Speech at the PES Congress, Brussels, 29.9.2012 by Martin Schulz
The European Socialists are back! We are winning elections in Europe again.
The pendulum is swinging back in our direction! Remember the hard defeats we had suffered at the time of our last PES Congress in 2009 in Prague.
We had suffered heavy losses in the European elections.
We then painfully lost in the UK, Portugal, Spain and Greece.
We have had some tough years.
Despite attacks from both far-left and eurosceptic parties, we stood by our principles and ignored populist calls to change direction.
We did not bow to populist tendencies.
And our principles have been justified.
We are now winning elections all over Europe again! We are again in government – in Denmark, in Belgium, in Slovakia, in Romania and in France.
This is just the beginning! Two weeks ago, in hard economic times, Diederik Samsom pulled off a spectacular result in the Netherlands.
He made up an enormous amount of ground; he ran a fantastic campaign with a pro-European message at its heart.
Congratulations Diederik and the PvdA! My friend Robert Fico went on the campaign trail in Slovakia with a clear pro-Europe message – and scored a magnificent historic victory.
We can win! And we shall win! François Hollande’s glorious victory has triggered a change of direction in Europe.
The victory is still resonating far and wide! François has put an end to rule of “Merkozy”.
And in autumn of 2013 the SPD will put an end to Merkel’s rule over Europe.
The pendulum is moving in our direction again! Europe is changing direction, it’s moving towards us – to the left! Lithuania, Romania.
Malta, Italy, Bulgaria, Portugal, Austria and Germany – will all go to the polls in the next twelve months – and if we work hard, and set out our case for social justice, in all of these countries social democrats will be ingovernment.
Only social democracy can deliver for the people of Europe.
It is our time! Friends, Four years ago saw the start of a disastrous downward spiral of bank bail-outs, increasing government debt, heartless austerity policies, deepening recession, rising unemployment and growing poverty.
There is still no light at the end of the tunnel.
For fours years, time and time again, the same misguided policy has been repeated – we are stuck in an endless loop.
Let’s be honest: The medicine of the right is not working! The governing principle of capitalism used to be that risk-takers must bear the consequences of their actions.
Today, the unconditional government bail-outs have given birth to risk-free casino capitalism.
Why should businesses act responsibly if the taxpayer is going to step in and bear any loss? Risk-free capitalism is the worst form of capitalism: it corrupts totally.
The governing principle now, with risk-free capitalism, is that profits are privatised and losses are socialised.
It’s ordinary people who are picking up the tab for speculators.
First, the taxpayer had to step in to save the banks and avoid a complete melt-down of the financial system.
Billions upon billions went up in smoke! And then centre-right governments said that, to reduce the debt mountain, everyone had to tighten their belts! Uncompromising austerity programmes were forced on the countries in crisis in a downright orgy of cost-cutting: incomes slashed, pensions cut, hospitals closed down, schools downsized, and workers’ rights curbed.
How can you tell people that there is no money for health or education because of debt reduction while those who caused the crisis are not contributing their fair share to reduce this debt? Why is there still no Europe-wide financial transaction tax? Value-added tax has to be paid on every loaf of bread and every piece of fruit – on almost everything, in fact, apart from financial transactions! The finance industry has not made a single contribution towards reducing the huge volume of debt – a finance industry which has long since been making billions in profits again.
We need a Europe-wide financial transaction tax now! It is simply a matter of moral decency and social justice! Those that caused the crisis must live up to their responsibilities now! That is what we will fight for in Europe; and that is why we need to change Europe.
That is why Europe needs us – strong social democrats! The Merkels, Sarkozys, conservatives and liberals of this world have said that countries have to go through with tough austerity programmes – by way of punishment for past sins.
And because, or so they say, that is the only way to make things better. Competitiveness – they say – will then increase.
But where is this improvement to be seen? In exponentially growing poverty? In rocketing unemployment? In a deepening and expanding recession? It’s nowhere to be seen.
Even Ireland and Portugal, model pupils who have more than fulfilled all the troika’s conditions in exemplary fashion, are still in a terrible mess.
If even the star pupils are not succeeding, only one conclusion can be drawn: the austerity medicine is not working. Even Sweden, under a conservative government, has now stated that it will launch a stimulus package for growth.
