Policies of the last five years have 'eroded trust' in the EU

Addressing citizens' frustrations with Europe and boosting employment must be key political priorities, writes Martin Schulz.

By Martin Schulz

14 Apr 2014

As we all know the upcoming European elections are unique. For the first time people will decide the political direction of the whole European Union, not just who is their local or national voice in Brussels. By giving citizens a say on the next European commission president, we offer greater accountability for decisions which sometimes seem too remote.

Europe is not in good condition. It has handled the crisis without sufficient care for its citizens, and at this election our voters are demanding change. The policy of painful cuts over the past five years has left the scars of unemployment and inequality on our continent. While our people have been suffering, the reckless speculators who created the crisis have been protected. That is not my vision for Europe.

"We have to make sure that Brussels is working for Europeans and not the other way around"

The past five years have eroded trust in our core common values of welfare and fairness. Divisions within and between European countries and people - and between our European institutions – are widening as a result of bad policies. In this context, I understand people's frustrations with Europe. That's why I want to bring about change and regain people's trust. I am happy to defend the PES common manifesto and to promote five personal priorities for action.

On job stimulation, as commission president, I want to stimulate a positive climate for job creation. Over 26 million Europeans are currently unemployed, including nearly a quarter of our young people. The legacy of the last five years is 10 million more unemployed Europeans. The evidence of the past five years is that austerity alone doesn't work, and that strong public investment is needed to drive growth.

We can turn this around by offering fiscal incentives to small businesses which hire young people, and with increased funding for the youth guarantee. For those Europeans lucky enough to have jobs, I will focus on protecting their rights. I will make sure they can live on their wages by introducing a Europe-wide minimum wage mechanism, tailored to each country. I want an end to social dumping, and I want to see no more working poverty.

On boosting small and medium-sized enterprises, as a former small businessman, having owned a bookshop in my hometown in Germany, I understand the potential of SME businesses in creating jobs. I was glad the day I handed the keys of the business I built to one of my employees. I could see the legacy continue. I understand that small business owners take real pride in being called job creators. The biggest challenge to small businesses in Europe is the unwillingness of banks to provide them with credit to grow, and the unfair competition they face when multinationals evade tax and refuse to operate on a level playing field. The country of the profit must be the country of taxation.

"The legacy of the last five years is 10 million more unemployed Europeans. The evidence of the past five years is that austerity alone doesn't work, and that strong public investment is needed to drive growth"

On equality, at the end of a divisive five years where the gaps between rich and poor have increased, I will focus on a diverse union of equality. Women's rights are at the top of the agenda. We will continue to combat the gender pay gap, ensure there are more women in leadership, and I will fiercely defend the right of my daughter to have the same life opportunities as my son. We will also work for greater social and fiscal justice by applying the simple principle that the country where you make a profit is the country where you should pay taxes on that profit.

We have to address the financial sector. As commission president, I will work with member states to put forward specific and enforceable proposals for a Europe-wide fight against tax havens and tax fraud. I consider that the €1 trillion that is hidden from the public purse each year is simply theft from hardworking citizens who pay their taxes. This is key to regaining the trust of our citizens and showing them that there are people in Europe who care about social justice. The effective implementation of a financial transaction tax will reduce reckless financial speculation and bring in revenue to be spent on social policy programmes. I am pleased that the PES family led the campaign for an effective banking union which stops taxpayers bailing out banks, and I will ensure as commission president that these rules are respected.

I also want to change the culture within the EU institutions. We have to make sure that Brussels is working for Europeans and not the other way around. I plan to give fewer instructions to regional and local governments, so that more decisions are taken closer to citizens. The EU must set guidelines and frameworks for action, not tell member states or local authorities how to act and precisely what they must do to achieve every objective we have set.

As commission president, I want to put fairness back at the heart of our policies. There is work to be done now to lay the foundation for quality jobs, economic growth, social justice and equality. I am ready to work hard and to fight fiercely for a new and improved EU. I hope that Europe's voters will endorse our PES programme.

Read the most recent articles written by Martin Schulz - The European Union is in need of a 'revived sense of urgency'