On March 14th, 9 candidates for the European elections in Luxembourg gathered for a round table organised by the European Parliament’s Information Office in Luxembourg and the CLAE. The subject of the conference, “Which Europe do we want in 2020?” led participants to discuss successively measures to overcome the crisis, challenges posed by free movement between 28 Member States and enlargement, and the necessary steps to boost the European (and national) citizenship. Please, find below an English translation of a summary of the views of each candidate!
I/ Getting out of the crisis
Charles Goerens (DP, liberal) said Europe should be “more cohesive and united, more concerned with its components” and that this would require changing the EU treaties. He also called for a firm commitment to two projects, “consolidating public finances and promoting the future (R&D),” criticising the current balance between fiscal consolidation and measures to boost growth and employment. According to Mr Goerens, “Merkel, not Europe, requires severe budget cuts.” Indeed, “excessive austerity is not the product of Europe but exists precisely because Europe is too weak and too intergovernmental.” He also mocked the illusion that letting Greece to cope alone with its troubles would cost nothing. Already in the current circumstances, “Greece repays interests but will probably not repay the capital.” It is therefore necessary to draw lessons from this crisis: “solidarity could be implemented through the use of the EU budget. The Werner Plan (1970) contemplated a European budget equivalent to 7% of the EU GDP.” Mr Goerens also stressed that financial transfers exist between Bundesländer in Germany and it is a model that works very well.
Mady Delvaux-Stehres (LSAP, socialist) recalled the targets for reducing poverty (20 million poor less) and making education accessible to everyone and lamented that the financial criteria outweigh the rest. She noted that “if a country does not follow the [financial] recommendations, it risks sanctions; however, if unemployment and poverty increase, nothing happens.” According to her, social and citizenship criteria should weigh the same as financial criteria.
Claude Turmes (Déi Gréng, Greens) wants “to give hope to many young people in Europe” to ward off the risk of a lost generation. He stressed that EU funding would provide support to the southern European countries to implement the Youth Guarantee. He also regretted that the EU budget is far too low: he noted that in the United States “Obama has 25% of the GDP available; in Europe, the EU has only 1%.” So, “currently, the only way for the EU to boost investment is the European Investment Bank.” He also expects the decision of the German great coalition (following an initiative by the SPD) to introduce a minimum wage to “end the German social dumping.” Finally, he stressed the importance of fighting tax evasion (1000 billion euros in Europe) to reinvest that money in Europe, and he wants a tax on financial transactions.
Aly Ruckert (KPL, communist) stated that “Europe was built on the pillars of big capital. Today, the EU is still working for the big capital.” According to him “another Europe, based on solidarity” must be built. “We must change everything, give purchasing power”, he said. He also emphasised that, in the past, “crisis were always exited through war.” Today, the EU would be “waging wars everywhere: Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Central Africa…” Asking who benefits from these wars, Mr. Ruckert indicated “the armaments industry and the capitalists.”
Fabienne Lentz (Dei Lénk, radical left) regretted the existence of a “social policy of downwards harmonisation, with austerity plans, etc.” She considers that competitiveness does not allow to create a social Europe. In addition, she preferred not to comment on the opportunity of revising “all treaties since the beginning.” According to her, “the evil is not the public debt; evil came earlier with the financial crisis.” She insisted that fiscal consolidation is not an end in itself and that taxes were lowered for businesses.
Frank Engel (CSV, center-right) has, meanwhile, argued that a “social Europe must include minimum levels of social protection and income” and that the introduction of minimum social wage would not alone resolve the crisis. Responding to criticism of the previous speakers on the bank bailouts, Mr Engel recalled the basic truth that letting a bank go bankrupt would cost citizens their savings! Furthermore, he considers that austerity must come to an end, although it was necessary. Indeed, “otherwise we would have enormous costs on debt, and we could not use that money elsewhere.” Among the ways out of crisis, he said that we must “increase the EU budget and remedy the national waste of money” and adopt a “reasonable level of corporate taxation.” He did not resist making a cutting remark to the French Government on this issue (“Depardieu will not be the only one to leave France with an excessively high tax rates”). But, still according to Mr Engel, we must also maintain the solidarity effort: referring to the remark made by Mr Goerens about the German system, he noted that the Bundesländer that pay for the other Länder contest too, but “it does not removes the need of solidarity.” Finally, he appealed to voters who will express their choice at the polls, noting that the anti-European MEPs were “basically useless” for Europe.
Liliana Miranda (ADR, sovereignist-populist) stated that “minimum social standards are not enough.” Responding indirectly to Mr Goerens, she said it was easy to blame Angela Merkel while many measures have been adopted by the European Parliament (although she cited several intergovernmental measures…). She said that her party had “always supported sound public finances” but that the readjustment should have taken place much earlier. To tackle the crisis, the ADR suggests that countries may temporarily leave the Eurozone if they wish so.
Jean Colombera (PID, populist) declared that the European Parliament must be strengthened, because “it seems the EP does not have much to say.” He also suggests the introduction of a “basic income throughout Europe” to prevent the risk of migration.