Comrades, Europe needs new hope. Europe needs a policy for growth. We need a pact for growth and employment.
That is what we will fight for in Europe; and that is why we need to change Europe.
That is why Europe needs us – strong social democrats! Dear Friends, as if that wasn’t bad enough already there is a growing gap between rich and poor.
During the crisis, the rich have become even richer – where is the social justice in that? Take an example from my home country.
Between 1992 and 2012, the net assets of private households in Germany have more than doubled: from 4.6 to 10 trillion euros.
In the last five crisis-hit years alone, there has been a 1.4 trillion euro increase.
More than half of those assets are owned by the top ten percent of the population.
Only 1% of private assets are owned by the bottom fifty percent of households.
Where did I read that? Not in a far-left leaflet; but, rather, in the – conservative – Federal Government’s report on poverty and 4 wealth.
Europe remains a wealthy continent, yet Europe’s wealth must be distributed more fairly.
François Hollande, with his tax on the super rich, is taking the right approach.
The strong can shoulder more than the weak.
In Europe, the gap between rich and poor must be reduced.
That is what we will fight for in Europe; and that is why we need to change Europe.
That is why Europe needs us – strong social democrats! Friends, I find it absolutely intolerable to see how ordinary people – those who have to shoulder the burden of the financial crisis – are treated with contempt.
Guido Westerwelle, on the subject of welfare benefit recipients, talks about ‘late-Roman decadence’.
Mario Draghi says that the European social model is a competitive drawback.
Mitt Romney claims that 47% of Americans are, in any case, government-dependent ‘victims’.
And I shall not repeat, here, what Spanish Member of Parliament Andrea Fabra said in Parliament about unemployed people.
Not only do ordinary people, making enormous sacrifices, have to pay for the devastation caused by speculators; they suffer derision too.
Such scorn and derision stem from a neo-liberal view of mankind.
Neo-liberalism considers people to be rivals, or they are viewed as cost factors with ears.
Everyone for himself or herself.
One person against another.
One country against another.
The neoliberals are proponents of a Europe that is reduced only to the single market.
Where only the law of the jungle applies, where the only thing that counts is to impose personal, selfish interests.
The other: they are the victims – lazy good-for-nothings: it’s only me who matters! We social democrats have always viewed people and humanity differently, as social beings; as individuals sharing a common purpose with those around them, that solidarity underpins our fundamental values, that the plight of our neighbour matters.
From that emerges, for us, a different view of society – a different view of Europe.
We social democrats stand for a human society, we put people first.
We stand for a Europe of common purpose! We have understood that in Europe we are all in the same boat.
We have understood that our interests and our livelihoods are intimately interlinked.
We are so deeply interlinked that by showing solidarity we are actually helping ourselves 5 That is what we will fight for in Europe; and that is why we need to change Europe.
That is why Europe needs us – strong social democrats! Friends, When I look at Europe today, my heart sinks.
Europe’s plight makes me angry.
I see national feelings of resentment rising; I hear how others are talked about with such venom and prejudice; I see the resurgence of parties which are hostile to Europe and hostile to foreigners.
What we have to understand is that, while we may have contained the demons of destruction and hate, we have not killed them off completely.
In Europe we have built up new structures – yet we have not changed human-kind.
If we break up those new structures, the demons will come back.
The most powerful safeguards against those demons are the values of social democracy: respect, tolerance and solidarity.
That is why Europe needs us – strong social democrats! Friends, The crisis has forced neo-liberals to admit defeat: the guiding ‘invisible hand’ simply does not work; markets need a regulatory framework.
Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher – they all peddled the same line: the less oversight, the better; the fewer the rules, the better; the less government the better.
To the detriment of millions people, these notions became mainstream thinking.
For three decades, neo-liberalism set the agenda in Europe.
Privatisation, deregulation and tax-cutting became the dogma.
Yet, in the midst of the crisis, even the neo liberals were forced to change direction.
Only the state could save the markets from total meltdown.
Governments were forced to step in to save Europe’s banks.
There was the sudden realisation that the state and politics must play a role.
