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LISBON, Apr 28 2009 (IPS) - The first good news regarding the economic crisis is arriving from the United States, about certain improvements in the banking sector as well (Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Morgan Chase, etc). For now, they are but faint signs. But Barack Obama continues to fight on all fronts, with rigour and courage.

In contrast, in the European Union there is a marked lack of responsible leaders. Those now in power fail to identify both the causes of the crisis and possible solutions and are incapable of agreeing on a coherent, forward-looking European plan. Certain observers fear the worst -even the breakup of the EU project- and although I do not count myself among them, I regard the situation as particularly grave.

European elections are set for the first days of June, and given the lack of new ideas and the anaemia of the debate among the contending parties, a low turnout is expected. The electorate doesn’t believe that the current leaders can solve the problems that now face them, finding them instead indifferent and unconcerned.

In this context, on March 19, with an eye on the then-imminent G20 summit, the European Socialist Party, led by union leader and ex-prime minister of Denmark Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, presented a statement that all European socialist leaders endorsed -although they didn’t take it into account later. A similar proposal from the European Confederation of Unions met the same fate. Wilful blindness is the worst form of the condition.

However, if we are to survive this crisis, there is a need for policies from the left that address the underling problems: rising unemployment, the lack of credit that is devastating small and medium-size businesses, and the increase in poverty. In the absence of efficient social and environmental policies that are tangible to the people, there can be no restoration of the confidence of the citizens of Europe. And without confidence there will be no way to overcome the depression.

The declaration of the European Socialist Party presents of a seven-point plan to address the crisis:

-A significant increase in investment, especially to stimulate the economy and provide money to the banks so they can extend credit to those who need it most;

-More credit providers that would operate on the condition that they dedicate their activities to assuring the revival of the real economy and not financial speculation;

-A social pact for employment that would be financed with European social funds and regional development funds;

-A pact for social progress directed towards avoiding new divisions in Europe;

-A policy of economic solidarity among the 27 EU member states that would involve assistance to those countries that need help most and would be coordinated by the European Commission in strict collaboration with members as well as the International Monetary Fund.

-A concerted global effort of all states to stimulate a more safe and sustainable form of economic growth; financial normalisation on the basis of better and ethically-grounded regulation of the system; working to assure that the Doha Round of trade talks lead to a new trade order that benefits all countries and stresses the solidarity of rich nations with poor nations; and the elimination of tax havens and secrecy in banking.

-And finally, the fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals by the target date of 2015.

The European Socialist Party holds that with this programme it will be possible to weather the economic crisis and at the same time use the opportunity to fashion a better and more just future. The socialists are running on this platform in the elections for European Parliament, which are set for 4-7 June. Socialist, social democrat, and labour candidates can win this challenge, but to do so they must win the confidence of the electorate and convince it they will fulfil their promises.

The European Popular Party, the umbrella group of the right-wing parties, has already endorsed current European Union president Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, whom they will fight to reelect. They want more of the same, in other words.

But that is a matter for the right. For voters on the left, what is unacceptable and would be a colossal and incomprehensible error is the position adopted by three European prime ministers -Gordon Brown of the UK, Spain’s Jose Manuel Rodriguez Zapatero, and Portugal’s Jose Socrates- who have all endorsed Barroso as well.

Is this an ideological renunciation for personal or national reasons? The Socialist Party would be shirking its responsability if it didn’t present a socialist candidate, and there is certainly no shortage of qualified contenders, some excellent.

The leaders mentioned must respond to their obligations, and if they don’t they will be responsible for a decisive electoral loss, in addition to which they would leave the European Union without the leadership it needs to cooperate closely with the US under Obama to overcome the crisis. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Mario Soares is ex-president and ex-prime minister of Portugal

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