Guest blogpost by Vladan Lausevic, member of Alliance of Liberals And Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and student of European Studies at University of Riga.
At the current moment EU stands for around 6 percent of the world’s population, 20 percent of the world’s economy and, as the former Swedish minister of foreign affairs Carl Bildt once tweeted, EU stands for around 50 percent of the world’s welfare. Rhetorically it sounds positive and astonishing however in reality the 6 percent of world’s population is still not covered or included by the 50 percent of world’s welfare. Welfare politics are still national issues and a significant socio-political integration process at the European level has not taken place despite the visions of Treaty of Rome in 1957 of economic and social integration going hand in hand. If the EU is supposed to stand for around half of the world’s welfare resources then there is need for a real and effective welfare policy at the European level.
At pace with the social, economic and political crisis in EU during the recent years, the new developments have taken place, which are reminding of the old dark periods from the 30’s. Austerity measures, massive social unrest and high numbers of unemployment. There is also growing support across the Union for parties which are categorized as nationalistic, anti-democratic or racist. The intolerance is also spreading between EU-citizens where UK is one primary example regarding the immigration debate which is highly infected by myths rather than being based on facts. Many of the current discussions are about how to prevent the EU citizens from other states access to welfare benefits and ”our own resources”.
At time of crisis it should be important to be reminded that the aim of the welfare states is after all, not only to produce the welfare, but also to shape a solidarity between the citizens, the society and the state. Since the EU is the world biggest economy it also means that the citizens are economically depending on each other. After all, ”our own resources” are also depending both on how economy is performing oat the global level and within the single market. When young people in Greece, Spain and Italy but also in Sweden, UK and France are unemployed it also turns to be an European issue and not only a national one.
For the reasons mentioned above it is a high time for the economic and social integration to complete each other in order to deal more effective with the current social challenges in the Union. Current crisis have resulted in worsening of the quality of life, which can be illustrated by the story about the ”lost generation” – the young EU-citizens who are unemployed, in education or labour training. Union cannot afford to have large numbers of, not only of the unemployed young people, but also the unemployed of other ages. There are enormous needs for investments in the human capital in order to create opportunities for the new tax payers who can be more attractive in the labour market. For example Spain and Portugal have higher percentage of citizens who only have primary school education compared to the wealthier member states as Germany and Sweden.
There is also another important reason for having more active social policy at the European level that can exist side by side with the national social policies. More citizens could be connected to Brussels which would make the EU more countable for its citizens. It could improve the situation regarding so called ”democratic deficit” and provide more political competition at the European level. Also there should not be any contradictions between higher social spending and economic growth in EU in general since historically seen several member states have managed that, like for example Sweden, Denmark and Finland.
As previously mentioned, a European welfare policy would not mean that member states would lose their own welfare policy. Instead, the EU would be able to provide welfare as extra support where it could be needed, especially in the case if the issues cannot be solved at the national level. In case of the UK or Netherlands where the governments are complaining about the “social tourism” and the strains of welfare because of higher numbers of migrating EU-citizens, the Union could act by having its own welfare funds in order to provide support to the national governments.
The formation of the EU with its roots in beginning of the 50’s has after all been based on creating a prosperity and fighting against a poverty and not fighting against the poor or neglecting the needed convergence between the member states. By having its own social policy Commission, Council and the European Parliament could be engaged in achieving the following:
- Increasing the labour force mobility by providing salary benefits. Migration within the Union is important in order to have more tax payers and educational development. In USA the percentage of the labour mobility between the states is around 10 percent comparing to the 3-4 percent in the EU. One challenge lies in how to increase the labour mobility from member states where quality of life is higher to the member state where it is lower. Latvia for example is one of the fastest growing economies in EU but still struggles to attract more high-skilled labour. The salary benefit for mobile work force could be provided by the Commission and be based on 50 percent of the respective member states medium wage during 6, 9,12 months depending on the type of work.
- There are needs for investing in the human capital in order to shape more attractive individuals for the labour market but also to increase the social convergence between the member states. The so called ”youth guarantee” program is a good start but the EU could be able to provide more to the national governments in order to deal with poverty reduction through the competence developing actions. High amounts of EU-citizens in the working-age are with only primary education or with lack of knowledge in foreign languages is not appropriate either for the needs of the single market or the knowledge-based economies within and outside the Europe.
- At present, the problem of beggary leads to many discussions and arouse strong feelings. Also it is a problem that is hard to solve on the national level since prohibiting the poverty means prohibiting the problem but not solving it. People who are desperate in order to satisfy the basic needs as housing, food and water do not care of a prohibition at the first place. The EU has, during the latest years, provided funds for actions targeting improving the quality of life for Roma minorities to some member states as for example to Romania. However, in many cases such actions have been obstructed because of the unwillingness of local or national politicians. Standing up for the rights of the Roma population in Romania can result in losing the popular support from voters. In practice it means that taking actions that are necessary for the basic human and citizen rights is regarded as a political suicide since many voters are influenced by a strong anti-cyganism. For those reasons the Commission should be able to provide the necessary funds directly to NGO:s, local activists or voluntary organizations which are working with helping the Romas if the national governments are not able or not willing to perform their responsibility.
When the social crisis occur and the quality of life becomes worse it usually leads to people having negative experiences which can affect the future decision-making process and trust in the state institutions. In EU many citizens already have that kind of negative experience. Since these experiences are not only based on decisions taken on national level it also means that the solutions for citizens welfare and quality of life in the future should be provided at the European level. The lessons-learned from the time of crisis should result in form of the efficient social-policy and welfare solidarity across EU.