Can Macron’s grand offer to Europe really hold back the populist wave?

8 Mar 2019

European elections are still largely fought on domestic turf, but Emmanuel Macron is trying to break the mold. Preparing to launch his campaign for the vote in May, the French President has written to all EU citizens with a wide-ranging letter in newspapers across the continent. In the text Macron sets out his solutions for Europe’s loss of momentum, as revealed especially by the Brexit vote in the UK. He makes an emotional and intellectual call for renewal, to give citizens hope and fend off the threat of populism.

But does Macron’s analysis make any sense?

Well, on the one hand, Macron is right. The EU has been a successful peace project and leaders should be more ambitious in defending its record. He is also correct to point out the lies and attacks undermining the European project, which come from less-than-democratic forces both inside and outside the EU. However, he spends too much time imagining a bold new defense project and too little on the root cause of many citizens’ disillusionment: unstable work and the growing gap between wages and the cost of living.

We have to be honest about the EU’s weaknesses.

The EU’s single market has been a great success in creating wealth, but the benefits have not been fairly shared. National and European policymakers have turned a blind eye as social dumping, exploitation and unfair competition took a toll on workers’ jobs, wages and conditions. Citizens are struggling and they are right to be angry.

Macron’s suggestion to launch a European minimum wage shows that he has some idea what is at stake. So does his support for the principle that equal work deserves equal pay. But we have had warm words from politicians before.

Workers are taking the lead

Now we see workers and their trade unions starting to take the lead, harnessing their international solidarity to build a positive vision for a Europe that works for workers. This is exactly the approach of the European Transport Workers’ Federation, a group of unions coordinating the Fair Transport Europe campaign. More than 100 coordinated actions across Europe, and a huge demo in Brussels on 27 March, will mobilise thousands of workers behind a manifesto for Fair Transport. That means decent pay and stable contracts, affordable public transport in every city, and a worker-friendly response to automation.

It’s little wonder that transport workers are at the forefront of this new approach to social campaigning. Recent decisions by EU leaders have shown time and time again that the most mobile workers are the most likely to see their rights and conditions bargained away. They do vital work moving people and goods on land, at sea and in the air. But they are under attack. Abuse scandals in trucking, revolts at Ryanair and human trafficking in the river cruise industry all point to the same problem: social dumping and a race to the bottom in transport.

So Macron and his allies would be wise to give their support to campaigns like this. Firstly, our policy proposals offer concrete responses to the challenges facing workers in transport and other sectors. But, above all, our movement is built on solidarity and cooperation between workers in different countries and professions. By standing together to build and fight for better jobs, we are showing how Europe can reach Macron’s dream: a shared project, not just a market. So, Monsieur le Président, will you join us?

Follow us: