Left MEPs challenge Juncker’s elitist and militarist agenda in ‘State of the Union’ response

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 The self-styled ‘State of the Union’ address in which the unelected president of the European Commission tries to convince us he’s as important as a US President, did not go unchallenged, though it probably went largely unnoticed by most people in Europe. While big capital will have been following it as closely as a child at Christmas gazes at Santa’s sack, the Brexit result an evidence from polls which suggests that the EU is in fact even less popular in other member states, demonstrate that many have given up the EU as any potential source of solutions to the grim and growing problems which afflict, to one degree or another, all twenty-eight member states.

Commission president (he prefers that, though the French and Dutch terms, at least, translate equally well as ‘chairman’) focusses on issues of interest to corporate capital, including the militarisation of the Union and its closer ‘integration’ via a European army and tighter fiscal union.

United Left Group (GUE-NGL) President Gabi Zimmer MEP said the European Union has two stark choices: genuine reform or a disaster waiting to happen:

“This is about whether to stick with the status quo and manage the deficits that will only lead to the decline of the EU; or move forward with a new social and democratic EU. From our point of view, the EU has got to be profoundly reformed based on real democracy and a stable social pillar. The house of Europe has to be liveable for everyone - we need job security and affordable housing among other things. Young people have to see a better future. Therefore, the Commission has to do much more against unemployment, poverty and homelessness.”

With regard to a social pillar for the Union, Zimmer said that “we don't believe in the Commission’s promises anymore. The EU is totally focussed on its global competitiveness. The Commission cannot talk about social security while basing its policies on flexible jobs and low wages. It’s always the citizens who have to shoulder the burden of this strategy including public debts, cuts in public investments, the privatisation of public services and goods. What Europe needs is a common unemployment benefit; a common European minimum income. Concrete solutions and answers - that’s what we truly need in the EU,” Zimmer implored.

Zimmer, a member of Germany’s Die Linke (The Left), described the EU’s predicament as a vicious circle if nothing changes. She also cited nationalism as the greatest threat to the Union and that certain member states are fostering its growth to the detriment of the continent. To counter this litany of malaise, the German MEP says genuine democracy and citizens´ participation as well as accountability at the very top of the administration would be a good start

“The Union has got to be democratic - really democratic,” she insisted. “Juncker´s proposal that Members of the European Commission should take part in elections misses the point - it is better for him to work on the European Citizens´ Initiative and allow it to become a real instrument for democracy. The citizens have got to be involved in the project. They have got to be participants. They don’t want decisions to be taken above their heads!”

Zimmer also cited former Commission President José Manuel Barroso’s toxic legacy of cosying up to lobbyists as one reason why trust in the EU elites is so low. In her concluding remarks, Zimmer commented on the proposed European army and the controversial EU passenger name record (PNR) agreement with Canada.  “I don’t think our citizens feel any safer if the EU acts like an overexcited teenager, pretending to be one of the big boys with military hardware,” she said. “Instead, people are getting the impression that we are looking to start a war.  Finally, Mr Juncker said that he doesn´t want to renegotiate agreements such as CETA. Does the same apply when it comes to PNR which, as the European Court of Justice Attorney General said, violates basic and data protection rights of EU citizens?”

 João Ferreira of the Portuguese Communist Party directed the blame at Juncker for serving the interests of the minority at the expense of others. “When ‘Business Europe’ looked at the agenda for the next summit, they noticed how prominent European big capital will feature in the Council conclusions,” he said. “ These are the interests that you serve. People want jobs with a future and good wages. But they are constantly coming under threat and being blackmailed by those at the top - like the sanctions for Portugal. We need to do away with Juncker and Barroso. Goldman Sachs is never going to do anything to champion the workers and all of this flies in the way of reality and our freedom,” said Ferreira.

Another Portuguese  MEP, Marisa Matias of the Left Bloc, went further - singling out the Commission president for his double-standards: “Germany has violated the limit of 6% for external surpluses since 2007 and was warned in 2013,” she pointed out. “Yet Germany keeps ignoring this and has even increased its surpluses to record values. Meanwhile, France had a budget deficit of 3.5% in 2015 and will continue to violate the deficit limit in 2016. Yet neither will be punished because they are Germany and France. Portugal wasn’t given this special treatment and must lower its deficit to within the rules. At the same time, it’s suffering badly due to sanctions imposed on accessing the European funds. THIS is the reality of the EU. This is the part that Mr Juncker ignored in his speech.” Matias ended her speech by asking, “ Mr President, don’t you feel ashamed?”

Dutch MEP Dennis de Jong, of the radical left Socialist Party, together with his SP colleague Anne-Marie Mineur, went further than simple criticism, presenting what they called ‘The True State of the Union’. “Juncker sees the social problems,” De Jong explained, “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.”