Poul Nyrup Rasmussen's Blog

Archives for Elections

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

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

I keep reading in the media that Barroso’s second term as Commission President is a ‘done deal’.

I disagree.

It’s true that that many Governments are supporting him and so his nomination by the Council for a second term looks likely.

But the Council’s nomination is not sure. It is due to make its nomination on June 18/19 – very likely before a majority in the Parliament has been finalised. A proposal to postpone the Council until later in the month, when a new Parliamentary majority is more likely to be in place, is being resisted by guess who.

Barroso has been lobbying capitals for months if not years to give him a second term and is now is trying ensure that the Council nominates him before they know the majority in the Parliament.
That’s not the behaviour of a man with a done deal.

And why the recent round of media interviews? Is this the behaviour of a man with a done deal, or the act of a man anxious to create the impression of a done deal?

Then there is the much more problematic question of the majority in the Parliament. The FT’s Wolfgang Munchau wrote “If the centre-right wins the elections to the European parliament, as everybody seems to expect, nothing can stop Mr Barroso’s bandwagon.” But whatever anyone expects the centre-right cannot ‘win’ the election. The European conservatives, who have nominated Barroso as their candidate, may say they are going to be the largest group – but even in their wildest dreams they don’t expect a majority. I can state as a matter of fact that on June 8 – the day after the European elections – the European conservatives will not have a majority on their own.

They need other political groups to support them or enter some agreement with them – and they do not have an alliance or a coalition lined up with anyone else for the next Parliament. Getting a majority is not a simple matter. It is hard to imagine the yet to be formed anti-federalist group led by British and Czech Conservatives being in a hurry to pledge their support for Barroso. And even if they were, that would still not deliver a majority. The future of other right of centre groups is uncertain.

I have already explained in a previous blog why we Socialists are much less likely in 2009 to enter an agreement with the Conservatives than we were in 2004. The Greens are supporting a campaign ‘anyone but Barroso’. And why would the Liberals rush into a deal to vote for Barroso? The Liberal former Prime Minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt, who is standing in the European elections, is being touted in some quarters as an alternative to Barroso.

The Parliament looks set to vote on the President of the Commission on July 15. Neither Mr Munchau nor anybody else knows what the majority in the Parliament will be on July 15 as it will be the outcome of negotiations between groups (some of which do not even yet exist, and will take some time to come into being) following the elections. There may not even be a fixed majority.

But I wholly agree with the admirable Mr Munchau when he describes Mr Barroso as “among the weakest Commission presidents ever”.

He says the likelihood of Barroso getting a second term is “very depressing”. I might join Mr Munchau in being depressed if I believed that it’s practically a done deal.
But thankfully it isn’t – it’s spin by Barroso and his supporters.

Posted by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen

Winds of change

We northern Europeans often complain about the blustery, rainy, windy weather that batters our shores, but this climate also offers us great potential to face the economic and environmental storms overhead. That’s because on our very coastlines we have a resource which can provide more energy than the Gulf oilfields and create thousands of jobs, but with zero emissions: wind.

Today the dark clouds of recession and climate change hang heavy over Europe, threatening both our economic present and future. Europe is not doing enough to tackle climate change or to tackle unemployment. Yet making the investments to switch to renewable energy and energy efficiency would create the new jobs that could help lift us out of the crisis.

Europe needs to be bolder. We need ambitious projects and decisive action to invest in ‘green growth’. One particular project has been arousing great interest recently, and affects some of our countries.

The six EU Member States which surround the North Sea – Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, the UK and France – and Norway – should look very closely and seriously at a plan developed by Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) of Rem Koolhaas, which proposes an electricity ‘supergrid’ to connect a series of existing and yet-to-be-built offshore wind turbines. According to the OMA, the Ring would enable fewer connections with the coast, avoiding the necessity of connecting every wind farm with the grid separately, and would massively increase storage capacity. It would cost 200 billion euros and take 40 years to build, and would leave Europe entirely energy self-sufficient.

