Towards a declaration....
1789: The Tennis Court Oath (Serment du Jeu de Paume), by Jean Louis David
Thoughts and Questions
Towards a My!Europe Declaration working for more democracy in a more social Europe
This text is draft 2.0 of a paper being prepared for presentation and discussion at My!Europe conferences around Europe and on the www.myeurope.today web magazine. It is and remains a personal view by Ole Aabenhus, project consultant. After the 7th My!Europe conference, "Thought and Questions. More democracy in a more social Europe" will be submitted to the concluding conference in November 2016 as "raw material" for a My!Europe Declaration. Please contribute with comments and proposals for at draft 3.0.
The eight conferences included in the “My!Europe” project, running from August 2015 to December 2016 will discuss and draft – one after the other – a Declaration on European democracy and European dilemmas and social values.
Simultaneously, an on-going discussion will take place on the project’s internet site (www.myeurope.today), until a final version is prepared at the concluding conference, which will take place in Germany in November 2016.
The first version was developed in discussions in a small group in Copenhagen. Draft 2.0 has picked up ideas from the first My!Europe conference, in Bornholm, Denmark, in September 2015.
You are welcome to comment on every aspect of the text, whether you take part in the MyEurope conferences or are part of the Sonnenberg movement or not. The Declaration should express the opinion of all those of us who feel a need for a more democratic and more social Europe.
In accordance with the My!Europe application to the EU’s Citizens for Europe programme there are two main sections:
1. Popular-rooted participatory democracy, p.4
2. Values of focal importance to the future of Europe, p.11
We will end with a list of thoughts from the Bornholm conference on being a European. But we start out with a question: What is the European dream about?
Please comment, improve, suggest.
A European dream? What is it about?
First My!Europe conference, Allinge,
Bornholm, Denmark, Sept 2015
EUROPE EXISTS. Is there a European dream? Is there a dream which makes sense to every individual, every family from North to South, from East to West?
The American dream is rooted in the American Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that ”all men are created equal” with the right to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
The first My!Europe conference, that took place in Allinge, Bornholm, Denmark, wound up with a webinar – a seminar-on-air - in which the European Dream was discussed. One of the main points were that “It would be different from the American dream”. “The American dream tends to be more material and more individual-oriented. A European dream would be more collective, more spiritual”.
But we are still far away from defining “a dream which makes sense to every individual, every family from North to South, from East to West”.
Europe - undefined
First of all, we say “Europe”, but we are thinking only of the 28 countries with a total of 500 million inhabitants, which make up the European Union. (The 10 million square km which make up geographical Europe, has 50 countries with 750 million inhabitants).
Second, the European Union is not a mature construction, and its treaties change far more often than national constitutions. The EU (originally EEC) was created after the Second World War as an elitist project to tie nations together, which were bitter enemies only yesterday. It was created in opposition to nazism, and therefore had human rights and no-more-holocaust as its core values. And it was established in competition with the Soviet Union, which was a threat at the time not only ideologically, but also in terms of military strength and economic development.
The European Charter on Human rights is still based more on “freedom from” aspects – from surveillance, from interference by the state – than the right to a better life.
How can the European Union be categorized? Jacques Delors, president of the Commission in the 1980’s called the EU “a UPO”, an Undefined Political Object. In his State of the Union address in 2012, one of Delors’ successors, Jose Manuel Barroso, called the EU “a democratic federation of nation states” – because in some cases the EU acts together like a federal state, in other cases the EU functions as 28 individual member states.
Should the EU be seen as a “regional state”? The term has been introduced by American political scientist Vivien A. Schmidt in her book “Democracy in Europe” (2006), as older terms like federation or confederation of states do not fit. Why “regional state”? Because the EU has a lot of the features of a state – well-defined boundaries, laws and regulations that cover the entire area, and it acts as a state in trade relations with third countries. The components are still individual states, with their own boundaries, armies and foreign policy capabilities – but as they share sovereignty in more and more fields, they strengthen the level of cooperation at the regional level.
AT THE BORNHOLM conference, one problem pointed out was that “national parliaments do not discuss European matters, and that they should work closer with the European Parliament”.
Another was that the advantages of “Europe” are often thinly spread, while the pain of change is felt locally and concrete. The EU takes care of “trade, markets, and banking systems”, while social matters are left with the nation states, as one participant noted.
