Upcoming EU elections of 'major importance', says MEP

EU austerity is not in the best interest of its citizens, and the upcoming elections provide Europe with a chance to 'change the direction of the wind', says Jörg Leichtfried.

By Jörg Leichtfried

05 May 2014

The importance of the European parliament elections for my home country Austria can be summed up in one word: enormous.

In 1995, Austria became a member of the European Union. Since then the export quota in Austria has risen from 34.8 per cent to 57.2 per cent. The average in EU countries is 44.7 per cent. These are not just blank figures, but mean that hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs have been created. This is just one of many examples that highlight the importance of the EU for a country like Austria.

Reviewing the upcoming elections and looking at the current atmosphere among the Austrian citizens - as in many other European countries - one can recognise a lot of scepticism towards the EU. This is somewhat understandable.

The feeling that EU institutions are only dealing with minor challenges and do not really care about the huge problems Europe is facing is widespread. Discussions about curved cucumbers, bulbs or olive oil seem to distract attention from other issues. And progress on these other issues seems to be slow and circumstantial. That is on issues like the financial transaction tax or a banking union.

Reasons for this are obvious in my opinion. First of all there is the economic crisis. The way Europe reacted to the crisis was not always in its own best interests. The solutions proposed by the so called 'troika' did not lead to an improvement of the situation but - especially in countries with financial needs - made it worse.

The reduction of social rights and the marginalisation, especially of vulnerable groups, were the consequences seen in these countries. For example, the former Slovenian minister of economics said just some days ago to the Austrian broadcast cooperation (ORF) that Slovenia did everything not to make great demands on the European safeguard measures as they would have been connected with strict requirements.

"Due to the composition of the European commission, but also the European parliament, there is a neoliberal wind blowing through Europe"

Using the motto "Saving is everything" the population had to shoulder the consequences. Having a look at the current unemployment rates and especially at the unemployment rate of young citizens we can clearly see who the loser in this type of policy is.

Due to the composition of the European commission, but also the European parliament, there is a neoliberal wind blowing through Europe. Therefore, the upcoming election is of major importance - not just for Austrians but for every European citizen.

The Europeans do have the chance to change the direction of the wind. For the first time the voters also decide - indirectly - on the commission president, making the votes cast on 22 May of double importance.

For Austria, as for the rest of Europe, the topics of major importance after the next elections are the same as they are today: employment, social affairs, environment, but also minority rights, human rights including data protection and health services.

It is about the way Europe will cope with the huge challenges it is facing. For Austria, a small country in the centre of Europe, traffic issues are always of interest. We need to find a balance between the wish for free movement of people and goods on the one hand and health concerns of citizens on the other hand. As a member of parliament's transport and tourism committee this was already my goal in previous years and will again be for the upcoming parliamentary term.


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