La rentrée: Martin Schirdewan fears Crisis mode is set to continue

The Coronavirus crisis has masked many social issues, but these problems will not go away without action, says co-chair of Parliament’s GUE/NGL Group, Martin Schirdewan.
Martin Schirdewan | Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Schirdewan

Martin Schirdewan is co-chair of Parliament’s Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left

18 Sep 2020

Anyone who could afford to take a holiday abroad in Europe faced having to be able to prove that they were not infected. Each EU country defines its own risk areas. This created great uncertainty both in travellers and in health services. In the months since the fight against COVID-19 began, there is still no common, coordinated EU approach, despite announcements to the contrary by the European Commission President.

There is clearly room for improvement. Yet many Europeans were unable to afford holidays, with millions either losing their jobs as a result of the pandemic or seeing their income sharply reduced. Youth unemployment is climbing relentlessly, while those workers that kept society running in the past months - such as medical staff and public transport workers - still experience low wages and poor working conditions.

Nightly applause and thanks from heads of government have not improved their lot. A European minimum wage to protect against poverty and reinforced workers’ rights should be high on the policy agenda. Following a prolonged period marked by a lack of solidarity, Member States have found a compromise on how, and under which conditions, to revitalise their economies.

Sadly, rather than an ambitious revival plan, there would be an instrument that would prove too little and would continue to rely on the austerity policies that have failed us for so long. This at a time when we should see the full power of the European Central Bank, with the Stability and Growth Pact rules jettisoned.

A future Europe will not succeed, if the investments required to tackle youth unemployment, boost cohesion policy, secure the Just Transition Fund, social-ecological transformation, digitalisation, health and humanitarian tasks are cut within the Multiannual Financial Framework, while military spending is increased. We need the exact opposite to show solidarity and to inspire people about the EU project. Finance could be raised by closing EU tax havens, ending tax avoidance by large corporations and generating new own resources.

While the plastic tax advanced by the Commission President may raise a maximum of €3bn annually, a fair digital tax could raise €8bn and a genuine financial transaction tax €57bn per year. A one-off tax on mega-rich assets would inject enough money into Member State coffers and the MFF to invest significantly in the future. The Parliament Tax Sub-Committee will play an important role here.

There is little time left to reach a future post-Brexit agreement with Johnson’s UK government that protects jobs, the economy, consumer protection standards and the environment and prevents harmful tax dumping. We stand ready for such an agreement, but not at any cost.

“In the months since the fight against COVID-19 began, there is still no common, coordinated EU approach”

The coming months will also be marked by digitalisation and the Digital Services Act. The consequences of digitalisation will be felt in all aspects of our lives and must therefore have a social agenda from the outset.

In addition to regulating the Digital Single Market, working conditions for so-called platform workers, the redistribution of labour, data security, the splitting up of dominant monopolies and fair taxation for Big Tech and Big Data groups are priorities. It is not only the fight against COVID-19 that demands European cooperation and solidarity – it extends to consistent climate protection and European migration policy.

Nice words are not enough. Despite Commission and German Presidency announcements, the Paris climate change objectives and a solidarity-based migration policy are not currently reflected in EU policy practice. It is therefore up to my Group to continue to fight for a more peaceful, social, fair and digitally sustainable EU.

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