Social Europe: regain citizens' trust with bold new actions


Picture of Elisabeth Guigou
Elisabeth Guigou

President of the Anna Lindh Foundation, former French Minister and Trustee of Friends of Europe

The success of the National Front in France’s European elections last spring lies in the fact that the far-right party managed to bring together xenophobia and social anxiety. This mixture seduced people deeply affected by unemployment, precarious living conditions, and lack of hope in the future.

Those voters have the impression of paying for mistakes made by the banks and by a financial system they see out of control. There is a very deep feeling of injustice between those who pay their taxes and those who evade them (both individuals and companies alike). This feeling is strengthened by the impression that the elites, and in particular the political class, are at best powerless to deal with the situation, and in the worst case, actually implicated.

This social distress and this exasperation demand a strong political response, particularly from EU policies. A renewed Europe of social progress can help us regain the trust of the people. They expect, rightly, that the European Union must tackle their daily concerns, and firstly youth unemployment. The fact that one-quarter of young Europeans are jobless is a real scandal.

Another priority should be putting an end to social dumping. How? Through creation of a minimum wage in each Member State of the European Union. Today, 21 of 28 member States have established a minimum wage, with very significant disparities (157€ per month in Romania, 1874€ in Luxembourg). There’s a simple criterion that could be used for reducing the gap: let’s set every minimum wage at 60% of the median wage in each country, a rate that could bring consensus. This will have the advantage of supporting economic activity across the European Union. It is urgent to sustain growth – especially through investments – to avoid the very real economic and political danger of a deflationary spiral.

Contrary to what the Europhobes keep saying, people do not want less Europe, but more and better Europe. The social dimension of the Union must be integrated into all common policies. A “Social clause” was established by Article 9 of what is now the Lisbon Treaty that governs the EU. It must be fully implemented. It took a lot of pugnacity for Laszlo Andor, Commissioner for Social Affairs, to succeed in reintroducing the Social Indicators, deleted by the José Manuel Barroso in the 2000’s. We must go further.

The progress of Social Europe must be accompanied by a better tax harmonisation. We have been waiting for too long. The fiscal union should not remain a utopia much longer. I remember François Mitterrand – 26 years ago in Evian! – offering Helmut Kohl a Tax harmonisation to prevent the revenues, particularly on savings, to escape taxation. For Europe, the scourge of fraud and tax evasion represents a shortfall of 1.000 billion euros per year. We cannot accept this situation while European people are redoubling their efforts and sacrifices to overcome the crisis.

Europe can embody a different model of world power. It can establish itself as an economic and social power based on sustainable development and the reduction of inequalities in Europe and worldwide. In these difficult times, Europe requires no less ambition.

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