Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels

Back to school

By Natalia Alonso, Oxfam’s Deputy Director of Advocacy & Campaigns

Here we are again. First week of September. Although this year’s rentréé will start with quite a few new EU faces.

The women and men who take on the European Union’s ‘top jobs’ – three Presidents, one High Representative, and later the full team of European Commissioners – will be immediately faced with not only the internal debates that so often dominate the EU’s agenda, but with decisions that affect the lives of ordinary people both within and beyond Europe’s borders, not least the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

Next year is of immense significance to the fight against both climate change and global poverty, with the world’s leaders gathering in Paris in December in order to reach an urgently needed global deal to prevent climate chaos, and earlier in the year to agree on a new global development agenda for beyond 2015 as a successor to the Millennium Development Goals.

It is vital that EU leaders ensure that the priorities of not only climate change but the growing gap between rich and poor that hinders the fight against poverty are embedded in an inclusive and sustainable agenda. This agenda should include ambitious global goals matched with a binding commitment to provide the resources necessary to achieve them. This means meeting aid commitments, yes, but also discerning engagement with the private sector and the use of innovative sources of financing such as a broad-based and well-designed financial transaction tax (FTT).

This work can and must begin now, and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, whose country assumed the rotating EU Presidency in July, need not wait to take action. Most immediately, the Italian Presidency can see to it that decisive action is taken by Member States to ensure that the EU’s humanitarian commitments are fully funded and that life-saving activities can continue in Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and many other places where people are in dire need.

Italy is well placed to ensure that the EU sets itself ambitious and binding targets ahead of next year’s climate summit for reducing carbon emissions and promoting genuinely sustainable solutions. Tensions in its neighbourhood are a reminder of the EU’s continuing reliance on imported fossil fuels. Instead of turning to expensive alternatives which commit Europeans to higher energy prices and do nothing to fight climate change and its consequences on hunger worldwide, Europe must take a sustainable path.

The 85 richest people own the same wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people. But this economic inequality is by no means inevitable and solutions are out there for European leaders to pursue, including the fight against tax evasion and tax avoidance. The Italian Presidency can deliver concrete results in this fight for tax justice, such as concluding the review of the anti-money laundering directive and shedding light on who really benefits from shady tax arrangements, as well as concluding talks on the FTT by the end of the year.

The Italian Presidency can provide vision, continuity and momentum to the EU so that the new appointments at the top can hit the ground running. Those selected to lead the EU into this coming year will be confronted with global challenges that affect us all. Fortunately, change is as achievable as it is urgent, and solutions exist if we are willing to embrace them.

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