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The time has come for Progressives to reclaim the process of European Union integration

Nicolas Schmit
Minister of Labour, Employment and the Social and Solidarity Economy

60 years after the Rome treaties, time has come for progressives to reclaim the process of European integration and reconcile the Union with its citizens. The EU is still confronted with the legacy of the financial crisis and the social and economic crisis that followed. Although it seems as if the rise of right-wing populists has been momentarily contained, the future of this Union is uncertain and the economic context remains fragile.


To overcome these challenges, we have to return to our common progressive values and reclaim the European integration process as a progressive project – shaped by important figures like Spinelli, Mitterrand and Delors. We must assert a more democratic and social road towards integration. Our movement needs to be assertive, build on core values and defend our fundamental principles: free, and more equal and fair societies in a Europe that puts economic and social principles at the same level.

To counter the politics of populists and reassert our own agenda, we need to put forward the idea of a protecting and caring Union.

For too long the Union’s policies have been inspired by neo-liberal thinking, putting markets and liberalisation at its centre. The consequences have been disastrous. Austerity has destabilised social structures in several European societies without any hope for swift recovery. Inequality has widened in and between member states and poverty has increased despite the commitment to reduce it by 20 million people. Across most member states the middle class has been squeezed, especially in those countries hardest hit by the crises. Social democracy has too often been viewed as the softer version of these policies.

Austerity has destabilised social structures in several European societies without any hope for swift recovery.

It is urgent that we reshape and renew our discourse on the policies we want for Europe as well as on globalisation. We should build on alliances with progressive civil society movements and trade Unions.

The Union has to care more for its citizens. Protect them against security threats. Ensure their economic and social security. Adopt a sustainable path that safeguards prosperity for future generations. In all three areas, nation-states can no longer deliver on their own. The Union is already active in all these fields. But more decisive action is needed to reform Schengen, to deepen the economic and monetary union, to put into place a social action plan in order to give social rights a concrete content, and ensure a just ecological transition through ambitious investment.

The Union has to care more for its citizens.

We have to make clear that a minimalistic approach on integration will not produce optimal outcome in a world of greater uncertainties and threats.

We need an inclusive and more democratic Europe addressing also the needs and demands of those left behind by globalisation, marketisation and technological change. Not only through means of redistribution but also recognition – by taking people left behind and their needs and worries serious. We need to reconnect with our core constituency and mobilise diverse groups around a common agenda.

One major challenge for progressives is to bridge the widening gaps between urban and rural, between highly qualified and less qualified, between fully taking part in globalisation and those feeling left behind. Therefore we must reclaim and reinvent solidarity in our societies as well as in the European Union.


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