With the rightwing and populist tide that seemingly holds Europe in its grip, scapegoat politics is gaining the upper hand. I share the passion of my progressive colleagues to provide a strong, social and decent alternative to the politics of division and inequality. Nevertheless, we social democrats have a responsibility when so many dissatisfied Europeans see no other option than to pull the emergency brake. The Netherlands is unfortunately no exception to this.
One of the sources of this dissatisfaction is the lack of control that many people experience when it comes to changes in our daily lives or in our economy. Globalisation leads to a strong contrast between those who benefit from it and those who struggle. Wage-lowering labour migration in Europe nowadays leads to unequal competition between workers. Migration leads to tension within and between communities. And this lack of control cannot be diminished by making forced efforts to emphasise a European identity. For this, we need unity in diversity.
Progressive patriotism is the required antidote not only against the nationalist and xenophobic politics, but also as an alternative for the politics that ridicules or even throws suspicion on the longing for community or national identity.
Many ordinary Europeans have become poorer and more insecure after the financial crisis. Simultaneously, people see multinationals such as Starbucks and Apple using sly legal schemes to avoid taxation, while their local pubs and they themselves contribute dutifully.
For too many people, the European Union has become the symbol of social injustice, which makes its enormous achievement of peace and co-operation fade into the background. Is it strange that people are fed up with the EU? I believe not. This is why we need new, fair and progressive rules of the game. And those can only be set when we collaborate. The forthcoming Brexit negotiations provide us with a unique opportunity to set those new rules. We should not force the current neoliberal straitjacket on to the United Kingdom, but we should use this historic moment to make Europe more social and more just instead.
We should quit labour migration that only cuts wages. Europe’s promise was to make social progress possible for everyone, with decent jobs that are being valued with decent wages. Nonetheless, for many Europeans, labour migration nowadays leads to lower wages and unemployment. Because of the European directives about the posting of workers, to many the free movement of workers equals unfair competition on the labour market. This has to stop.
It turns colleagues into each other’s competitors. It is for good reason that large enterprises are categorically opposed to any change of the rules, while smaller companies and trade unions beg us to intervene. If we want to maintain the good part of the free movement of workers, we need radical measures to tackle this abuse. The Brexit negotiations offer us both an opportunity as well as a duty.
We also have to put an end to the system wherein the multinational hardly pays any taxes, while the bakery down the road does. This can be achieved through fair profits taxation and making tax avoidance and tax rebates illegal. If you and I pay taxes, so should the large enterprises. Let’s fight the race to the bottom for profits taxation together that threatens to come into existence if it is up to the Conservative UK government.
Lodewijk Asscher is the deputy prime minister of the Netherlands.