Ulrike Lunacek with the Nobel Peace Prize Medal that the European Union won in 2012
Ulrike Lunacek, MEP, is Spokesperson for European Affairs for the Austrian Greens and the Greens/EFA Foreign Affairs Spokesperson in the European Parliament.
Our Europe has a future!
With a Green New Deal: Democratically, socially, and ecologically sustainable
Just as unification of Western Europe (by means of the EEC, EC and ultimately the EU) proved to be the answer to the horrific events of the 20th century, so a new and closely interconnected Europe must surely be the answer to the challenges posed by 21st century.
There is no doubt that the founding idea of bringing an end to bloody wars between neighbours through closer ties has certainly been a success, from the reconciliation of Germany and France to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the accession of the Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs) to the European Union. Only in the Western Balkans did Europe's bloody past continue to haunt us during the 1990s. However even here, over the past decade the European answer has won out, and democratisation and stabilisation will, through the enlargement process, prevent future armed conflicts.
Today, however, we face new challenges as we grapple with a financial and economic crisis. If we fail to rise to these challenges and ultimately overcome them, new dangers lie ahead: gaping social inequalities, mass unemployment, public disenchantment with politics, and violent protests and unrest are all potential threats. Against such a backdrop, a resurgence of nationalism and right-wing populism could ultimately prompt the collapse of the European Union. However, it is plain from broad debate amongst intellectuals, civil society and NGOs that such a multifaceted crisis cannot be resolved without political union in Europe. The Greens have taken on a leading role in this debate, which also challenges us to come up with more extensive answers to the issues raised by globalisation.
The spiralling sovereign debt crisis has been caused and exacerbated first and foremost by an unregulated and uncontrolled financial sector. The initial error made at the time the Euro was first introduced – i.e. the lack of any accompanying steering of economic policy at EU level (eurobonds, stringent monitoring of financial markets, tax harmonisation, etc.) – resurge time and time again during EU summits and is one of the reasons for the worrying reluctance and inability on the part of the EU to take effective action in the midst of what is the worst crisis unified Europe has ever known.
Soaring real-estate prices, banking crises, wild speculation surrounding government bonds, and secondary trading in derivates are just some of the factors behind the present economic crisis. The fiscal compact, which is being presented by European governments, particularly Germany, as an answer to the crisis, simply exacerbates the economic problems we face, and the policy of austerity it advocates is prompting countries across Europe to fall into recession.
Not only have the chains of the Maastricht criteria – chains which have been tightened by the fiscal compact – ensured that governments have absolutely no room for manoeuvre in actively shaping economic, social and environmental policy, but also all vestiges of democratic review of the content, measures and effects of these austerity packages have been stripped away.
The current crisis should prompt the realisation that the nations of Europe are now so closely interconnected that the only way to overcome the problems we face is by working together. Nationalism is an ideology of the past. The history and present-day status of the European Union demonstrate that a more united Europe and indeed a different Europe are the answers to the political, economic, ecological and social issues facing us today. We will only overcome these European and worldwide challenges through European solutions and a renewed European spirit, especially given the rising trend towards globalisation and Europe's relative decline in significance in both demographic and financial terms, as evidenced by its decreasing population and dwindling market share in a global context. Our vision is of a post-national Europe, a Europe of citizens, a United States of Europe with democratic rule and federal structures enshrined in the Constitution of a Republic.
This was the dream of many of those who founded the European idea. However, this is not the Europe which is currently developing.
This is the vision which guides our European policies.
This is the picture of Europe within which we want to see our plans become reality.
This is the Europe that we stand for. It is the Europe of the future.
More Europe, more democracy, more solidarity
1. Democratic reform of Europe
- Establishment of a bi-cameral system at European level under which the federal, regional principle co-exists with that of the nation states, and within which the Council is re-modelled into a form of second chamber of representatives of national governments and which, together with the European Parliament, comprises the legislature.
- Introduction of the full right of initiative for the European Parliament to enable it to propose legislation.
- Introduction of European electoral lists for elections to a proportion of the seats in the European Parliament, with the leading candidates on the list running concurrently for election to the top positions within in the European Commission, thus campaigning for European voters' support.
- Election to the Commission through the European Parliament: The Commission should be elected directly by the European Parliament. The practice of governments nominating national politicians or granting them politically-motivated 'promotions' to the Commission must cease.
- Shoring up of direct democracy through accessible European Citizens' Initiatives, and introduction of Europe-wide referenda on European issues. European citizens should be able to determine their future in a united Europe themselves. However, this should not be achieved via national referenda where domestic party-politics and power games reign, but rather through Europe-wide ones: far-reaching steps towards integration should be determined via a double-majority mechanism, with proposals requiring a majority of both EU citizens and EU Member States to be in favour.
2. Steering of Europe's economic policy - Now!
The European welfare system needs to be shored up as a shared endeavour and the burden of the crisis should not be offloaded onto the weakest in society. If this goal is to be achieved, then deeper integration of the EU's economic, financial, taxation and social policies is required, with the emphasis being placed on the following criteria:
- Establishment of a viable and democratically adopted economic policy underpinned by a European convention.
