Wednesday

17th Jul 2019

Interview

Belgium's trade unionist running to replace Juncker

  • Nico Cue is one of two candidates for the Party of the European Left (Photo: European Parliament)

Nico Cue, a retired Belgian trade union leader vying to become the next European Commission president, appears relaxed.

On the second floor of the European Left Party headquarters in Brussels, he lays out his vision for a European Union he says has lost its credibility.

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"There is a form of fear that is installing [itself] in Europe because of this project," he says, drawing links to the impact of austerity measures that ravaged many in Greece and elsewhere.

Born in Spain, his parents fled dictator Francisco Franco to seek refuge in Belgium in 1962.

Some ten years later, Nico landed his first job at FN Herstal, a leading firearms manufacturer 100-percent owned by the Belgian socialist regional Walloon government.

The 62-year old would spend years at FN Herstal, describing the weapons company as one where people fought for equal work and equal pay.

"The story is that is was a private company that stockholders had practically abandoned, and so we succeeded in turning it into a public sector [company] to stop it from closing ... and that was in the 1990s and it had 1,200 workers and where I worked for 22 years," he says.

Cue said FN Herstal needs to be 100-percent publicly owned to ensure that the weapons, which include small caliber firearms to .50 cal machine guns, don't end up in the wrong hands.

But earlier this year, a joint investigation by Bellingcat and others published in the Belgian daily Le Soir, found that Saudi forces are in fact using FN Herstal manufactured guns in their brutal four-year war in Yemen.

Divisions and lost seats

Today, there are no far-left Belgian MEPs in the European Parliament.

The far-left GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament is also projected to lose seats, dropping from 52 to 46, after the May elections.

But Cue remains hopeful. On 26 May, Belgium will have a regional and national election.

The far-left Workers' Party of Belgium (PTB) is polling well in Wallonia and Cue says a Belgian PTB may end up as a European MEP.

"Four years ago it was one or two percent, and now it has increased a lot," he says, noting the PTB has up to 14 percent support in French-speaking Wallonia, around 10 percent in Brussels, and some six percent in Dutch-speaking Flanders.

The plan is to secure a left-wing majority in Wallonia, along with the socialists and the ecologists, and then reproduce that victory in Brussels.

"It is very possible in Wallonia, possible in Brussels, the problem is in Flanders," he says.

Far-left divisions elsewhere, such as in France, is not making life any easier for the European Left, a point acknowledged by Cue.

'Idiots'

"Right now it is too late to unite just ahead of the elections but I hope that just afterwards we could have a discussion and stop acting like idiots because that is what it is, acting like idiots and this is not a strategy," he said.

Earlier this year, Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek former finance minister spearheading the DiEM25 movement, another far left party, made similar comments.

"If the European Left were united, coherent and civilised, we wouldn't have created DiEM25, we'd have joined them. Now we are running against them, which is very painful to us," Varoufakis told Euractiv in February.

Asked to comment on the observation, Cue said the doors of the European Left are open.

"We have never excluded anyone from the debates of the European left, we are not always in agreement but we are trying to advance those issues that unite us," he said.

On Wednesday (15 May), Cue listed some of those issues during a live televised debate with the five other candidates for the next European Commission president.

He spoke of social injustice, of the need to fight climate change, that immigration was an opportunity, and of a Europe built on solidarity.

"Precarious work, climate change, tax avoidance...European leaders talk about the problems but they don't do anything about them. It's time to change course and only the Left can make that change," he told the audience.

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