Europe: United we stand, divided we fall

Article published on March 13, 2014
Article published on March 13, 2014

|Opinion| On 9 May 1950, Robert Schuman said that Europe cannot be built in a day, but rather through events that require solidarity. But with euroscepticism rising and voter turnout declining, solidarity seems a world away. Where does this disillusion stem from, and what can we do to remedy it?

The biggest prob­lem qual­i­fied youth face today ap­pears to be that they are in jobs with­out qual­ity con­tracts, no job se­cu­rity and no so­cial ben­e­fits, and with in­creas­ing long-term un­em­ploy­ment, the youth of today risk be­com­ing the un­em­ploy­able adults of to­mor­row. These labour con­di­tions need to change, if we want to keep peo­ple in their coun­try, and en­cour­age de­vel­op­ment.

em­ploy­ers grind you down into a cheap labour force

But if in your home coun­try there’s no jobs, no de­cent pay and im­pov­er­ished liv­ing con­di­tions, would you stay? If you spent years study­ing for a pres­ti­gious de­gree and ended up work­ing for min­i­mum wage as a part-time waiter, or a sales­man, sim­ply so you can have your own in­come, wouldn’t you de­cide to change things? If the hun­dreds of ap­pli­ca­tions you send out to com­pa­nies in other Eu­ro­pean coun­tries are not bring­ing back even a sin­gle reply, wouldn’t you choose to leave? Would you sit back and let em­ploy­ers grind you down, into a cheap labour force that would ac­cept any­thing sim­ply be­cause you “would be lucky to still have a job”?

Young­sters are forced to leave not just their homes, but Eu­rope al­to­gether. Be­cause, sim­ply put, Eu­rope is no longer what it was ad­ver­tised to be. It no longer of­fers the op­por­tu­ni­ties for growth, for a bril­liant ca­reer, for de­vel­op­ment and pros­per­ity. It sim­ply drowns you in bu­reau­cracy, strict leg­is­la­tion, and forces you to aban­don it, rather than suf­fo­cate in­side its grasp.

Pos­i­tive Dis­crim­i­na­tion

Peo­ple in their late 30s and 40s ac­knowl­edge that “we are now liv­ing worse than our par­ents,” echo­ing EP Pres­i­dent Mar­tin Schulz’s state­ment of a lost gen­er­a­tion. For al­though the EU’s pro­grammes will help the youth find jobs and trainee­ships, it is not truly solv­ing the prob­lem. Pos­i­tive dis­crim­i­na­tion is re­quired to help coun­tries in trou­ble re­cover and de­velop top-qual­ity in­fra­struc­ture, and as such the voices call­ing for “more sol­i­dar­ity” pro­lif­er­ate.

But EU mem­ber states have some­how lost the will to en­gage with each other. They stopped car­ing about the in­ter­ests and good of the col­lec­tive and have re­verted to the ben­e­fits of the na­tion in­stead. Na­tion­al­ism is back on the agenda, and the cri­sis has al­lowed ex­trem­ist par­ties to step up too, feed­ing off peo­ple’s dis­con­tent with the EU, the ab­sence of sol­i­dar­ity and the lack of any out­side help. In­deed, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Eu­ro­barom­e­ter poll, the num­ber of Eu­ro­peans who dis­trust the Eu­ro­pean Union has dou­bled over the past six years to a record high of 58%.

In fact, many cit­i­zens see EU in­sti­tu­tions as per­ni­cious and over­bear­ing in na­tional pub­lic life. Many do not un­der­stand why so much money is spent for EU of­fi­cials to live in lux­ury and to have every­thing funded by the mem­ber states, when they them­selves de­mand fur­ther cuts and mea­sures to re­duce wages and ben­e­fits in EU coun­tries. Or why for ex­am­ple, so many de­ci­sions take place be­hind closed doors, with no ac­count­abil­ity and no trans­parency. EU of­fi­cials are seen as too dis­tant from re­al­ity.

in­su­lated from re­al­ity

Hid­den be­hind re­ports, dossiers, pro­pos­als and reg­u­la­tions, they are so deep in pa­per­work that they do not look be­yond it, into their so­ci­eties, to see how peo­ple re­ally live. How all these de­ci­sions that they vote upon in those huge and lux­u­ri­ous build­ings ac­tu­ally af­fect the lives of or­di­nary cit­i­zens. Those very cit­i­zens that elected them to these posts – al­beit in most cases in­di­rectly - and who con­tinue to make sac­ri­fices on the altar of aus­ter­ity, low­er­ing their hopes and ex­pec­ta­tions and van­ish­ing their dreams, as their politi­cians con­tinue to live in­su­lated in the “Eu­ro­pean cap­i­tal” (Brus­sels), away from the painful re­al­ity of the world.

But it is time to step out of that bub­ble. EU of­fi­cials should be more ac­ces­si­ble to their con­stituents. To the peo­ple who placed them there in the first place. They should be more trans­par­ent in their de­ci­sions and look to see how their pro­pos­als will im­pact their peo­ple. To be­have as true lead­ers and strug­gle with their peo­ple, fight­ing to give each one a voice. If the up­com­ing EU elec­tions are in­deed “going to be dif­fer­ent this time,” then MEPs should lis­ten to cit­i­zens call­ing for greater ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion in order to tackle the EU's "de­mo­c­ra­tic deficit."

Eu­rope has lost its way. It has al­lowed a cri­sis to enter its core and erode it from the in­side, be­cause its peo­ple too have lost their way. They have al­lowed their na­tional, self-cen­tred is­sues to take over their col­lec­tive Eu­ro­pean iden­tity. An iden­tity that is only as strong as its peo­ple united. EU of­fi­cials pro­claim re­forms need to take place in order for things to change in Eu­rope and for the EU to get back on track. But the re­struc­tur­ing must also take part in the heart of the EU, in its or­ga­ni­za­tion and its in­sti­tu­tions. In the way EU of­fi­cials op­er­ate. They too should ac­cept pay cuts, and the aus­ter­ity mea­sures they often im­pose on other coun­tries. Be­cause the EU is in essence the prod­uct of its mem­ber states. And if one fam­ily mem­ber is hurt, then the rest of the group should rally to its res­cue. The EU has for­got­ten what it means to act as a fam­ily. To stand by its peo­ple and to lis­ten when they have some­thing to say. To ac­cept their griev­ances to­gether with their com­pli­ments and to try to be­come bet­ter in order for its unity to be­come stronger. A united iden­tity is what is miss­ing from the EU today. And a multi-lin­gual say­ing in this case is true – “unity is strength”. If the Eu­ro­pean mem­ber states can re­dis­cover the pri­or­i­ties and aims that brought them to­gether in the first place, then the EU that Schu­man en­vi­sioned 54 years ago will fi­nally be­come a re­al­ity.