Mixed results in European Parliament elections: Workers urgently need a progressive alliance

27 May 2019

Worker-friendly parties have not suffered the disaster that was predicted, but the new European Parliament will require brave and creative coalitions. Now the EU must deliver a concrete and progressive response to voters’ social concerns. That is the only way to see off the populists and the far-right.

Europe has voted, and the results at national level are becoming clear. The formation of groups at European level will take time but many trends can already be confirmed. The left has lost seats overall, but a massive rise for the Greens will partially replace losses for the social democratic and left-wing groups. The centre-right EPP group is still the largest party in Parliament, but is facing a historic reduction. The other right-wing parties are likely to coalesce into new formations, but the populists and far-right have achieved strong results. Nevertheless, the hard-right wave that many predicted has not overwhelmed Europe. Much will depend on the centrist Liberal parties in the coming weeks, as their much larger group is well positioned to be the kingmaker. In any case, a greatly increased turnout shows that Europe is an increasingly important issue for voters. We can only welcome that.

These results show clearly that Europe is not working for working people. The EU can no longer be just a Europe of markets. Citizens’ legitimate frustrations have been manipulated by populists who stoke anger and fear. The EU must now deliver results that improve everyday life for working people across the continent.

It is still far too early to speak about the fate of any specific policies, and it will be some days before we know who will take over the various leadership positions in the EU Institutions. But it is already clear that socially-minded liberals and conservatives must listen to the concerns of working people across Europe. By working together, progressive forces can complete the European Pillar of Social Rights and start delivering European policies that reduce inequality, support jobs, and guarantee a just transition to a green, digital economy. Social and environmental sustainability are two sides of the same coin, and a well-managed transition can share the burden of change while creating new jobs, a better work-life balance and a healthier planet. Anything less than a social Europe will only worsen the inequalities between and within European societies, offering ammunition to the populists and nationalists who want to profit from our divisions.

For trade unions this new climate will require new approaches in our lobbying and campaigning. We already have clear policy proposals that would help address the problems and worries of working people in Europe. For example, the ETF’s Fair Transport Manifesto has eight concrete demands which could all be implemented during the next 5-year legislative period. Now we must bring these proposals to a wide range of political actors, along with the hard evidence and worker’s stories that support them. Recent campaigns on the EU Mobility Package and the European Labour Authority show what trade unions can achieve if they work together internationally and with a range of political forces. Now we must stand together even more and fight for our values in Brussels, in national capitals, and in workplaces across Europe.