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Published: 17 march 2020 14:59

MEP Olekas. We handed over to the European Commission the people’s real expectations: the first 100 days

Juozas Olekas, MEP
Juozas Olekas, MEP

One hundred days have passed since the inauguration of the new European Commission. To secure the support of the various political groups, the Commission has promised a big package of solutions to political problems. I am happy to say that thanks to our political group, the Commission’s programme matches the peoples’ expectations and responds to their worries, writes Juozas Olekas, Member of the European Parliament, Social democrat.

The Commission started its term by focusing on climate change, Europe wide minimum wage, gender equality and moving the fight against cancer to the European level. How well has it done so far and what do we, the members of the European Parliament, expect next?

Most attention in the last six months has been focused on the question of climate change, which is impossible to ignore. We cannot close our eyes in the face of the obvious ecological crisis, which affects not only Europe but the entire world. Scientists claim that in Europe, Lithuania suffers from climate change the most. At the end of 2019, the European Parliament even announced a climate emergency. Therefore, we have suggested and seek to implement the European Green Deal to make Europe a climate-neutral continent. By 2050, we have to reach a net-zero level of emissions. We should also maintain the year 2030 as an intermediary goal to reduce emissions by no less than 55%.

It is also important not to forget the social aspects of our chosen green path. The limits of the planet and human beings are linked. These links draw a line between the old world, where uncontrolled greed dominates, and the new world, where prosperity is shared by all, and there is harmony between humanity and nature. Air pollution is a major environmental health risk in Europe, which causes around 80% of cardiovascular disease and lung cancer. It has a serious impact on fertility, pregnancies, newborns and children. Climate change is already affecting the weakest and most vulnerable of us.

The coronavirus is also ahead of us. It is a new challenge faced by Europe and the world. When trying to work together to improve the preparedness and the ability to control the spread of the virus in the Member States, we must strive to protect all people. Also not forget the effect the virus will have on our economies, because it may negatively impact our fight against climate change as well. However, we are putting efforts into funding science and vaccine development, sharing medical supply stocks in Europe, and, most importantly, protecting workers by creating necessary conditions to ensure social security.

We cannot risk creating new types of inequality or turning away the moment we hear the phrase ‘climate change’. Our farmers are already facing serious climate change-related damage due to droughts and excessive rain, which turn field unusable. People are already facing irreversible health-related consequences caused by climate change. If we lose our grip on the problem, we will no longer control it, and the results will become inevitable and irreversible.

During the first three months, the Commission has created a well-rounded strategy, which seeks to give the European Union economy a competitive advantage globally, especially against China and the US, while also addressing climate change. In the next three decades, the entirety of the EU economy, from agriculture to energy, will have to change radically.

Another important aspect is the fair European minimum wage. More than a third of Europeans feel financially insecure. 34,9% would be unable to handle unplanned expenses, meaning almost every second person is financially vulnerable. We must also tackle poverty, social exclusion, and reduce the rate of middle-class decline. To this end, one of the current European priorities is to turn the concept of social rights pillar into reality through legislation.

The Commission has promised to put forward in the first 100 days of its mandate a legislative proposal guaranteeing minimum wage for every EU worker. I am glad to hear that another of our long-term goals has been included in the Commission’s work programme. To those countries who fear that their long-term programmes will be changed, we can immediately say that their existing systems will be protected. Besides, possibly, used as a positive example to help other countries that can’t yet ensure a decent minimum wage. In Europe, minimum wages range from 312 Euros to more than 2000 Euros a month.

Daily expenses differ among countries. However, the time has come for Europe to take all the necessary measures to ensure a fair European quality of life. A balanced and reality-matching minimal wage is an important part of work to reach that goal.

Europe’s Cancer Plan, which was presented in spring, is another mark of the first 100 days. Ahead of its mandate, the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, promised a broad action plan for cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment, supporting those who survived and are currently fighting cancer. Initial guidelines were presented in February, and the final proposal is expected before the end of 2020.

Organisations that work on fighting other diseases wanted to draw the same level of attention to them. Commissioner Stella Kyriakides promised that the cancer plan would have a positive impact on the prognoses related to other illnesses as well. Although cancer experts evaluated the plan positively, we cannot predict if the efforts to raise the issue to the European level are serious until we see the full plan.

The Commission President promised to present in the first three months measures to ensure gender equality and equal pay in Europe. Gender equality is not only a fundamental element of society but is also key to societal development and tackling poverty. Sadly, discrimination against women is still a deeply entrenched problem in Europe. Men and women who do the same work still see wage disparity of around 20%. In some countries, the situation is not improving, but getting worse.

I want to draw attention to the fact that wage differences are not the only problem. We must add to the political agenda the aim of tackling another entrenched everyday problem, which we often fail to notice. Women still end up with a larger part of childcare and elderly care responsibilities. It is estimated that in a week, women do around 13 hours more unpaid work than men. Mothers, especially in families with multiple children, who dedicated their lives to unpaid care of children and housework, are a social group which is especially at risk of poverty.

The gender equality strategy has been presented in the first three months of the Commission mandate. Regrettably, the Commission did not present specific legislative proposals, instead promising to prepare a list of mandatory measures by the end of 2020. Although this is a missed opportunity, in the future, we will seek to ensure that the necessary steps are taken to address the injustice.

Finally, expectations for Commissioner J. Wojciechowski, who personally promised to me that by 2025 EU’s direct payment to farmers will reach the EU average, are high. The agricultural policy will face more challenges than usual in the EU multiannual financial framework. Farmers are tired from the inequality that has been continuing for decades, under which the payments to farmers in the Baltic states reach only 54-60% of the EU average, while their production costs are 10% above the EU’s average. All reforms must be followed by appropriate funding, especially to European farmers.

We must understand that setting high food safety, environmental protection, and technological standards for farms requires a fair and sustainable EU budget. The Commissioner promised to equalise the direct payments among states, regions and farmers across Europe. I am putting all my efforts into ensuring this promise is not forgotten; however, the position and work of Lithuania’s President G. Nausėda at the European Council is especially important. Whether Lithuania’s positions will be safeguarded on this question depends on it.

The first 100 days of the European Commission have shown that the Commission is set to fulfil the tasks and responsibilities it has been given. I am glad that our group has successfully added principal hopes and issues into the new Commission work programme. The first 100 days have also shown that the European Parliament must continue to scrutinise all the promises to make sure they are not forgotten. It should also contribute at every step, in order to ensure that all the problems raised by people and our own proposed solutions to them do not drown in bureaucracy, and instead become a reality.

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