EU leaders 'spellbound by austerity fiasco'
by Alda Sousa
Recessionary austerity measures are leading Europe back to 19th century levels of inequality – and reducing the EU budget will aggravate the situation, writes MEP
With their puffed-up statements about aiming for growth and the creation of jobs uttered in the same breath as announcements of the 'need' to cut or freeze the European Union budget, member states are pressing on with their austerity delirium. With some countries in serious social and financial difficulty characterised by appalling unemployment rates and dramatic increases in poverty, more and better Europe with enhanced solidarity is needed. Unfortunately, however, European leaders are spellbound by their own fiasco.
Less than a month after presenting a growth and jobs compact, the same people who sit in the Council took a slash and burn approach to European Commission proposals for the general EU budget for 2013. Despite the fact that more than €9bn is already needed to cover 2012 spending on cohesion and social funds, they keep insisting on further cuts. In the 2013 budget the likely victims will be the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Development, education, training, Erasmus, lifelong learning, green energy, regional development, and aid for cooperation with third countries, inter alia.
At a time when several governments are engaging in the worst austerity and spending cuts drive in living memory – leading to the unprecedented levels of unemployment, precarious work, and the undermining of rights – reducing the EU budget, which amounts to a mere 1 per cent of the bloc's gross national income, will only aggravate the situation, especially for those under greater financial pressure.
Adequately resourced and targeted EU programmes can stimulate growth and employment across Europe's regions. In Strasbourg this week, the European Parliament sought to tame the cuts proposed by the council in an effort to help protect some key programmes from funding deficits like those that disrupted them in 2012. For example, for education, research, and investment for growth and jobs, MEPs voted to restore and reinforce budgetary provisions. For Palestine and the Middle East Peace process, MEPs voted not only to restore the €200m set aside in the commission's draft budget, but to add €100m to it. This was one of the key lines for the Left in parliament and one which we will continue to defend into the future.
While parliament's position was a clear improvement on what council came up with, MEPs ultimately proved too timid in their defence of citizen's interests. Chiefly, they showed a lack of ambition to challenge the twisted logic of austerity that sadly dominates most discussion on policy priorities across the continent. For the Left, the pre-eminence of the austerity doctrine is not just unfortunate but downright absurd. Even the International Monetary Fund, has now shamefacedly hinted that austerity does not work. EU leaders continue to close their eyes and ears to the destruction caused by their disastrous policies.
A new budgetary rationale of solidarity, employment, sustainability, and democracy, with adequate funding is needed. That is why the Left demands the immediate creation and implementation of a financial transaction tax, and the fulfilment of programmes in social investment to tackle poverty and inequality in our regions, with particular emphasis on the fundamental problem of youth unemployment.
It is high time those who rule us took their heads out of the sand and began listening to the millions of people taking to the streets across the continent. MEPs, as members of the only democratically elected institution in the EU, should embolden themselves in defence of European citizens and the promotion of solidarity, not of recessionary austerity and the consequent return to 19th century levels of inequality.
Alda Sousa MEP is a member of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left and is the group's coordinator in the European Parliament's budget committee
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