SOTEU: On fighting fires instead of preventing them

SOTEU: On fighting fires instead of preventing them

Sep 18, 2022
No EU initiative in Ukraine, little effort to tackle climate change and no one is watching a SOTEU at 9am
Volt France - SOTEU 2022

> Europe is a peace project. Why are Scholz, Macron and Orban talking with Putin instead of the EU launching a peace initiative?

> 10 Canadairs and 3 helicopters are Europe's answer to mitigate the effects of climate change?

> Why does the US President speak at prime time and the Commission President at 9am?

Volt France - Sven Franck

Sven Franck

Co-president of Volt France

Volt France - Robin Fontaine

Robin Fontaine

Non-executive board member

Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gave her latest state of the Union address outlining her priorities for the upcoming year. Volt France hopes that actual commitments made, such as purchasing 10 planes and 3 helicopters to fight climate change, are not indicators of the Commission's overall ambitions for more European integration. Europe needs a Convention for adopting our Union to the reality on the ground. We need treaties that allow us to make decisions, to hold member states accountable and to advance the federal European project.

Stopping the war machine

We applaud the Commission president's firm commitment with regards to upholding sanctions. The coming months and winter will be a stress test, not only on the frontline, but also for our societies and democracies at home. We will need solidarity and resolve going forward and it must be coordinated on a European level. Pushing the economic ambition to fast-track Ukraine's access into our single market is a laudable goal, but we are missing Europe's political ambition, namely an initiative for peace that ensures Ukraine's territorial integrity and identity. France and Germany consult with Putin while Hungary is requesting Russian gas when we would need a united Europe to speak up and suggest a path forward that does not result in escalation of the war into a continental conflict. The Commission President falls short in this regard and we regret that Europe is only talking economics when a political voice for peace is more than overdue.

Light's out in Europe?

Our energy markets are in turmoil and the Commission rightfully announced a comprehensive reform of our electricity markets while floating the idea of coordinated consumption reductions, price caps and taxing windfall profits. However, without being able to hold member states accountable, the European Union is a tiger without teeth. France only recently gave up resistance against taxing windfall profits and while it was possible to connect the Ukrainian electricity network to the European grid in two weeks, access of Spain and Portugal to the same grid, which could provide much needed renewables this winter is apparently held up by France for both gas and renewables seemingly scheduled for no earlier than 2027. The Commission proposed their Single Market Emergency Instrument (SMEI), but it has neither democratic legitimacy nor the levers to actually have member states comply with measures the Commission wants to introduce. 

Lip service to Climate change

Volt France also questions the European commission's ambition with regards to climate change. It is not only a question of fighting fires with 10 additional planes and 3 helicopters, but of preventing fires - way beyond this summer's catastrophes. Instead of throwing more equipment at the next catastrophe, we need sustainable forest management, protection of riverbeds, preservation of fertile soil and contingency plans for fresh water supply. It is regrettable that the Commission is punting for the usual conference lip services in Montréal or Sharm-el-Sheik instead holding member states accountable to agreed upon objectives. Our Minister of Ecological Transition, Christophe Béchu, can thus ask to not be overzealous with regards to protecting nature and the implementation of the Zero-Artificialisation-Net strategy declaring a de facto moratorium on climate laws. Until Europe is able to act on member state inaction, we will continue on a trajectory of global warming well beyond 1.5⁰.

Plucking economic holes

The financial crises, Covid and the Ukraine war's effects on energy markets and inflation have left scars in our societies and economies, some of them self-inflicted. The coming years will mean scarcer resources - whether energy, raw materials or workers. Europe has missed its upskilling goal of 15% for 2020 and projections speak of 43 million open positions by 2050, while migration is still a topic exploited by extremists instead of being hailed by the Commission as a safety net for our economy. The Commission’s emphasis on SMEs is essential, yet the EU's agricultural and industrial policies often speak a different language. Rewarding quantity over quality and proximity is still the norm in the Common Agricultural Policy and there seems to be little motivation to prevent monopolies in the Cloud through for example addressing egress fees in the upcoming European Data Act. We have a European Small Business Act, but why is it not implemented across member states? For Volt France, supporting SMEs is not only about simplifying taxation and payment terms, but about creating a fair competitive environment that allows our businesses to flourish. And here the Commission still falls short.

Democracy must renew itself

We can only underline many of the Commission President's remarks with regards to the challenges of upholding democratic values and the need to extend the European Union's foreign policy reach as well as Europe's decision making capabilities. But as with climate change, commitments need to be followed by action. The EU has squandered precious time in helping countries on a trajectory that would eventually lead to EU ascension. The gap of our inaction has been filled by others and our emphasis on the economy combined with our lack of political vision means Europe will have to play catch up. The Maastricht treaties have been in place since 1993. A lot has happened over the last 30 years and a living democracy needs living treaties that can be adopted to new realities. It is not only a question about intergenerational solidarity, as the Commission President remarked, but a question of democracy itself. France provides a warning with our Grand Debat, Citizen Convention for Climate and now the Council of Refondation giving citizens a voice only to then ignore what is being said. The resulting disappointment and alienation destroy the foundation of our democracy, a risk we are also facing with the COFE on European level. Volt France therefore underlines the need to include citizens' voices in a European Convention to advance the European project and evolve it from an economic union to a federal, political Union.

What about a European vision and identity?

We also would like to remark, that the United States president delivers his State of the Union speeches around the evening news and it is broadcasted on major stations. Contrast this with our European Commission president's State of the Union at 9am in the morning - an essential message to citizens when none of them is watching. Europe is a project of numbers: the European Union was born as an economic union to preserve peace across the continent. If we want to make a stand against populists within Europe and beyond, Europe must also be about emotions. Our State of the Union address cannot only provide a short term economic outlook, but must include a long term political vision. It must address and reach all citizens. And it must underline the importance of the European project if we ever want to lay the foundation of growing our European identity from the diversity of our many cultures.

For Europe to succeed, there must be more than numbers. There must also be emotions. 

Here is to hoping that our Commission president understands the urgency for a Convention on treaty reforms and the need to reach all citizens with the next State of the Union address.

If you also believe, that Europe could and must be so much more, then support our efforts in getting there:

Sources

  • European Commission - Transcript SOTEU 2022 (link)
  • Reuters - Portuguese Prime Minister calls on France to support MidCat gas pipeline through the Pyrenees, Sergio Goncalves, September 2022 (link)
  • Euronews - Is France an obstacle to the Iberian Peninsula’s goal of becoming an energy supplier? by Elza Goncalves, June 2022 (link)
  • Euractiv - EU Commission wants sweeping new powers to secure supply chains, By János Allenbach-Ammann, September 2022 (link)
  • UNEP - COP15 - Conference on Biodiversity 2022, Montréal (link)
  • UNFCC - COP27 - Conference on Climate Change 2022, Sharm-el-Sheik (link)
  • (fr) Les Échos - Artificialisation des sols : le gouvernement prêt à revoir sa copie, September 2022 (link)
  • JobMarketMonitor, Upskilling and Reskilling in Europe - A potentail of 128 million adults (46.1% of adult population), January 2021 (link)
  • Cgdef, Can Africa help Europe avoid its looming ageing crisis? par George Kenney et al, Juin 2021 (link)
  • Autoreit Consument & Markt - Market study on cloud services, September 2022 (link)

About Volt

As the first truly pan-European party, Volt is committed to reforming the European Union and responding to today's challenges in a coordinated way at European level. Volt's vision: a progressive Europe with an inclusive society, a climate-friendly economy, an adaptable education system and self-determined digitalisation.

Volt is convinced that only the democratic participation of all European citizens will prepare us for a sustainable, economically strong and socially just future. This is why Volt acts at all levels - from local to European, as a movement and as a party. The movement gives everyone a voice and the opportunity to engage politically from within society. Today, Volt is present all over Europe: thousands of people of all ages and professions are involved in 30 European countries with teams in hundreds of cities.

Contact

Sven Franck - Co-president of Volt France
Mail : sven.franck@volteuropa.org 

Robin Fontaine - Non executive board member
Mail : robin.fontaine@volteuropa.org 

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