We need a vision not a fortress

EU leaders seem more and more entrenched in protecting national interests rather than shaping a common vision for Europe. Somewhat paradoxically the Eurobarometer from May 2018 shows the EU to be more popular than at any time since 1983. In fact 35% of EU citizens want the European Parliament election campaign to focus on topics such as human rights, democracy and social protection.

Despite this, the EU’s leadership in protecting fundamental rights is weakening. It is falling prey to national politics which are fueling peoples’ fears rather than presenting the facts. Increasing defense and security dominate the discourse, whereas real alternatives exist. Showing solidarity and respecting the dignity and human rights of migrants is not only the right thing to do, it will also create more prosperity in the long term. On the other hand the approach propagated by leaders today show a shameful disregard for human dignity and store up problems for the future.

The number of asylum applications (non EU) in the EU-28 Members has in fact fallen dramatically in recent years. This year the number of migrant arrivals via the Mediterranean was only 41,000 compared to its peak of over 1 million in 2015. Still migration is dominating the political agenda. In this article our member Solidar reflects on outcomes of June’s European Council noting that “only the issue of external border control found consensus” and “the resettlement issue, which should be based on solidarity and shared responsibility, was relegated to some expressions of good will without any concrete decisions”.

The discourse on migration reflects a much broader rolling back of commitments to human rights. On 2 July we marked the anniversary of the proposed Equal Treatment Directive which has been blocked in the Council for 10 years. We’d like to be more optimistic about the “Work Life Balance” and “Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions” Directives which were given the green light by Ministers of Employment and Social Affairs on 21 June 2018. But the texts risk being weakened to such an extent that they’ll have no real impact on improving people’s lives.

Strengthening the social dimension of the euro area has been on the EU’s agenda since 2009. But we were disappointed that at the Euro summit in June decisions were limited to the future role of the European Stability Mechanism and the completion of the banking union. Nothing was said about the next steps for creating fiscal capacity – an essential piece to promoting social investment.

In the same depressing vein, the EU budget was meant to be discussed at the General Affairs Council at the end of June, but migration, security and defense took over the agenda. Substantive discussions on the post-2020 budget are now postponed. We are losing hope that the EU will adopt an overarching budgetary framework built around an ambitious sustainability agenda for 2030.

In the hands of our current European leaders, the European project looks very fragile. But out of the limelight, civil society is busy showing that another Europe is possible. As we build up to the European elections in 2019 we need to give life to the values embedded in the Treaty and Charter of Fundamental Rights. Commitment to equality and human rights is at the very heart of human progress. We cannot afford to backtrack.

Let’s hope the summer break recharges our batteries and gives us all the energy we need to fight for the Europe we want!