News & Media

Our vision for a Social Europe

18 April 2019

Speech by Brendan Howlin TD
Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Brexit, Northern Ireland and Justice

Speaking during Dáil statements on Ireland's position on the future of Europe, Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin outlined the views of the Labour Party. He said:

"As we approach European Parliament elections, in just five weeks’ time, the future of Europe is not a theoretical question. Ireland’s position on the future of Europe will be decided by the people at the ballot box. My hope is that it will be clear to voters that they do indeed have a choice between radically different directions for Europe.

"The choice is not between populists versus parties committed to Europe. The real choice is between the vision of a Social Europe put forward by the Party of European Socialists, set against more of the same from the European People’s Party.

"One of these two parties will be the largest party in the European Parliament, and will be decisive in choosing the next President of the European Commission.

"Last night, French television hosted a debate – in English – between the two lead candidates contesting to replace Jean-Claude Juncker.

"Labour’s candidate, for the Party of European Socialists, is Frans Timmermans, and the European People Party’s candidate is Manfred Weber.

"The contrast between these two candidates could not be clearer. It defines the real battle for Europe’s future.

"Manfred Weber of the European People’s Party is someone with no ministerial experience. His greatest claim to fame is allowing Hungary’s Vicktor Orbán to remain inside the EPP until recent weeks, when Orbán’s controversial nationalism caused the EPP to suspend the Hungarian party’s membership.

"Weber insisted last night on – I quote – “strict and strong border control”, and resettlement of illegal migrants. Weber is playing on fears of migration, even though Europe has seen lower levels of migration in recent years, as the migration crisis has come under control due to commonly agreed European policies.

"Timmermans on the other hand is an experienced politician, a former Foreign Minister and the current First Vice-President of the European Commission. Timmermans talked about Europe’s silent majorities, who want to see Europe take action to redistribute wealth, to ensure fair tax systems and to bring in a minimum wage across all of Europe. He talked about children in poverty, youth unemployment and the working poor as the real issues that need to be resolved.

"We need to show that solidarity at European level can allow us to solve problems that nation states cannot solve on their own, like climate change. Weber talked about economic growth as the solution to all these issues, but he refused to entertain any European role in healthcare or pensions or taxation.

"Timmermans spoke about the ambition we need at European level to be part of the solution, for example a European programme to support social housing as an example of a decision we can take in the European Parliament.

"Europe has appropriate investment funds that can be made available for the purpose of supporting major public housing building programmes, along the lines that Labour wants to achieve here. Likewise, Timmermans suggested more action to close the pay gap between women and men. These measures would help to make Europe more understandable, and more popular.

"On Brexit, Weber expressed his scepticism about the UK’s potential role in the next European Parliament if they send MEPs. But Timmermans spoke about his hope for the UK to remain inside the EU and how he would welcome it if they stayed.

"One of Timmermans’s main arguments, which is a core issue for the Party of European Socialists as opposed to the European People’s Party, is our concern to avoid a situation where we turn people against other people because of they have a different religion or they have a different skin colour.

In contrast, Manfred Weber launched his campaign with a pledge to end negotiations with Turkey. The real threat of the far right – and why they are dangerous to the cohesion of the European institutions – is because they are focused on issues of identity. They seek to reinforce identity divisions between people.

"As we approach the European elections on 24th May, this is the choice that is before the people of Ireland. We are voting to choose sides on the future of Europe, to choose what side of the chamber our MEPs will sit on, and how they will vote on the central issues like child poverty, fair taxation and climate change.

"Most of all, we are voting to choose between an inward-looking version of nationalist Europe, surrounding by “strict and strong” border controls, or else an outward-looking Europe, built on solidarity and co-operation among Europe’s people as well as its governments."