This is a perfect example of the sort of ambitious ‘green growth’ projects Europe needs to be looking at, the sort of project which requires commitment from regional, national and European levels if it is ever to become a reality. It’s the sort of big thinking that Europe has been missing. It would be a huge mistake for any EU member state to think they can tackle either climate change or the recession on their own. The PES is calling for smart green growth in its manifesto for the European elections because the global scale of climate change, and the scale of the projects needed to fight it, makes European cooperation essential.

Such projects have the potential to deliver a massive blow to the recession. The North Sea Ring would, according to OMA, create 700,000 jobs, not to mention the economic benefits of energy security that it would create.

Despite the recession renewable energies and making houses energy efficient are two industries where production, profits and employment are still growing. In Germany ‘greentech’ already employs more people that either the car industry or the engine-construction industry.

So it can and does work. And green growth is not just limited to the North Sea ring or similar mega projects. Europe also needs to invest in making homes energy efficient, in building electric cars to cut emissions, store energy and renew the car sector, and in adapting and greening energy grids to transport wind and solar power to all corners of the continent.

But it wont happen on its own. It needs public support, it needs Government support at all levels including at the European level, and it needs political will. Today activists, candidates, MEPs and national and local politicians from the PES political family are holding the third in our historic series of European Days of Action, on the topic “Transforming Europe into the leading global force against climate change”.

That’s because we think a progressive majority in the next European Parliament is essential to get projects like the North Sea Ring, and the European cooperation it needs, moving.

Posted by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen

The Party of European Socialists is planning to have a strong presence at the European Trade Union Confederation ‘Fight the crisis: put the people first’ demonstration in Brussels today.

Unfortunately I can’t be there in person but our Party’s Secretary General Philip Cordery will lead our delegation which will be joined by European election candidates and party members from Belgium, France and beyond for the march through Brussels city centre.

The ETUC, under the leadership of my good friend John Monks, has an excellent declaration demanding a ‘New Social Deal for Europe’. I completely agree that Europe needs a New Social Deal.

I have met many trade unionists from France, from my own country Denmark and from other countries in recent weeks who are deeply worried about their jobs and their future. The crisis is a devastating blow, and one which comes after many difficult years in which the gap between rich and poor has been getting bigger, and in which trade union and workers’ rights have been undermined in the name of competitiveness. Unemployment is set to hit 27 million next year across Europe. It’s simply unacceptable.

And what has the European Commission been doing? Under the conservative leadership of José Manuel Barroso it has refused to sort out the confusion about workers rights and collective agreements created by recent European Court of Justice judgements. It is not making the case for new investments to safeguard jobs and create new employment despite the fact that the current, and inadequate, European Recovery Plan was made last year before the economy started going into reverse. Instead Barroso prefers to make out that the Recovery Plan is much bigger than it really is! The recent EU so-called Employment Summit was a non-event that proposed no serious steps to safeguard jobs or to create new ones.

It’s about time Europe showed some leadership in tackling the crisis and acknowledged that workers rights and social justice should always come before the single market. That’s why the ETUC is right to call for a New Social Deal for Europe.

Many of the demands made by the ETUC, such as an expanded recovery programme, effective regulation of financial markets and equal pay for posted workers, are already in our PES manifesto for the European elections. Not only are the ETUC’s demands reflected in our manifesto but several of them are featured in the actions we demand should be taken in the first 100 days of the new European Parliament. That’s why we need a stronger PES in the European Parliament after the June 7 elections.

The European Conservatives have the cheek to claim in their manifesto that they stress the importance of workers rights and trade unions. They have a funny way of showing it! But I can tell you in all seriousness that at the Party of European Socialists we really do value our relationship with the ETUC.

As a former trade unionist, and as President of the Party of European Socialists, I am with you, and I am delighted that there will be many PES party members shoulder to shoulder with the trade union movement on today’s demonstration.

 

Posted by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen