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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

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

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

Few can doubt that the figures on the state of the European economy are grim. GDP in the Eurozone fell by 2.5% between January and March this year. In Germany, Europe’s largest economy, it fell by 3.8%; on an annual basis that is enough to wipe out the cumulative growth of every year since 1999. Make no mistake: this economic crisis is immensely destructive.

This should surely be enough to spur conservative leaders such as Commission President Barroso, Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy into action. But they, along with other conservatives who dominate the European institutions and lead most of the EU’s national governments, believe that Europe has done enough. They think that welfare payments to the growing number of unemployed represent a stimulus to the European economy. The Party of European Socialists strongly disagrees: we are calling for a new strong and progressive recovery strategy with real investments in jobs and new green growth. That is the alternative we are presenting to Europe’s people at the European elections of 4-7 June.

The appalling economic statistics are not just figures on a piece of paper. They represent the suffering and misery of millions of people who are in no way responsible for the economic crisis, yet are the ones paying the price. We are heading towards 27 million unemployed, 80 million in poverty, and millions more facing a deeply uncertain future. But this is not inevitable: we can make a difference. People are right to demand action to stop this devastating social crisis.

The stories of ordinary Europeans document the reality behind the statistics.

Take Wojtek from Wrocław, in Poland. Wojtek used to work as an accountant, but was made unemployed. Although he is 57 he cannot retire as has not been in work for a sufficient number of years, having never been hired on a permanent contract. His wife is already a pensioner, but her pension is not enough for the two of them to live on. He says there are few opportunities to learn new skills and he is afraid that he will not get a new job.

, also from Wroclaw, is a young professional working for a small company, and although she has not yet been made unemployed, her husband Robert recently lost his job in a shop selling household goods, meaning that the couple has had to move back in with their parents.

 

John is the Director of a Mental Health NGO in Dublin where unemployment has reached an unprecedented 10.4%. Local employment services report that their infrastructure is under enormous strain, with queues outside welfare offices, and delays of up to six weeks in processing benefits claims. John and his team are dealing with the effects of mounting job losses, debt and insecurity. They have recorded a 20% increase in calls to their help lines over the past year. John is campaigning for more government funding in this area, pointing to the Labour government over the border in the UK, which in March announced £175 million in additional support to help health services cope with the psychological effects of the economic crisis.

These are just three stories which reflect the desperate need for investments to stimulate the economy and create new jobs, the desperate need for intelligent work-sharing, and new retraining facilities, and for more support for the most vulnerable. But the conservatives in power across Europe are simply not delivering. Look at comparable economies: the US is investing 5.9% of GDP in recovery, China 8% and even Norway is investing 2.3%, The EU, in contrast – the world’s largest economy – is investing just 1%.

There is an alternative. The Party of European Socialists has a clear and bold plan: a seven-step strategy for the first 100 days after the European election, including a strong recovery plan, a European Employment Pact, a Social Progress Pact, effective regulation of the financial markets, new mutual solidarity between Member States and a European roadmap to a global new deal.

We want a Europe which fights for ordinary people, people such as Wojtek, Anna, Robert and John whose stories typify the hard realities of this economic crisis. It’s time for a new direction for Europe: it’s time to put people first.

 

By Poul Nyrup Rasmussen

President of the Party of European Socialists

Posted by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen

Today is Europe Day, the annual celebration of European integration.

It marks the day in 1950 on which the Schuman Declaration was signed, launching the Coal and Steel Community: the start of what we now call the European Union. The declaration included a commitment to "the equalisation and improvement of the living conditions of workers". It is this commitment to the welfare of all that makes our Europe unique in the world. Our welfare states, including European-wide rights for consumers and workers, offer a level of protection that exists almost no-where else.

But on Europe Day 2009 Europeans are in no mood to celebrate. The financial crisis threatening our savings and pensions has been superceded by economic crisis threatening our jobs. The rising food and energy prices we suffered before the financial and economic crisis came on top of years of attacks on our social and public services and a widening gap between rich and poor.

There is a growing belief among citizens that Europe, which has had a conservative majority in all EU institutions for the last five years, puts the market before people. I believe that we must put workers rights and social rights before competition rules.

With unemployment looming towards 27 million next year, and 74 million Europeans already living below the poverty line, Europe’s future is at the crossroads. There is a real risk of deep and permanent divides in our societies. We must put the fight for social justice back at the heart of European politics. We need to do much more to tackle the worst inequalities, protect and create jobs and actively support those without work.

The European conservatives say in their manifesto that a high level of social contributions "is a handicap for the creation of wealth". We disagree and we can prove it: the most competitive economies in Europe are Sweden and Denmark, with the highest levels of social protection and the highest taxes. According to the World Economic Forum, they are the third and fourth most competitive economies in the world. They are the first and third most income-equal societies in the world. They come fourth and seventh on the Global Innovation Index. They consistently top quality of life rankings.

Conservatives have made it quite clear that they think globalisation means we need to work longer hours, lower costs, slash spending and dilute social services. We disagree.

Our manifesto for the European elections promotes social justice by making 12 concrete proposals for a ‘New Social Europe’ including decent minimum wages in all EU countries, protecting public services, strengthening rights to collective bargaining, and fair tax policies to guarantee the financing of our welfare states.

It is not just a difference in rhetoric. Take a look at the votes in the European Parliament. When European Socialists voted to exclude social services from the infamous Services Directive, the conservatives voted against. When European socialists voted for an average 48 hour working week with no opt outs the conservatives voted against. When European socialists voted for a new directive against discrimination outside the workplace the conservatives voted against. Just this week Conservatives refused to vote for strengthening rights to maternity leave.

To highlight the need to put social justice back at the heart of Europe the PES is organizing, today on Europe Day, a ‘Day of Action’ across Europe on the theme ‘giving people a fairer deal’ with meetings, debates and street campaigning in at least fourteen. You can follow action via live blogging and twittering on our website http://elections2009.pes.org/

In the European elections in June you can express your choice of the direction you wish Europe to take. Our future is at stake …

Posted by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen