May’s elections to the European people are far more important than just a test of public opinion about the state of our national political parties. Just over 388 million voters will elect 751 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who will play a key role in determining whether or not Social Europe can be rescued and the democratic deficit and growing alienation at the heart of the EU can be addressed. These elections are a key opportunity to bring about a fundamental change of direction and to address three interrelated crises that threaten the future of the EU: a solidarity and equality crisis, a crisis of democratic legitimacy and an environmental crisis.
At the heart of the solidarity and equality crisis is the rapid increase in unemployment, poverty and inequality across the EU and the growing divergence between Member States. Economic and fiscal policies are being implemented at the expense of social policies and austerity measures are undermining and dismantling welfare states. Over six and a half million more people are living in poverty or social exclusion than in 2008: a total of 123 million people, close to one in four Europeans, in 2012. Children are at greater risk of poverty or social exclusion than adults with a rate of 27.7% against 25. %.
Unemployment in the EU is 10.9% and for the first time ever, more than 25 million people are unemployed in the EU, an increase of nearly 9 million since 2008. Over 11 million people are long-term unemployed. Nearly a quarter of economically active young people are unemployed. Nearly one in five third country nationals are without a job. More and more people in employment are being forced into insecure and low paid employment. The working poor represent one third of working age adults at-risk-of-poverty. The burden of economic adjustment is destroying Social Europe and is hitting the most vulnerable groups hardest.
Candidates should be committed to supporting and monitoring the implementation of the European Commission’s social investment package and, in particular, campaigning for the active implementation of the Recommendation on “Investing in Children”. All candidates should be asked to sign up to the European Manifesto, “I am a child rights champion”, launched by international and European children’s rights organisations. This calls for a political commitment to promoting children’s rights in the work of the European Parliament. Candidates should be committed to strengthening social protection systems across the EU, supporting EAPN’s campaign for an EU Directive on minimum income schemes, and working for accessible and quality public services for all. The EU’s positive track record on promoting gender equality and anti-discrimination measures must be reinvigorated.
Candidates should commit to ensuring that the rights of groups such as migrants and people from a minority ethnic background are fully realised and that support for asylum seekers and refugees is enhanced, with responsibility shared more fairly across the EU.
Europe faces a crisis of democratic legitimacy. The EU is increasingly viewed as being controlled by an elite that is taking decisions in the interests of the few. It is imposing austerity measures that are transforming the EU into a Europe of “them” and “us”. The lack of accountability and legitimacy is combining with a growing sense of insecurity and fear as a result of the social crisis. This is leading to a rise in Euroscepticism and a growth in racism, xenophobia, discrimination and nationalism. Not surprisingly many European citizens are turning their back on Europe because they feel Europe has let them down when they most needed it.
Candidates must be committed to further strengthening the role of the European Parliament to shape legislation and to hold the European Commission and Council to account and to ensuring that the voice of civil society is heard in European policy making.
Economic policies have also been increasingly applied at the expense of environmental policies. The current economic crisis is not just a fiscal crisis. It is the result of an unsustainable model of development which is based on overconsumption and results in an ever increasing ecological deficit. Yet the measures imposed to address the economic crisis are just more of the same. The latest European Commission proposals, the 2030 Framework for Climate and Energy EU2030, reflect this with their rowing back on the obligation on Member States to reach specific renewable energy targets by 2030.
Candidates should be committed to revitalising Europe’s employment strategy, building a more environment and climate-friendly economy, and creating jobs through investment in thermal retrofit of housing and in sustainable energy sources.
The European elections are an opportunity to demand a change of direction. It is vital we elect MEPs who are committed to addressing these three fundamental crises.