Introducing democracy at the European level has primarily been an effort to strengthen the European Parliament. This has had strong effect on the way procedures work in Brussels, especially under the Lisbon Treaty, which gives Parliament powers over the EU budget.
However, it has not had a strong effect on voters’ interest and influence. From 1979 to 2014 the average voting rate in the European Parliament elections has fallen from 62 to 43 per cent.
One type of solution might be to work for a “social Europe”. The issue is discussed in this paper, but as a British participant pointed out on Bornholm, it has to be treated with great caution: “Certainly in the UK, the feeling is that sufficient powers have been given away to the European Union”.
1. Popular-rooted participatory democracy:
Text I from the Project Application
1. Popular-rooted participatory democracy:
- Cross-border dialogue between citizents, NGOs, and exucational institutions
- enhancing the use of digital media for participatory democracy
- defining the individual's role and identity in a European context
- discussing ways to make voting in European elections have more direct influence
- creating personal bonds across borders
BASICALLY, democracy is about power, but the role of democracy changes with history and the existing power structures.
In early modern times, democracy was the counterweight to royalty, nobility and to a small elite around the king’s government. Therefore, individual rights, free enterprise and equal chances in life were its basic demands. In the early stages, only to a limited part of the population got voting rights.
Later, in the capitalist world, voting power became a tool in the hands of the working population struggling for human dignity and for the welfare state.
Today, things are much more complicated. Many of us are both workers, blue-collar or white-collar, and at the same time small capital holders – individually or through pension funds. The old political spectrum of “the haves” against “the have-nots” is becoming increasingly blurred.
At the same time, in the face of globalization, entire states now involve themselves in creating a business environment that can compete in a globalized world.
Therefore, the old class-based understanding of democracy may be obsolete today. Most of us are both workers and capital owner at the same time. We may even own a share in the super market where we do our shopping.
Basically, greed is the basic driving force in capitalist society, seeking profit, avoiding loss in terms of money and material wealth. But while we all have a bit of that greed in ourselves, we all want to act in our moral capacity as well. So, maybe we can say that democracy today is the force that sets the limits and the basic conditions for enterprise in all fields – from environment to industry, schools and road building. And that our democratic vote is decided from a mixture of self-interest, moral considerations, and social responsibility.
It has always been so, that the power of democracy is manifested at the ballots on Election Day. Today, however, it is constantly expressed through NGOs, through the press and through the political parties.
Can Europe develop into
a space for equality, fraternity and peace?
GLOBAL DEMOCRACY might be an ideal, but is today an unreachable utopia.
A host of historical developments has made Europe a space where states and their peoples subscribe to ideas of equality, liberty/freedom and fraternity/solidarity. This goes for nation states as well as for the European Union.
Actually, we should understand these as values that pull in different directions. As said Aristoteles: Liberty (freedom) is ”to be ruled by none, if possible, or, if this is impossible, to rule and be ruled in turns; and so it contributes to the freedom based upon equality”. Fraternity indicates the moral bond of ”we-feeling”, respect and solidarity necessary to create a society that is not based on dictatorship.
Liberty contradicts total equality and total solidarity, and vice versa. In short, all three basic values contradict one another. So, each society must decide where to find the optimum, while realising that it will never be stable.
The political values triangle
IN THE EUROPEAN UNION only the idea of freedom – freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and men – has a strong, practical role. Capital, goods, services and labour can move freely across borders.
But the ideas of equality and fraternity between its peoples have been left behind, as was demonstrated clearly during the bank crisis, from 2008 onwards, and the subsequent euro crisis.
Historical evidence, like Hitler’s putsch in 1933, demonstrates that formal democracy is not sufficient. For democracy to be meaningful, the individual needs to feel that he/she serves a common good – and that they can follow a constantly on-going political dialogue, involving ordinary citizens.
WE ALL LIVE in a society with many different levels – a social construct, where democracy – in terms of the direct influence of the individual on the social conditions of his/her own life - will change when you move from one level up to the next.
The figure below indicates the different levels in a simple state structure (like Denmark) and a compound, federal state structures (like Germany):
The NGO – a new level in democratic procedures
??? WHAT SHOULD BE THE ROLE of the NGO in the future of Europe?