But where, now, is this much-pledged and much-heralded ‘comeback’ for politics? And what about all those G-20 summit pledges that the financial markets would – once and for all – be properly regulated? 6 In reality, the words of conservative heads of state and governments were not followed-up by action.
I see this day in, day out.
At present we are at loggerheads with the Council about capping bonuses and regulating credit rating agencies’ assessments of government bonds.
This is being blocked by the conservative-liberal majority in the Council.
They have learned nothing – and I mean absolutely zero! Neo-liberalism still has its followers.
They are to be found on boards of directors and in government circles and they still believe in the fairytale about the salutary effects of free markets.
If we don’t watch out, when one day the crisis is over, neo-liberals will say that it wasn’t as bad as all that, that things are up and running again, that there is no need at all for all this financial market regulation, financial transaction taxes, banking unions, and economic governance.
You don’t have to be able to see into the future – after all, it’s only common sense – to see that the next crisis will be inevitable.
And then everything will start all over again: bail-out packages, government debt, cost-cutting orgies, unemployment, regressive redistribution of wealth, increased poverty.
This is why Europe needs to put politics first! No financial actor, no financial product and no financial market must remain unregulated or unsupervised.
That is what we will fight for in Europe; and that is why we need to change Europe.
That is why Europe needs us – strong social democrats! The fact is that, if we don’t make sure that politics is in the driving seat and uncontrolled markets are brought under control, it is our democracy which will be at risk! Merkel came up with the ill-judged term ‘market-compliant democracy’.
I don’t want a marketcompliant democracy! What I want is a democracy-compliant market! And I am certain that that is what you want too! For that reason, as President of the European Parliament, I must protest.
No – Parliaments are not a waste of time – parliaments are the guarantors of democracy! As President of the European Parliament, I battle this anti-parliamentarianism day in, day out.
I confront the fact that the heads of government, in the Council, monopolise all decisionmaking and behind closed doors take important decisions which affect us all.
This is unacceptable! 7 I can only strongly endorse the view of Jürgen Habermas who refers to this as “the expropriation of power” by the European Council.
Habermas warns us, in strongly worded terms, to the risk that democracy is being dismantled, brick by brick.
This is a dangerous path for Europe.
Friends, You are all familiar with Willy Brandt’s famous words: ‘Wir wollen mehr Demokratie wagen’ – Let’s dare more democracy.
At that time, these words were of course meant for the Federal Republic of Germany.
But these days it applies equally to Europe: Europe needs more democracy! That is what we intend fighting for.
Let’s dare more democracy in Europe! That is why Europe needs us – strong social democrats! Friends, What is the most painful of all is that young people are paying for the crisis – with their life opportunities.
Today, in countries such as Spain and Greece, among young people, one in two has no work.
One in two! That is a disgrace! Europe’s best-educated generation, ever, risks turning into the lost generation.
In Madrid, a young unemployed Spanish woman asked me the following question, a question that touched me deeply: You have 750 million euros to bail out the banks – How many euros have you got for us? I understand why these young people feel let down.
I understand why they are angry.
I understand why young people in Spain, in Greece, and throughout Europe, are taking to the streets to demonstrate against a system in which profits are privatised and losses are socialised.
I understand why they are taking to the streets in opposition to a policy which is failing their interests.
They are outraged – yes – and rightly so.
They feel abandoned.
They feel helpless.
They are losing hope.
The biggest threat to democracy is people’s sense of powerlessness, hopelessness and despair in the face of all powerful markets and politicians who are out of touch.
Democracy lives when people know that they can take decisions about their lives – that, by 8 getting involved, they can change their lives and society for the better.
Our socialist and social democratic parties have a duty to open our doors to them – to those who feel let down, discouraged or outraged.
If we do not succeed in giving these young people a political home, then we will have failed as social democrats.
Yet, our socialist and social democratic parties can look back with pride on our history: we have always stood up for the downtrodden, for the oppressed and for the victimised.
That is the tradition in which I place the words of my party leader, Sigmar Gabriel, when he says: ” Sozialdemokraten müssen wieder dorthin gehen, wo das Leben laut und anstrengend ist, ja wo es kracht und gelegentlich auch stinkt” – social democrats must again go where life is noisy and demanding – indeed, where there is trouble and, sometimes, where it stinks.
