Speaking at a special S&D conference, in which senior figures from the party gathered in Rome to discuss the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), which officially launches on May 9, García Pérez and others outlined their ideas on how to “reinforce and deepen European integration.”
García Pérez, leader of the S&D Group in the European Parliament, told the debate that “already before the outbreak of COVID-19, the Union was facing major challenges.”
These, she said, include the climate emergency, rising inequality, the digital transformation and “unfortunately, also the deterioration of the rule of law and a new wave of populism and nationalism.”
She said the pandemic had highlighted the need to address these reforms, as well as the “shortcomings in the EU architecture” in order to be “stronger and more resilient” in the future.
The event on Monday, called “Our Future, Our Europe,” aims to help trigger interest in the CoFoE.
García Pérez said, “This is not new either. Seventy years ago, the Schuman Declaration laid down the idea that Europe would not be built all at once or as a package deal: it would be built through concrete achievements, creating genuine solidarity.”
She told the conference, “We must take this pandemic as an opportunity to get back to the heart of the matter, to revive the spirit of solidarity. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that we are a community, in which we depend on each other.”
“This debate cannot be limited to cosmopolitan elites or capital cities. We need to give a prominent role to young people and involve civil society and social partners so that they can contribute their experience”
Iratxe García Pérez, S&D leader
The CoFoE starts its work with a high-profile launch in Strasbourg this weekend and will last one year.
Looking forward to the launch, García Pérez said, “This debate cannot be limited to cosmopolitan elites or capital cities. We need to give a prominent role to young people and involve civil society and social partners so that they can contribute their experience and their lived realities throughout this process.”
The pandemic, she added, had also underlined the need for “progressive policies.”
“With trade-led, neoliberal globalisation, many people have felt neglected. The fixation with macroeconomic growth and global competitiveness has put fundamental issues on the backburner.”
“For too long the Union neglected the Social Pillar and now we have to put it centre stage. In the past crises, we decided to save banks and now we need to decide to save people, in particular those who need us most. Social rights should never have been at the expense of economic liberalism.”
García Pérez, whose group is the second biggest in Parliament, said the health crisis had also “made it clear that the free market cannot solve everything, nor does it reward all sectors.”
She told participants, “Take, for instance, the lack of strategic autonomy to produce vaccines, the lack of investment in our health services, the lack of professionals in the health sector, or the precarious working conditions of so many essential workers, male and female.”
“For too long the Union neglected the Social Pillar and now we have to put it centre stage. In the past crises, we decided to save banks and now we need to decide to save people, in particular those who need us most”
Iratxe García Pérez, S&D leader
“In addition, in recent years, we have seen the negative effects of uncoordinated and unilateral actions by Member States, and we have learned from this experience.”
She said, “We need to put citizens back at the centre of the green and digital transitions that we are advocating. Otherwise existing differences and divisions in our society will deepen and undermine the necessary support for the changes that are required.”
She told the conference her message was, “We need a just transition, leaving no one behind. It is time to take back the reins and strengthen democracy in Europe. We need to remember that we are here to improve people's lives, to protect their rights and to work for the progress of the majority.”
Other speakers included the Partito Democratico Secretary, Enrico Letta, PES president Sergei Stanishev, EU commissioners Frans Timmermans, Paolo Gentiloni and Nicolas Schmit and Parliament’s President David Sassoli.
Former Commission President Romano Prodi, the Italian Minister for Ecological Transition, Roberto Cingolani and the Italian Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, also took part in the one-day event.