In some respects, 2015 was another milestone for social and environmental issues. First came the resounding support for same-sex marriage in the Irish referendum, a remarkable feat for a traditionally socially conservative country. 2015 also saw the election of more women than ever before to the parliaments of the British and the Spanish States, and the Valencian government now has a cabinet with complete gender parity (5 women and 4 men). We saw the election of more progressive governments made up of EFAy member parties, and now from Catalonia to Corsica, and from Scotland to the Balearic Islands, EFAy governments are sheltering their citizens from the austerity agenda peddled by the Troika and conservative state governments – institutions that are intent on shrinking the Welfare State and curbing people’s rights. And in December, we witnessed a historic agreement in Paris to curb greenhouse gas emissions, putting the planet on trach to finally tackle the critical issue of climate change.
However, the tragedies and the regressions outweigh the progress made in these fields – one step forward and three steps back, as the saying goes.
The pictures of Aylan Kurdi, the small child who drowned and was washed up on a Turkish beach in September woke the world up to a tragedy that had been ignored for far too long. Today, in the European Union, thousands of people escaping war and abject poverty are suffering due to the failure of so many state governments to provide adequate and humane conditions for these people. It is a travesty and a cause for collective shame when children and young people are living in squalor in Calais and on the eastern borders of the EU. It is also a call to action for progressive parties like ours to denounce the self-interest of states that to populist and xenophobic movements. From Alacant to Aberystwyth, and from Bastia to Brest, our communities have shown that they are capable of welcoming and resettling vulnerable refugees.
Furthermore, the neoliberal agenda of the European Commission, of conservative state governments and of big business continue to dictate the social policy of governments across the continent. The lack of respect by states and EU institutions towards the Greeks’ democratic decision to reject further crippling austerity has damaged the credibility of the European Union. The undemocratic negotiations on TTIP, the trans-Atlantic treaty which is being supported by big business, have mobilised civil society organisations, progressive political parties and trade unions against the creeping privatisation of our public services. One of our main aims for 2015 should be to stop this damaging deal for European small businesses and producers. If passed, it would give large American corporations a free reign over our markets and public services, pricing smaller local producers out of the market and devaluing the price and quality of European agricultural produce. If we as a formation want to a social Europe, we need to be at the vanguard of campaigns against TTIP, which only reinforces the negative image of the European Union as a group of neoliberal states and institutions.
The challenges facing the European Union are greater today than they have been for years, if not decades. The Greek financial, social and political crisis was a low point in recent history of the EU, and has underlined the need for further legislation to protect the European model of the Welfare State against the damaging clutches of austerity. It is of course our responsibility, as a progressive group of parties, to build an alternative Europe. A Europe where issues are not swept under the carpet, but are dealt with humanity, compassion and with a strong sense of responsibility towards those who are suffering daily on the richest continent on Earth.
Emyr Gruffydd / Vice-president for Socio-economic Issues