- Collectivisation of lending policy via a joint market for eurobonds to achieve lasting stabilisation for the eurozone and to put an end to opportunistic 'attacks' on individual eurozone member countries.
- Conversion of the eurozone safety net, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) into a European Monetary Fund under the umbrella of the EU.
- Abolition of veto rights and shift from unanimity to qualified majority voting (QMV), first and foremost in the field of tax harmonisation.
- A robust and effective shared European mechanism to monitor financial markets: The three newly established oversight authorities for the European financial market must be given effective powers to be able to challenge internationally connected banks, funds and financial investors, and to ensure that transnational financial loopholes and tax havens are eradicated.
- Introduction of a financial transaction tax to rein in the financial markets: Such a measure would reduce speculation, generate income for the EU, and create much-needed flexibility for future investment in education, research, reducing poverty and boosting renewable energy sources.
- Closing-down of tax havens in Europe: €1,000 billion are lost to national budgets through loopholes, fraud and tax evasion. Austria and Luxembourg are particularly bad examples in this respect, with criticism recently having been heaped on both by Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro, following the refusal by Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter and her counterpart in Luxembourg to enact the EU's new Savings Directive aimed at completely abolishing banking secrecy rules. Tax loopholes must be closed and pan-European measures taken to combat tax fraud and tax evasion.
3. Achieving European Social Union though the Green New Deal
Without joint investments, there is the risk that fairness and solidarity in Europe – often referred to as the European social model – will be crushed, a scenario which would strengthen nationalism and open up a real risk of the European project failing altogether. However, by investing in the welfare state, energy efficiency, renewables, education and research & development, creating 'green jobs', and implementing an overall Green New Deal, the recession can be overcome and a new social contract for Europe can be introduced.
- Corporate tax imbalances need to be evened out through a high, harmonized rate of corporation tax.
- The EU's budget policy must focus equally on achieving social balance and on making the future investment required.
- The EU – and in particular the Council – must adopt robust measures to combat wage- and social dumping within its remit. By introducing a set of pan-European minimum social standard, high-quality income and social services can be secured. Working time must be distributed fairly and progressively.
- The rights of employees and citizens must be safeguarded across Europe, and provision for unemployment insurance and a basic financial security must be enshrined Europe-wide.
4. A Green Investment Pact for sustainability and employment
Every crisis presents an opportunity for positive change. The EU must use this crisis to make significant progress in achieving sustainability and employment. Europe needs a Green Investment Pact to ensure sustainable development and boost economic potential. The focus of such a pact must be on energy and resource efficiency, which will create more jobs, and in so doing will benefit both people and the environment.
- Europe needs to become a market leader in energy-saving and resource-efficient products and processes: Reducing emissions of harmful gases CO2 emissions to 30% by 2020 is both possible and necessary. The sooner more stringent limits are introduced in Europe, the sooner we will be able to achieve this transition.
- No more oil and gas: With expenditure on imports of oil and gas estimated at €400 billion a year throughout the EU as a whole and at approximately €14 billion in Austria alone, energy-efficiency measures need to be introduced to reduce the EU's significant dependency on these fuels. Such a shift would also cut the trade deficit, breathe new life into the economy and even out economic imbalances. Furthermore, lower energy costs for private households would bring about greater social justice and would thus contribute directly to reducing poverty.
- The European Commission estimates that up to 10.7 million jobs could be created through measures to achieve energy and resource efficiency: The introduction of intelligent electricity grids is a key factor here, since it would not only create jobs but would also serve as a catalyst for the energy turnaround.
- Public procurement accounts for 16% of European GDP: In the future, calls for tenders for such contracts must place the emphasis on ecological and social criteria.
5. Completion of the European peace project
Europe will not be truly unified until the countries of the Western Balkans become part of the EU. Despite the importance of resolving the dangerous economic and national debt crisis, we Greens have not forgotten that the countries of the former Yugoslavia and Albania must become part of the EU by 2020. This means not only that large-scale efforts are required in all these countries, but also that it is crucial not to lose sight of these goals in either political, economic, social or ecological terms.
Implementing the measures outlined above will bring us closer to achieving our vision of a United States of Europe: greater democracy, an end to uncontrolled financial markets, steering of economic policy, more solidarity and social justice, and last but certainly not least a Green investment package that will give millions of young unemployed people fresh hope and prospects for the future. For if the hearts and minds of young people in Europe are lost to nationalistic agitators, then the very future of the European unification and peace project will be in jeopardy, not only in economic and ecological terms but first and foremost from a social and civil-society point of view.
If you have any comments on Ulrike Lunacek's vision of Europe please feel free to send them to www(dot)vereinigte-staaten-von-europa(at)gruene(dot)at. As always you can also discuss the article on the European Ideas facebook page.