Europe has saved the banks, now we must save its citizens

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

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Introducing an EU-guaranteed minimum income would send a clear message to Europeans that the Union really is there for them, writes Georges Dassis.

Georges Dassis is the former president of the European Economic and Social Committee and rapporteur for the own-initiative opinion For a European Framework Directive on a Minimum Income.

The days when almost all EU member state citizens backed European integration are long past Today, integration could conceivably be put into reverse. Even though it is thanks to this same Union that we have lived in peace for the last seven decades. 

It is hardly surprising. As Jacques Delors so succinctly put it, people “cannot fall in love with the single market”. 

When they are plunged into poverty, not only are they unconcerned about peace, but they are ready to follow anyone and believe anything.

That is why millions of citizens vote for political parties that directly or indirectly preach hate and call for borders to be closed as the solution to economic and social problems – although logically, the next step for these political forces would be to make war on their neighbours.

In spite of Brexit, it is still not too late to convince people that their future and their children’s future lies in a democratic, more united Europe that brings greater solidarity.

To achieve this, we urgently need common policies, especially in the areas of external relations, defence, industry and technology, immigration and asylum, and education.

By far the most urgent need is to take the plight of those living in or threatened by poverty more seriously – despite the economic recovery underway in the last few years, the poverty rate remains at a worrying level in most EU member states.

The figures are frightening: 22.5% of the EU population is at risk of poverty or exclusion; more than 6 million young people (aged between 15 and 24) are not in employment, education or training; 26 million children in Europe are living in poverty or exclusion. They form 27% of the EU’s population under 18.

In 2015, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker launched the investment plan for Europe that is named after him, and which has had a positive impact in practically all EU countries. We must certainly not underestimate the Juncker Commission’s initiatives in the social sphere, but it must be acknowledged that the poverty issue is far from being solved.

The open method of coordination (OCM), seen as the main tool for tackling poverty, has proved entirely inadequate.

Let’s spare ourselves any more hypocrisy over subsidiarity: the European Commission cannot use it as a pretext for not proposing a binding European instrument to effectively combat poverty and the suffering it entails.

Aware of the seriousness of the situation, in February 2019 the European Economic and Social Committee adopted an opinion by a large majority, calling for the European Commission to draw up a framework directive to introduce a minimum income, guaranteed by the EU, for all citizens living on its territory.

Introducing a directive of this kind would be fully in line with the “social triple-A for Europe”; as announced by President Juncker and would send a clear message to citizens that the Union really is there for them.

It would also make it possible to introduce minimum income systems in all the member states, to support them and ensure they are decent – in other words, sufficient.

The directive would define a reference framework for the establishment of an adequate minimum income, tailored to the standard of living and way of life of each country and taking account of social redistribution, taxation and standard of living factors based on a reference budget whose methodology would be determined at European level.

Introducing a minimum income is a highly political issue, and the opinion adopted specifies in particular that:

  • the right to work must continue to be a fundamental right, as a central element of
    empowerment and economic independence;
  • a decent minimum income is essentially a temporary but indispensable approach whose objective is to integrate/reintegrate people into the labour market through active measures. It is a key measure for the credibility of the European Union;
  • the adequacy and coverage of and access to minimum income remain major challenges
    for the member states when it comes to developing their schemes. These schemes
    should be supported and, where necessary, complemented at European level.

A united, integrated Europe is the only way we can continue living in peace. But unity will not survive with millions of citizens in, or under the threat of, poverty.

The European Union has saved the banks. Now we must save its citizens, enabling them to live in dignity.

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