Who should be the next EU Commission President? Which of the Spitzenkandidaten do you support? With just over a week to go until the European Parliament elections, we’re putting your questions to some of the lead-candidates for Europe’s top job.
Today we’re talking to Frans Timmermans, the candidate for the Party of European Socialists (PES). If you want to know more about his history and background, then be sure to check out our candidate profile. What would he have to say to our readers?
First up, what would his top priorities be? We had a comment sent in from Jose, who wanted to know what the priorities for the next European Commission should be. What should it focus on after the European Parliament elections? Should it make a radical break with the last five years? Push for more modest reforms? Or stick with the course the EU is currently on?
My priority is to build a sustainable and fair Europe, strongly rooted in our fundamental values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
It’s time for Europe to focus on gender equality, because if half the population is discriminated against then Europe is not fair. My Commission will be a feminist Commission. I will implement a binding EU Gender Equality Strategy, to finally make equality between men and women a reality. By the end of my mandate, I want the gender pay gap to be gone, to be zero. And I want European legislation to tackle violence against women.
We need to urgently transform our economy to a fair and sustainable economy. The longer we wait, the more difficult it’s going to be, the more costly it’s going to be. My commission will focus on bringing about a circular economy in Europe, meaning more recycling, better use of our limited and precious resources, and protection of our natural environment and biodiversity. And cleaner energy and transport and infrastructure will also need to be prioritised.
We need to talk about tax too. Right now we have a few big companies who make billions of profits in Europe but pay no taxes here. That needs to be fixed, otherwise our social systems will no longer function and people will suffer. Traditionally member states were big enough to tax companies at national level, but in this economy big companies have too much power and can strong-arm member states. So we need to use the European scale to make corporations pay tax.
Lastly, work needs to pay. We need a minimum wage in every single member state of the European Union. Then you can construct a decent social system. We also need to understand that a teenager with a Deliveroo rucksack on his back is not an entrepreneur, it is somebody who deserves a decent contract, somebody who deserves social protection. A priority for my Commission will be decent employment conditions for all Europeans.
Next up, we had a comment from Hector, who says (citing Eurobarometer) that trust in the EU has still not recovered since the Eurozone crisis. Looking at the numbers, this does seem to be the case (average trust in the EU was indeed higher before 2012, though there have been signs of improvement in the last couple of years). How would Frans Timmermans help restore trust in the EU?
Europe needs to deal with the problems that the average person is facing, the problems they are telling me about as I campaign around Europe. People talk to me about housing, about their wages, about the environment, about the unfairness of our tax system. That’s why I want us to tackle these issues together first, and not to get lost in institutional conversations about treaties and armies and voting systems in Brussels.
I believe, for the first time since the beginning of European integration, that this European Union could implode. We’re not in a nightmare or a bad dream, it is a potential reality. But I also see from travelling around Europe that the vast, vast majority, of citizens want European cooperation to succeed. Only this majority is very often shouted down by the people who scream and shout and insult. As Commission President my task will be to give a voice back to the people who are now silent, to stand up for what they believe in. To give them courage by being courageous in the face of those who want to take us back to the past. We don’t want a society based on confrontation, based on hate and exclusion. To restore faith, we must stay attached to our fundamental values as Europeans – democracy, human rights, respect for the rule of law, equality. If we are steadfast in acting in accordance with these values, then we can reverse the feeling in our population that the EU does not work for everyone. That’s how we rebuild trust.
Next, we had a comment from Cyril, who wants to know what’s the best way to create jobs and tackle unemployment. He suggests either greater public investment, lower taxes, or a comprehensive reform of tax systems to benefits working and middle class households. What would Frans Timmermans say?
There is immense potential for job creation in Europe from our transition to a more sustainable economy, if we manage it properly. I would concentrate investment as quickly as possible in creating a circular economy, because the societies that transition to a sustainable economy first will have less costs and more benefits. When Europe leads the rest of the world will follow, so we need to be the continent that designs and builds the green products and services that the rest of the world wants to buy. If we can make Europe independent of fossil fuels, if we can assure that we are carbon neutral by 2050 – or even before – we can create millions and millions of jobs and have a healthier planet. I want a just transition fund for Europe, so workers can retrain and upskill, and so we can support older, more polluting industries, to become greener.
Finally, we had a comment from Ironworker, who says he’s confused by the debate over immigration. How should we think about migration? Is it good or bad for Europe? Or is it impossible to simplify such a complex issue that way?
This question requires a bit of nuance of course. Immigration can bring opportunities for Europe and help us face some of the challenges we will have in the coming years, but it needs to be managed properly. We need to distinguish clearly between people who have the right to be here and those who don’t and this needs to be coordinated across Europe based on solidarity between member states. But if we can manage it, we can all benefit. Our societies can profit from people with new skills and ideas, migration can strengthen the economy, generate news jobs and help maintain our welfare systems.
It’s vital that we don’t lose sight of the fact that refugees and immigrants are fellow human beings. We’ve witnessed the rise of identity politics and the extreme right in Europe. This is far more dangerous for our future than migration. The one thing we shouldn’t do as Europeans is turn against people because they are from elsewhere, turn against people because they have a different skin colour, turn against people because they have a different religion. When we strip someone of their humanity like this, bit by bit our own humanity dies too.
Will you support Frans Timmermans for EU Commission President? Or would you prefer one of the other candidates? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!