a trade unionist I know that the devil lies in the details. And already some things worry me. Where is the €300 billion going to come from? Is it really new money? How much of it will be public money?
What does Mr Juncker mean when he told MEPs that small and medium sized enterprises must be freed from “burdensome regulation”? No one is against getting rid of unnecessary administration. At the same time, we know all too well that the Barroso Commission’s idea of red tape includes workers’ rights and health and safety.
It is not just a question of how he will implement his ten-point plan, but also who will implement it. Mr Juncker says he will give responsibility for “better regulation” to one of the vice-presidents in his Commission. Hopefully someone who can tell the difference between so-called red tape and workers’ rights.
Mr Juncker says he will not accept the jurisdiction of courts in the EU being limited by special regimes for investor disputes, a highly controversial part of the proposed EU-US trade deal. So who will he appoint as trade commissioner? He also needs backing from the Council, which is far from guaranteed. France and Italy should support his plan, but what about Germany or the UK?
The MEPs who voted for him as Commission president must hold him to his commitments. They voted for him on the basis of his programme. And the new Parliament is more evenly balanced between left and right, despite the election of more eurosceptics and far right.
The European Parliament’s hearings and eventual vote on the proposed commissioners is a vital next step. MEPs must ensure that each and every one of the nominated commissioners has the will and the policies capable of implementing Mr Juncker’s ten-point plan.