An EU budget to protect people in poverty or our defence and security industries?

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

The Council and Parliament must rise to the challenge and ensure a budget which priorities people over defence. [Shutterstock]

We need an EU budget that protects people instead of investing in borders and defence industries, argue Leo Williams and Vito Telesca.

Leo Williams is the director of the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN). Vito Telesca is the President of the Italian Anti-Poverty Network (CILAP). The European Anti-Poverty Network is the largest platform of anti-poverty organisations in Europe, representing more than 6,000 organisations across 31 countries.

In May, the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament started negotiations on the next European budget. This will be one of the biggest political processes in Brussels over the next year.

Setting the EU budget is an inherently political process, with long-lasting implications for the 118 million Europeans living at risk of poverty. Where we put our money says a lot about our political priorities are, and which direction the European project is going in.

People throughout Europe who have experienced poverty tell us time and time again what they need and what they want: social investments in education, in health and social protection. They don’t want their children to go to bed hungry.

They don’t want to rely on food banks – as an increasing number of European citizens do. They don’t want to be part of the 10% of Europeans who work yet still live in poverty. They want jobs which enable them to escape poverty.

While the Commission’s proposals would provide some much-needed impetus to the fight against poverty and social exclusion through, predominantly, the European Social Fund +, the path taken is concerning. It includes a 7% cut in Cohesion Funds, coupled with a 22-fold increase for the defence budget (now at 13 billion euros), security (40% increase) and large increases for border management, funding 10.000 border guards.

The Commission has called this “a Budget that protects and empowers,” but who, or what, does it protect and empower? The general direction taken suggests that this is a budget which protects and empowers ‘our’ security, borders and defence industries, rather than the almost 25% of Europeans living at risk of poverty. This raises important questions about the future of Europe.

This is not the political message we should be sending to our citizens, to people experiencing poverty. Poverty eradication and social inclusion are public goods and must be treated as the highest political priorities.

Our political leaders must acknowledge this at the European Council on 28-29 June, insisting that the EU budget provides adequate funding for social policies, social protection and public services – all vital to tackle inequality, poverty and social exclusion.

This means that at least 30% of the proposed ‘ESF+’ fund must be dedicated to dealing with these issues.

While it is promising that the Commission is exploring new sources and ways to find additional resources, not including combatting tax evasion and avoidance (which costs Europe an estimated 50-190 billion euros per year) in the proposals to finance the EU budget is clearly a missed opportunity to reinforce other European efforts to combat this phenomenon.

A Europe-wide financial transaction tax and coordinated European action against tax avoidance and tax evasion are necessary so that multinationals pay the taxes they owe in the relevant jurisdictions. This would make the necessary resources available to help finance the fight against poverty and social exclusion in Europe.

The cut to the Cohesion Funds is unacceptable – we must resist the “TINA” (There Is No Alternative) narrative with alternative political options. Social investment should never be considered as excess spending. It should be deducted from the calculation of public deficit – this spending is good for all Europeans, and a pre-requisite for tackling poverty and social exclusion.

Early investments mean less money is needed to counteract the outcomes of poverty and social exclusion. The Council and Parliament must rise to the challenge and ensure a budget which prioritises people over defence.

The European Minimum Income Network (EMIN) takes the right direction for the European project, it travelled across Europe in two buses, visiting 32 countries to build awareness of the importance for the whole society of adequate, accessible and enabling Minimum Income Schemes.

An income support for everybody who needs it, for as long as they need it, enough to live a life in dignity and fully participate in society, adapted to the cost of living in every European country. The EU budget should follow and support this general direction. Because nobody deserves less, and everyone benefits.

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