Poul Nyrup Rasmussen's Blog

Last week, I attended the PES Social Europe Network – a group of prominent PES policy-makers chaired by my colleague and good friend Alejandro Cercas – for a discussion of what I think is one of the most serious and yet most sidelined issues of the day: unemployment (read the report of the meeting pdf).

I decided to dedicate a blog post to this because the current European discussion about an exit strategy is extremely worrying. The unemployment crisis has just begun. Over 5 million young people are already unemployed. Economists warn that we risk losing an entire generation of people to poverty and unemployment, and they are not exaggerating. Overall, it is likely that by 2010 more than 30 million people will be unemployed.

The surge in unemployment that we expect will not only increase social exclusion. It will jeopardise future growth prospects; it will endanger the sustainability of public finances through increased welfare payments; it will reduce the total level of demand, sending our economies into a negative spiral.

You might ask: why then isn’t everyone demanding co-ordinated policies for job creation? Because the agenda is currently dominated by other issues. The conservatives are now asking for an exit strategy from the recovery programs. But make no mistake: with the unemployment and social crises flaring up, it is not the time for an exit strategy. What we need is an entry strategy into the labour market.

Such an entry strategy must include carefully thought-out policies, based on a European strategy for smart green growth. Such a strategy could create 10 million new jobs by 2020 – with two million in the renewable sector alone. Meanwhile, investment in green jobs could serve to reduce raw material and energy costs, thus making European products more competitive, to transform European transport, to expand energy and broadband infrastructure, and to raise the EU’s global research and innovation profile.

Practically speaking this could be achieved by reforming the Lisbon Strategy into a ten-year economic, social, employment and environmental long term recovery and development programme for the EU.

At the same time, the strategy should be embedded in a policy-mix that would include active labour market policies. What is more, all European programmes should be examined – in the context of a European Pact for the Future of Employment – to see how jobs can be safeguarded and created.

Our political family has a unique burden of responsibility: we are the only political family in Europe that has recognised the grave danger of increasing unemployment with all its human, social, economic consequences, and has at the same time put forward a realistic framework for a solution. I invite you to read our discussion paper pdf on the entry strategy into the labour market and share your views with us.

Posted by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen

After a fruitful meeting with the Americans for Financial Reform, I briefly met Richard Trumka, the newly elected President of AFL CIO – the largest federation of trade unions in North America – and delivered a speech at a meeting with the ITUC. Here is the message I conveyed to our American friends:

The outcome of the upcoming G20 summit will be judged on what it can do to create jobs. Whether we take our cues from the OECD’s warnings, from top mainstream economists, or simply from observation, the unfolding menace to our economies is one: the financial crisis has been transformed into a jobs crisis.

This makes talk of an ill-thought "exit strategy" all the more dangerous. We must be honest: we are not confronted with a U-turn into growth simply because some journalists choose to talk about "green shoots". Unemployment remains alarmingly high. If we are to avert the prospect of seeing the number of unemployed climb even higher, we must remain firm. This is no time for pulling back from stimulus and investment.

If our economies were to plunge into a protracted slowdown, there is no telling when we would emerge and at what cost for our societies. One thing is for certain: we do not need an "exit strategy" from the stimulus packages – we need an "entry strategy" for the labour market. The primary goal for the G20 should be a commitment to creating sustainable jobs.

Afterall, it is also a matter of fairness, and justice. We will not allow workers to pay for this crisis twice: first by bailing out banks, and then by suffering cuts in public services and social protection.

The second commitment therefore, should be to ensure a decent life for workers as we come out of the crisis.

Finally, we must insist on proceeding all together. In an interconnected globe, a decision by some countries to go another way would spell trouble for everyone.

Of course, the G20 summit will also be about reforming our financial systems. The purpose of these reforms should be to avoid another such financial crisis in the future.

Industry lobbyists and the media are announcing that finance is ‘back in business’.

But finance shouldn’t go back to business as usual. In the absence of reform, even more crippling crises may develop in the years to come.

It is time to say openly that as things stand, finance just doesn’t work. Not without consumer protection, to protect families and their homes. Not without regulation of bonuses and renumeration, to protect our economies from short-termism and excessive risk-taking. Not without strong direct supervision of banks, hedge funds and private equity to prevent speculation and the reckless behaviour that brought us to where we are today.

It is time for brave measures that can ensure that financial services serve the real economy, such as a financial transaction tax. We are well-prepared for it, with a comprehensive study: a 0.05% share of financial transactions would allow for fair burden sharing and would by itself finance thousands of new jobs.

Posted by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen

President Barack Obama is still strong and very convincing when he talks. He is sending a clear message as when I saw him during his inauguration in Washington.

