Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels

By Natalia Alonso, Head of Oxfam’s EU Office

This May, you have the chance to make the Europe you want.

As millions of Europeans from all 28 EU states head to the polls to elect who they want to represent them in the European Parliament for the next five years, it is important we all think about what this election could mean for the EU and the world.

Tough times lie ahead for the poorest people, both in Europe and beyond. And so, more than ever, the European Union should provide the leadership necessary to overcome challenges such as poverty, climate change and the growing gap between the rich and poor. At a time when the world’s 85 richest people own the same wealth as the planet’s bottom half, this final point is more crucial than ever.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) play an important role in defining that agenda, so before casting your vote, it is vital to ask what your candidate stands for.

Tax justice

We need tax systems that are both fair and transparent to create a more equal society. In practice this means that everyone should pay taxes according to their means and be able to find out who is playing by the rules and who isn’t.

With high profile cases of multinational companies, such as Apple and Zara, continuing to come to light, the fight for governments to clamp down on the injustice of tax evasion and avoidance continues. The European Parliament has to be at the centre of this, pushing for fairer policies which prevent the loss of billions in illicit flows which steal money from vital public services, such as schools and hospitals, in both Europe and the developing world.

Frighteningly, a staggering $18.5 trillion by wealthy individuals is hidden in offshore. And two-thirds of this money (more than €9.5 trillion) is hidden in EU related tax havens. This means that tax havens in the EU or under its jurisdiction, such as Luxembourg, Andorra or Malta, are facilitating the loss of over €80 billion in tax revenues worldwide.

Food justice

In a similar way, the European Parliament can act to ensure that food is on the plates of every European and beyond. With over 70% of EU-imported food originating in the climate vulnerable developing world, the Parliament should take a firm stance on climate action, a topic which is also currently being debated at EU level. Your candidate should be able to stand up to dirty old energy industries which consistently represent their interests over those of the people. By pushing through the EU 2030 Climate & Energy package, and showing a willingness to increase emission reduction targets to at least 55%, MEPs can make a real difference in halting the degradation of agricultural land in the developing world, currently gravely under threat from climate change.

The same goes for the European Union’s misguided biofuels policy, which is not only redirecting food for fuel and ramping up greenhouse gas emissions, but also forcing people off their land. Any MEP must be ready to stand against this preposterous rule.

Meeting overseas aid commitments

Finally, as the largest overseas aid donor in the world, Europe must continue its work to support a human-rights based development approach in all developing countries. Newly-elected MEPs should ensure that the EU as a bloc has the resources to do so, by resisting the privatisation of aid and by pressuring governments to meet their existing promises to spend 0.7% of their national income as overseas aid, and deliver extra resources to help poor countries cope with increasing climate impacts.

Making sure that all candidates have justifiable answers to these issues is important. By putting climate and development high on the agenda this May we can assure that the Europe we get is a Europe which represents the needs of the people and the planet.

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  1. Dear Oxfam, Dear natalia

    The case you make for better European policies on social and global justice is very strong. The case you make why voting in the EP elections matters is, I think, rather weak.

    For the case to be made, the policy change and the vote should be causally linked.
    Are you sure that simply going to vote will lead to this change? I think not. Because a vote doesn’t contain the motivation behind the vote. So politicians are never really sure why people voted for them. So next to the vote, it is important that citizens tell politicians clearly: unless you work for this, you won’t get my vote.

    This however raises the problem that citizens can not be sure that politicians will actually do that. And here the role of civil society is important to give guidance to citizens and to look beyond the ‘change’ ‘future’ ‘better’ buzzwords that make up the election slogans.

    As civil society organisations, we know which politicians and parties have voted for or against the proposals you make above. It is almost impossible for any citizen to make this assessment themselves as it requires following European politics full time. It is therefore up to civil society, such as Oxfam, to advise citizens and to clearly say: these politicians have worked towards this global justice agenda, these politicians have worked against it. Therefore: vote these politicians and not these politicians.

    This is a role civil society used to play but one that we forgot.It might feel uncomfortable for civil society but it is the democratic role we need to play. It is unfair to withhold this information from citizens and then blame them for the ‘wrong’ choices.

    European democracy can not fully function with a politically engaged civil society, summarizing the complicated processes in clear voting advice. Neither will the necessary changes that you outline be realised, unless you tell people clearly how their vote can lead to this change.

    Respectfully yours and looking forward to Oxfam and the rest of European Civil society taking up their democratic role again.

    Maarten Coertjens

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