Friday

26th Feb 2021

Opinion

A new Commission for the one percent

  • MEPs will have a chance to grill the 27 would-be commissioners, starting next month

The composition and format of European Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen's new team came as no surprise to the Left.

For a long time, we have warned about the dangerous path this Union is taking.

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The years of austerity brought growing inequality, with the rich becoming richer and public services slashed. We saw a ruling class plagued by corruption scandals and captured by corporations. Rather than stopping the far right, the EU has engaged with it, gravely undermining the European project.

That Europe is in crisis is in no doubt. While there was a degree of hope that after the financial crisis that battered working people, European elites would finally listen, they have instead opted to ape a bolstered far right that threatens to tear Europe apart.

We on the Left insisted that a system of guarantees for citizens' dignity and rights must be enshrined in the EU treaties in the form of a Social Protocol.

Instead, Juncker's commission implemented measures such as cuts to cohesion funding, and financed the arms industry to the tune of billions.

We warned against inaction towards climate change and the crisis in biodiversity. Instead, the EU continued negotiations to sign a free trade agreement with the Mercosur (and many other countries), regardless of its impact on the environment.

Von der Leyen was an unlikely candidate for the commission presidency, not least because she was appointed as a result of shady backroom deals that ruinously betrayed the trust of millions of EU citizens who went to the ballots.

No to Ursula

After grilling von der Leyen on our 10 demands for the next Commission - for a real green, just and egalitarian Europe - we refused to endorse her candidacy in July.

It was clear for us that she wanted to preserve the status quo, increase militarisation and deepen the crisis we are living today.

We are only baffled by how nakedly von der Leyen's commission represents this very same crisis affecting the EU, as opposed to what we need to do to fix it.

Take Hungary's Laszlo Trocsanyi, who with the enlargement portfolio will be responsible for making sure aspiring membership candidates' rule of law is up to EU standards.

As Hungary's justice minister, he oversaw exactly the opposite, undermining rule of law and democratic rights, criminalising NGOs that provide support to refugees, and aggravating anti-Semitism and racism in the country.

The announcement of a commission vice president for "Protecting our European Way of Life", in charge of the migration portfolio and the de facto dissolution of the culture portfolio, was a clear capitulation to the poisonous far right rhetoric that sees refugees, internationalism and solidarity as a threat to Europe.

Even if the title changes, as it seems probable, the commission's response to the thousands of migrants dying at sea every day has been made evident with the drive to strengthen Frontex and put in place a Fortress Europe.

We can sadly expect more inaction from this commission to this appalling humanitarian disaster.

The last five years have been overshadowed by revelations of financial impropriety - Panama leaks, the CumEx scandal, LuxLeaks, Paradise Papers, and so on - that exposed how billions of euros in taxpayers' money are being siphoned by the rich and powerful.

Apple, the first trillion-dollar public company, has managed to evade EU taxes worth billions of euros.

At the same time, workers were being told they have to make do with temporary contracts, bigger tax bills, fewer rights and cuts to health and education budgets.

Von der Leyen and her team gave no indication that this injustice would be confronted.

In the same week that von der Leyen announced France's Sylvie Goulard for the Internal Market portfolio, police questioned her for fraud due to alleged misuse of EU funds.

Poland's Janusz Wojciechowski is under a similar investigation by the EU anti-fraud agency.

Rovana Plumb, the commissioner-designate for transport avoided such a fate by invoking her immunity as a Romanian MP in 2017.

Belgium's Didier Reynders, awarded the Justice file, featured in the Paradise Papers scandal, as director of the Ackermans & van Haaren group which was implicated.

Von der Leyen said that her commission is "as diverse as Europe is".

It does indeed represent the full diversity of Europe's one percent elite.

We stand with the many, the millions of working people struggling in an economy stacked against them, the Europe that is in solidarity with people fleeing dire situations, the NGOs and the youth fighting for our planet.

We echo their demands and aspirations. Because of this, commission nominees can expect their toughest questioning yet, they must be held accountable to those they should be representing.

Author bio

MEPs Manon Aubry (France Insoumise) and Martin Schirdewan (Die Linke) are co-presidents of the Left group in the European Parliament (GUE/NGL).

Disclaimer

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

Why I'm voting against the von der Leyen commission

The new migration commissioner's job title, "Protecting our European way of life", rings not of pan-European solidarity or federalism - but is incorporated from the playbook of the extreme right.

Those tricky commissioner candidates in full

Three central European commission nominees can expect to feel the heat from MEPs later this month, with the Hungarian candidate emerging as the most controversial.

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