And – I would add – where desperation dwells.
For a century, we social democrats have made greater democracy, greater social justice, greater freedom and greater equality the leitmotif of our actions.
Our parents fought for those ideals.
Some paid with their lives.
We are proud of them.
We have secured greater democracy, greater social justice, greater freedom and greater equality in our societies.
We have established the world’s most progressive and most civilised society.
We have succeeded in bringing capitalism under control within the nation state.
Now we must bring capitalism under control once more – at the European level! This is the task before us – bringing capitalism under control for a second time – otherwise solidarity, democracy and Europe will soon come to an end.
That is what we must fight for.
Friends, how can we European social democrats become stronger? By winning elections at national level.
But also by being unified at European level.
When I was elected Chair of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, people said to me that nothing would come of it, that we couldn’t be taken seriously, that we were only playing second fiddle.
That period taught me that, through unity, there is strength.
Numerically, we are the second largest group in the European Parliament, but in terms of political effectiveness and achievements, we are quite clearly the strongest group in the 9 House.
Through unity, there is strength! I am proud to be a member of the Socialists and Democrats Group, led outstandingly by my friend Hannes Swoboda.
At times unfortunately, we social democrats lack unity at European level.
Allow me to cite a case in point by way of illustration.
The Justice and Home Affairs Ministers recently discussed freedom of movement for citizens – known in Brussels as the ‘Schengen evaluation mechanism’, they wanted to create the possibility to reintroduce border controls.
The entire problem originated with Nicolas Sarkozy.
A single veto would have been enough to stop this in its tracks.
But not one of the interior ministers present from our party family had the courage to say no even though freedom of movement is clearly a social democratic value.
All national ministers in our party family come to Brussels in the belief that their job is to represent their home countries.
And quite rightly so.
That is what they were elected to do.
But they were also elected because voters want their countries and Europe to be more social democratic.
On Europe’s key policy-making bodies – the European Parliament, the Council, the European Council and also the Commission – we need Europe’s social democrats to closely cooperate, work together and be united.
The PES Leaders’ meeting, prior to summits, must be established as a fixture in the diaries of every socialist and social democratic party leader and head of government – just as it is for the conservatives and liberals.
We cannot let the Conservatives and the Liberals take the lead.
The PES Leaders meeting is the moment to show unity and to demonstrate our political force including to the media.
Comrades, Today we are saying goodbye to Philip Cordery, who, eight years ago, was elected Secretary-General of the PES here in Brussels.
After eight years’ splendid work, we come full circle.
Philip has driven forward the ‘Europeanisation’ of the PES, in particular through the ‘PES Activists initiative’, by means of which he has built the PES into a genuine European grass roots party.
The post of Secretary-General is not an easy one; the national parties have to be both stood up to and at the same time encouraged to cooperate.
That you have done with great vigour and drive.
Thank you, Philip.
We wish you every success in your work at l’Assemblée nationale.
10 Dear Sergej, I am happy that you have proposed Achim Post as your new Secretary- General.
I have known and held Achim in high regard for years.
Achim has tremendous experience in European politics as well as in political organisation and campaigning.
I am convinced, dear Sergej, that together you will make the PES even stronger and lead us to a glorious victory at the next European elections.
Thank you Sergej and keep up the good work! Friends, Looking around the room, I see many young faces – many people of my children’s age.
One day, Europe will be yours.
It is up to you to make Europe your political home.
Europe is what you make out of it.
Europe needs you in order to bring capitalism under control again.
For us, Europe means solidarity – between nations, peoples, and individuals.
For us, Europe means social justice, workers’ rights, equal pay for equal work and gender equality.
For us, Europe means democracy, strong Parliaments and citizen participation.
For us, Europe means social cohesion and environmental sustainability.
For us, Europe means tolerance, diversity and the respect of minorities.
That is why Europe needs us – strong social democrats.
Friends, Europe is changing direction; social democrats are winning again in Europe! Conservatism, blind austerity and uncontrolled markets have all failed and only caused misery.
We are fighting for a different Europe where the people are put first, where politics controls markets and where solidarity underpins all of our action.
Friends, we can not do this alone, let’s work together for a better Europe, a social-democratic Europe! Thank you.