Yesterday, during Bill Clinton’s global initiative conference, his message was again very clear and firm. Nobody can do it alone. We must cooperate. And permit ourselves to create more jobs, to make it sustainable, to unite climate policy and smart green growth. That is why Europe must support the US president during the G20 here in Pittsburgh. When Obama talks about the necessity for sustainable growth and new jobs, we should make a clear new common commitment. We must support him from the European side. On behalf of the PES, I fully agree with him.

That is why the European governments should abstain from pulling back their financial packages and stimulus. We do not need an exit strategy to be implemented now. The risk for further increase in unemployment would be alarming. What we need is an entry strategy for the labour market, for the millions of unemployed people.

His second message was on financial reforms. We must also here be united, to create a new fundamental set of rules to limit greediness, irresponsibility, shadow banking asset stripping of our companies, tax avoidance. This has to be done in strong cooperation on both sides of the Atlantic. When I look at the lobbyists in Europe, especially hedge funds and private equity managers, I am only confirmed in the necessity of a strong progressive cooperation between the PES and Europe and our American labour unions and democrats.

Reading the papers over here, listening to the debates, I wish so much that we could help the president and all progressives in the US in their struggle for the health care reform. In a sense, this has to be done in our common interest but also as a new step forward on the road to change: Climate, energy, jobs and financial reforms. We must go on telling the American middle class that this health care reform will not increase but lower their health costs and that they will have a better society.

 

Posted by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen

José Manuel Barroso sent European Parliament political groups his five year programme last week in his bid to be re-elected Commission President for a second term. This is in the run-up to tomorrow’s hearings in the Parliament where he will try to convince MEPs that he’s the right person to lead Europe in these times of crisis.

But on the evidence of his programme, Barroso has stumbled on the first hurdle. A close analysis shows that 95% of its statements and proposals are taken from old Commission initiatives. It is business as usual, with no European vision on how to tackle the massive challenges we’re facing.

We’re facing a historic economic crisis: eight million people have already lost their jobs and 30 million Europeans could be unemployed by 2011. But Barroso thinks we can continue as before, with an outdated recovery plan and no new European initiatives. There’s no commitment to an ambitious, new strategy to fight mass unemployment for our citizens. There’s no vision of how to avert a catastrophic decline in Europe’s prospects and living standards for years to come.

Where is his vision for a new economic paradigm to replace the mistaken policies of the past?

What we do in the next five years will be the difference between success and failure for the entire European project and – I fear – the future welfare of our societies. Europe’s citizens deserve better than business as usual.

We need real commitments and leadership now, not the same old warm words. Barroso has his work cut out tomorrow.

Read PES President assessment of José Manuel Barroso’s programme pdf

Posted by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen

Steps to renewal

We had a disappointing result in the European elections – but we’re not giving up, with unemployment shooting up we have plenty to fight for. We now face the least progressive European Parliament in its history, with a far more eurosceptic and nationalist right-wing than ever before, and risk seeing a more assertively right-wing European Commission – but we are fighting back! We have already ensured that there will be proper consultation, as we demanded, with the Parliament in the nomination of a European Commission President.

Our group in the European Parliament has consolidated its position as the second biggest force in the Parliament by bringing in the new Italian ‘Partito Democratico’ – creating a new group: the “Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament”. This is a good decision which I fully support and have been working for over recent months. To clear up one thing that seems to have caused a bit of misunderstanding among some PES activists: the Group’s decision will not in any way compromise the name or identity of the Party of European Socialists. We remain committed to building a stronger PES with the support of PES activists and defining a clear and strong political project to meet the ever greater challenges facing citizens. As I have said before we need more PES, not less PES.

I don’t accept that the European elections result are proof of some terminal crisis for social democracy, but there is no doubt that social democracy must renew itself. The values on which we have based more than a century of political struggles and achievements must remain our inspiration. We must learn how to reach out better to people, to those who feel excluded and disenfranchised by today’s politics, connecting to their fears and dreams. We must work closer together than we ever have done before among social democratic and socialist parties across Europe. And we should be open to progressive ideas and people beyond the formal limits of our parties. See my article which was published in the French newspaper Libération and the Flemish paper De Morgen.

A first step on the road to renewal, after bringing on board the Italian Democrats, is our PES activists forum in Dublin where more than 250 grassroots party members from all over Europe will get together to debate the future of the left in Europe, including how to build up PES activists. I cant stress enough how important PES activists are for a progressive future. PES activists are a foundation on which we must build a stronger European party.

Another step will be taken at our Congress in Prague in December where we will launch a new phase of thinking for the PES and strengthening our PES party.

