By Chris Stenseth
The European Union is at a crossroads. For about 60 years, there has been a seemingly never-ending integration process within the EU. Economically, our countries have come closer and created new bonds at an unprecedented rate, due to the effects of the single market and the four freedoms. However, this integration has also highlighted and revealed considerable social inequalities across our internal borders. Despite some of the highest levels of prosperity in the world, EU citizens lack a comprehensive system that provides fundamental features, such as: social climbing, safety, equality and social justice. It is evident that the European unification process still has a long way to go, and that radical change is necessary if we want to solve the destabilisation and crisis that our societies are currently facing.
To overcome our current imbalances, politicians must first of all recognise that social and economic progress go hand in hand. As a society, we must understand that these are inseparable and intrinsically linked concepts that cannot be managed on a separate basis. If we want to regain the popular support, which is indispensable for a healthy management of the European Union and of our continent, we must start by improving the quality of life of those who matter, the people.
However, everything is obviously not as bad as it seems. We already have certain rights stemming from the Charter of Fundamental Rights and from the European Convention of Human Rights. This post is not an attempt to deny past European accomplishments. On the contrary, just like Jean Claude Juncker expressed last year: a social European dimension already exists, and we should all be proud of our achievements. The issue is that the social dimension is far too weak.
What we need is therefore a new social pillar which bases itself on past accomplishments. A pillar that will complement – and not replace – the acquis communautaire with new initiatives which have never seen the light within an institutional or supranational framework. Henceforth, the new European social pillar will be the basis of the EU reglementary framework. To succeed in the creation of a truly just European continent our politics and strategies should from now on be guided by our shared socio-egalitarian values.
Let us construct a social and egalitarian Union that takes into account the changing realities in the world of work. Let us construct a Union that provides a fair labour market with binding laws on the social responsibilities of corporations and businesses. A comprehensive judicial framework which offers better and more efficient solutions than the voluntary schemes that we have today.
Let us introduce a more egalitarian labour system with fair salaries. Start with the introduction of a minimum wage relative to average income of the member state in question, and let us not forget about filling the still existing income gap between men and women.
Let us invest in schools and education. A free, safe and strong education is key, and an absolute necessity in order to promote equal opportunities and social climbing across Europe. Especially in regards to our less privileged citizens.
Protocols and empty words will not suffice; we need effective and comprehensive policies to solve our deep societal problems. Therefore, if we want to fix the critical state of the Union, we must invest in the people.