La rentrée: Embracing the opportunity to transform Europe through crisis

The Coronavirus crisis has transformed our lives; now we need to take it as an opportunity to transform Europe, writes Iratxe García Pérez.
Iratxe García Pérez | Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Iratxe García Pérez

Iratxe García Pérez (ES) is President of the European Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group

16 Sep 2020

This is probably one of the most challenging times that Europe, and indeed the world, has faced in recent decades. As we begin the new term in the European institutions, we are fully aware that this is not ‘business as usual’. The future, both short and long-term, are mired in uncertainty.

Never before have we had to deal with a health crisis that leaves a huge question mark hanging over so many aspects of our lives, from a medical and epidemiological perspective to the social impact the pandemic has had on our lifestyles. This uncertainty demands all European institutions to be both flexible in adapting to the changing reality and to show determination in equipping ourselves with the robust instruments that we need.

The European Parliament has played an important role in leading a united and swift response, and in proposing the ambitious measures that were later endorsed by the Commission and the Council. We now need to finalise adoption of the Recovery Plan and the next multiannual EU budget as quickly as possible. This should be our main priority for the immediate future.

“The current crisis will leave profound economic and social wounds, with high unemployment rates and Member State public finances weakened”

The German presidency – with a constant strong push from SPD coalition partners – will play a central role in brokering an agreement that will work for all European citizens. The German presidency is well aware that we find ourselves at a decisive juncture, one at which we will be able to build a stronger, more sustainable and resilient Union for the years to come. We cannot give up on the Green New Deal and on a fair transition.

In fact, the opposite is true; Next Generation EU and the coming seven-year budget must be leveraged for the transformation that Europe needs. This cannot be done without traditional policies, and this is why we will not accept a budget proposal that reduces funds for research, impacting programmes such as Horizon Europe, InvestEU, LIFE, Erasmus+, ESF+ and Digital Europe. Each of these programmes lays the foundation for a better future – we must not be short-sighted. That is why we will try to open negotiations with the Council as quickly as possible, hoping that they understand our mutual historic responsibility.

We also expect the Council to understand that the Parliament must have a role in the governance of the Recovery Fund. The current crisis will leave profound economic and social wounds, with high unemployment rates and Member State public finances weakened. This is why we need strategic thinking. My political group has been working intensively on a new system of own resources, and we have many proposals that we wish the Commission to take on board. We must make sure that the European joint debt doesn’t become a burden for national budgets, so we should repay common debt through new own EU resources.

The new subcommittee on taxation will meet for the first time in September, and it will push for important new policies. It took a long time, but finally my political group has managed to convince others why such a subcommittee, which will be chaired by an S&D MEP, is so important. It will pay special attention to tax justice, an ongoing concern for my group. This new investigative body will have the power to identify and fight different forms of tax abuse, as well as tackle ongoing tax competition between Member States.

“Never before have we had to deal with a health crisis that leaves a huge question mark hanging over so many aspects of our lives”

Such practices undermine the wider European interest by removing resources and creating tensions between our countries. We want the tech giants to pay their taxes and contribute their fair share, just as ordinary people already do every day. Companies must pay their taxes where they make their profits. In this new term, we must also make sure that we accelerate our efforts to stop the autocratic and anti-democratic drifts we are seeing in some Member States.

We must protect the rule of law and the EU’s fundamental freedoms. I am disturbed when I hear that some Polish cities are declaring themselves LGTBI-free; this is completely unacceptable. We must protect minority rights, press freedom, the independence of the judiciary and all core principles of the Union. The lack of respect for these principles must have consequences.

On the Brexit negotiations, time is running out and it is difficult to understand the lack of commitment of the part of the UK government. Michel Barnier has done his utmost to build an open, loyal and fair relationship for the future. If the UK government is not interested, everyone will suffer, but we cannot force them. A broad, ambitious agreement that delivers stability for a future partnership can avoid the unnecessary uncertainty that we don’t need right now. The EU will continue to negotiate in good faith, because this is what the EU is about: finding solutions that works for everyone and provide for the general interest of our citizens.

Read the most recent articles written by Iratxe García Pérez - Steering the stormy waters of Europe’s recovery

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