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European Left elects Walter Baier as lead candidate, wants working class to drive green fight

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The European Left party elected during the general assembly on Saturday (24 February) its President Walter Baier as their candidate to lead the European Commission following the June elections while pledging to put working classes at the heart of the fight against the climate crisis. 

Member of the Communist Party of Austria (KPO), Baier has been the president of the European Left party since December 2022, and was previously involved in the party´s foundation ‘transform!europe’.

Back in January, Euractiv reported he was set to be appointed as the lead candidate, or ‘spitzenkandidat’, despite not being well-known in Brussels, something that has raised eyebrows among the left wing.

Moreover, his party, the Austrian Communists, have not included him in their electoral list and thus he is not running for a seat in the European Parliament.

When asked about his lack of experience in EU institutions, he told the media, “Frankly speaking, Europe is not only Brussels.”

He added, “Europe is 27 nations, and it is hundreds of cities, and it is millions of citizens, and the European left and the spitzenkandidat wants to be the voice of these people, of which the voices are very rarely heard in Brussels,” after the party´s general assembly in Ljubljana, which was closed-off to journalists.  

While the European Left party is the only faction within the left-wing group in the European Parliament with the right to nominate a spitzenkandidat, the party has not been able to bring together all of the EU´s left-wing forces.

Instead, the left camp is set to run in the elections with two separate electoral programmes, one from the European Left party and one from the parallel ‘Now the People’ platform. 

The ‘spitzenkandidat’ process allows European political parties to internally elect a leader of their EU election campaign, who also becomes a candidate for the president of the European Commission.

However, Baier’s chances of becoming Commission president are slim as he leads one of the smallest European political parties. 

On top of that, the lead candidate process is widely considered to be dead after EU countries bypassed the process in 2019 to appoint current Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who recently presented her reelection bid and is widely expected to earn a second term after the EU elections. 

Baier reaffirmed the party´s manifesto, also approved during the general assembly, including a commitment to the fight against climate change, stressing that working classes must own the ecological transition.

“There will be no ecological change if the working classes do not adopt this as their own demand and as their own necessity,” he said. 

“We do not want that the fight for climate justice becomes the issue of the well to middle classes, of an enlightened minority, which, with authoritarian means, oppose the change to the vast majority of our people,” he added.

During an interview with Euractiv in December, he lashed out against the European Greens for their “elitist” approach to the climate crisis fight.

He also stressed that the upcoming legislative term should focus more on the cost of living crisis, as the current ruling parties neglect to blame for the rise of the far-right. 

“People are frustrated and disappointed by the politics for which the ruling parties have the responsibility. They don’t provide decent living conditions for large layers of the society,” he said.

The manifesto will include proposals to address the housing crisis, such as a new directive to include a legal rent cap and to enshrine the right to affordable living in EU treaties. 

Despite the current geopolitical landscape, the party opposes increased military build-up and the 2% defence spending required by NATO. 

“When people in the European Parliament and the European Commission demand 2% of the GDP for armament expenditures, no, the opposite is necessary. Spend 2% of our GDP for culture and art, for education, for health care, for strengthening the public services,” he said.

Instead of increasing defence spending to support Ukraine, Baier calls for an “international strategy and a policy which is about peace and justice, where we bring about an end to the ghastly war.”

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

Read more with Euractiv

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