After more than five years of a twin economic and social crisis, austerity policies have failed in Europe. In the EU, economies continue to stagnate, while current levels of unemployment remain at 12%. Often those with a job find themselves in a situation of precarious work with no social protection. Educational opportunities are denied to millions of young people, who, in many cases are forced into emigration.
In addition, we have seen divisions open up in Europe; inequalities between people, certainly, but also clear divisions between member states. Social cohesion has been eroded.
There are some who claim that the worst of the crisis is over. It is hard to agree with this assessment, given the current rates of joblessness and examples of inequality we still witness in the EU today. Economic recovery is welcome, of course, but it is not acceptable if this is achieved at the expense of citizens. The crisis cannot be solved if it does not contain a sound basis in social policy.
This represents a threat to the economic, social and political development of Europe. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is convinced that the EU has the potential to combat the crisis. That potential already exists here in Europe, but risks being neglected by leaders and governments who seem determined to push ahead with their current route, instead of looking for a new path.
The trade union movement is striving to unlock this potential; which, sadly, continues to be underused, or undervalued, by many of today’s leaders. It is a potential borne out of a strong industrial base, good public and private sector services, a well-educated population with access to innovative research and educational institutions, and a fair and inclusive society. The EU must mobilise its strengths for a better, more equal, prosperous, democratic and peaceful future.
The European Trade Union Confederation was founded in 1973, and over these past four decades we have made many significant gains in advancing an equitable society in Europe. But now, as the crisis continues, many European politicians seem determined to roll-back on these advances. This must not be allowed to happen. We in the trade union movement will continue to resist any moves that seek to destroy the social dimension of the European project.
There have been many social advances made since European integration began, but since the start of the crisis in 2008, the social dimension of the EU has been non-existent. If European leaders continue to ignore the real needs of people, not only will the EU continue to stagnate, but it will also lose the trust and support of its citizens.
There has been much speculation about the rise of far-right and populist parties in Europe, and how that will affect the working of the European Parliament, should voters chose to express their dissatisfaction that way when they vote for MEPs in May 2014. But we trust in the European citizens: re-installing borders, is not a solution to unemployment; in a globalised world isolation has nothing to offer to future generations. Our countries are too small to fight global competition. They must find a positive way to economic and social integration.
Why A New Path For Europe Is Needed
To this end, the ETUC has launched its manifesto for the European Parliament elections. This document calls on candidates to endorse policies that uphold and foster the social dimension of the European Union; a Europe that provides its citizens with quality jobs and a sound future that seeks an end to austerity, uncertainty and division. Effectively, we are calling on European citizens to vote for candidates that will change the way the EU is being run.
Regretfully, those same citizens have an increased sense that Europe is not been run on their behalf; and this feeling of loss will continue as long as there is a sense that its political leaders are not prepared to change course. This is why we in the trade union movement are fighting for a new path for Europe.
It is in response to failed policies, both economic and social, that ETUC is calling for this new direction, this new path for Europe. Instead of further cutbacks and austerity, we are proposing an alternative; an investment plan with a long-term perspective that seeks to avoid a lost decade of mass unemployment, precarious work and tax injustice.
In an era when €1,000 billion has been spent to save the financial sector, and the same amount is lost each year in tax evasion and fraud, it is now time to spend money on a sustainable future for European citizens, who have endured much hardship these past years.
Our plan envisages an investment of 2% of European Union GDP over a ten-year period. Such an investment would help in building up a strong industrial base, good public and private services, properly functioning state systems and innovative research and educational institutions.
It is this level of investment that is needed at this time to give our ailing economies a boost, to reverse stagnation and give people hope and confidence for the future.
This is the task facing all of us who care about the European project today; trade unions, citizens, the EU institutions and political leaders. It is a sad fact that many feel let down by the policies of the EU at present. But this does not mean it has to be that way. European trade unions are proposing an alternative, a new path that allows its citizens to share in a different direction. European recovery is not just about keeping markets open, it is also about social protection and cohesion amongst its people. That is what we will continue to fight for.
This column was first published by New Europe