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Sorting out inequalities among the European population
by Christos Mouzeviris
2014-01-27 12:30:02
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During the economic crisis we became more aware to a number of faults in the EU's structures and institutions. Europe is not yet an equal continent, but the inequalities do not stop just to the rich and industrialized "North" and the poor underdeveloped "South".

The EU harbors a number of them that do not exist just among its members, but also its communities,generations,genders,ethnic minorities and of course the old and new members of the club.

If the EU wants to create an equal Europe, a European Civil Society and in extension a fully fledged federal Europe, it can not ignore these issues. So far we have seen the EU Commission working in the elimination of the gender pay gap and some of the other problems that Europeans are facing.

But there are some issues that Europe has not tackled yet, either because there hasn't been enough support and mobilization, or simply because there are vested interests blocking any development towards finding a solution.

There are countries in Europe that saw an increase in the income inequalities between the rich and the poorer population. There is a rise in poverty overall in our continent, both in countries that are under a bail-out program and countries that have managed to escape the Troika.

The divide is also getting more obvious between the EU member states, with some of the regions remaining very poor while others getting increasingly richer. Germany for example is experiencing a surplus of trade, due to a weaker euro as a result of the economic crisis in the peripheral states. While Greece and Portugal are experiencing an increase of people that live near or under the poverty line, due to the same crisis.

As the EU expands, more states are joining that have a lower per capita income than the old members. Ideally that income gap should gradually have started closing, but the economic crisis revealed the painful truth. Europe is more unequal than India in income distribution!

Our continent can never be united under these circumstances and it is disgraceful to claim solidarity among EU member states when presented with such data. While a large part of blame can be placed on local factors and the national governments of the poorer states, the EU but also the entire European leadership is also to be blamed.

It is them who must agree and work on reforming the continent's block, making sure that the new members are treated equally and fairly, while they are offered the same opportunities. They have gone through painful reforms and bowed to any demand from the richer countries in order to join the club, so now they deserve to be rewarded.

Instead of Europe's leaders agreeing on how to lift them out of poverty as quickly as possible, we are witnessing populism and nationalism from their behalf. Restrictions on the free movement of citizens from the poorer states and those of the hardest hit by the crisis are being discussed or even implemented.

The main benefactors of some of the most successful EU policies like the C.A.P. (Common Agricultural Policy) are still the old 15 EU member states, while the newest ones are not yet receiving what they should be. It is going to prove very difficult to reform CAP, since the farmers of the "Old 15" will resist and lobby their leaders not to proceed with funds redistribution.

Countries like Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Baltic states with huge agricultural potential and a need to start modernizing and upgrading their agricultural sector, still do not get the full benefits of CAP. On the other hand the policy's funds are wasted on keeping the farmers of the old members either not producing or allowing them to abuse them.

The continent's industrial activity is also another matter of concern. It has been predominantly concentrated since WW2, in the Western and Northern nations of Europe. If we would like to create a more equal Europe though, we must start industrializing more countries, investing in innovation and creating new industries that will be based in the Eastern and Southern part of the continent.

In this way, Europe will gain a more harmonized economy. And while the elites of the rich nations will obviously object in losing their monopolies, I am afraid there is no other way. If the European leadership wants to unite Europe, then they should take a page out of USA's book and create a more harmonized and centralized market, economy and political entity.

Some sectors of Europe's economy were unfairly favored against others, as part of the solutions that our leaders chose to deal with the crisis. Giving more power and immunity to the banks, while destroying the public sector with massive privatizations and the liberalization of almost everything, increased the gap between the rich and the poor in every member state.

Our leaders used the crisis as an opportunity to push for unpopular reforms, some very necessary indeed but a lot of them absolutely unfair to the middle and lower classes of Europeans. The young and the older generations were particularly badly affected, with unemployment among the under 25s surpassing the 50% mark in certain countries.

Pensions were cut, while funds for education and social welfare for the young post-graduates were also slashed, clipping the wings of the most creative group of the society. Young people are forced to live with their parents until their 30s, since there are no jobs to absorb them in the working force. The older are left to make ends meet with disgraceful pensions, while those who are responsible for the crisis in Europe's economy, are still to face justice or any consequences.

With such disturbing reality in Europe, do we expect the EU or our national governments to invest in closing the gap between other groups that are faced with a lack of equal opportunities? Like the young generation of the lower classes in Europe, or that of certain ethnic minorities like the Roma for example.

Or investing funds to inform and educate the older generation about the changing continent, giving them access to the internet and teaching them how to use it, in order to gain access to such information. Perhaps even establishing Europe oriented media that will inform citizens of all ages and nationalities, about their rights and obligations as EU citizens, something that is necessary in order to create a European public opinion and sphere.

Europe chooses to waste money in safeguarding the interests of its few rich elites, maintaining the status-quo in the continent and eliminating any chance of substantial and long lasting reforms. Such attitude could prove to be a tragic mistake for the continent's integration, as it is proven to be almost impossible to unite hungry, angry people that are at each others' throats over funds and resources.

Europe will collapse under the weight of nationalism, populism and the deep inequalities while the EU seems paralyzed by our national governments to do anything to prevent it.

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Emanuel Paparella2014-01-27 13:17:18
Those who do not know their history are bound to repeat it. What happened with Italian unification is instructive here: in 1860 Italy achieved unification; one of its patriots, Massimo Dazeglio, quipped “Now that we have made Italy we need to make the Italians” and he said a mouthful because that statement revealed that in effect the cart had been put before the horse. The practical political union had indeed been achieved but the theoretical cultural union and identity was still amiss. So we ended up with two Italys: a northern Italy (from where the movement of unification, the Risorgimento, had come and now hypocritically wants independence from the rest of Italy through the so called Lega party of Umberto Bossi, never mind the EU) and a Southern Italy which not only was not brought up to speed with the North and welcomed in solidarity, but in fact was politically and economically exploited so that things not only did not get better but got worse and millions of Southern Italians were forced to emigrate.

Now, if one applies that lesson to the EU, one is bound to ask: now that we have made the EU do we still need to make the Europeans? Are we aware of the ideals of the founding fathers and the commonalities which truly unites us and makes us all Europeans? It does not appear so judging from the prosaic “constitution” (the so called treaty of Lisbon) which reads more as a banal commercial treaty and less as an inspirational tract for those who belong to union and wish to further its progress.

In any case, if the answer to the question is yes then alas the cart, once again has been put before the horse. I think it was Marx who added to the above slogan about ignorance of one’s history that the second time around it is usually conducted not as a tragedy but as a farce. Food for thought!

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