EU citizens disenchanted with Economic and Monetary Union over rising poverty and high unemployment

László Andor, Member of the EC in charge of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (first from right) and Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the EC in charge of Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, participated in the 3rd European Roma Summit with Traian Băsescu, President of Romania. Around 500 Representatives of EU institutions, national Governments and Parliaments, International Organisations, Mayors, civil society organisations (including Roma organisations) and local and regional authorities were invited to express their views. (EC Audiovisual Services, 4.4.2014).

László Andor, Member of the EC in charge of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (first from right) and Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the EC in charge of Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, participated in the 3rd European Roma Summit with Traian Băsescu, President of Romania. Around 500 Representatives of EU institutions, national Governments and Parliaments, International Organisations, Mayors, civil society organisations (including Roma organisations) and local and regional authorities were invited to express their views. (EC Audiovisual Services, 4.4.2014).

In a historic meeting, Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Commissioner, László Andor, and local and regional European leaders elaborated yesterday on the shortcomings of Europe’s growth strategy and agreed that a reform is needed on the principles of Eurozone’s Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). They also took stock of the poor performance of the Youth Guarantee scheme, which is supposed to offer to EU youths under 25 years of age a job, a traineeship or an apprenticeship within four months from leaving the education system.

The Committee of the Regions (CoR) is the EU’s assembly of regional and local representatives from all 28 Member States. “Its mission is to involve regional and local authorities and the communities they represent in the EU’s decision-making process and to inform them about EU policies”. The three EU main decision-making bodies, namely the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council “are obliged to consult the Committee in policy areas affecting regions and cities”. It can appeal to the EU Court of Justice if its rights are infringed or it believes that an EU law infringes the subsidiarity principle or fails to respect regional or local powers.

A reality of unemployment and poverty

Commissioner Andor, while addressing this committee of EU regional and local leaders, didn’t chew his words. He was the best placed person to identify the shortcomings of EU’s policies and failures to achieve targets, in the field of European Monetary Union as far as its implications are concerned on employment and other socioeconomic matters.

The CoR only recently expressed deep concerns on growing disparities within Europe as well as on the implementation of the EU’s growth strategy, Europe 2020, particularly when it comes to delivering jobs and reducing poverty. Those concerns were confirmed and shared by Commissioner Andor during the CoRs’ April plenary session yesterday. He pointed out “that the employment rate headline target (75% by 2020) will be “extremely difficult to achieve”, since to do so the EU should see an extra 16 million people getting a job by the end of the decade”.

In relation with the fight against poverty, Andor observed that “the ongoing assessment shows that the situation is even worse. Following the rise in the last four years, Europe must reduce the number of people at the risk of poverty and social exclusion by 26.6 million by 2020 to meet the target”. In reality, the Commissioner reaffirmed that lack of progress on Europe 2020 targets should prompt EU leaders not to water down or abandon the Strategy, but to step up the policy response.

Increasing inequality

All those employment and social cohesion issues are assuming a very special importance fifty days ahead of the European election. Fears that the coming election may produce a legislature full of Eurosceptics, extremists and harlequins, are haunting every conscientious EU decision maker. Local and regional leaders, as being very close to citizens, are quite worried about all that.

In this context, regional and local leaders shared with Commissioner Andor the need to speed up current EU employment initiatives but also to take stock on how the EU has managed the economic crisis in order to ensure that the management of “cyclical shocks” does not bring “extremely high social costs” that should “not be acceptable in the EU”. This aspect was underlined by the CoRs’ First Vice-President Mercedes Bresso (IT/PES). She is an Italian politician and former President of the Piedmont Region, a member of the Democratic Party.

Political repercussions

Bresso proposed to Andor the introduction, at EU level, of an unemployment insurance scheme: “Vetoes and obstacles to the enforcement of the social dimension of the EMU, as well as to the introduction of the EU unemployment insurance scheme must be urgently overcome. We cannot leave citizens alone in dealing with the consequence of the crisis and of the ongoing reforms”. According to this Italian politician “If the EU won’t be able to react to citizens’ growing disappointment with ambitious measures, the eurosceptical propaganda will keep on gaining momentum and harming the European democracy”.

There is no doubt that regional and local European political leaders, being in direct contact with citizens, must have access to first-hand information about everyday people’s attitudes towards the EU. The truth is that, on many occasions, some national governments in certain EU countries blame the EU for their own failures and broken promises. In this way, lay people are misinformed about what is really happening in Brussels. This doesn’t mean that Brussels is always right. The problem remains though that the Brussels nomenclature tends to watch and take decisions based on averages, neglecting the regional and local dead ends.

In any case, the CoR is the best place to take a condensed taste of the true feelings of European citizens. In this respect, rising poverty and high unemployment were the main topics of discussion in the last CoR’s plenary.

 

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