Europe, Headlines

Q&A: European Election Brings a Wake-Up Call

Mario de Queiroz and Miren Gutierrez* interview MARIO SOARES, former Portuguese President

LISBON, Jun 3 2009 (IPS) - Global house prices are diving further, unemployment in the 16 countries using the euro increased in April to its highest level in almost ten years, and Eurozone Gross Domestic Product is expected to shrink by 1.9 percent during 2009…

Mario Soares Credit: Fundação Mário Soares

Mario Soares Credit: Fundação Mário Soares

So what is Europe doing about it? Voters among the European Union's 500 million people in 27 countries will be casting their ballots Jun. 4-7 to choose their representatives to the European Parliament for the next five years. The new Parliament will set the tone and pace of European policies in the face of the crisis.

Socialist Mario Soares thinks these elections are crucial, and that the socialists of Europe should put up a presidential candidate for the European Commission who can implement their anti-crisis plan.

Soares was the first Premier of democratic Portugal from 1976 to 1978, again from 1983 to 1985, and then President from 1986 to 1996. Even his critics admit that his main accomplishment was to turn public opinion around and to negotiate Portugal's entry into the EU in 1986. Portugal at the time was suspicious of integration into the EU.

Soares wrote recently about the financial crisis and the position of the Socialists of Europe. He responded to IPS in line with some of his analysis.

IPS: What has been the difference of response to the financial crisis between the U.S. and Europe? MARIO SOARES: The current global crisis is the worst since 1929, and will be a prolonged one. But some positive signals are now coming from the U.S., which is focussing its efforts on the real economy.

Barack Obama is saying that we only will overcome this crisis by taking measures that ordinary citizens understand because those measures meet their needs and aspirations, involving social and environmental changes, and also punishment of those who are guilty of greed.

In contrast, the European Union, governed by actors of the past – some of them close to former U.S. president George Bush — has not been able to agree on a coordinated plan to respond to this crisis. This was the final outcome of the London G20 Summit on Apr. 2. It seems most of the European leaders just want to change the minimum possible to keep things as they are.

IPS: The U.N. will soon hold a conference on the world financial and economic crisis. What should the European position be? MS: Europe should present a united front. I always believed in the U.N. for the resolution of major global problems, but without Europe the world will hardly emerge from the global crisis affecting us. Without a concerted anti- crisis strategy, no European country by itself will be capable of overcoming the global crisis, not even the larger one, Germany, and the EU will enter a period of decadence.

The U.S. of Barack Obama has understood this, even though the U.S. has not yet emerged from the crisis. In contrast, the EU, divided, without an assertive leadership and lacking a clear path, is being marginalised, with negative repercussions for all European countries.

IPS: How do you see the Socialists of Europe reacting in the face of the crisis? MS: The Party of European Socialists (PES) has understood the situation, and in a declaration signed by all the 27 (Socialist) European leaders, they pointed out seven priorities to overcome this crisis: stronger and coordinated plans for investment; restoring banks lending to companies and people; safeguarding jobs and creating new ones; fighting poverty and supporting low-income groups who are losing their incomes and houses.

We also need to eliminate bank secrecy and tax havens, where top managers and wealthy people have been hiding their exorbitant profits. We also need to have transparency to avoid speculative financial and commercial transactions.

As the crisis is global and multi-dimensional – not only financial and economic, it also affects energy, the environment and food security – we need to ensure solidarity between countries, paving the way for a Global New Deal and reforming the international financial institutions, which have become obsolete.

These simple ideas were presented in the Declaration of the Party of European Socialists. They concur with the proposals made by the International Trade Unions Confederation to the G20. But although all the European socialist leaders have subscribed to this Declaration, few of them have discussed the ideas with their parties or in the international meetings they attend.

IPS: Why should Europeans care about it? MS: The policies have to change, and the European electors have to understand this clearly. However, European citizens are largely indifferent to the elections in all 27 member states because they have not seen convincing proposals to change and overcome the crisis. In these conditions, why should they vote?

From my viewpoint, only the left is in condition to overcome this crisis, and has concrete and systemic proposals. This is unhappily not the case of the right-wing parties, notably the parties which have abandoned Christian- democracy and have become popular parties, in line with the U.S. Republicans and with Bush, in particular.

IPS: So, if that is the situation, the socialists can present a strong case at the elections… MS: The European Popular Party has appointed Jose Manuel Barroso as candidate to the presidency of the European Commission. Barroso was the host of the Azores Summit, which green-lighted the invasion of Iraq.

However, three leaders and heads of government – Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Gordon Brown and Jose Socrates, heads of government in Spain, the United Kingdom and Portugal – have announced that their parties are ready to vote with the European Popular Party to elect Barroso.

I am asking: how is it possible? Because of national politics reasons, because of personal and political agreements? Does this mean that the ideological reasons do not count? This is a situation that means a kind of political suicide for the PES, and which will likely damage the outcome in the European elections.

As socialist, former member of the European Parliament and honorary President of the Socialist International, I think that I should protest and send a wake-up call. This is about the future of Europe, about a new and effective cooperation with the U.S. of Barack Obama, and about defeating a crisis that is hitting billions of human beings.

We should have the courage to be coherent European and internationalist socialists. We should not let the hope of democratic socialism die, refusing to present a candidate from the PES. These candidates exist.

*Miren Gutierrez is IPS Editor-in-Chief.

(Not for publication in Italy.)

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