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