EU cohesion needs 'quantum leap', says SPD leader


THE LEADER of Germany’s opposition Social Democrats (SPD), Sigmar Gabriel, has said the EU needs a “quantum leap” towards greater political union.

The SPD leader has said the euro-zone crisis had proven the need for a dynamic European social democracy with a clear focus on future progress.

The only sensible way out of the crisis, he said, was to impose more EU regulation and to sideline the “congenital defect” of the euro: the lack of a common economic and financial policy.

“We need a quantum leap on the way to political union in Europe,” wrote Mr Gabriel in the Frankfurter Allgemeine daily yesterday.

“The first step is an economic-political co-ordination and co-operation that earns the name. Particularly for us Germans, who feel the tremors in world trade, this development is finally evident. For that reason we have to be the motor of this progress in the EU.”

Europe’s social democratic parties are best-placed to bring about this change, Mr Gabriel said, because they are historically concerned with “sharing fairly the economic fruits of progress”.

“But the old model of progress was not progressive enough,” he said, calling instead for a new, “future-oriented” European effort.

“This will not happen without impositions on the economically and socially privileged in our society,” he said. “ without a different system of taxation of higher incomes there can be no socially just progress. This has nothing to do with social envy but the necessary solidarity.”

After a meeting in Potsdam yesterday, leaders of the SPD called for Germany’s top tax rate to be increased from 42 to 49 per cent in exchange for tax breaks for lower earners.

Mr Gabriel says radical change was needed in Germany and that its parliamentary democracy should be “supplemented by forms of direct democracy” – a taboo in Germany since the Nazis abused referendums to solidify Hitler’s absolute hold on power.

Mr Gabriel’s remarks mark the SPD’s final break with the “New Middle Way” politics propagated a decade ago by his own political mentor, Gerhard Schröder.

The former chancellor finds himself in an interesting political limbo in Germany these days. His own party has disowned him and rediscovered its left-wing roots, leaving it up to chancellor Angela Merkel to credit her former political rival for the economic reforms that cost him his job but laid the ground for Germany’s current economic boom.

Mr Gabriel’s call for greater EU integration prompted Dr Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) to recall that it was the SPD who, while in power, watered down the stability pact.

Meanwhile, Left Party parliamentary leader Gregor Gysi has criticised a party colleague for describing communism as the end goal of their party.

He reminded party delegates that democratic socialism is the Left Party’s policy priority and that western Germans associate the word communism with the Berlin Wall and its victims.

“If you ignore that, you have given up trying to reach these people,” he said in Berlin yesterday.