Finally, Sven Clement (Pirate party) began by asking: “Has the EU the means to get out of the crisis?” According to him, the answer is negative. In his party’s view, “more Europe is needed to combat the major societal problems” (economic crisis, climate change, technological evolution). He considers that we must “seek strength in the Union” and that the crisis requires European rather than national solutions: “if the European continent (7 % of the world population) is to have a future, we must seek the future in the Union.” Moreover, regarding the basic income, he wants it to be introduced across the EU if such a measure is decided. Finally, in a federalist move, he argued that the Council should become a Chamber of States and the Commission a European government.
II / Free movement between 28 Member States and enlargement
Aly Ruckert (KPL, communist) reaffirmed that “free movement primarily exists for capital” and considered it normal that the free movement of workers follows as “the capital wants workers where it can exploit them the most.”
Liliana Miranda (ADR, sovereignist-populist) thinks free movement should be benefit only “honest citizens”. She recognizes that Luxembourg needs labour because “Luxembourgers do not have enough children,” but “it is not [her] fault…” The ADR considers that free movement would do harm rather than benefit the persons concerned.
Instead, Mady Delvaux-Stehres (LSAP, socialist) defines herself as a “huge fan of free movement” and regrets that, today, the benefits of free movement are not sufficiently appreciated. However, she also stressed that “the EU should have another strategy than offering membership to countries that want to get closer to the EU.” Regarding fears stirred up by some Eurosceptics, she contended that there is “not that much abuse.” Finally, Mrs Delvaux-Stehres calls for investment “in research and innovation also for solidarity and social peace.”
Jean Colombera (PID, populist) considers that the main problem of free movement is that “highly qualified people leave their country.” He wants Europe to deal with “the causes, not the symptoms” of the problems related to free movement.
According to Sven Clement (Pirate party), free movement is “a cornerstone of the EU” and should, thus, be preserved. In fact, undermining the free movement would call into question the European Union. Moreover, he refuses “free movement” à la carte.”
Charles Goerens (DP, liberal) believes that a “pause for reflection” in enlargement is necessary: “the EU should first become more integrated before expanding further.” A strong supporter of the free movement of people, he also defends the idea of a “regulatory mechanism to put up against the wall countries that violate the acquis communautaire.” With regard to immigration, he believes it is necessary to consider how to help some countries overcome the influx of immigrants. Moreover, he stressed that “within 10 years, we will need immigration because of the demographics in the EU” and that “in 10-15 years, the problem will no longer be unemployment but the lack of labour.”
Frank Engel (CSV, centre-right) agreed with Mr Goerens about criticising the radicalisation of the discourse of moderate parties (UMP, Tories…).
Fabienne Lentz (Déi Lenk, radical left) began her second intervention by predicting that “if it continues like this, we will probably be less than 28 [Member States] in 2020…” Moreover, “if we continue to expand, the EU will become rubbish.” She considers that the EU enlargement serves only to expand a market, but there is no more a political project. In addition, she denounced the construction of a “fortress Europe” in parallel with the free movement for EU citizens. Finally, she mentioned the problems of the European asylum policy (“outsourced”) and of undeclared work.
Claude Turmes (Déi Gréng, Greens) wants to prevent abuse, but defends the principle of free movement. In addition, he said he was “ashame” of the “Fortress Europe” policy. He also regretted that talks about populists always remain abstract.
III / Citizenship
Sven Clement (Pirate party) claimed, on behalf of his party, easier access to the Luxembourgish and European citizenships.
Jean Colombera (PID, populist) noted that there are 45% foreigners and 55% Luxembourgish citizens in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. In a few years there will probably even be a majority of foreigners. So he asks, “Can a minority of Luxembourgish people make laws for a majority of non-nationals?” His answer is to give the right to vote to all, “otherwise there will be a revolution.”
Mady Delvaux-Stehres (LSAP, socialist) emphasised the symbolic nature of the right to vote. She also argued that citizenship is “much more than going to vote every 5 years: it is living together, social rights…” For her, it is “together, Luxembourgers and non-Luxembourgers, that we must build the Grand-Duchy and Europe and social peace in our countries.”
Frank Engel (CSV, centre-right) echoed this by stating that “if European citizenship can be useful, it should not be just for a passport.” He argued in favour of providing the European citizenship with “concrete attributes” as the right to vote is not sufficient. For example, European citizens should also have the right to vote in national elections. Moreover, “there must be a full political participation.”
Charles Goerens (DP, liberal) regretted that the Schengen area does not cover all Member States. As to a potential referendum in Luxembourg on the issue of granting the right to vote to non-nationals, he believes that it is not desirable and that a real debate must precede the final decision.
Liliana Miranda (ADR, sovereignist-populist) replied by reminding that the people is “sovereign” in a democracy.
Aly Ruckert (KPL, communist) dismissed the discussion about these issues as unnecessary because “unemployed youth do not care about citizenship and the EU, they want a job.”
Finally, Claude Turmes (Déi Gréng, Greens) suggested we should stop talking about “foreigners” to prefer the term “residents” or otherwise “Luxembourgers in the next generation.”
And you, what is your opinion on these topics? Should we slow down the pace of deficit reduction to invest more in the economic recovery? How can we boost the economy at a lower cost? Where are the necessary resources to be found?
Is free movement an advantage or disadvantage for workers? How can we combat abuses without infringing the rights of citizens? Can free movement contribute to boost the European economy? Should the EU continue to expand? If yes, to which countries?
How can the interest of citizens in Europe be increased and how can we encourage them to vote?
Join the debate by commenting below!
Pierre- Antoine KLETHI