The recent European Parliament election results revealed a reality that is uncomfortable and challenging both politically and socioeconomically. At the political level, we are witnessing in practice the rise of euroscepticism, nationalism and anti-Europeanism.
At the socio-economic level, inequalities among and within Member States are evident, demonstrable and rising. Considerable institutional deficiencies, high rates of unemployment, slow growth and a gradual weakening of its geopolitical power and significance (compared to other strategic players), are clear, present and undeniable threats.
Despite the aforementioned problems the EU is still representing at a global level the European dream; it embodies peaceful coexistence, democracy, human rights, a social state and relative welfare.
The European Social State is one of the most important achievements of the European Union. All models, the Anglo-Saxon, the central, and the southern European have in their nucleus the basic principle of (at least) a minimum protection of social cohesion.
The economic crisis Europe faced in 2009endangered, weakened (and still threatens) social cohesion in many countries while it brought to the surface the brewing conflict between north and south. The protection and reform of the welfare state is a national responsibility and priority. Undeniably though, within a monetary union there is a direct interdependence of monetary policy as well as economic and social policy.
The European Commission in the near future should be in the position to propose a binding social agenda (BSA). An Agenda that embeds, links and integrates a multitude of policies within a well defined, coherent and comprehensive context and desired targets, in the following areas:
European Labor Conditions: Define the minimum standards for European Labor Conditions taking into account all new forms of labor (e.g. teleworkers, part-time workers) including the following:
- ‘A guaranteed wage floor’,
- basic social security services, and
- equal training opportunities
Demographic policies: Demographic change (ageing populations, low birth rates, changing family structures and migration) is one of the major factors shaping Europe’s future. Hence, it is imperative to review, re-examine and tailor existing EU policies to prepare for the future. Demographic policies should support demographic renewal by offering incentives and creating better conditions for families while improving reconciliation of working and family life through a “family care strategy”, in which childcare has a prominent role. Furthermore, an awareness campaign to explain and communicate the strategy and its benefits to the citizens is an essential step for its acceptance and success.
Re-design of immigration policy: Both the economic crisis and the instability in the Mediterranean region and the Middle East increased both legal and illegal immigration flows to Europe and we keep witnessing human tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea. It is necessary, for ensuring protection of fundamental human rights throughout the European territory, for Europe to review the entire institutional framework of EU immigration and asylum policies by reexamining the Dublin II Agreement. In addition, the adoption of a selective immigration policy of key professionals based on a needs-assessment basis as a European policy is a complementing and worthy consideration. We should also be troubled and concerned by the apparent lack of success of multiculturalism policies as implemented so far in Europe.
European Health Insurance Card: A symbolic and tangible act (very much like the euro) of significance and benefit. Let us envision how Europe would be like if each citizen carried in his/her pocket euro notes and the European Health Insurance Card. This is something that people understand and relate to as they experience it in their daily lives. Almost 200 million Europeans already have the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), according to the latest figures available for 2013. This represents more than half of the insured population in the EU. The number of EHIC holders is steadily increasing, with 8 million more citizens carrying it in 2013 compared to the previous year (+4%). Therefore, let’s build on solid ground with an innovative, strong awareness campaign to communicate to European citizens in all corners of the EU the availability and benefits that a cardholder is entitled to.
Improve pension portability: Improve pension portability to facilitate EU worker mobility by setting and implementing minimum requirements for the acquisition and preservation of pension rights for citizens who go to work in another Member State. It is a fair and just policy for people who move from sector to sector or from country to country.
Improve social cohesion: A plethora of voices from Member States PMs to academics to analysts and politicians, strengthen the tidal wave to move from the doctrine in which recovery is primarily seen as a result of fiscal consolidation to a fiscal adjustment program that is not indiscriminately based solely on spending cuts, but incorporates growth-enhancing policies and relevant policies directed towards supporting the unemployed and people on lower incomes. This proposal not only enhances social cohesion but also contributes to the success of the fiscal adjustment program itself. Institutionally the aforementioned proposal could be facilitated if Ministers of Employment and Social Affairs could participate and contribute in the crucial Ecofin decision making meetings.
The sacred cow: Perhaps this is the time to sacrifice the sacred cow of subsidizing training programs and allocate a substantial component of the available funds to a bold and “blanketing” way to creating and strengthening an ecosystem of entrepreneurship by funding start ups and providing necessary training and skill formation.
Towards 2019, and within this 5-year cycle, Europe should be equipped with an agenda and an accompanying roadmap in its quiver to respond effectively to the major global challenges ahead, especially on issues that impact on social equality and solidarity. We should move from well intentioned, non-threatening wishes and generalities to commitment and binding policies for all! Until now we have proceeded with the European social agenda in a kind of soft and neutral way without strong supporters, foes and opponents. Hence progress may have ben hampered. Only binding commitments to agreed policies can reverse this course and guide us towards our common future.