What Nicolas fights for

The European Socialists’ lead candidate for the European Commission presidency, Nicolas Schmit, boasts a distinguished reputation for his track record on employment and social rights.

A headline on Politico in mid-January blared ‘Nicolas Who?’.

It was reporting that Europe’s socialists (Party of European Socialists – PES) were considering a “relatively unknown European commissioner”, Luxembourgish Nicolas Schmit, to challenge Ursula von der Leyen (European People’s Party – EPP) for the European Commission presidency after the upcoming European elections.

It goes without saying that, being the incumbent chief of the EU’s executive body, the German von der Leyen has been in the spotlight quite a bit in Europe for the past few years. Despite being a lesser-known figure to the general public, however, the lead candidate chosen by the European socialists boasts a distinguished reputation within European social partner organisations for his track record on employment and social rights.

“Ask every single social partner – trade unions, and entrepreneurial and business organisations – in every single EU member state who Nicolas Schmit is,” retorted Giacomo Filibeck, PES secretary-general, at a press briefing in Brussels on Thursday, in which The Journal participated. The presser was held just before Schmit faced other lead candidates in the Eurovision debate.

Social partners know about and appreciate the hard work that the Socialist lead candidate has done during his tenure as European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Filibeck said. Referring to the EU programme called ‘Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE)’, a temporary €100 billion programme designed to help member states financially during the Covid-19 pandemic, he recalled how it supported approximately 31.5 million people and 2.5 million firms in 2020. This represents almost one third of total employment and firms in the 19 Member States that applied for assistance.

Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner and PES lead candidate, with Andy Ellul, Parliamentary Secretary for Social Dialogue, and David Xuereb, Chairperson of the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD) in Valletta last year,

Our future is at stake

Turning to Nicolas Schmit’s electoral campaign, Giacomo Filibeck explained that the Socialist lead candidate’s main aim is to transmit to European citizens a message about what really is at stake in these European elections.

He mentioned the Covid pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the crisis in the Middle East and in the Sahel region in Africa, and the instability in Caucasia, but also what the effect on Europe could be with a potential change in administration in the US in November. “In this election, we are talking about the future of Europe and of every single citizen in this Union,” the PES secretary-general stressed.

“Our main agenda is to pass on the message that your vote counts, and that getting one more MEP from our political family counts,” he said, underlining the PES’ commitment to a European Union that acts to provide security to its citizens, from defence to employment and social progress, from climate to democracy, press freedom, and rule of law.

Giacomo Filibeck, PES Secretary-General, addressing the press briefing ahead of the Eurovision Lead Candidates Debate – Photo: Luis MILLAN/EU

The 70-year old Nicolas Schmit has been touring the EU, having already participated in around 60 events in 16 member states in a bid to share the European socialists’ vision. Malta is not on his electoral campaign travel schedule.

“He’s going our there to meet people,” remarked Robin Murphy, PES Press and Communications Officer. “He’s talking to voters, he’s talking to social partners, he’s talking to our member parties (in member states).”

Robin Murphy, PES Press and Communications Officer – Photo: Luis MILLAN/EU

To this, the party’s secretary-general added: “Nicolas Schmit is a very experienced statesman who has done a lot in his life but is still willing to contribute to our own political family and to the EU integration project.”

What is the lead candidate mechanism?

The lead candidate process gives European voters the opportunity to influence who will run the European Commission, the EU’s executive body. Before the European elections, European parties nominate candidates for the post and European citizens can then support their bid by voting for MEP candidates belonging to the corresponding party. The lead candidates are frequently informally referred to using the German word ‘Spitzenkandidaten’.

The two main political parties in Malta, the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party, are members of the PES and the EPP respectively.

How does the lead candidate process work?

European political parties have been putting forward their lead candidates for the European elections since 2014. The EU treaties stipulate that, after the European elections, EU countries nominate a candidate for the post of President of the European Commission, but must factor in the results of the European elections. The candidate of the European political party that gets the most seats in the elections is considered as the candidate to head the European Commission.

Read more here.

Who is Nicolas Schmit?

Nicolas Schmit served for 15 years as a minister in the Luxembourgish government for the Lëtzebuerger Sozialistesch Aarbeschterpartei (LSAP), Luxembourg’s Labour Party. Between 2004 and 2014 he consequently served as Minister Delegate for Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Minister for Labour, Employment and Immigration, and Minister for Labour, Employment and the Social and Solidarity Economy.

In 2019, after being elected as a Member of the European Parliament, Nicolas Schmit became European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights. With his strong background in social affairs, Nicolas took the responsibility to strengthen the EU’s social dimension and to support workers and job seekers and to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights. Nicolas works closely with his seven fellow European Commissioners from the PES family, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) Group in the European Parliament, and prime ministers from the PES in the European Council.

In his five years in the European Commission, Nicolas put Europe’s social dimension back on the Commission’s agenda. Being a defender of collective bargaining and of decent wages, he tabled a directive on minimum wages.

Nicolas Schmit knows how to deliver social and economic protection in crisis situations. During the Covid-19 pandemic, together with his fellow PES European Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni, he pushed for and implemented the European instrument for temporary Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE), which saved 31.5 million jobs and 2.5 million companies across the EU.

Social protections and the preservation and strengthening of workers’ rights in emerging economic models – this has been a central theme of Nicolas Schmit’s work as European Commissioner. Under his lead, the EU adopted a directive on platform workers ensuring dignified, transparent, and predictable working conditions. He also led the adoption of the European Child Guarantee, which fights poverty and ensures children’s access to basic public services.

As European Commissioner overseeing the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, Nicolas also led the fight against homelessness by launching the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness. It brings together member states, European institutions, and NGOs to share best practices and engage in dialogue on how to fight homelessness. 

PES lead candidate Nicolas Schmit during Thursday’s Eurovision Debate 2024 with Lead Candidates in Brussels – Photo: Laurie DIEFFEMBACQ/EU

Before entering politics, Nicolas worked as a diplomat. He served for six years as permanent representative of Luxembourg to the EU. Nicolas contributed directly to the Maastricht Treaty, the Nice Treaty, and the project for a European Constitution. Between 1990 and 1991 he was counsellor at the Permanent Representation of Luxembourg to the EU, in charge of the Intergovernmental Conference leading to the Maastricht Treaty. From 1991 to 1998 he was Director in charge of Economic and European affairs and Development cooperation in the Luxembourgish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Nicolas Schmit is an experienced economist and holds a doctoral degree in International Economic Relations from the Faculty of Law and Economics of the University of Aix-Marseille.

He is married, with four children and one grandchild. Born in 1953, Nicolas comes from Differdange, in the south of Luxembourg. The assassination of his grandfather by the Nazis, when his father was only 12 years old, determined his personal and political beliefs. (Information courtesy of PES)

Sitting Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba giving a tour of the Siġġiewi village feast to European Commissioner Nicolas Schmit last year.

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