Thursday 16 April 2009

European Parliament elections 2009 (83): PES and ELDR start campaign fight with exchange of open letters

Yesterday, the Party of European Socialist (PES) wrote an open letter to the European Liberals and Democrats (ELDR). Today, ELDR has answered with another open letter.

This is the first substantial exchange of political arguments I am aware of on the European level in this campaign.

It is the first time we get into something that is worth debating. And because it's not about me (although I had my say on the issues yesterday), let me just present you parts of the letters (PES in italic, ELDR in blockquote) and make it a true exchange, without my comments interfering. I have erased some lines, to make it not too long, but don't hesitate to read the integral versions that are linked above!


PES: Today your European party – the European Liberal Democrats – will launch its European election campaign. One of its priorities for the elections worries us. It says “The single market should be reinforced and extended in energy, postal services, railways and health care”.
ELDR: You are surprised about our commitment to the Single Market. You should not be. Liberals believe that Europeans benefit from the Single Market. It gives European consumers more choice and better products. It gives European companies opportunities to grow and create jobs.
PES: Our question is: how do you propose to use the single market to ensure these services remain high-quality, affordable and accessible to all?
ELDR: The Single Market is not an end in itself for Liberals, but rather serves as the most efficient means to meet the citizens' demands.
PES: Heath care is a public service. Our priority must be to ensure that everyone has access to good quality health care where they live, regardless of ability to pay. This is a fundamental principle: market forces must never be the master of health services. The European Parliament has recently been discussing ‘cross-border health care’: plans to give citizens a right to medical treatment in other EU countries, paid for by their government. While Liberal MEPs have been arguing for an open market for health care without regard for the implications, we Socialists have been working hard to make sure that a privilege for a few – less than 1 per cent of patients – does not undermine health care for the many. It sounds nice for a patient from Belgium to travel, let’s say, to Austria for treatment, but how much will it cost and where does the money come from ultimately - from local health services or is it the patient who will pay the difference?
ELDR: Public health care systems all over the EU have shown to be falling short of patients' demands. Socialists regard patients as recipients; Liberals regard patients as consumers who demand the best possible service. Patients want choice, and competition will lead to better health coverage for all Europeans. 12 years of Socialist government in the UK did not help to remedy the failures of the British National Health Service. Aren't the months-long waiting lists for a surgery the best arguments to open up borders for treatment?
PES: It is fine to extend the single market, but where is future investment going to come from? Rail infrastructure is not cheap and all major European rail projects are at least partly state-funded. We Socialists say that ultimately the function of railways is not to generate profits for private companies: good, affordable transport is a social and economic necessity. Look at the disastrous railway privatisation in the UK (under the Conservatives).
ELDR: Successful cross border projects such as the Thalys or the Eurostar project have served the European consumers while German state-owned railway services become constantly more expensive. If you compare the market services with state services you will easily find out that the forces of markets satisfy the demands of citizens much better and create growth, jobs and opportunities.
PES: Postal services have already been exposed to the single market, involving substantial job losses, but no evident benefit for the consumer. With more and more local Post Office closures, perhaps the longer walk to the Post Office is good for our health! What is the advantage of another extension of the single market in postal services?
ELDR: [W]e are proud of our commitment to open postal services. Do you really want to go back to a world of postal monopolies? Don't you remember the queues? Competition forces monopolies to give better service to their users, creates more choice and lower prices and benefits society in general by "increasing the overall cake" to be shared amongst all. Did state monopolies ever deliver better outcomes to consumers?
PES: The EU is about to conclude its third energy liberalisation package. We supported that because the market has a role to play in energy supplies. But greater challenges than more liberalization lie ahead. Has the single market improved security of energy supplies, helped the transition to renewable energy or improved energy efficiency?
ELDR: No answer.
PES: In 2006 socialists in the European Parliament secured an important victory in excluding health and social services from the infamous Services Directive. We did not have the support of most Liberal MEPs. With this stain on your voting record, can the Liberals be trusted to take care of essential public services?
ELDR: No answer.
ELDR doesn't stop here, but challenges the PES in other areas:

Equal opportunities
ELDR: A few weeks ago, you questioned our liberal commitment to equal opportunities. Actions speak louder than words!

The ELDR President is a woman. What about the PES President? The ELDR Secretary General is a woman. What about the PES Secretary General? 5 out of 7 ELDR Vice Presidents are women. How many women serve in the PES board? 42% of Liberal MEPs are women and they hold positions of real power within our Parliamentary Group. What about your Parliamentary Group?

You find female heads of lists for the European elections in liberal parties in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Estonia, Austria and England while Socialists seem to remain committed to patriarchal party structures.
International relations and human rights
ELDR: So does the voting record of Socialists in the European Parliament. Only a few weeks ago the Socialist Group voted against or abstained when the European Parliament voted in favor of a Tibetan-Chinese dialogue. Why?

The Socialists group didn't back the Parliament's report on a new EU-Russia cooperation agreement to raise the Human Rights situation in Russia. Why?

I would like to see this exchange continue, because I suppose the PES won't be satisfied with these answers, and they might have good replies to the equal opportunities and IR/HR challenges. I think they can do better than they did in their initial letter, and i suppose that the ELDR reply will offer good food for a counter-attack.

Could this become, finally, a true European debate? Why other European parties do not join? I want more, more, more!

Update: Jon calls the ELDR letter "rubbish", especially the part on trains - and in comparison to his own reply published yesterday, that is absolutely true.

Under the category "European Parliament elections 2009" I am following up national and European activities on the path to the European Parliament elections 2009.

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Eurocentric said...

Thanks for structuring it in a more conversational form.

It is good to see the block debates, and it's good to see the opening up of better policy (or at least ideological stances on policy) discussion.

Florian said...

Let's hope this to be the beginning of a controversial issue campaigning.

Ludovic said...

The controverse to me is the clash of two visions.

One that pretend to know what is good for you, the other that feels mankind gets better by being responsible for its fate.

The first one sells you protectionism, the second one sells you that making mistake is necessary to grow.

Julien Frisch said...

@ Ludovic

For me this is a very superficial description of both, the PES ('socialist') and the ELDR ('liberal') approach.

In addition, I have seen socialist parties in Europe being more liberal than their Liberal counterparts. So having a vision doesn't always mean that if you're in power (if you may speak of something like this in the EP's case) you are willing and/or able to do the politics and implement the policies that lead to this vision.

That is why I prefer more concrete proposals than the very superficial and political summary of what you think are the liberal and the socialist approaches.

Migeru said...

What is really behind this is that the largest group of "swing voters" are the social liberals. Depending on the EU member state, these people are represented by a PES party, an ELDR party, or orphaned.

And Julien is very right that some PES parties have migrated to the right or liberal parties. The UK is a case in point.