Reducing poverty: political groups’ positions on the Zuber report


Antoine Conotte, Maxime Delrue, Arthur Lejeune et Charlotte Steenackers

On 24 November 2015 majority of members of the European Parliament voted in favour of the Zuber report, which focuses on reducing inequalities and more particularly, fighting child poverty. In total, 81.9% of the 695 members out of the 748 present supported the report against 11% – or 77 members. Through their vote, 90% of the members respected their party’s political standpoint. Nevertheless, we can distinguish differences between and within political groups.

Unanimity among Greens and S&D

100% of the Greens–European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) supported the Zuber report. The group also asked the Commission to come up with better policies to fight poverty more efficiently, and more particularly child poverty. MEP Eva Joly said that whereas it wasn’t the first time the European Parliament planned to tackle poverty, the number of people affected has been rising more sharply since the 2008 crisis. The MEP also agreed that to be able to eradicate poverty, the EU should start by adopting a more coherent policy approach across the board. The members of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D) also all voted in favour of the Zuber report. They fully supported the Left and led a conference, titled “Winning the Fight against Child Poverty”. on 11 January 2017 in the Parliament.

Two dissenting MEPs within Zuber’s own group

The European United Left – Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), supported the report of its member and vice-president, Ines Zuber. Two members however abstained from voting: Dennis de Jong and Anne-Marie Mineur, both Dutch socialists.

For the GUE/NGL,  the Lisbon Treaty strategy has failed to reach its goals to reduce poverty, which is only rising. The political group said that today’s flexible and precarious job market invalidates the argument according to which job creation is the best way out of poverty.

The group also said it was willing to go further than the Europe 2020 strategy, which wants to see 20 million less poor people in the EU. According to the MEPs it is possible to do more than what is being currently achieved: in 2010 nearly 116 million people lived in precarious conditions, a number that has gone up since then. Europe’s 2020 target of 20 million people corresponds to about 17% of the EU’s poor.

Right of the political spectrum, the Zuber report has been broadly supported ALDE and PPE

Out of the 70 elected members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), 64 were present and voted for the resolution. Among them, Nathalie Griesbeck,  vice-president of the Intergroup on Children’s Rights in the European Parliament. This intergroup was created in 2015 with the support of Unicef. It aims for children’s rights to be taken into account in the development of European policy. Not long after it was created, the intergroup, with Nathalie Griesbeck as rapporteur, directed a parliamentary question to the Commission about child poverty.

ALDE has no programme on child poverty as such, but one of its main political lines is focused on education. On 17 October 2016 MEP Beatriz Becerra Basterrechea, an ALDE member quoted the OECD report in her question to the Commission about its 2020 strategy. The report said amongst others that Spain has one of the EU’s highest child poverty rates. According to Beatriz Becerra Basterrechea, one cannot make political decisions about reducing child poverty in Europe without working hand in hand with civil society and reinforcing European funds financing anti-poverty measures.

The European People’s Party (EPP) is only focused on an economic vision of Europe. The group wants to impose a programme that will improve Europe’s competitiveness so as to stimulate growth and job creation, thereby putting an end to poverty. According to the parliamentary group the EU can only boost its competitiveness by building a single market. The EPP members’ ideas remained quite vague but out of 204 group members, 196 voted in support of the Zuber report.

 

Strong divisions within sovereignist groups

The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) were quite divided on inequality reduction and in particular child poverty. The group was disunited at about 60%. 18 group members voted in favour, whilst 40 voted against it, including Nirj Deva, the group’s spokesperson. He declared that the only way to solve poverty issues would be by supporting property rights, and that this should be a priority for the EU. The British MEP said more should be done for job accessibility to reduce poverty in Europe. It’s better to stick to a strictly economic approach, he added. Property rights would be a safer option for people who would then own the residual value of their home. This would improve their economic situation and, still according to Deva, would generate new jobs.

In his various declarations, Nirj Deva recalled that 22,000 children still die worldwide because of poverty. The ECR’s stance is that the private sector plays a key role in development and therefore also in helping people exit poverty. The Commission agrees with the former; the private sector will continue to have a strong influence in international development. In his report that was well-received in the April 2016 plenary Nirj Deva said more should be done to help the private sector in reducing poverty. This includes finding innovative ways to raise private capital to fight poverty. These ‘new’ ideas would help cover a lot of ground, according to Deva. In his report, he even said that the private sector held the key to sustainable growth and poverty eradication. However, he admitted that a large debt would at first be borne by the European taxpayer, before being erased over time.

 

As for the Europe for Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD), the group was divided between the members who voted in favour of the Zuber report, and those who abstained. Amongst those who didn’t vote, MEP Jonathan Arnott (UKIP), said that he couldn’t vote for the report because it “had so much content on issues that are so different to the issue of child poverty”. “You may believe in a high level of public services and a high tax (tech) economy. You may oppose privatization. You may support wealth redistribution and income redistribution. You may take a view of the fundamentally universal benefits are better than means tested benefits. Those are all positions which many people hold but to my mind it is fundamentally wrong to misuse the very serious issue of child poverty as a vehicle to push these left wing policies.”

 

Rejection on principle from anti-European far-right

French MEP Marine Le Pen and her Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group unanimously opposed the Zuber report, adding that the European Union would be a failure whatever path it chooses. According to the ENF, only sovereign nations can really fight poverty.