But there are more immediate battles to fight right now. The economic crisis is getting worse: growth is being revised downwards month on month, and unemployment is rising dramatically. Talk of green shoots is premature. Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt used the first day of his EU Presidency to say there should be no further fiscal stimulus to fight the recession. We will see 27 million unemployed next year – 10 million jobs lost in two years! Our priority must be jobs, jobs, jobs. We must focus on recovery, and campaign and argue for a stronger European recovery plan.

Posted by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen

We said it before the election, and after the election we are saying exactly the same: the PES cannot support a reelection of Barroso.

Now more than ever, Europe needs a fundamental change of direction and real crisis management. After the election, the PES is the second largest group in the European Parliament, and we are by no means the only ones who oppose another five years of Barroso. He is the candidate of the EPP and now, as before, his reelection is far from being a ‘done deal’.

Things must be done properly, transparently, and in full respect of the European Parliament. An early appointment would undermine both the next Commission and the next European Parliament:

We must remember that parliamentary ratification of the Lisbon Treaty has been completed in 26 member states. Taking decisions on the next Commission and its President before the autumn Irish referendum would mean doing so under two different treaties – Lisbon and Nice – seriously damaging its legitimacy.

Meanwhile this would also mean total lack of respect of the European Parliament: the European Council needs to postpone its plans to make a decision at the June 18th – 19th summit in order to respect the role of the Parliament – democratically chosen by millions of European voters just days ago – in the composition of the new Commission. After all, in its resolution of 7th May 2009, the Parliament (led by EPP rapporteur Jean-Luc Dehaene) clearly states that it insists on being fully consulted prior to any European Council nomination of a President to the European Commission. That’s why we must allow time: for the new Parliament to be established, for likely candidates to emerge, and for the treaty under which the next Commission will operate to become clear.

So let’s do things correctly, democratically and coherently – with full democratic legitimacy.

Posted by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen

While we await the final results of the European elections, it is obvious our socialist and social democratic family had a disappointing result.

We face a more conservative European Parliament, with a right that is more euro-sceptic and more nationalistic than before.

The low participation rate was a huge problem, especially for us. Our voters stayed away. They simply didn’t see the relevance of these elections. They did not see the political choices at European level – perhaps not surprising since these elections were mainly fought over national political disputes.

We had a European alternative, but it was not visible enough. Europe still needs a new direction. We are in the middle of a recession, and it will not go away. Wage earners are not to blame but they may end up paying the price. We will have 27 million unemployed next year unless we have a new and stronger European recovery effort. So we will continue our fight for more and better-coordinated investments in new jobs, and to save jobs. We will continue to stand up for social justice and equality. We will continue our fight for a global new deal, including a new strong global climate agreement in the coming months.

We have suffered a loss but we remain the second largest group in the European Parliament. We lost 3 percentage points overall, but we gained in ten member states including in the Czech Republic, in Sweden, in Greece and in Ireland where we are in opposition, and in Slovakia and Slovenia where we are in Government.

We need to reflect, and for our common European party to come forward with a renewed strategy and new ideas. But I say no to those who announce a profound crisis in European socialism. European citizens still depend on social democratic values for decent work, good schools, good health care and a clean environment. Europe still needs a society where everyone can participate, contribute and benefit. This is no time for dismantling our welfare states, it is time for strengthening them.

The centre-right cannot claim a victory for their policies. People are still worried abut the crisis, and the crisis remains our number one priority.

The far-right made worrying gains in the elections. People still need us to stand up for respect and tolerance for all, and to continue to fight to protect all workers from the recession.

We need more PES, not less PES. We will make new efforts to strengthen our European political party because we must engage more than ever as a political family in European politics.

Posted by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen

Final call to vote

The European elections have now started in the UK and the Netherlands and by Sunday evening will be completed in all 27 EU member countries.

The elections are a vote on the policy, direction and leadership of the European Union. It is the Parliament that will vote on the next President of the Commission.

A vote for the Conservatives is a vote for business as usual. It is a vote for not doing enough to fight the crisis. It is a vote for the current European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, a conservative, to get another five years in charge of the European Commission. A prospect which even one well-respected Financial Times columnist described as ‘very depressing’.

A vote for the Socialists is a vote for a change, a vote for a new direction for Europe. It is a vote for a new recovery plan for Europe, which is plainly not possible with the current Commission President. It is a vote for a new majority in the European Parliament: a majority that will ensure a new leadership and a new direction. The PES is the only party that can deliver this change, the only party around which a new majority can be built. The PES has set out a number of steps it wants to take in the first hundred days of the new Parliament including a strong, new recovery plan, an Employment pact to safeguard jobs, and action to prevent a rise in poverty and inequality.

Don’t believe those who say that Barroso’s second term is a ‘done deal’. The conservatives cannot get a majority on their own, and no one has ever suggested they could.

