By Sarantis Michalopoulos |

Date: 10/2/2017



Europe needs a radical change to its austerity-driven policies and not multiple speeds as Germany’s Angela Merkel suggests, high-ranking Social-Democrat, Green and leftist officials told

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week in Malta that European leaders may commit to a union of “different speeds” when they make a major declaration on its future at a summit in Rome next month.

Her statement triggered the strong reaction from centre-left politicians, who accused Merkel of attempting to divide Europe into a poor South and a wealthy North.

Socialists went further, arguing that such a proposal could be as dangerous as the future represented by nationalists and anti-European forces.

Pittella: Merkel reinvented the wheel

Asked whether Merkel’s proposal could be a turning point for Europe, Gianni Pittella, the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) chief in the European Parliament, said that the German Chancellor seemed “to have reinvented the wheel”.

The Italian politician admitted we already have a two-speed (or multiple-speed) Europe, with the eurozone and Schengen as perfect examples.

“The fact that now, during the German electoral campaign, Merkel comes up with this no-news idea, should sound a warning bell. Especially because, as rightly underlined by Mr. Romano Prodi [former President of the European Commission], this relaunch of the two-speed Europe idea does not come up at the end of a wide-ranging and deep European debate,” Pittella noted.

He continued, saying that the EU socialists will reject an idea to set up a sort of “luxury club” of the highest-performing Northern European countries, in which the austerity approach and “hawks like [finance minister Wolfgang] Schäuble play the role of the absolute kingmaker against the less well-off countries from Southern Europe”.

The social-democrats do not reject deeper integration through reinforced cooperation between some member states. But it would centre around common growth-oriented fiscal policy and the establishment of a “real European finance minister, a common social agenda or common policies on defence, security and migration. Then, of course we are ready to work on this and to ensure our contribution.”

“We cannot accept a division within Europe between what she sees as the purest from the North against the sinners from the South.”

Infringement procedure against Germany

For the socialist politicians, the point is not whether the high performance group should be open to other countries willing to join but what policies should be adopted.

“The point is what kind of policies you want to further integrate and how. Once the content and the procedures are clarified, we can finally assess our position,” the S&D chief said.

He reiterated his opposition to the “stupid” stability and growth pact rules and underlined the need to apply these rules in a political way, rather than to the letter.

“It means we need a political governance able to assess the economic, fiscal and political situation. The huge mistakes made with Greece cannot be repeated for the obtuseness of one person […]. If we should apply the rules in a stupid way, the EU should open an infringement procedure against Germany for trade surplus. This is what the rules say. We don´t want this, we want to change the rules.”

Zimmer: ‘Merkel&Co’ blackmail

Gabriele Zimmer, the President of the leftist GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament, attacked the German Chancellor as well as Schäuble, urging them to stop blackmailing Southern European countries like Greece and abusing European partners for their own gain in their election campaign in Germany.

“It is just hypocrisy asking for different speeds in the EU after the politics of Merkel&Co has caused an increase in social and economic inequality between the centre and the periphery in the EU,” the German politician said.

She added that the aggressive export policies of countries such as Germany significantly contributed to this widening gap between EU member states.

“Instead of different speeds, we need to reverse the current policies and push for a new politics of equality such as limiting surpluses and standing up for a social Union in order to allow for more convergence at a high level,” the Die Linke politician concluded.

Greens: No to a Europe ‘à la carte’

In a joint reply, European Green Party co-chairs Monica Frassoni and Reinhard Bütikofer said that their party opposed a Europe à la carte in which “everybody chooses what to do and in which the Parliament and Commission would clearly be sidelined”.

“We say no to ‘kern Europa’ based on a strong euro and austerity rules.”

The Greens are in favour of the organisation of a large and open debate, in which political intentions will be presented.

“This debate will clarify who wants a political union based on the rule of law, the will to innovate and transform the European economy in a sustainable way and the necessity to democratise and make more transparent and efficient the common institutions,” the Green politicians emphasised.

“We can certainly start with enhanced cooperation on issues like relocation of refugees, taxes, etc. but at the end of the day we will have to manage our differences or explode.”