June 25, 2014
After the results of the European elections on May 25, what are our national leaders so afraid of for our common European future?
When reading the leaked “strategic agenda for the Union in times of change” that will be adopted by Heads of State and Government at the Council meeting starting tomorrow, my attention was caught by the focus, on the one hand, on “fear and threats” to Europeans and, on the other hand, the focus on competition and security to respond to these challenges.
This is well illustrated by the document’s sentence: “People expect Europe to defend their interests and keep threats at bay”.
So what are these threats that need to be kept at bay? What comes out on top is “Unemployment is still our highest concern, and inequalities are on the rise”. When put together with the other challenges it gives a pretty grim picture of Europe’s situation: “scarce natural resources”, “energy vulnerability”, “demographic trends are challenging”, “pressure on our welfare systems”, “shrinking workforce”, “slow growth, high unemployment”, “insufficient investment”, “many fear poverty and social exclusion”, “phenomena like terrorism and organized crime call for stronger EU cooperation”, “deal efficiently with migration flow”, “instability in our wider neighborhood”. My issue is not that these challenges are not real, but that they are not depicted appropriately: for example Social Platform sees an ageing population as an opportunity to implement innovative policies that strengthens the rights of all generations. We also have a different narrative on migration which is framed around respect and human rights which are absent from the joint statement. So, when reading this compilation of “challenges”, I feel that it only supports the dissemination of fear and insecurity within the population.
So how will our national leaders respond to fear and insecurity? I began to worry when reading the language used to answer to these challenges: there is a lot about competition against the outside world and securing people against threats. Here are some interesting example of such language: “Fight against youth unemployment”, “protecting from frauds and abuses”, “cracking down on tax evasion”, “deal more robustly with irregular migration”, “prevent and combat crime and terrorism by cracking down on organized crime”, “race for innovation”, “global competition”, or “ensure that our energy future is under full control”.
I have to say that there are a few good points in the joint statement but they are rather slim: “help ensure all our societies have safety nets in place to accompany change and reverse inequalities, with social protection systems that are efficient, fair and fit for the future; indeed, investing into human capital and the social fabric is also key to the long-term prosperity prospects for the European economy”.
We are in the preliminary assessment of this joint declaration but I will say three things:
- We met with all of our members yesterday and we agree that reducing inequality should be a priority for the EU but that should be done hand in hand with reducing poverty which has increased in the last years. The poverty target needs to be at the center of the EU strategic agenda.
- Our leaders have to change their growth and job paradigm. Why? It is a revamped “Lisbon strategy” from 2000 which the council acknowledges brought “slow growth, high unemployment” and I would add high poverty and inequality levels. Another inclusive growth is needed with social investment being an essential element of it.
- I don’t think we want protection – I think we want solidarity. Protection is always “against” something or someone whereas solidarity is always “with” somebody else. (We are with and not against migrants, unemployed, people experiencing poverty, older people, etc).
Pierre Baussand, Director