People first, not profit. Also in Europe! (web only)

We reproduce below extracts from a statement issued to the press on 20 November by Tine van Rompuy, communist sister of the new European President, Herman Van Rompuy. Tine is a member of the Belgian Workers’ Party (PTB).

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I am happy that my brother will be president of Europe. It is an honour for him and for our family …

Last week, Herman became the grandfather of Jasper, son of his daughter Laura. Three days ago, I became the proud grandmother of Charlotte, daughter of my daughter Femke … I will see him this Sunday, when our brother Eric celebrates his 60th birthday.

I bought Herman two presents. First of all, a Cuban cigar for the brand-new grandfather. He will have plenty of opportunities to smoke an end of a party cigar. Then, for Herman the politician, another surprise, a pretty little box with inside it the recipe for what we call the millionaire’s tax: “this product will change your life”.

The millionaire’s tax demands that 2 percent of the population, the 2 percent who are the richest, pay a tax of 2 percent on their wealth. This can help us towards a Europe for the people instead of a Europe of dividends for the happy few shareholders. I am proud to be the ambassador of the millionaire’s tax campaign, and we are looking for thousands of ‘fans’ for this tax.

As a nurse and an active trade unionist, I live among ordinary people. And they don’t like this European Union that does not care about them. The EU is often bad news; it is all about competition and business. Our capitalist system sells speculation soap bubbles that drive banks into bankruptcy. When the whole system almost went down, all of a sudden billions were found to save it. At the same time, many people have lost their jobs.

The EU is pushing for more and more privatisation. In Great Britain, where the process has been carried the farthest, British rail has been privatised: trains are late and the quality of the service has greatly deteriorated (except for the high-speed trains). Electricity has been liberalised, and is more expensive now. The energy industry is making billions of profits.

Europe has to make a choice. And my brother Herman will also have to make a choice. Who will pay for the economic crisis? Who will pay for all the billions that were used to save the banks and have deepened public deficits? It will be either the working people, or those who are responsible for this crisis …

We can see the consequences of competition in Belgian care for the elderly. Over the past five years, no less than 10,000 public rest-home beds were bought out by the commercial sector. The private owners operate them on a strictly financial basis and make huge profits in a sector which has so many unsatisfied needs.

Father Damian, ‘Saint Damian’ since a few weeks ago, lived in Tremelo, a small village 10km from where I live. There is an old people’s home named after Father Damian, but it has been bought by the commercial Senior Living Group. Last year, 28 million euros were transferred to its shareholders. Twenty-eight million – that is the yearly pay of 620 nurses.

No, we cannot allow profits to be made out of weak and old people. Privatisation leads to expensive old people’s homes for the haves and disgraceful places for the have-nots. Privatisation pulls down quality care.

We need more money for old people’s homes and day-care centres. I want a Europe that allows governments to subsidise those. I want to be able to send my granddaughter to a day-care centre without having to worry about quality. I want my government to supervise this quality, unlike in Holland, where the government withdrew its supervision of private day-care centres.

I work at the Gasthuisberg University Hospital in the city of Leuven, the biggest European hospital, with more than 8,000 employees. Health care is a basic right. No profits should be made out of the sick, the needy, the elderly …

European politicians take decisions in their ivory tower, but fortunately we still have many alternative bright ideas that we can put into practice together with trade unions, NGOs and progressive political parties.

People first, not profit. Also in Europe!