Today, we have a new level of democratic representation – the non-government organisation (NGO). Thus, the individual seeks influence on his/her own living conditions through NGOs as well as political parties.
The United Nations has established special forums for NGO, to seek new ideas and involve people in policy development.
If yes, how can we strengthen NGOs’ ability to seek influence at national as well as at EU level?
Should they e.g. be supported from public purse at the same level as political parties?
The nation level
??? SHOULD THE PEOPLES’ RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION be seen as a democratic principle?
Talking about democracy, we have to look at the peoples’ right to self-determination. Flandern, Wallonia, Scotland, Catalunya are all examples of nations, which are not states, but wish a degree of sovereignty that is more than a region. Thus we have to realise that state and nation does not always coincide.
Peoples’ right to self-determination is part of the UN Charter.
We often talk as if our states and nations are the same, but actually – as we have just seen - the two do not always coincide. A nation can be defined as a cultural-political community that has become conscious of its autonomy, unity, and particular interests – and now demands its self-determination.
The right of self-determination was a driving factor in the decolonisation of African and Asian states. It could have been an important principle for a peaceful solution in Ukraine, especially Krim – but not without getting into conflict with existing state borders.
??? SHOULD THE RIGHT to self-determination be part of the EU toolbox, e.g. in Ukraine and in the Middle East? As an example, the EU has been supporting the Palestinian people’s right of self-determination.
Politics and policies
??? HOW TO GET AN OPEN, EU-WIDE DEBATE
SOME POLITICAL SCIENTISTS, notably Vivien A. Schmidt, have pointed out that the EU has a tendency to take “politics” out of “policies” – the EU is a solid machine for producing policies in all sorts of areas, but at the same time the open political debate has fizzled out of the process.
In the understanding of democracy, we were brought up with, there is a constantly ongoing contest between the ruling party and the opposition, and both would normally have a proposal or a variant of a proposal to make. But in the EU there is seldom a “Plan B”. Why? There are three main reasons:
- political actors (ministers, parliamentarians) are constantly shifting between their national identity and their political (party) identity.
- the Commission has the “right of initiative”. This means that new laws and regulations are not necessarily based on a public debate between pros and cons.
- alternative ideas disappears in the process, as Parliament tends to unite against the Council of Ministers and vice versa.
- the Council of Ministers run closed-door discussions to come up with an “agreed position”.
Nevertheless, the policies still have political content in terms of distribution of distribution of wealth on a simple left-right scale.
As one critical voice has put it: “Modernising social systems is EU jargon for what is generally known as cutting social services and arguing that this is necessary in order to save them (raising the retirement age to take demographic shifts into account; reducing unemployment benefits in order to combat unemployment, etc.)” [Steffen Stierle, ATTAC, Germany]”.
But is this so special for the EU or is it not rather an expression of the dominant political trend in Europe today, - often dubbed neo-liberalism and sometimes neo-capitalism?
??? WOULD WE HAVE A MORE OPEN DEBATE, more politics and more participation in the political process, if the President of the Commission was elected directly by a Europe-wide vote?
In the campaign for the 2014 European Parliament election, each party group in the Parliament selected a top candidate – dubbed “Spitzenkandidaten”. With the Lisbon Treaty, Parliament had got the power to give the final approval for a candidate to be elected, and the political groups had agreed that whatever proposals they would receive from the Council, only their own candidates would be eligible.
Thus Jean-Claude Juncker, the top candidate for the largest group in Parliament, got selected.
??? WAS THIS A STEP towards more voter influence in the EU? And towards a more open political debate?
OR COULD WE GO FURTHER: Presidential elections in the US make up a tremendous drama, with strong media support and involvement of people from coast to coast, for or against a certain candidate. It materialises the “American dream” to the extent that even a black unknown senator can beat the well-known wife of a former president in the race to win his party’s backing. Would a similar system be feasible in Europe?
??? IF WE ASSUME that bottom-up democracy is possible, at the European level, how could it work?
- Through NGOs (as mentioned above)?
- Through some type of digital democracy?
- Through “deliberative democracy events”?
- Through cross-border debates like the My!Europe project?
- Through Europe-wide referenda?
- Through improved “early warning” debates in national parliaments?
- A Europe-wide ballot for the European Parliament?
There are many ways, but which ones should be selected?
