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14 May 2009 Edition

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Another View by Eoin Ó Broin

A European response to the crisis?

WHAT should be the European response to the economic crisis? That was the question asked at a seminar held this week by TASC, Ireland’s leading left-wing think tank.
Attended by progressive academics, trade unionists and NGOs, the seminar was part of TASC’s ongoing effort to promote radical and credible alternatives to the current status quo.
The seminar heard a presentation from Portuguese academic and advisor to the Party of European Socialists (PES) in the European Parliament, Maria João Rodrigues.
Entitled ‘A Matter of Urgency: A New Progressive Recovery Plan for the European Union; The Need for a New Effort’, the presentation provided both an analysis of the present crisis and suggestions for a centre-left recovery plan.
Central to Rodrigues’s proposals were measures to create new jobs in green technologies; to safeguard existing jobs through a ‘new skills for new jobs initiative’; an emphasis on more active labour markets by attempting to provide greater flexibility and security; and measures to counteract social exclusion.
Rodrigues argued strongly for a European response to the crisis combining both greater co-ordination between member states and new European instruments, such as Euro-bonds. She also warned against a narrow focus on reducing public spending, arguing instead for greater regulation of banking and finance and greater investment in job creation and public services.
The PES advisor also called Ireland to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, arguing that it would strengthen the ability of the EU to develop a common approach to the economic crisis and to strengthen its external co-ordination on bodies such as the G20.
While there was much to disagree with in Maria João Rodrigues’s presentation, the debate is an important one with which all progressive opinion must engage. Indeed, if we are to have any chance of displacing the conservative status quo, domestically or at a European level, a degree of consensus on the Left is urgently required.
For this writer, two central questions must be addressed.
The first is a political one. Should we accept the present political framework laid down by the existing treaties and policy instruments of the EU as the basis for formulating our response to the crisis?
The second is a policy one. What economic and social policies should we choose for responding to the crisis in the short-term and long-term?
And, of course, how you answer the political question determines the limits of what you can do in policy terms.
In the view of this writer, the legal and policy framework that has governed European integration for the past three decades has reached a turning point. We can either continue to operate within this framework, with all of the negative political and economic consequences that it entails, or... we can start the process of redefining what European integration means, politically and economically, in a way that puts social progress, democracy and equality at its heart.
This second choice requires us to reject both the Lisbon Strategy (the EU’s macro economic policy framework) and the Lisbon Treaty. In their place we must develop new political, social and economic instruments at both a domestic and European level appropriate for the new times in which we find ourselves.

* Maria João Rodrigues’s paper can be downloaded from the TASC website @ http://www.tascnet.ie/ showPage.php

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