Article written by Laura Sullivan, CONCORD Vice-President.
Last week I went to Rome for the EU 60 events, especially to meet lots of other civil society organisations trying to help reflect on the past and future of the EU. Whilst there I tried to reconcile a couple of things in my head.
THE FUTURE OF EUROPE IS ABOUT LISTENING
One thing was the much welcome call by President Juncker for a rebirth of the EU around its founding values: rights, justice, solidarity, equality, inclusion, tolerance.
The other was the Bratislava Roadmap (the document that kicked off the whole discussion on the future of Europe) and its section on migration and external borders. It reads “Objective: Never to allow a return to uncontrolled flows of last years and further bring down number of irregular migrants. Ensure full control of our external borders and get back to Schengen.”
I’m confused. The Bratislava Roadmap reads like a military declaration. To begin, the word ‘people’ is missing. People escaping war, climate change and poverty are referred to as ‘uncontrolled flows’ where Europe is seeking some accountancy outcomes along the lines of ‘increased return rates’. The Bratislava Declaration is largely devoid of values. So how much does Europe intend to walk the talk on those values?
The limits of our European economic model
As CONCORD, we believe in a Europe that puts people and planet at the central driver of decision making, in process and outcome. We signed up to this statement with over 230 other organisations. The statement comes from a place that recognises the need to move away from an economic model which has seen trickle down fail and inequalities widen. Still today, most all EU decisions are based on economic growth potential, no further questions asked. Europe could do so much better if it put inclusion and redistribution before growth. It also risks seriously inspiring people if it looks beyond GDP to measures of genuine progress, capturing the environmental, social and economic dimensions – not just the quantity of goods produced.
European voices we never heard of
We want a Europe that listens to people. We believe there is a future for Europe if it can involve people and lose some of the corporate capture at national and European levels. We find it hard to defend a cynical kind of Europe that allows ex Commission President Barroso to join Goldman Sachs soon after his departure from political leadership.
There are many Europeans out there that should be benefitting from the EU and should have their voices heard.
But there are a lot of people who are not. What about the story of those experiencing poverty and inequality in Europe? What about boys born in Glasgow’s East End who live to 54, 28 years less than men in Lenzie, 15 minutes down the road? What about youth in Italy that face 38% unemployment? What about the one in three women across the EU who have experienced physical or sexual abuse and the 48 women murdered in Spain by their partner in 2015 and the consequences for those women in closing the door of opportunity? What kind of Europe do they want and where are they in this conversation?
Europe, where is Democracy?
Against this, there is a lot of complacency out there. I worry when I hear Ex Council President Van Rompuy saying he finds the idea of the democratic deficit laughable, that we’re over-democratic. Meanwhile out there on the streets, the CETA experience shone a light on our less than democratic system, within which Wallonia was treated like some kind of crazy insurgent state. Europe’s leaders seem to hear that there is a problem (though even that seems to be waning since the Dutch elections), but do not want to hear about the true nature of that problem.
Another story for Europe
There is a good news story here. In 2015, the world looked beyond developing countries and asked everyone to sign up to the Agenda 2030, a plan for progress along four lines – economic, social, environment and governance. It’s not just a good idea, it is now binding on the EU and it should be the first outline for a proposal on the future of Europe.
Those who are inventing the future of Europe
And there is even more good news. A new Europe is already being born, is already transforming itself at the roots. There are a myriad of initiatives going on across Europe offering local alternative solutions to those social, economic and environmental challenges from the bottom up. They are the seeds of a kind of new glocal economy in Europe: the share economy, cooperative banks, reclaimed land for sustainable food production in cities, Slow Food, the energy prosumers, the timebanks and the list goes on. They are reinventing Europe putting people and planet first from the bottom up. There is a lot they could do to bring life to the story of the future of Europe.
We hope that European leaders will start by thinking about who is in the room when defining the future of Europe. By opening up the process beyond the usual suspects, the EU might just survive and thrive.