- The “My Voice” approach:
Latvia has established a system, where the Parliament has made it a law to take up any citizen’s proposal for new laws or amendment to existing laws, if the proposal is supported by 10.000 signatures (in a state with approx. 2 million inhabitants). (see www.myeurope.today).
- Through some type of digital democracy?
The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) gives EU citizens the possibility to submit proposals to the Commission. The regulation, introduced with the Lisbon Treaty 2009, goes that if an NGO gets 1 million signatures from 7 different countries for a certain issue, the Commission will take it up for considerations – provided the theme lies within the competence of the Commission.
There has been three successful ECI’s: Right2Water, One of us (protection of human embryos. But at the same time, three have been rejected (My voice against nuclear energy, the European anthem in esperanto, an initiative to stop TTIP – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact USA-EU).
The people from Mana Bals have criticised the ECI for e.g. prohibiting that an NGO set up a database of signatories, so one could e.g. urge them to spread the message to family and friends.
- Through “deliberative democracy” events?
Deliberative democracy holds that, for a democratic decision to be legitimate, it must be preceded by authentic deliberation, not merely the aggregation of preferences that occurs in voting (see Wikipedia for an overview of different types).
A practical case: 400 persons, carefully selected according to social strata, gender etc., get together for two days. They take an opinion test on arrival, discuss, meet experts, politicians, and their opinion is tested at the end of the event. This is the way it has been used by e.g. Danish public service television. But it could also be used to develop political ideas.
- Through cross-border debates like the My!Europe project?
The most remarkable feature of the My!Europe project is the way in which a series of conferences in a number of countries discuss the same theme(s), while a final document is drafted for the first conference and consequently discussed, changed and elaborated in the following conferences.
- Through Europe-wide referenda?
It was the intention of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, towards the end of the European convent on an EU Constitution Treaty (now the Lisbon Treaty), of which he was a chairman, that the new treaty should be voted in a referendum covering all the EU.
- Through improved “early warning” debates in national parliaments?
Could national parliaments be nudged into discussing EU legislature much earlier than today?
This was the intention of the Lisbon Treaty’s “early warning” system. The Commission shall submit any law proposal to national parliaments three months before it is submitted to the European Parliament and to the Council.
The idea behind this new EU-feature was that national parliaments shall be able to protest if and when the EU-system will legislate in areas that are better dealt with at national level, and thus unnecessarily remove national sovereignty.
- Through a Europe-wide election for the European Parliament?
A Europe-wide ballot might also be a possibility. Andrew Duff, British Liberal MEP, has proposed that part of the seats in the European Parliament elections should be voted in all member countries.
??? DOES SONNENBERG HAVE A KEY – one out of many - to discuss European values in a simple language?
The Sonnenberg movement, which is the basis for the My!Europe movement, was created in the post-war period, on the basis of four simple principles: “Talk together. Overcome prejudice. Understand one another. Act responsibly”.
These principles seem simple, but also important: Voters in 28 countries, representing 500 million people, can never discuss every detail of EU legislature. But they could discuss the values, which the EU shall follow. Everyday discussions among ordinary people are most often about values. Somehow, we have to relate discussions in ordinary language to European politics.
Over the years European politics have had a highly elitist character. The Sonnenberg movement is there for the ordinary citizen - to conduct cross-border discussions in ordinary language and relate political problems to everyday moral issues.
Talk together: European day-to-day politics have a tendency to be overly technical and very difficult to discuss for ordinary citizens. What we can discuss without the help of experts and politicians are the long-term goals of Europe. The Sonnenberg movement could take pride in running an open discussion in ordinary language on the future of Europe.
What do we mean by “being European”? What characteristics are we thinking of – human rights, liberty, equality, solidarity? Openness? Do we want Europe to have a social character as well as a capitalist face? To be elitist or to be open, inviting people to participate? To be a tightly defended Fort Europe or to be open to the refugees of the world?
Overcome prejudice and understand one another: There is a growing tendency to use condescending language about people in the lesser developed European countries – while cutting down on regional development assistance. Should we take pride in facilitating an exchange between ordinary people in different countries, so they do not just act as tourists, but seek knowledge and friendship with people “just like themselves”.
