Social Europe – strategic investment, not cost!

„Unlike the American Dream, the European Dream was a guarantee that you will not fall through the safety net and end up existentially endangered, even if you were not the best. Today, the European Dream is endangered by austerity measures and policies based on the assumption that investing in people is an expenditure we cannot afford. However, a different Europe is possible and we shouldn’t be trying to humanize capitalism, but instead striving for a new social contract based on sustainability. Unless it is social in nature, EUrope is pointless.”

These were the messages sent out at the thematic debate on the prospects of renewing the European social model in the upcoming term of the European Parliament and European Commission, organized at the eve of the European elections by GONG and the Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (UATUC), in cooperation with the Centre for Peace Studies and Group 22.

 … 126 million living in poverty
24 million working poor
25 million unemployed
5,5 million unemployed young people
77 million with low educational qualifications …

These are the harsh, still increasing numbers that paint an increasingly bleak picture of the social situation in Europe, with citizens pressed by austerity measures, reduced public investment in the welfare state and the seriously jeopardized realization of Europe 2020 – a development strategy based in knowledge, innovation and social capital.

„Measures that aim to stabilize public budgets in the short term generate inequality, poverty and regional differences at the same time. Along with their harmful social impact, the economic balance of austerity measures is negative already in the short term because it reduces Europe’s prospects of becoming globally competitive, which is only possible with a competent and creative, not underpaid and exhausted workforce“, stated GONG’s Marina Škrabalo, member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), in the introduction.

The Social Investment Package against unemployment

“Inequality, injustice and focusing on growth instead of welfare are what is feeding the greatest challenges to Europe’s future – increasing nationalism, populism and social inequality. Therefore, along with economic growth and development, it is crucial to attain social goals, which requires the participation of civil society organizations and trade unions”, stated Conny Reuter, Secretary General of the European social justice network SOLIDAR which encompasses 60 non-governmental organizations on 25 countries.

 “Although people tend to be angry at Brussels, that is not where the decisions are made – instead, the Member States are the ones who should use the Social Investment Package to fight unemployment, as inclusive workplaces are vital. Universal access to and provision of high-quality social and healthcare services should be fostered by ensuring universal access to a minimum guaranteed salary, amounting to 60 per cent of the average income and ensuring a way out of poverty. A participatory approach to lifelong learning completes the picture”, concluded Reuter.

source: – Reuter, Benčić, Škrabalo, Šeperić, Dolenec, Zorko

Winning the lottery easier than attaining permanent employment

 “Indeed, not everything is Brussels’ fault, every national government has the decision of what road to take, as evidenced by the examples of Austria and Slovenia. While Slovenia has reduced social rights upon activation of the Excessive Deficit Procedure, Austria has increased the minimum salary in 2008-2009, which is exactly what Europe needs – a new social model letting us all know that a fair pay, the welfare state, the pension system and healthcare are not a cost but an investment”, said Andrej Zorko, Executive Secretary of the Association of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia and EESC member.

“Many people work, but their pay is insufficient to provide them and their families with a decent standard of living; there is an increasing number of the ‘older’ unemployed who should still be in the active workforce, but workplaces are scarce and impoverished pensioners numerous. Let’s be frank, it’s more likely that a 50-55 year-old man will win the lottery than find permanent employment. We need a social Europe and a model under which every worker, young person or senior will be respected and not just a figure in a political document”, concluded Zorko.

Democratization against social dumping

“While civil society organizations, trade unions and the academic community are aware that a different direction is necessary and agree that change is possible, it seems that the political elites and institutional stakeholders also agree, but on the point that change is – impossible. EUrope without a social Europe has no purpose and social issues must be at Europe’s heart”, stated Darko Šeperić, Advisor for European Affairs of UATUC.

 “Re-industrialization, social services, sustainable development, education and research need to be strongly stressed. Institutional mechanisms of the Monetary Union should be finalized and the much-maligned European social policy developed, in order to further the social agenda. Now, we have challenges to social models and attempts to dismantle the welfare state, while we still need common social standards in order to prevent social dumping. And it is not true that alternatives and different courses of thinking do not exist, EUrope needs to be democratized further”, concluded Šeperić.

A new social contract instead of humanizing capitalism

“The Left’s response should not be attempting to humanize capitalism because that would not be enough in the scope of an (at least) threefold crisis: one that is ecological, economic and social. We need ecologically sustainable economic growth. the welfare state has been exposed to criticisms and we now need a new social contract, one that will contain the minimal material provisions of development, as well as a move away from the idea that The Market is the universal culprit and The State the universal solution. We must deepen democratic space and involve citizens in governing the public goods, invest in education and exclude those investments from debt calculations in order to raise the level of investments. We would like to know whether the MEP candidates are prepared for such advances and whether they would support the current European Citizens’ Initiative dealing with these issues to become mandatory instead of just a recommendation”, remarked Danijela Dolenec, Coordinator of green-left research and advocacy organization Group 22.


Who even remembers the public administration reform?

If we fail to come through, the bleak picture will become even bleaker. For example, Croatia can already “take pride” in being the third-ranking Member State in terms of unemployment (22,3 per cent as of March) with an especially alarming rate of unemployed young people (up to 25 years of age), at 50 per cent in late 2013. On the other hand, although the impression might be that Croatia’s welfare spending is abundant, the actual 20,8 per cent of GDP is below the EU average 29,5 per cent and the at-risk of poverty rate significantly above the EU average, with 32,7 per cent in Croatia vs. the 24,2 per cent EU average.

“Considering the fact that the policy of austerity measures has endangered investments in welfare, we suggest that the deficit reduction period be extended to a duration necessary for austerity measures not to impact education, employment and social welfare. Instead of enlarging new state bodies, such as various agencies, we should reduce the spending of the state and aim for a reduction of the administration at the local and regional levels, along with a reform of the public administration and system of regional and local authorities. It is time that the cuts start at the inefficient bureaucracy – the key spender in the state, instead of the socially disadvantaged”, stated Sandra Benčić, Program Coordinator of the Centre for Peace Studies.

No magic solutions, but we need to leave the past century behind

It is crucial that the society is not governed the way bookkeeping is managed, stated Marina Biti of the ORaH Party, while Miroslav Ambruš Kiš of the Pirate Party referred to the issue of copyrights. Labour Party representative Nikola Vuljanić stated that a social Europe is a necessity instead of a possibility, and the Social Democratic Party’s Neven Mimica repeatedly warned of a choice between the conservative and progressive Europe. The Social-Liberal Party’s Renata Šeperić Petak stated that women need to be prioritized along with young people, while the National Forum’s Monika Begović reminded of the importance of using EU funds. Danko Kobali of the Party of Pensioners stressed the importance of solidarity and social dialogue, Damir Gašparović of the Movement for a Modern Croatia warned that the financial crisis has only affected those who rely too heavily on the financial sector and not the industrial producers, while Damir Pavlek of the Croatian Greens called for a return to man’s coexistence with nature.

Group 22 commented that “(representatives of) the political options present are trying to answer to the 21st century issues using the frame of thought of the past century”; Zorko expressed hope that “these words will not fade away after the EP elections because a stable EUrope ensures stable economies and institutions”, while, according to Reuter, “the EU is a project with no alternatives”. In any case, once the elections are past, a revision of the Treaty of Lisbon should be on the agenda, while the future turn might be influenced by the Pre-election Activist Inventory for the EU: innovations for more democracy, solidarity and sutainable development. As Šeperić concluded: “it is not a list of magic solutions, but a direction worth taking”.