4th Feb 2023


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)
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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.

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  • 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.

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