The European Union is seldom depicted as a successful economic story – a body of countries committed to the principles of the freedom of movement of goods and capital, as well as free trade, writes Victor Negrescu.
Victor Negrescu is a Romanian Member of the European Parliament, in the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.
Undoubtedly, over its long and increasingly complex history, the European Union has been a highly successful economic enterprise. Living standards have been raised, people have stepped out of poverty and the premises of balanced and durable economic growth have been set. Unfortunately, limiting the European project to its nevertheless important economic dimension raises important risks. Nowadays, when the effects of the economic crisis are still an element that affects the everyday lives of millions of European citizens, public debate in the economic union has somewhat overly focused on the economic issues, while ignoring the larger purpose of the European project. The European Union is not only an economic initiative. It is the opportunity for increased solidarity and inclusiveness, tolerance and democracy, overcoming divides and social separations.
The European ideal that I myself fight for is a Union where youth are given more chances to learn, to work and to succeed, and young ideas are nurtured and cherished; a Union where patients are treated the same, regardless of their social status or country of origin; a Union where solidarity between members, between generations, between people is the rule and not the exception. For this society, we must indeed push forward.
If we want to build upon this ideal we must give young MEPs the opportunity to make their ideas and strategies known. This is why I fully support the aggregation of young ideas in organisms such as S&D 40. As a young MEP, I know and I am aware that in order to bring about change and in order to move forward with challenging ideas, we have to look toward young European leaders, to prepare the next generation of decision makers, to move forward.
We must take into account the economic reality. This, however, must not come at the cost of ignoring the larger picture. In times of dire economic circumstances, it is democracy and solidarity that are most affected by the downturn. The European Union was a project meant to build a future for all European citizens and all societies, irrespective of nationality, gender, race or fortune.
In a somewhat ironic manner, we hear today that many of the solutions for defending the benefits and the results of the European project can only be protected by building barriers. By isolating unwanted communities. By fearing the guise, the looks and the culture of the generic “Other”, who is to be blamed once again for all the misfortunes in our lives, for our lack of jobs, for the young generations’ lack of prospects, for decaying public services. Increasingly worrying is the fact that on numerous occasions these are not the opinions of fringe actors, but the apparently rational course of policy mainstream politicians advance.
Romania and Bulgaria’s long awaited accession to the Schengen Area is probably the most relevant example of regarding newcomers as cause for the effects. For a long period Romania has invested in securing its frontiers and in observing the European regulations pertaining to this problem. Securing the frontiers of the Union is a matter of safety that has not been taken lightly – efforts were made to reform the institutions involved in this process and to bring in modern technology. However, in spite of these efforts, and in spite of the positive reports of the European Commission and of the European Parliament, which certify Romania’s compliance with the strictest Schengen standards, Romania’s bid has been blocked.
The reason for this unfortunate situation is not that Romania is incapable of defending or guarding the Union’s frontiers. The reason for this blatant disregard of the European regulations is that the expansion of the Schengen area is an easy issue on which ambitious politicians, willing to nurture Eurosceptic feelings, “can make a stand”. By keeping the Romanians out of Schengen, we defend the lives, the jobs and our prosperity against the roaming hordes of poor East-European immigrants. And this implicit discourse is convenient, because it allows for mainstream politicians to prove to the increasingly worried electorate that, unlike its extremist opponents, it can actually do something to stem the tide of immigration. For the Eurosceptics themselves, the Schengen issue is also a truly remarkable opportunity – provided they could influence Government positions, they can block Romania’s bid and claim a victory, without needing to address the larges social and societal problems they ignore most of the time.
Conversely, Romania’s failed Schengen bid is quickly becoming one of the longstanding issues that highlights the discriminative features of European policy in regards to my country. Expulsion of Romanian citizens, limitations on their access to welfare and benefits, the limitation of their freedom of movement – it is all possible because European political leaders are free to disregard the rules they must observe. The Schengen issue is the starting point for policies adverse to the spirit and the letter of the European treaties, emphasizing a slow, but continuous erosion of all the principles we, in theory, hold dear.
These issues are not ignored. My recent meeting with European Parliament’s President Martin Schulz tackled such issues as European solidarity and Romania’s entry into Schengen. Thus, I know that there are politicians and citizens who believe in the European project and in its resources and capabilities. Most of European Socialists leaders rally behind the principle of solidarity, and I am proud to be part of this team.
The crisis we are facing is not purely an economic crisis. It is a crisis of belief in the European values and in the European institutions.
The only way out of this conundrum is to uphold them stronger and clearer, to show that they are relevant and capable of improving the everyday lives of European citizens and of building a future without physical or cultural borders.