So there is still everything to vote for. Don’t stay at home. Your vote really does count!

Posted by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen

By Poul Nyrup Rasmussen,
President of the Party of European Socialists

You choose – but please don’t throw your vote away!

Like it or not, Europe is a part of your government, and Brussels is one of the seats of your democracy. There’s the Town Hall, regional government, national parliament and the European Union with its directly elected European Parliament.

You probably feel more attached to your national parliament than to the European Parliament. But ask yourself: can your country tackle the economic crisis on its own? Can your country combat climate change on its own? Can your country fight the trafficking of women, children, drugs and arms on its own? These problems need action at every level – local, regional, national as well as European. Like it or not the European Parliament makes laws affecting our everyday lives, laws that change the world around us.

So the European elections on 4-7 June are your chance to influence how Europe – the largest economy in the world – develops over the next five years. And what a five years it is going to be! We are in the deepest global recession since the 1930s: unemployment will reach 27 million in 2010 with dramatic consequences for people all over Europe. We need to start getting serious about the global climate and energy crisis, and address urgent humanitarian crises in the developing world. These are all areas where Europe can make a difference.

Don’t be fooled by those who say that Europe is a bureaucracy you can’t influence. It’s simply not true: all the decisions are all taken by elected politicians – directly-elected national governments who make the decisions in the ‘European Council’ and the directly-elected European Parliament. The European Commissioners are chosen by those governments and voted on by the European Parliament.

The last five years have, at European Union level, been conservative years – with conservatives as the largest force in all EU decision-making bodies. My view is that they were failed years but it is up to make your own mind up.

The direction offered by us socialists and social democrats is clear. We have set out steps to fight the recession we want taken in the first hundred days following the European elections, including:

1. A new, strong recovery plan for Europe, with coordinated investments in jobs and green growth.
2. A European Employment Pact to safeguard employment, and strengthen workers’ rights, working conditions and equal pay
3. A new Women’s Rights Charter to improve all women’s rights and opportunities
4. A Social Progress Pact to tackle the social consequences of the crisis, preventing a rise in poverty and inequality
5. Effective regulation and supervision of the financial markets
6. New mutual solidarity across European member states

And the elections are not just a choice about the make up of the next Parliament. If the conservatives form a majority after the election, José Manuel Barroso, the current President of the European Commission, will get a second five-year term. If we can form a progressive majority in the European Parliament he will not.

So there is a good reason to vote: you are faced with a real political choice.

It may be tempting to stay at home. Going to the voting station takes time and effort. But don’t think that not voting makes no difference. By staying at home you give the extremists a better chance of being elected and you could end up with an MEP who in no way shares your values, and who will not represent you. The racists, the nationalists and the anti-Europeans have contributed nothing to the important decisions that the European Parliament has taken in the past, and won’t in the future. They are marginalised and isolated by their inability to cooperate across national boundaries.

A vote for the extremists is a wasted vote, and a wasted vote is a vote for the extremists.

So I appeal to all women and men – please don’t stay at home on European elections day. Use your vote to make your choice of the direction you think Europe should take over the next five years.

 

Posted by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen

Post sent by activists from Paris-Est

Ce WE, l’équipe socialiste de Vincennes était au RDV de l’Europe et quel RDV ! Grâce au dynamisme de notre jeune secrétaire de section, nous avons organisé une réunion publique avec Pervenche Berès, Candidate n°2 de la liste PS en Ile-de-France et Présidente de la Commission des Affaires Economiques et Monétaires au Parlement Européen.

Entre 75 et 80 personnes étaient présentes malgré le départ en long WE de beaucoup de parisiens, le lundi 1er étant férié.

La grande salle que nous avons utilisée a été décorée avec les drapeaux des 27 pays d’Europe et un buffet a été dressé dans la cour avec des boissons et des snacks pour accueillir les personnes dont certaines sont venues des villes voisines.

Le thème de la réunion était « Que propose la social-démocratie européenne pour faire face à la crise? ».

Deux points ont été traités, le premier : Que propose le PSE pour faire face à la crise ? et qui mieux que Pervenche pour nous parler de ce sujet qu’elle maîtrise à merveille et pour répondre à la série de questions qui ont suivi. Ensuite un deuxième point sur l’Europe sociale, les actions effectuées au sein du PSE et les propositions de demain.

Les questions ont fusé et le débat a continué tard dans la soirée. Nous avons fini avec un pot et Pervenche a continué à répondre à beaucoup de questions sur différents sujets allant du problème du fret, au but du vote européen ou à la question du budget du parlement.

RDV donc après les élections pour continuer de parler des sujets qui tiennent à cœur de nos citoyens que ce soit à Bruxelles ou à Vincennes.

Posted by editor