Act responsibly - together: One of the objectives of the My!Europe project is to facilitate cross-border cooperation and networks between NGOs and between ordinary people – be that between organisations, large or small, or in ad hoc groups comparing living conditions in the respective countries of their members, or discussing environment, or games, or genealogy…
Minorities and self-determination
IT IS PART OF SONNENBERG’S ROOT DNA to respect minorities as part of a common society – national or international - and support them equal rights to culture and education.
The principle of self-determination of nations as stated in the UN’s Human Rights Conventions became the legal framework behind the de-colonisation process in the 1960’s. In Europe itself, it runs into a dilemma: Should the interest of the nation state with its geographic borders prevail over the claim for self-determination of smaller groups?
Recently this issue has come up in Catalunya, in Scotland, and in relation to Ukraine (Krim, Donetsk etc.). Should we promote exchanges with these nations? Support their claims?
2. Values of focal importance to the future of Europe
Text II from the Project Application
2. Values and dilemmas of some major fields of concern to Europe's future:
- social welfare / free movement of people and capital
- national sovereignty / re-nationalisation / solidarity between nations
- max. green development / max. growth
- national identity / nationalism / immigration
THE MODERN WELFARE STATE has been described as a society where you have a combination of democracy, welfare and capitalism. If you look at the European Union, there is a democratic deficit, and welfare in the sense of taking that care of people’s needs is left to member states. But the idea that capitalism will thrive on The Single Market is the very backbone of the EU, its raison d’être.
??? COULD WE SAY THAT “SOCIAL EUROPE” means looking at Europe from a social angle, where not only law and judicial rights are crucial elements, but where income, employment, welfare and living conditions are involved?
If we insist that the basic values of democracy are liberty, equality and fraternity, we could perhaps redraw the triangle, we presented earlier (see below). However, we have to combine liberty, equality and fraternity with three psychological terms: Greed and liberty go together as the craving to grow bigger and bigger and beat the rest. Envy - the constant mutual comparison - and solidarity - care about others - go together as the basic feelings involved in accepting the welfare state as a sensible political idea.
To this we have to add a “we” – the feeling that we live in a “good” society, which will ensure peace and which will never let you down. Maybe we could use a term from the International House Sonnenberg website and say that a good society is one where “the observance of human rights, sustainable living in ecological, social and economic terms, and the recognition that diversity is an asset” are “significant values”.
??? DO WE AGREE?
In more practical terms: Is it possible for the EU to develop into a “Social Europe”, which together with the individual state will provide security for citizens? Or shall we, in principle, leave the social area the individual state alone?
The social values triangle
THE LEFT SIDE is extremely important for the cohesion of society. It spans from total redistribution to unlimited gathering of wealth.
(Actually, the left side corresponds to the so-called Gini co-efficient, proposed by Italian sociologist and statistician Corrado Gini as early as 1912, as a measure of the degree of inequality in a society).
However, to survive in a globalized world, which is open to trade, you need to make sure, society is competitive. Therefore, competitiveness is in the third peak in the triangle.
THUS THE LOWER PART of the triangle spans from “welfare as a priority” to “competitiveness” as a priority.
This could reflect the discussion that has been going on for the last decade or so, about the “competition state”. The proposition is, that the traditional ideas of a welfare state have been changed from securing employment for all to ensuring the competitiveness of enterprises.
??? SO, WHAT KIND OF SOCIETY do we wish to live in? One, which is closer to liberty, where greed finds fewer limits? One, which is closer to equality, free basic services and welfare for all? One which – at least for the time being – will maximize competitiveness?
Maybe you could say, that the United States has moved up the Gini curve towards the Liberty/Greed peak over the last few decades. In the press this has turned into a debate about the “1 per cent” as opposed to the “99 per cent” of the population: “1% of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income … In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1% control 40%...” (Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate, for a pugnate video on disparity of income, see the documentary “Inequality for all” by Robert Reich, an American economist who was Secretary of Labour under Bill Clinton).
??? CAN YOU HAVE DEMOCRACY in the modern sense of the word without equality?
Three types of welfare state
Welfare states in Europe are often sorted into three types, in accordance with a 1990 study by Danish sociologist Gøsta Esping-Andersen:
- Anglo-Saxon / Liberal
- German / Christian Democratic
- Nordic / Social democratic
The Anglo-Saxon liberal model is based on market dominance and private provision. In principle, the state should only provide for basic needs of those clearly without means. Social stratification will be high. NGOs or private companies will often be in charge of service delivery to less privileged.
