Real Change is Possible

Delegates from all over Europe gathered in Madrid over the weekend at the Party of European Socialists Election Congress, to endorse Frans Timmermans as our lead candidate in his bid to replace Jean-Claude Juncker, and to agree our common PES Manifesto.

I was glad of the opportunity to talk to our host Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and other colleagues and friends, including Prime Ministers António Costa of Portugal and Stefan Löfven of Sweden; and I also had an informative conversation with Jeremy Corbyn.

There was a confident mood in Madrid. The new leader of the Social Democratic Party of Austria, Pamela Rendi-Wagner, is very impressive, and she is a good example of a new wave of socialist leaders who are confident of regaining power across Europe, from Austria to Finland.

I thanked our comrades for their solidarity in relation to Brexit, for understanding the unique circumstances of the Irish border and for continuing to support the common EU position that there can be no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland. Having spoken directly with some of the most influential figures in European socialism, I am confident that we will find great solidarity among EU member states in relation to how developments in the UK affect Ireland.

The clear message coming out of Madrid was the need for change. We, in the Party of European Socialists, are as internationalist as ever, and in that context we see the European Union as a means to achieve stronger regulation of the economy. But the EU needs to change and to better respond to people’s needs, which is why our PES Manifesto is called A New Social Contract for Europe.

Our role, as members of the PES, is to be pro-European without being blindly pro-EU. The institutions of the European Union are capable of delivering on our vision of progressive change, but only if those institutions – the European Parliament, Commission and Council – have more socialists and social democrats in them. That’s the reality of political power. In recent years, a wave of right-wing governments in the EU’s member states has skewed the EU institutions towards conservative policies. Right-wing ministers are in the majority at the Council meetings, and right-wing governments appoint like-minded Commissioners. The May 2019 European elections are our opportunity to change the EU’s direction by electing as many MEPs as possible to the S&D group.

In the next European Parliament, the S&D group will be demanding real concessions and radical change in exchange for our support. The next five years has to see a reduction in inequality, a robust European response to climate change, and stronger protections for workers as technology displaces jobs.

In Madrid, I had the opportunity to address the Congress plenary about how we can reduce economic inequality. Among other measures, we need decent minimum wages everywhere in Europe, collective bargaining rights in new sectors of the economy, and a strong European Labour Authority. With these policies we can eliminate child poverty, reduce the gender pay gap and fulfils the global Sustainable Development Goals in Europe. We have a vision of a Europe for all: an open, tolerant Europe free from war, free from discrimination, where everyone’s rights are respected.

We have three months to share our European Socialist vision with the people of Europe and to convince them that real change is possible.

Brendan Howlin TD
Leader of the Labour Party

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