Pittella: Socialists pushed ‘social agenda’ into Rome Declaration

S&D group leader Gianni Pittella insisted that the surprise of the French presidential election could well be his party colleague, Benoît Hamon. [European Parliament/Flickr]

The Rome Declaration will be balanced and contain strong references to social issues thanks to pressure exerted by the EU’s socialist leaders, Gianni Pittella told euractiv.com.

Referring to the recent remarks made by Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem about southern EU countries, Pittella noted that the Dutch politician shares the same stereotypes as German Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble.

Gianni Pittella is leader of the Socialists & Democrats (S&D group) in the European Parliament.

He spoke to EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos.

Tomorrow (25 March) we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. What are your first thoughts?

I hope it will not only be a celebration but a real restart, a new beginning for Europe. I am pretty aware of the fact we should not expect a revolution, but we should be realistic to expect some concrete steps forward. I hope sincerely to have a complete unity.

Speaking about unity, Poland said that if the declaration did not include the issues that are priorities for the country, it would not accept it.

This is a weird way to make negotiations. If all EU member states think this way, by only focusing on the national interests, we will undermine the European interest.

I think we will ultimately have the conditions to sign a common declaration from all the 27 member states.

Poland warns it may not adopt EU's Rome Declaration

Poland may not accept the Rome Declaration, which will chart the European Union’s course after Britain leaves, if the document does not touch upon issues Warsaw considers crucial, the country’s prime minister said.

 

The Greek government also asked for one extra paragraph on social dimension in the declaration.

I agree with that. The social agenda and pillar must be one of the most important commitments of this declaration. Without this point, I suggested Mr Antonio Tajani (President of the European Parliament) not sign it.

But I am quite sure our socialist leaders in the EU Council will not allow this part to be absent from the final text. It should be the core of this declaration.

Sweden pushes gender equality onto Rome agenda

As EU leaders parsed through divisive issues like migration and European integration in discussions on the future of Europe today (10 March), Sweden’s prime minister threw another controversial matter into the mix: employment policy.

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem recently came under fire for the “women and drinks” comment. GUE-NGL leader Gabriele Zimmer said that the social-democrats would be responsible if Dijsselbloem remains in his post.

I was the first leader who strongly criticised these statements and asked for his resignation. I fulfilled my duty. I had the courage to ask it as Dijsselbloem is officially a member of my political family. He has to step down because his words have nothing to do with the principles of the socialist and progressive family.

These are stereotypes against southern countries and women. Frankly, this is not the right level of quality to be president of the Eurogroup.

Indignation grows over Eurogroup chief’s ‘drinks and women’ remarks

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem on Wednesday (22 March) expressed “regret” over his comments that southern European countries blew their money on “drinks and women” but rejected calls to resign, despite a growing chorus of indignation.

But Wolfgang Schäuble said he works well with him.

Schäuble shares the same stereotypes. Also in the past, both of them had the same positions on important issues like Greece. I have said it already many times but I will repeat it: Schäuble is irresponsible toward Greece and we managed to cancel his plans for a Grexit, which could have destroyed Greek as well as EU citizens.

Let’s focus on the French election. You recently expressed your support for Benoît Hamon.   

Hamon was chosen through a democratic procedure, he won the primaries and triggered the enthusiasm of many people, particularly young people. He is using some words that have been forgotten by the left like the fight against equality, tax evasion. This new programme focusing on sustainable development is attracting many new voters.

I am quite convinced that the real surprise of the next election will be Benoît Hammon.

Two days ago you met him here in Brussels. What did you discuss?

He spoke in front of my bureau and was pretty clear with us. We expressed our concerns about his idea to create a separate eurozone assembly based on a separate treaty that could eventually replace the Eurogroup. We are not on this page but apart from this, we agree and share his political goals.

We are confident that in one month he will prove the polls wrong.

Hamon's European programme strikes a chord in Brussels

France’s Socialist presidential candidate made the pilgrimage to Brussels on Tuesday (21 March) to try and drum up support for his EU programme. But the Commission remains unconvinced by Benoît Hamon’s plans to democratise eurozone governance. EURACTIV France reports.

But he will need the support of the communists to do that.

Many voters of the Communist Party will vote for Hamon, no matter what the communist party leadership says.

Honestly, Hamon has a real possibility to be the frontrunner against Le Pen.

Are the European socialist parties moving to the left? Or it’s still a theory?

We broke the grand coalition because we were not able to find a compromise on social issues with the European People’s Party and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). I am not Schäuble, who is a person of rigour and does not care about poor EU citizens. His vision on the economy and Europe is completely incompatible with the socialist family.

I can cooperate with Manfred Weber and Guy Verhofstadt in terms of reinforcing political EU integration. But when it comes to the social agenda and the fiscal compact, I have a different position.

With the progressive forces I find more convergence on these issues but on our ideas, we are autonomous. Having our ideas as a basis, we are discussing with the Greens and other progressive forces not only in the European Parliament but also outside, with the trade unions, NGOs. I am doing a tour across Europe aiming to enlarge the socialist alliance and focus on specific priorities.

The main problem is inequality. We need to give a more optimistic future to the poorest people.

Don’t you think that socialist leaders should raise their voice in the Council as well? Too much talking but at the end of the day, the centre-right decides and socialists remain silent.

I don’t agree with this argument. I know very well the clash inside the Eurogroup and the EU Council among socialist and conservative representatives.

We are in close contact with our leaders and they completely share our vision as well. If the Rome Declaration is balanced and contains a strong reference to the social issues it will be thanks to the actions of our leaders.

And if the social pillar is not there?

I am sure it will be. The Italian, Portuguese and Swedish governments among others are exerting a lot of pressure to ensure it, together of course with the European Parliament.

Background

Prominent MEP provides insight into Rome Declaration

As the Rome Declaration is finalised, Portuguese Partido Socialista MEP Maria João Rodrigues (S&D) provided insight yesterday (21 March), about what ideally should be in it, in anticipation of its unveiling.

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