The German/Christian-Democratic welfare state model is based on the dominance of social insurance schemes – in a cultural tradition where the principle of subsidiarity (decentralization and hierarchy) is dominant. Permits a high degree of social stratification.
The Nordic / social-democratic model is based on the principle of universalism, granting access to benefits and services based on citizenship, providing a relatively high degree of citizen autonomy and less social stratification.
An important characteristic of the Nordic model is flexicurity – job security to the employee, flexibility for the employer, thanks to state and union intervention: The worker is guaranteed a reasonably high salary during after he or she is sacked for whatever reason, and offered training that will make him/her more suitable for the kind of jobs offered by employers.
??? IS SUCH A SYSTEM FEASIBLE outside the Nordic countries?
Welfare and social security for the individual citizen,
Again, there are different levels involved:
??? WHAT SHOULD BE INVOLVED at the various levels?
In a country like Denmark, schools, youth, primary health care and care for the elderly are the main concerns at the local, municipality level. There is a high degree of self-determination, but e.g. schools are closely regulated by the ministry of education.
??? HOW CAN WE WORK with such interfaces between local/national self-determination and cross-country standards? What should be discussed in terms of national politics, what should be discussed in terms of European politics – in terms of income, employment, welfare and living conditions?
Can we join hands with labour unions, consumers’ organisations, sports organisations, organisations for elders, and other organisations involved in defending the individual’s welfare and security not only at state, but also at European cross-border level? The two levels come together e.g. in the recent study published by French economist Thomas Piketty on “Capital in the 21st Century”. Here he speaks for a strong “we” that can control capital.
“Inequality is not an accident”, he says, “but rather a feature of capitalism, and can only be reversed through state interventionism”.
FINALLY, there are social policies that only make sense at European level:
- Equalization of the general income level in rich and poor states, solidarity between states in times of crisis.
- Fighting the on-going brain drain from poorer countries (Poland, Baltic countries, Greece, Spain, others) to richer countries like Germany or the Nordic countries.
Learning from Luxleaks and fighting tax avoidance - by harmonizing corporate taxation across Europe - could be seen as an element of social policy as well as of competition policy.
??? DO WE IN THE RICH EU COUNTRIES e.g. have a responsibility to help the Greeks in times of crisis? Or should be have helped the Latvians? On which conditions?
In the present situation, the troika (Intl. Monetary Fund, EU Commission, European Central Bank) has tied harsh conditions to the different loan packages, hoping that they could this way help to reform the Greek economy. Is this fair – in principle?
At the European level…
FOUR DIFFERENT APPROACHES have to be sorted out:
1. The “Brexit debate” about social benefits of migrant workers
2. Measures that are already in place or which could be implemented in the short-to-medium term.
3. Demography and immigration policies
4. Visionary ideas.
1. The “Brexit debate”
Basically, social benefits at EU level have been tied to social benefits to migrant EU-workers, and this is where the debate in Great Britain and elsewhere has aroused strong feelings:
Benefits are regulated according the level in the country where the migrant works. The question is: How long does he/she have to work, and should benefits that can be enjoyed at home in e.g. Romania be paid out according to British levels or according a Romanian “price basket”?
As the Cameron government does not wish to leave the EU, but on the contrary to strengthen The Single Market, which is EU’s backbone – a foreseeable compromise could be that migrant workers’ keep some benefits, but at a level corresponding to their home country price basket.
2. Measures already in place, or which could be implemented in the short-to-medium term.
Regional development: Already in place is an important mechanism for equalization of the general income level in rich and poor states: The regional and social development funds.
They have played a major role in creating development in Spain (before the crisis) and Portugal (to a lesser degree). The regional, social and cohesion funds were established in the 1970’s (to accommodate Great Britain, so the Brits would get a bit of kick-back from joining continental Europe).
Could be implemented in the short-to-medium term:
Green Europe: Green policies are necessary partly to ensure health for human beings, to preserve natures etc. A new aspect is that an even more depleted globe will make hordes of people leave their countries in Africa, the Middle East etc.
A “green Europe” will serve to stop this tendency while creating political security and wealth, doing away with dependency on Middle East authoritarian dictatorships and on Russia.
??? HOW CAN THE MY!EUROPE PROJECT join hands with other organisations working for the greening of our continent?
