SOLIDAR Weekly Round Up 15-07-2016
Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!
15 July 2016
Yesterday, 14th July, Bastille Day commemorates the French Revolution. Its three principles engraved on every town hall and every public school in France have again been under attack, this time in Nice. What more symbolic day! France is mourning yet again and we express again our solidarity reaffirming that the defense of democracy, of freedom, equality and solidarity, the call for social progress remains the core of our commitment, our compass!
After the Brexit vote, these principles should more than ever lead a value-based debate on European policy.
Liberté is not only a principle of rights, it also means being free from poverty and exclusion. The 125 million people in Europe who live in, or under the threat of, poverty do not have Liberté. How can we get them out of poverty? How can we get the less qualified back into the labour market and into decent work? The EU had – once upon a time – a social agenda, a Lisbon strategy and later it had a Europe2020 strategy. Unfortunately, instead of taking the lead and using the mid-term review of Europe2020 as a basis for action, the Juncker Commission is instead continuing the European semester process, while not working on improvement of the strategy to make it more effective. The news that the ECOFIN Council has decided to send a letter to Spain and Portugal illustrates the main reference to guideline Number 1 of Europe2020: “the vigorous application of the Stability and Growth Pact”. In the interpretation of Schäuble and others, vigorous means vigorous, without taking into account the damage it has on society or without even taking electoral results and referendum results into account. Did the message not get through? This European Union of austerity has been rejected as the majority of citizens do not have the feeling that the EU cares about them.
Egalité. In the last four years the Commission has reported on Employment and Social Developments in Europe (ESDE). We are not all equal. We are still a long way from equal pay for equal work in the same workplace. The gender pay gap is still huge, not to mention the unfair tax system that allows tax evasion and tax havens for the rich. Since 2008 there have been some efforts to tame the financial markets, but these initiatives have been watered down under a Commission President who has now been recruited by the bank responsible for the implosion of the financial markets eight years ago. So much for the the credibility of leaders! Only a handful protested at the publication of this news; at the same time some people in the European Parliament were preparing a report on whether Civil Society Organisations and NGOs should continue to be financially supported by the EU when they are being ‘too critical’ of it.
Fraternité. Competitiveness is the new criterion under which everything is evaluated. The dangerous poison of nationalism is unleashed because there is now also competition between member states in the north and member states in the south. Pensioners in Greece and in Germany are in completely different situations, but both expect the EU to contribute to ensuring the stability and the availability of decent, ‘poverty-preventing’ pensions. And what about the arrival of migrants and refugees? After the wave of solidarity last year, the Balkan route is now closed and people are dying daily in the new ‘Dead Sea’ (i.e. the Mediterranean). There are indeed fewer images on the news but the human loss is immense and it cannot be excused by ignorance. How to strengthen a sense of solidarity (Fraternité) is indeed a challenge, but first the mutual benefits of sharing need to be proven before solidarity can mould our thinking.
This foreword is not a new “J’accuse” in the Emile Zola sense. These are just the thoughts that many of us have who want the EU to progress, but we want an EU with different assumptions. Sustainable economic, social and political development, social investment and social protection for all should be the basis of the EU. We Europeans have to take the lead in the post-Brexit debate. We have to challenge the political leaders and the policy makers in the Institutions to make sure they put people’s concerns first. They should use the momentum for political change that delivers a real safeguarding pillar of social rights, and that translates the Sustainable Development Goals agenda into an ambitious European agenda. They should trust the next generation and promote their skills and competences and deliver on integration and the inclusion of migrants and refugees. Ambitious? Maybe! But still feasible. It is a matter of will. Those who believe that this Europe should first be destroyed and then reconstructed are playing with fire and instead they should learn from history. Reform is not a term of abuse, it is a progressive challenge!
See also Immanuel Wallerstein’s
Commentary No. 429, July 15, 2016: “Bastille Day: France’s Ultra-Confused Present”