On the eve of European elections, Kathimerini spoke with European officials vying for the top position in the European Commission. Frans Timmermans, the candidate for the Party of European Socialists (PES) and current vice president of the Commission, said Europe needs a “new contract” based on equality and fairness for its citizens.
What are your goals for the 100 first days of your presidency?
Europe needs a new social contract, based on equality and fairness. This means creating a Europe that looks after citizens and workers, and a Europe that acts responsibly towards our planet and grows in a sustainable way. Climate action is urgent, and that will need to be our top priority from the start. I will take personal responsibility for this issue, and i will make sure that every Commissioner makes a contribution in their field to tackling climate change anddelivering on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Equality and justice is the other main issue for me – I will put in place urgently a Gender Equality Strategy, which will include legislation to tackle violence against women and measures to eliminate the gender pay gap between women and men. I am a convinced feminist and i want to live in a Europe which treats all its citizens equally. I will also begin working in my first 100 days on proposals for a minimum wage in every EU Member State, on a plan to promote affordable and social housing, and measures for fair taxation of multinationals. And I will put in place a new way of working, with a greater involvement of tradeunions and civil society in our policy-making processes.
Why should one vote for you?
Because I think it is time that we changed Europe, in a positive way, making it more social and more just. In my campaign I have had the opportunity to travel all over Europe, including to Athens. When I travel across Europe, I notice our differences. Different languages, different cultures, different customs. But when I listen to the concerns of the people, they are exactly the same. Concerns about their jobs. Concerns about the climate crisis. Concerns about affordable housing for their children. Concerns about the tensions in society and the hate that is spreading everywhere. Concerns about the way women are treated by the far right.
But it's not just the concerns that are the same. People’s dreams are the same too. They dream about a better future. We can build this future if we do it together as Europeans. Everyone working on their own no longer works. We should deal with the climate crisis together. Remove the plastics from our seas together. Ensure together that big companies start paying taxes. Ensure together, with trade unions, that honest work is rewarded with honest pay. Ensure together that we end the gender pay gap. Ensure together that discrimination is tackled, that everyone has a place in this society. Ensure together that our children can find an affordable home so that they can live where they want. Together we can do that.
What are the lessons learned from the Greek financial crisis?
The need for more European solidarity is what I have taken from the financial crisis generally. When there is a crisis in one country – an economic crisis or a migration crisis – then we need to act together as Europeans to share responsibility. It cannot be that one member state suffers alone. We are supposed to be in this together, leaving nobody behind. Because if we allow ourselves to be divided, we are all weaker. And the worst outcome of a lack of solidarity is the social costs that people end up paying. I also draw the lesson that we need to make our financial systems shock-proof, so that we don't have the painful experience of having to bail out the banks again at the cost of the taxpayers in Greece or other countries. That is simply not an option for Europe.