The New Deal was a social contract with the American people. A European Green New Deal must likewise enshrine social alongside ecological aspirations.
The idea of a ‘New Deal’ originated in the United States in the 1930s, as an answer to the widespread opinion that government had failed in its duties and that the economy was not bringing prosperity to the many. A new contract between the people, the government and social stakeholders therefore had to be agreed, to achieve the ultimate goals of progress, justice and equality.
In 1933, in his inaugural speech as president, Franklin D Roosevelt made this New Deal with the American people: a series of programmes, public projects, financial reforms and regulations would offer relief for the poor and the unemployed. It included reform of the financial system and a plan for economic rescue from the Great Depression. The New Deal expanded the size and the scope of the federal government—in particular its role in the economy.
To strengthen the deal for the people, it was complemented in 1935 with a second package of reforms (the Second New Deal), focused on the social arena: public-employment programmes for the unemployed, a National Labour Relations Act to protect trade-union action, a Social Security Act, unemployment insurance and public help and government aid for dependent children and people with disabilities. In short, Roosevelt´s New Deal established the basis for the welfare state as we know it today.
Now, in a context of general dissatisfaction with the current socio-economic system and political disaffection, the European Commission is offering a European Green Deal. Important questions inevitably emerge. Will this proposal also be a New Deal for the European people? Will it offer relief for the poor and social justice for the many?
The commission communication contains a series of proposals and instruments which go in the right direction: climate neutrality, zero pollution, sustainable mobility, clean energy, clean air and water for all, a ‘farm to fork’ food strategy, the Just Transition Initiative, the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan, a European Climate Bank and the European Climate Pact. Undoubtedly, the communication is a wide-reaching and ambitious plan, especially when compared with the recent failure of the United Nations COP25 conference in Madrid, seeking enhanced national commitments to the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement.
Regardless of the positives, it will however be a one-legged plan if not complemented with a social ambit. It will not be enough to counter those feelings of anxiety, failure and abandonment which predominate across groups and regions in Europe among the so-called ‘losers of globalisation’ and the ‘left behind’.
To blaze a European trail towards a sustainable future, we need more than a Green Deal. Filling in the ozone hole is an emergency but national governments and the European Union must also act with the same sense of urgency to narrow the growing inequalities gap and the poverty hole, in which millions of people are trapped. We need a Green New Deal, in the broadest sense of the term.
Climate change, pollution and environmental destruction have exacerbated inequalities and they disproportionately affect the poor and most vulnerable groups, regions and communities. A European Green New Deal must be much more ambitious and encompass a long-term vision of change, combining environmental, economic and social measures. A Green Deal focused on investments to make the transition to a decarbonised, climate-neutral economy will not be a good deal for the people if, at the same time, it does not invest in the most vulnerable to ensure a sustainable future for all.
A European Green New Deal should be a tool to achieve not only the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but also the global objectives enshrined in article 3.3 of the Treaty on European Union: the wellbeing of people, sustainable development, a highly competitive social-market economy, full employment, social progress, a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment, the combating of social exclusion and discrimination, the promotion of social justice and protection, equality between women and men, solidarity between generations and protections of the rights of the child.
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A New Deal for Europe that is a good deal for the people should imply a new and fairer distribution of resources, the protection of the poor and the re-empowerment of the people, a reshaping of our economies for the wellbeing of all and the achievement of social justice. In essence, a deal based on sustainable development, solidarity and shared prosperity.
New social contract
The commission has presented the first part of the deal—the green part. We must now start fighting for the second package of reforms to complete the deal for the people—the social part, making it a Green NewDeal. Only then will we be able to talk about a new social contract for Europe, guaranteeing wellbeing and socio-ecological progress for all, leaving no person and no territory behind in the green and digital transitions.
This second part of the deal should include the following measures:
- A Sustainable Development and Social Justice Pact, which will put social and ecological objectives on the same level as fiscal discipline in the European architecture. This pact should guarantee that economic interests do not take precedence over the socio-ecological rights of citizens. It should complement the Stability and Growth Pact and resolve its fundamental contradictions in terms of social and ecological justice.
- Reform of the European Semester process, to become the European Sustainability Semester process, co-ordinating economic, social and environmental policies to achieve the SDGs. This reform must make environmental and social indicators equally mandatory to the economic ones.
- A holistic, comprehensive and effective action plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights, composed of legislative proposals and supportive measures, including financial and governance means, and with the ultimate goal of integrating the pillar into the treaties. This action plan must include, among other things, the establishment of decent living wages in Europe through law or collective bargaining, a directive guaranteeing decent working conditions for all types of jobs, the strengthening of collective bargaining systems, legislative tools to put an end to scourges such as the gender pay gap and bogus self-employment, and a legal framework for digital labour rights such as the right to disconnect, safeguarding workers’ privacy and protection from tracking. There must also be swift implementation of the European Child Guarantee, as defended by the European Parliament and with a dedicated budget, and a European Affordable Housing Investment Plan.
- A just transition for all, which puts people first over corporate greed. There must be a transition to a sustainable Europe where corporate social responsibility is mandatory, workplace democracy is the norm, restructuring processes are agreed with the workers and territories affected, and quality jobs are created in sectors with long-term prospects offering added value to communities. It must be one where workers have dignity and opportunities to prosper and have a project for their life, where young people can become independent, start a family if they so desire and have access to affordable housing, and no one is scared of ageing or becoming ill or disabled, because he or she will be supported in solidarity by society as a whole. A Europe where public wealth and natural areas and resources are protected, where air, water and energy are clean, where children can be raised enjoying equal treatment and opportunities, and every single person counts and has the possibility to contribute to the common project.
We do not only want a green Europe, but a rainbow Europe—a fully inclusive project in which everyone’s future will shine in the bright colours of peace, hope and joy.
Estrella Durá Ferrandis is a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats political group in the European Parliament and of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. Irina de Sancho Alonso is senior political adviser on employment and social policy to the Spanish Socialist delegation in the parliament.