European socialists: “It’s about values, not vote-counting”

“No alliance or arrangement with the extreme right after the elections," European Socialists' lead candidate pledges as the EPP cosies up with Italy’s far right.

“No alliance, no arrangement, with the extreme right.”

The European socialists’ lead candidate for the Presidency of the new European Commission, Nicolas Schmit, couldn’t have been clearer during the lead candidate Eurovision Debate that took place in the European Parliament (EP) in Brussels last week.

Turning to the European People’s Party (EPP)’s lead candidate, incumbent German Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, the Luxembourgish European Commissioner lambasted her for confirming, during the same debate, that she would be willing to cooperate with Giorgia Meloni, leader of Italy’s far-right Fratelli d’Italia party and Chairwoman of the Party of European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), in the next European Parliament. The EPP is the European political family to which the Maltese Nationalist Party belongs.

PES lead candidate Nicola Schmit challenging his EPP counterpart, Ursula von der Leyen, as the issue of an alliance with the far-right inflames pre-European election debate. Photo: Luis Millan/EU.

Schmit’s pledge was later echoed by the Party of European Socialists (PES), that declared in a statement that socialists and democrats will never accept any alliance with far-right political groups in the EP. “That would break-up the pro-European forces in the European Parliament and radically change Europe’s future direction,” warned the Party, of which the Maltese Labour Party is member.

PES President  Stefan Löfven, said: “The far-right, regardless of whether they sit in ECR or ID [Identity and Democracy Group] in the Parliament, is not part of the pro-European majority. It is impossible to cherry pick parties from these groups. We saw that clearly at the Vox-organised conference in Madid, where Giorgia Meloni, Marine Le Pen, Santiago Abasca, and many others happily sat together. I want voters to know: we will never open up any alliance with ECR. We will not be the ones to break the pro-European alliance in the Parliament. This message was delivered [during the Eurovision Debate] by Nicolas Schmit. We are grateful for his words, and we thank him for standing up for European values.”

Earlier this month, PES member parties signed a common declaration – the Berlin Declaration –  pledging not to form a coalition with the far-right. Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela signed on behalf of the Labour Party. Days later, pro-European Groups in the European Parliament – the S&D, Renew, the Greens, and the Left – signed a common declaration also ruling out cooperation with the far-right.

In case you missed the Eurovision Debate and you are interested in learning more about the PES lead candidate’s views, the overview below is a good starting point.

UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT

PES Lead Candidate Nicolas Schmit speaking at the EBU Eurovision Debate in the European Parliament.

“As the lead candidate of the European social democrats, what drives me is to improve the daily living conditions of European citizens.

As to the workers who are facing cost of living problems, we need to give them decent wages, good working conditions, what we call quality jobs. 

As to women, we have to make sure that equality is applying in the working world. We want to make sure that their fundamental rights are respected.

As to young people, we have to respond to their wish that the green transition is implemented but we also have to give them the right prospects, good jobs and not precarious jobs.

As to all those who need good social services, we have to make sure that Europe delivers.

In this period of big changes, people have these concerns, and we as social democrats want to deliver by creating a strong Europe: a Europe that listens to people’s concerns, that delivers and is close to citizens.”

– Nicolas Schmit, PES Lead Candidate for the Presidency of the European Commission

Q&A WITH NICOLAS SCHMIT

Martin Řezníček (Czech TV, Czechia): You’ve been in the European Commission [as European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights] for the past five years. What have you done to make these priorities actually come true?

Nicolas Schmit: There’s a lot that we have done, and that I have done. The minimum wage is one of the great achivements, to give people decent wages. There is no reason why some parts of Europe have very low wages; people cannot make a decent living out of them. There is the protection of special categories of workers, like the platform workers, who have no protection in many countries. We have now adopted a directive to protect them, including against the interference of algorithms. We have create a Child Guarantee, because unfortunately in Europe we have millions of children who are in poverty and we need a strong child policy to take children out of that poverty.

Martin Řezníček: But parties on the right and the far right offer different policies than yours. They seem to be on the rise, to be gaining ground. Haven’t you been in Brussels for too long? Haven’t you lost touch with the public?

Nicolas Schmit: I don’t think so. By achieving what I have just mentioned, which now has to be implemented by member states – that is also an issue – I think we have responded to high expectations from the citizens’ side. Never forget that European citizens have come out of different crises. We had a financial crisis, we had the Covid crisis, we have the Russian war, and now we have to make sure that we put citizens in the heart of our policies and that we also ensure a better living and better social justice for all.

Eurovision Debate 2024 with Lead Candidates: PES candidate Nicolas Schmit being interviewed by Martin Řezníček. Photo: Laurie Dieffembacq/EU.

Martin Řezníček: In order to be able to approve this, you will need support in the [European] Parliament. My qUestion goes to the inner working of the Parliament, which is really important for the upcoming five-year term. Would you work with the EPP if their lead candidate, Ursula von der Leyen, cooperAtes with ECR or ID?

Nicolas Schmit: Certainly I’m ready to work with all democratic forces, but I do not consider ECR or ID to be democratic forces because they have a very different vision of Europe.

Martin Řezníček:  Having a different vision of Europe does not mean that they are not democratic…

Nicolas Schmit: Just look at where they are in power. Yesterday, I was in Sweden. There is an ID party which supports, and sometimes even more than supports, the Swedish givernment, which is an EPP and Liberal government. What they are doing are fake news. Also in Italy, we now see attacks on women’s rights and against the media. They do not correspond to the fundamental values that Europe stands for.

