6th Oct 2022


Von Der Leyen must shield Europe from a social tsunami

  • Ursula von der Leyen. 'The European Commission is too slow to act. While struggling to pay for food and energy for months, European citizens have had to wait for the State of the Union speech to hear about most of their proposals' (Photo: European Parliament)
Listen to article

Europeans are worried about what will happen this winter. At this year's State of the Union address, the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament call upon Ursula von der Leyen to present solutions to address this state of emergency.

If we fail to shield Europeans from the tsunami of staggering living costs, it risks sweeping away their trust in our democratic institutions.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • In spring, the Socialists & Democrats pressed for a European Parliament resolution on the social and economic impact of the war — including several concrete ideas (Photo: Wikimedia)

While the Ukrainians are preparing for three decisive months of fighting for their country, we should brace ourselves for three key months of tackling the social and economic consequences of the war.

In the race to contain the shocks of exploding prices and prepare for this much-dreaded winter, Europe needs to put together a wide-ranging plan, including social, tax, economic, employment and investment measures.

The massive plans recently presented by the social democratic governments in different countries in Europe are good examples of what should be done at the European level.

Recent crises, such as the financial meltdown after the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008 and the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the lack of an European response to the migration pressures of 2015, have all shown us that the lack of determined action by the leading European political forces gives rise to extremists.

Yet the European Commission is too slow to act. While struggling to pay for food and energy for months, European citizens have had to wait for the State of the Union speech to hear about most of their proposals.

On Wednesday (14 September), they will finally hear them.

The Commission's long-awaited arsenal consists mainly of the solutions that the social democrats already put forward months ago.

In spring, we pressed for a European Parliament resolution on the social and economic impact of the war, including several concrete ideas. We set out more details in the letter that our leader Iratxe García Pérez addressed to the commission in July as our contribution to the State of the Union debate.

Now it is time to focus on these solutions again and to remind us all that exceptional times require exceptional solutions.

Windfall profits tax

Our proposals in May already included a call for a windfall profits tax and a bold social resilience package. It is simply unacceptable that poor people cannot afford to heat their homes while rich companies are making astronomic profits.

The revenues from this tax should be used to shield Europe from the tsunami hitting our societies.

The European institutions need to demonstrate a strong commitment to a socially just Europe, starting by organising a new Social Summit, speeding up the implementation of decent minimum wages across the EU and coming forward with coordinated anti-poverty objectives and measures adjusted to the current situation and the war in Ukraine.

We also need to regulate the energy market to ensure it is speculation-free, cap electricity and gas prices, and limit the revenues Vladimir Putin gains through speculation.

Investment in energy and green transition

While protecting the most vulnerable Europeans against the shockwaves of the war, the European Union should also accelerate the energy and green transition.

This is the only way to free ourselves from dependence on Russian fossil fuels in a sustainable manner.

More than ever, we need investment in affordable renewable energies, socially balanced climate measures and a truly holistic approach to cope with devastating natural disasters. The last few summers with extreme drought, fires and floods in many countries reminded us that we have no time to lose.

Reform fiscal rules

To be able to cope with the social and economic shockwaves, Europe also needs to reform its outdated economic governance, including fiscal rules. It should build upon its successful temporary solutions to fight the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, such as the SURE scheme, designed to protect jobs, as well as the historic recovery and resilience fund, NextGenerationEU.

They should be adapted to the new reality and converted into a permanent fiscal capacity as a permanent crisis response tool.

Supporting Ukraine

It goes without saying that the European Union needs to continue supporting Ukraine, not least with sanctions against Putin's regime. We also call on the Commission to work on the strategy to rebuild Ukraine after the war. These investments should go hand in hand with reforms and in line with Ukraine's European path.

Overcoming paralysing unanimity voting in foreign affairs and tax matters

Europe's response to Russia's war against Ukraine has at times shown shortcomings in our decision-making process, both in foreign affairs and tax matters. The European Union has to find other ways — such as a transition to qualified majority voting — to overcome national vetoes and the paralysing impact of unanimity voting, which is preventing us being an effective player on the global stage.

Protecting democracy from extremists

To counter the rise of extreme and anti-democratic forces, we urgently need a comprehensive, permanent and evidence-based EU-wide mechanism to protect democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights. We also need to listen to the citizens and act on the conclusions of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. It is time for Ursula von der Leyen to rise to the challenge. Better late than never.

Author bio

Pedro Marques is vice-chair of the Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament, the largest opposition party, and a Portuguese MEP.


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

Scholz wants majority voting for EU sanctions

In a speech about the future of Europe, the German chancellor argued for majority voting in some policy areas — and institutional reform to prepare for enlargement eastwards.


State of Union and Hungary's democracy in focus This WEEK

MEPs will also hear from Finland's prime minister Sanna Marin on her vision for Europe, and vote for the Renewable Energy Directive on Tuesday, in an effort to cut energy needs and speed up the use of renewable energy.

Brussels 'becoming like Washington' for revolving-doors

'A slow build-up of weak or unethical decision making leads over time to crises that can inflict an enormous human and financial cost', warns the EU Ombudsman writing for EUobserver ahead of Ursula von der Leyen's State of Union speech.

Netherlands tops EU social safety net for the poor

The Netherlands is the only EU state where the minimum income is above the poverty line. A minimum income is not a wage but rather a social safety net to ensure people do not end up destitute.

The fossil-fuel agenda behind EU's carbon-capture plans

The fossil-fuel industry is using the carbon removal agenda to get yet more support for failed carbon capture, which is a key component of the pie-in-the-sky carbon removal technologies being promoted by the EU Commission.


The Iranian regime's expiration date

This 'headscarf revolution' is about women's rights and human rights in general, plus police brutality. Moreover, it is a leaderless revolution that is not driven by a leader or a group, but erupted spontaneously.

News in Brief

  1. Sweden: Nord Stream probe points to 'gross sabotage'
  2. Orbán rails against Russia sanctions at Prague summit
  3. MEPs urge inquiry into Mahsa Amini killing and Iran sanctions
  4. Thousands of Hungarian students and teachers protest
  5. Swedish MEP cuts hair mid-speech to support Iran women
  6. Danish general election called for 1 November
  7. Slovenia legalises gay marriage, adoption
  8. Russia's stand-in EU ambassador reprimanded on Ukraine

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  2. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  3. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  4. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  5. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”

Latest News

  1. What actually happened at the 'most complicated election in the world'?
  2. Europe lays aside quarrels to isolate Putin
  3. Spyware-hacked MEPs still seeking answers
  4. EU leaders discuss gas price cap — amid rationing fear
  5. Germany braces for criticism of national €200bn energy fund
  6. The fossil-fuel agenda behind EU's carbon-capture plans
  7. Four weeks to COP27 — key issues and challenges
  8. EU wants to see US list on Russia financing of politicians

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us