Wednesday

20th Jan 2021

Opinion

It's time for progressives to save Europe. Again.

  • Prioritising market forces over public policy will not resolve the financial crisis which most EU countries are still mired in. If the demands of the market continue to be promoted over all other concerns, Europe will be pushed to the brink of catastrophe (Photo: PES)

I believe - profoundly - that the EU is not only the ultimate political achievement of the modern world - it's also its most beautiful project.

But now this peaceful union is in trouble. Right-wing parties have come to power and prize the demands of the free market over the need for freedom.

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According to conservative politicians, the economy does not exist to serve human beings but rather human beings exist to serve the economy. The free market was once viewed as a useful tool for raising living standards.

Now its demands appear to be prioritised over everything else. As social democrats, we must categorically refuse to reduce workers to the status of service personnel and this belief - which has already been enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty - must remain at the core of the united European project.

Right-wing governments are also presiding over ever increasing inequality. The income gap is now so large it rivals that which existed at the end of the 19th century.

The super-rich are permitted to evade taxes by employing teams of skilful accountants and lawyers whilst funnelling huge sums into offshore accounts.

While the top one percent have accumulated ever greater wealth and influence, the living standards of the remaining 99 percent of the population have only declined.

And right-wingers have stripped 'fraternity' - the sense of brotherhood - from the European idea entirely. Where once public policy was implemented across the EU - leading to a rise in prosperity amongst citizens across Europe - rightwing governments have imposed austerity within their own borders.

So while the super-rich continue to indulge in ever more conspicuous consumption, the vast majority have suffered under new economic restrictions.

Abandoning the core values of a united Europe is destabilising Europe once again. The future seems increasingly uncertain.

Under rightwing rule, individual citizens have lost many of the benefits of the welfare state.

At this very moment, Europe is so weakened from the inside it is struggling to confront a series of crises involving immigration, climate change, terrorism and 'hybrid-war' beyond its borders.

As politicians, we have betrayed the legacy of the founding members of the EU. Instead of uniting with a common purpose for a better future, we have fallen into old divisions, blamed each other for our problems, and allowed distrust to grow between EU member states.

Sacrificing mutual values in the name of profit dramatically exacerbated our predicament - market egotism translated into national selfishness.

The Brexit vote was only the most obvious symptom of this condition.

Prioritising market forces over public policy will not resolve the financial crisis which most EU countries are still mired in. If the demands of the market continue to be promoted over all other concerns, Europe will be pushed to the brink of catastrophe.

An ever-enlarging gap

The World Bank recently announced that the gap between rich and poor in the EU has grown by over 70 percent during the last 15 years.

Ten percent of the poorest Europeans have lost seven percent of their income, while ten percent of the wealthiest have become 66 percent richer.

Such obscene inequality has provoked protests and strikes across the EU. From Brussels to Sofia, the demands are the same: decent work for decent pay, equal rights, higher pensions and better prospects for young people.

Young people, themselves, have demonstrated against climate change, aware that environmental issues have been pushed down the political agenda because the legislation that is needed to halt global warming may affect profits and go down badly with shareholders.

Meanwhile, as ruling rightwing parties seemed to offer no help to voters, more reactionary, inflammatory and xenophobic voices began to be heard in the public forum.

Within the space of a few years, extremist ideas - which were once the preserve of niche spaces on the internet - began to stake a claim on mainstream political debate.

Hatred of the 'other' came to be represented as an expression of national dignity while intolerance masqueraded as a reaction to 'political correctness.'

Untruths replaced fact. Shouting put an end to dialogue. Division has been sown where once there was unity.

We have seen this before so we know what happens next - a rise in anti-Semitism. In recent months, in some European countries, we appear to have reached this point.

I am honoured to belong to one of the few nations in Europe that saved its Jewish population from being exterminated by the Nazis during the Second World War.

Almost 50,000 human beings avoided internment in death camps because brave Bulgarian leaders maintained a strong popular resistance. I will not tolerate any resurgence in anti-Semitism. We - the European social democratic and progressive forces - must not allow it.

But ruling rightwing politicians have engaged in a dangerous flirtations with hate-mongering prophets of doom in recent years.

In order to continue governing in Europe they have embraced nationalism and in doing so have seemed to legitimise a whole host of zealots. Thus, the far-right is paralysing the European ideal.

Instead of trying to ensure the continent remains united and a home to all, nationalists want to carve it up into nation states once again, creating individual countries that view each other with suspicion and distrust - across borders of barbed wire.

Progressive's mission

Today, the mission of all European progressive parties must be to halt the division and destruction of the European Union and so save the future of Europe.

We - in Socialist, Democrat and Labour parties - were instrumental in building the peaceful and prosperous Europe that right-wing parties are tearing up.

Next month, the EU elections will decide our fate. We must not allow nationalism to triumph once again - as has been predicted.

The European Union will not survive if it continues to treat its citizens as lackeys, sacrifices freedom to (unproven) security measures, trades in democracy and the rule of law for political stability, treats healthcare as a privilege rather than a right, and EU cohesion funds as piggy banks for big business - prizing the one percent over the 99.

This is why we are convinced that the restoration of the European project must begin with the New Social Contract for Europe - the political platform put forward by progressives which seeks to transform Europe after the elections in May.

I am convinced this new contract represents how we can rebuild the EU on the basis of 'libery, egality and fraternity'.

Europe will either become more united and progressive or it will not exist at all. If the continent is to survive as we know it, the EU must remain intact - preserving human rights, dignity and freedom for each and every one of us.

Author bio

Sergei Stanishev is president of the Party of European Socialists.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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