Martin Řezníček: So what are the red line for your support of Ursula von der Leyen?

Nicolas Schmit: Our red line have been clearly exposed. They have been exposed in the Berlin declaration. They have been in a declaration that many other parties have signed. Unfortunately, the EPP did not want to sign. No alliance, no arrangement with the extreme right. This is clear. On certain issues we need clarity not ambiguity.

See where Nicolas Schmit stands on the six key debate topics:

1. ECONOMY AND JOBS

“Talking about the economy and talking about being socialist are two sides of the same coin. On poverty, we have to mobilise. We have an objective of reducing poverty by 15 million and we really have to give people the right opportunities. Reducing povery is obviously to help them by giving them good opportunities, job opportunities. This is fundamental. It is important that people are skilled. Investing in people is key because you cannot have improvement in jobs if people are not skilled, and the job market is changing extremely rapidly. This, together, makes a better economy but also better living standards.”

2. DEFENCE AND SECURITY

“I would prefer not to invest so much money into defence and into helping Ukrainians, but it was not us who have chosen the war. We have not chosen the threats coming from Russia and the fascist regime in Moscow. So, investing in defence is absolutely important for our security, to have freedom, to protect our values. But that does not mean that we should not invest in our social cohesion, because security is obviously about defence and the military but it’s also about internal cohesion. They go together, so both have to be possible.

All the time I hear these figures, about how much we spend and how much less the Russians spend. You have to look at what happens every night in the sky of Ukraine: bombing children, bombing hospitals, bombing civil institutions and houses. If we do not support Ukraine boldly, then we know that the Russians will be directly at our borders. They have transformed their economy into a war economy, everything goes into defence. Everyone would love to have peace, but on which conditions? On Putin’s conditions, saying that “what is mine is mine and what is yours is negotiable”? That’s Stalin, and we cannot enter into such a deal.”

3. CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENT

The right climate policy can enhance a new type of sustainable growth, but this does not come for free. So, we must mobilise, in Europe, huge resources and huge investments to transform and decarbonise our industry, our agriculture, our daily lives. This is the issue: how can we mobilise resources? How can we make climate policy acceptable for everyone: for households, for people, for companies? It is important now to have a strong social dialogue, to involve social partners, to really show that in the end everybody can be a winner with the right climate policy.”

4. DEMOCRACY AND LEADERSHIP

“Europe is built on democracy. Without democracy there is no real European Union, and that’s why we need clarity. I ask Mrs von der Leyen: please bring clarity. You have mentioned three red lines [earlier in the debate Ursula von der Leyen had said Meloni is definitely pro-European, pro-rule of law, and anti-Putin, in which case she can offer her cooperation]. The first was about being pro-Europe. I wonder what ‘pro-Europe’ means for you because I heard Meloni at a Madrid conference making a speech and I cannot imagine that her idea of Europe is the same one you have. We need clarity. The same thing applies to rule of law, which is essential. Without rule of law there cannot be a Union because we have to trust each other, we have to trust our institutions. We see it in Hungary, where there is no rule of law. That’s why we hav to change Article 7 [of the Treaty on European Union] to be much tougher on those member states that do not respect rule of law.”

5. MIGRATION AND BORDERS

“I agree with fighting smugglers and traffickers, but that’s not the whole story. I look at the situation in Tunisia, and I suppose you know what’s going on there, what happens to the refugees who are pushed into the desert, beaten up, with some of them killed. This is not Europe. These are not European values. This is an agreement with a very nasty dictatorship. So do not tell us that this is about fighting smugglers. This about fighting refugees that are pushed to the desert, and many of them die.

I stand with the Migration Pact. It is not the ideal but it is the beginning of a better European solidarity. My position is that it could be, and should be, improved, but always keep our values in mind. If we make concessions on our values, Europe will be weakened.”

6. INNOVATION AND TECHNOLOGY

“Technology is about growth, it is about progress, it is about the economy, but it is also about social progress. We are in a situation where Europe is lagging behind in many areas. The only solution is to invest more, although it is not an austerity policy which can help us: it’s really an investment policy. It is not pauses in green technologies: it is investing in green technologies. It is about talent. We have a lot of talent and we have to attract talent from all over the world. We also have to encourage creators, innovators, and startups. It is not about regulation: it is about not getting the finance. That’s why we need the right finance. We need the capital market union. I do not quote bankers very often but there’s a banker who said, “If you want the Green Deal you will not get it without a capital markets union.” If we want technological progress, we will not get it without that union.

The world is changing rapidly due to algorithms. This Commission launched the platform workers directive, in which there is an important part on the control on workers through algorithms. This is a major challenge. We need to have an iea of where the world of work will go in the future. I am not against artificial intelligence, but it has to be human-centred.”

Rewatch

Candidates from five European political families participated in the Lead Candidate Eurovision Debate: (from left to right in the photo below) Ursula von der Leyen for the European People’s Party, Nicolas Schmit for the Social Democrats, Terry Reintke for the European Greens, Sandro Gozi for the liberals of Renew Europe Now, and Walter Baier for the Left.

Eurovision Debate 2024 with Lead Candidates. Photo: Philippe Buissin/EU.

Rewatch the Eurovision Debate here.

Main photo: Roberto Monaldo / LaPresse vía ZUM / DPA

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