Better representation in Brussels for labour, consumer and other NGOs:
One characteristic of the European debate is that you hear very little of the labour unions, consumers’ organisations and other organisations closely related to welfare.
In some cases this could be an issue of funds – e.g. in the case of consumers’ organisations. In other cases, such a labour, the “voice of the people” not promoted very strongly by politicians and by the press.
One thing that exists is the EcoSoc, the European Economic and Social Committee, established in the 1950’s as a consultative body, parallel to the Committee of the Regions and municipalities, CoR. But it goes for both of them that they are hardly heard of in the press and have very little influence, even in the European Parliament.
??? HOW CAN THE INFLUENCE in Brussels of NGOs that function as “the voice of the people” be improved?
Five steps: In an article called “Five steps to make Europe more social”, in the Social Europe web magazine, 2015, a leading German social democrat, has presented a set of ideas which all have been up for discussions lately in the European political sphere. The author is Angelica Schwall-Düren, until July 2015 minister for Federal and European Affairs in Nordrhein-Westfalen.
The core idea of a social Europe “cannot be to replace national systems with a European welfare state”, she says. Instead she talks about “EU minimum standards” combined with “respect for Member States’ capacities in social policy”.
Her five points are, in abbreviated form:
1. Harmonizing taxation and introducing a financial transaction tax: Harmonizing taxes focusing on corporate taxation across the EU in order to stop to the ruinous downward spiral towards the lowest taxes. And introducing a financial transaction tax in order to stop high-frequency trading. Revenue generated should add resources to local, regional and national governments to be spent on education and infrastructure.
2. Launch a EU investment plan to further growth and jobs - in crisis-hit countries in particular, but also for the benefit of Europe as a whole.
3. Address youth unemployment effectively. Make use of the EU Youth Guarantee and make sure that all young people under the age of 25 receive a high-quality, concrete offer (a job, apprenticeship/traineeship, work experience or continued education) within 4 months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed.
4. Introduce a permanent quota system for refugees and set up a European agency in charge of all asylum procedures, maintaining a number of EU reception centres and supervising Member States’ compliance with minimum standards.
5. Introduce a European unemployment insurance scheme. We need a mechanism of automatic stabilisers for the European economy as a whole. This would buffer Europe against shocks and help to re-establish growth, focusing on solidarity rather than just on saving banks.
4. Demography and immigration
Europe needs immigration in order to sustain its growing, elderly population. At the same time, internal migration and services across borders within Europe itself are a necessity to maintain growth and give hope to the less privileged.
In a migration perspective, “cross-border” could mean not only crossing state borders, but also creating better human contacts across the barriers between immigrants and mainstream. How could the My!Europe project serve to reach out to migrants?
5. Visionary ideas.
- Establishing a 4 per cent max unemployment target
- Basic income as inspired by Philippe van Parijs
A 4 per cent max unemployment target: It may be an apocrypha, but a Danish social democrat, the late, former economics minister Ivar Noergaard, is said to have proposed that instead of making 2 per cent inflation a major objective for European economic policy (as it is now), we should keep a maximum of 4 per cent unemployment as the overall economic objective.
He was thus pinpointing the most important lever for a Keynes-type approach to economics
instead of a neo-liberal (in the German context: “ordo-liberal”) approach.
??? WOULD THIS BE A SIMPLE WAY to make Europe more social – making employment the over-all objective instead of low inflation?
Basic income for all: This is a kind of social security system, where all citizens (or residents of a country) receive a monthly sum, higher than the poverty line, irrespective of his or her income from job or other sources. Ideas about a basic income lower than the poverty line is often called a “partial basic income”.
The idea goes back at least to the French and the American revolution (Thomas Paine), but is now being promoted in a modern version by Belgian philosopher and political economist Philippe van Parijs, see BIEN (Basic Income Earth Network at www.basicincome.org).
On being a European
WHAT DOES IT MEAN to be a European? This was discussed at Bornholm conference, and one group came up with a list to summarize their thoughts:
- Thinking across borders
- Unity in diversity – profiting from differences.
- Respect for regional cultures
- A unified legal system
- A union of states
- One link language, e.g. English
- A charter of human rights
- Peace as a principle
- Equal participation
- Protection of minorities
- A community of values (Kant)
- Democracy as a basic principle
- Unified technical standards
From the Bornholm conference, September 2015