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Asscher calls to end wage-lowering labour migration and for fair taxation

10 januari 2017

The European Union should be more social and more just. That is what Lodewijk Asscher emphasizes in a letter to all social democratic leaders across Europe. This can be achieved by preventing wage-lowering labour migration and by tackling tax avoidance by European multinationals. In his letter, that has been quoted in the Guardian, Deputy Prime Minister Asscher states that progressive patriotism should be the answer to the rise of right-wing populism in Europe. Curious to the complete letter?

Amsterdam, 10th of January 2017

Dear friends,

First of all, I would like to express my gratitude for your congratulations after my election to become the Political Leader of the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA).

The felicitations in a lot of your letters were combined with concerns about the right-wing and populist tide that seemingly holds Europe in its grip. Scapegoat politics is gaining the upper hand. I share with you your passion to provide a strong, social and decent alternative to the politics of division and inequality. Nevertheless, us 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 like 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 fades its enormous achievement of peace and cooperation 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 onto the United Kingdom, but we should use this historic moment to make Europe more social and more just instead. It is therefore my opinion that we, left-wing parties in Europe, should enforce a progressive agenda on two issues:

  1. 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 measurements to tackle this abuse. The Brexit negotiations offer us both an opportunity as well as a duty.

  1. Fair taxation for all European companies

We 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 which threatens to come into existence if it is up to the Conservative UK government. This will affect all Europeans, as it deteriorates our support for our social security system and leaves ordinary people to bear the costs. This is why I propose to come to a new trade agreement with Great Britain, but only if we can agree firmly upon tackling tax avoidance and stopping the fiscal race to the bottom.

I am sincerely looking forward to meeting you in the near future, to discuss our common left-wing and progressive goals. For the aims described above, I will ask the Dutch electorate for their support in our upcoming general elections in March,

Best regards,

Lodewijk Asscher
Political Leader of the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA)
Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands

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