An open letter to Commission President Juncker

Friday, July 10, 2015 - 09:39

Dear Mr Juncker: We don’t need Plan B. It’s time for Plan P (for people)

I am writing to you as a committed European. I believe in the founding values of the European Union of solidarity and equality. I hear that you do too. I also write as someone from a country, Ireland, that has had a history of hunger and of migration, and more recently has seen a banker-caused crisis that let bankers off free and pushed our economy back decades. (You may recall there have been some scandals about banks in Luxembourg too.)

I am writing as a former staffer of the European Parliament. I remember the frustration I felt when Eurosceptic MEPs had their faces splashed across the press ranting about how Europe was about to ban smoky bacon crisps. In reality, the European Parliament was tackling carcinogens: one of the good stories behind the reasons to be part of the EU – in this case preventing cancer - was being viciously twisted into a lie. Sadly, that lie was half way around the world before the truth had got its boots on and the EU could redeem its name among crisp lovers in Britain and Ireland.  Looking back at that time now, I almost get nostalgic. Because the brand of Eurosceptics in circulation today are a lot more ‘Auslander raus’ than ‘Europe’s stealing my crisps’.  But I wonder if the debate around Greece isn’t creating another brand of Eurosceptic. Since the crisis, the imposition of a straightjacket of austerity on people across the European Union has left many feeling cold. This latest chapter has already seen much of the population of Greece and other countries on the brink of dire poverty , or past the brink. Speaking to a range of different people here in Brussels, from fellow NGO types to taxi drivers and local shop owners, and even some officials of the European Commission, I hear this: solidarity is dead.

I am writing as a campaigner for social justice with ActionAid. I’ve worked with people from some of the poorest parts of the world. The European Union was once a model for other countries for how to tackle inequality and insecurity, and enable shared prosperity. For decades, people admired the social model of Europe. Now that social model is being divorced and Europe is getting remarried – to austerity and deregulation. People see that. They see rising inequality and rising intolerance – from the old Europe that the EU was created to banish forever. I have seen desperation in Europe that reminds me of what I have seen in the most challenging countries in the world.

On Tuesday evening, raising the spectre of failure in the Eurogroup negotiations, you announced that as Commission President you had a detailed Plan B – a plan for Greece to leave the Eurozone. Instead of a Plan B, European leaders need to push a Plan P, a Plan for People. Where is my European Union?  Mine is the kind that is fundamentally about solidarity among people in and outside Europe, and particularly solidarity with those who have least, who dream of a better life for all. A Europe in which the power of the people is greater than the people in power. That was the European dream.  Europe’s challenge is not about one nation versus other nations. It is about people. The coming days mark a chance to bring it back to this.  This is a chance for international institutions to finally learn from their past failings and strike a deal which resolves some of the shared challenges of our age - without exacerbating the poverty and rising inequality which is hurting us all. What matters now is what happens next:  let’s go for Plan P, let’s put people first. Please remember the faces of the poor as you deliberate in the corridors of power.