In a few months, millions of Europeans will go to the ballot box to choose members of the next European Parliament. This is not a confrontation between democrats and populists or between pro- and anti-Europeans. What is at stake is whether or not we, as Europeans, will be able to place the sustainable well-being of everyone at the very core of our European agenda and in so doing reboot the European project.
The European project is at risk.
The deterioration of living standards of large segments of the population, increasing poverty, growing intra-country and inter-country inequalities and lack of hope that conditions could improve in the foreseeable future, are manifestations of a continuing economic, social and environmental crisis.
Statistics are alarming. In 2016, 118 million Europeans, namely one fourth of Europe’s population, including millions of kids, lived at risk of poverty or social exclusion. At the same time, a mere 5% of Europeans owned 40% of Europe’s total private wealth. More than one third of Europeans live in financial insecurity. Between 2007 and 2015, 1.4 million jobs were lost. Almost 19% of those aged 25-29- find themselves neither in employment nor in education or training. Around 50 million people suffer from energy poverty. Environmental challenges remain unattended as climatic change threatens our planet. Last but not least, the progressive bureaucratization of European institutions and the increasing concentration of economic and political power in the hands of few transnational companies and banks are manifestations of a governance crisis. Such phenomena have eroded trust in democratic institutions and in the capacity of our governments to serve the needs and interests of the many.
Another Europe is feasible
“Another Europe is feasible”. This message is reflected in the Report on Sustainable Equality, prepared by an Independent Commission of 30 personalities, set up in April 2018 by the Socialists and Democrats in the EU Parliament and supported by a taskforce of representatives from non-governmental organizations and trade unions. I had the honor to Co-Chair the work of this Commission together with Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, former Prime Minister of Denmark and former President of the PES.
The Independent Commission’s Report on “Sustainable Equality”: a visionary call to action for a radically different Europe.
Guided by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Report proposes a European- wide strategy for sustainable development. It is built around five major pillars: empowering people, reshaping capitalism, promoting social justice and solidarity within and between generations and among territories, balancing ecological and social progress and reforming the present European governance system. Under each of these pillars, concrete policy recommendations and specific performance indicators for monitoring and assessing their impact are proposed.
The Report is thus innovative in five respects:
• It provides a radical alternative plan with a clear vision for an inclusive, just and sustainable Europe.
• It places Sustainable Development at the very top of the political agenda; it thus takes into account all three interrelated pillars of a sustainable transformation – economic, social and environmental- in an integrated and holistic manner.
• It proposes a set of 100, readily implementable, policy measures as well as 10 further steps towards a more sustainable Europe.
• It recommends a revamped governance model by replacing the Stability and Growth Pact with a Sustainable Development Pact, a multi-annual exercise aiming to implement sound fiscal policy on an equal footing with sustainable development policies.
• It introduces appropriate economic, social and environmental indicators to guide policy making and strengthens monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to enhance transparency and democratic accountability.
Only a revamped Europe can ensure social progress and environmental sustainability
In today’s globalized and unregulated markets, it is only Europe that can deliver “public or collective goods” that can ensure our collective sustainable well –being. No single government can manage by itself migration flows and the influx of asylum seekers or mitigate environmental hazards caused by climatic change. No single country can bargain or regulate large footloose transnational corporations or supervise effectively international banks. No member-state can alone stop tax evasion when citizens have access to tax havens that remain outside the reach of national jurisdictions or the resources and capacity to address effectively the challenges and disruptions caused by rapid technological change.
An economically prosperous Union of more than 500 million people has the bargaining power to do all of the above. A Union that promotes and respects human and social rights can be a catalyst for peace and democracy in the world. A Union that strives for social progress and environmental sustainability can be a beacon for sustainable development.
Europeans thus realize that we need Europe today more than in past decades. But for Europe to be relevant to its citizens today, Europeans need to be convinced that Europe can indeed be inclusive, just and democratic so that policies can ensure decent livelihoods for all.
A call for action to progressive Europeans
For this to happen, progressive forces in Europe need to stand up and forge new alliances to reform Europe on a sustainable basis. Political labels that were awarded in previous decades on the basis of past ideological or geopolitical cleavages need to be revisited. A sharp red line needs to be drawn against neo-liberal, new-right or populist views and policies. Answers to new challenges to promote well-being for all need to be articulated. Effective leadership is needed to lead the change and transform the social majority that aspires for change into a political majority that can deliver it. The Report on “Sustainable Equality” is a small contribution towards that goal.