The True State of the Union

14 September 2016

The True State of the Union

Today, all eyes were turned on president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker as he presented his annual ´State of the Union´ address. The SP’s Euro-MPs were unimpressed, and presented an alternative, a True State of the Union. One of them, Dennis de Jong explained: “In our True State of the Union we have tried to give the voices of ordinary people a hearing. With five concrete proposals we want to give back control to people over their own neighbourhoods. That means less control by Brussels and big corporations. If you listened closely to Juncker, what you heard was a plea for more Brussels.”

“Juncker sees the social problems,” De Jong continued, “but he looks for all of his solutions in a strengthening of the European institutions. He wants a European Minister of Foreign Affairs, a European Finance Minister, a European army and even more European investments at the expense of national investments. Centralisation is his sole theme. This stands squarely at odds with how ordinary people, who see their neighbourhoods as the basis, view things. The broad view of the True State of the Union is one in which Juncker and his colleagues are sent packing, where the lobbying offices of multinationals in Brussels are left empty, and where everybody in Europe has a decent existence. In the True State of the Union, the neighbourhood is king, not the market.”

De Jong’s colleague in the SP’s European Parliament group, Anne-Marie Mineur added: “You see the same thing when it comes to trade treaties. Juncker remains determined to retain the CETA, the trade and investment treaty with Canada. He hesitatingly agrees that the national parliaments must can their say, but doesn’t want under any circumstances to see these national discussions lead to renegotiation with Canada. Not a word on the enormous power which the multinationals will gain from this kind of treaty. It’s not the people or their neighbourhoods which are the basis of this, but the multinationals.”

The True State of the Union

Ordinary people recount the risk they run of social exclusion and poverty. For that, you don’t have to look very far in the European Union. One in five citizens in the EU belongs to this group. They tell us of the lack of any prospects which unemployment brings along with it. One in twelve of the EU’s potential workforce has no job.

Ordinary people see the exploitation in the workplace and tell of scandalous conditions. Drivers given no expenses payments for food and a decent place to sleep when they make international journeys. Foreign workers in the building trade who cannot understand their colleagues, with all the consequences that carries for safety at work.

Ordinary people from southern Europe and Ireland speak of the crisis in their countries, testifying that around half of young people are out of work. They see young people leave for foreign parts in search of a better life. They see young people ending up in a life of crime. And they see their national governments receiving order after order from Brussels, or from Berlin, instructing them to make further cuts in spending. Citizens of Thessalonica tell us about their actions against privatisation of the drinking water supply.

Thousands of people regularly demonstrate against the trade and investment treaties which Brussels would like to conclude with countries such as the US and Canada, without the public having any say in the matter. These demonstrators are people who don’t want to see multinationals sitting in the front row in negotiations over agreements on standards relating to the environment, product safety and what have you, people who have justly drawn attention to the hypocrisy and secrecy surrounding these treaties.

Ships’ masters in the Mediterranean speak of how many refugees they have picked up out of the sea. And human rights groups bring out report after report on the wretched situation of unaccompanied minors. In Greece these children are being accommodated in police cells, because there is no dedicated reception facility to hand, And on their journey to and across Europe they fall prey to people traffickers who have no hesitation in delivering them into prostitution.

Everyone in Brussels knows about the enormous number of lobbying agencies to be found in the European district. These aren’t aimed at improving the environment or at the general interest, but at securing the interests of major corporations. The multinationals’ powerful lobby forces its way into the most remote corners of the European institutions. This is the culture of nepotism. Most of the European public express their disgust at the way in which Juncker’s predecessor, Jose Barroso, went straight to Goldman Sachs, the bank which contributed to bringing about the financial crisis.

Where Juncker in the ‘State of the Union’ thinks from out of his ivory tower first and foremost of gaining more power for himself and his European Commissioners, ordinary people see misery, violence and the rundown of public services. No wonder that ever more of these people are turning away from the EU. They’re turning away from the pompous buildings in Brussels and Strasbourg. Turning away from people like Juncker, who when he was Luxembourg’s Finance Minister made tasty tax deals with multinationals.

The True State of the Union shows us that the EU is badly in need of change: take the neighbourhood as the basis, give back to ordinary people the power over their neighbourhood, and work together in Europe when that is to our mutual advantage. For that, no political European Commission is needed.

The answer to the True State of the Union must consist of, whatever else, these five main points.

  1. Member states regain control of their public services: social housing, health care, water, electricity, public transport, education and other services which the people of a member state do not wish to see left to the market.
  2. National parliaments again determine the extent of the national budget and how it is employed. If they want to give priority to combating poverty and unemployment, even if that demands additional public investment, they shouldn’t find Brussels breathing down their necks. Cooperation between eurozone countries is a great idea, but an end must be put to diktats imposed for the sake of the single currency.
  3. Member states determine for themselves how their labour markets work. They may temporarily limit the free movement of workers from other member states in the event of a crisis in the labour market. They control the workplace in their own territory in order to combat illegal exploitative practices and will not be hindered in this by Brussels’ rules on free movement of services or freedom of establishment.
  4. Trade and investment treaties are only agreed if they are to the advantage of ordinary people in the countries participating. National parliaments have the last word on this, or where possible the electorate, via referenda.
  5. Proposals for the enlargement of the European Union, as well as proposals for amendments to the EU Treaty, certainly in cases where they give new powers to Brussels, require not only approval by national parliaments, but should, depending on what is possible under each national constitution, be put before the electorate in referenda.

The broad vision of the True State of the Union is one in which Juncker and his colleagues are sent packing, where the lobbying offices of multinationals in Brussels are empty, and where everybody in Europe has a decent existence. In the True State of the Union, the neighbourhood is king, not the market.

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