EU structural issues after Bratislava

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

Migration policy is seen almost exclusively through the lens of security. [Freedom House/Flickr]

EU policy-making needs to re-appropriate and prioritise democratic governance, quality of employment and the full development of a ‘social Europe’, as well as a human-rights based approach to EU foreign relations, writes Dr Cristina Blanco Sío-López.

Dr Cristina Blanco Sío-López is an EUI ambassador and a associate researcher at the New University of Lisbon’s Institute of Contemporary History.

The recent Bratislava Summit seemed to consolidate a worrying penchant for tangential approaches and illusions on behalf of current EU and member state representatives, instead of focusing on the root causes of priority challenges.

However, these problems are bound to amplify the effects of the EU crisis, distancing us from an EU version theoretically able to implement ethical, human rights based policy-making imperatives as their main political guideline.

Critical pending issues converge now in a trend to downplay an enormous democratic potential in developing sustainable and fair socioeconomic models, as well as a positive impact on global governance.

We should not forget that politics is not a business model, but a long-term socially representative and sustainability-based responsibility. Conversely, the current EU and member state leadership seems to concentrate on particular interests, neglecting the common good as a priority in democratic representation.

Moreover, the fact that the EU’s current raison d’être is questioned does not imply a need to take political actions to increase this EU’s ‘institutional attractiveness’, but just a requirement to fully understand the root reasons for such questioning and to acknowledge that it is possible to learn from society’s constructive criticism.

In fact, what is socially being put into question is not so much the original ‘European idea’, but the vectors defended by particular actors with decision-making power at the EU level and in the member states.

This is well illustrated by the fact that migration policy is exclusively contemplated through a security lens and pre-eminently managed by organised crime in the absence of a solid migration policy framework at EU level.

From a socioeconomic perspective, the fact that member states implement austerity measures that are even harsher than EU requisites only contributes to consolidate an ever-increasing social inequality gap.

Furthermore, no leading concept of social justice or dignity is currently being instilled in the articulation of labour markets to tackle socioeconomic crises’ root causes.

Indeed, current political and socioeconomic vectors underplay the key EU foundational value of solidarity within European societies by means of accentuating social inequality, of re-opening a seemingly superseded EU North-South instrumental cleavage and of establishing multiple forms of ‘second class citizenship’ within EU frontiers and in the EU’s foreign relations.

Together with the key value of solidarity, the foundational value of socioeconomic cohesion is being degraded, as well as the intrinsic value of peace and the quality of democracy.

They are increasingly being substituted by the disruptions of an enhanced security vs. liberty imbalance, depriving the future of the progressive integration of a social dimension and of an ‘inclusive globalisation’ strategy in our on-going regional community-building.

The fact that solidarity, cohesion and dialogued democracy were the main ingredients of an incipient European integration vision — guided by a theoretically unconditional commitment with ethical imperatives — should entail that these principles would be applied to every single EU policy area. The opposite constitutes an unequivocal and risky ‘fear of freedom’.

From the perspective of security concerns overshadowing EU fundamental freedoms and rights, it could also be useful to turn back to the foundational value of peace. Peace is more that a presence of security and an absence of conflict.

Peace entails a proactive stance of consensus building and dialogued cooperation, as well as a promotion of ethic and civic values and a community-building component that could be re-instilled in domestic politics and in EU foreign relations. Indeed, no security concern must come at the price of degrading the active defence of human rights.

Overall, ‘dignity’ and ‘sustainability’ as policy-making priorities are missing from this current picture too, even if they comprise vital future-oriented guidelines such as environmental sustainability as the basis of common good and dignity in job relations and structures as opposed to: rising labour precariousness, the absence of career development opportunities for young and well-prepared professionals and mainstreamed exploitation.

In short, the concept of quality in EU policy-making needs to re-appropriate the priorities of the quality of democratic governance; the quality of employment and the full development of a ‘social Europe’ and a human rights based quality of EU foreign relations.

The Bratislava summit also presented speeches, which included a “the world is watching us”, instance, which could well imply an active engagement in comparative regional integration.

Conversely, while the so-called European social model constitutes a studied paradigm in other worlds regions, the current leadership is undermining the basis of the European welfare state in favour of short-term corporate profits, making it unsustainable for future generations.

In this respect, what the Bratislava Summit projected was a defensive view of the EU future deprived of its formerly compelling sense of ‘vision’. The future should not just be ‘a Europe that protects’, but also a Europe that offers the possibility of unfolding the high multi-skilled, multilingual and intercultural potential of thousands of young professionals who are just fleeing in search of life-fulfilling opportunities, as it is the case in Southern Europe.

That is why finding a sustainable way of guaranteeing socioeconomic equality and cohesion will have to be a priority in any forthcoming EU design.

Against this backdrop, we are right to wonder: can the future bring more than an on-going screen of tangential policy-making substitutes?

In conclusion, hopeful directions need to intertwine a frontal approach focusing on the root causes of current problems with the conscious retaking of self-defining European integration principles: solidarity, socioeconomic cohesion, peace, dialogue, sustainability and the quality of democracy.

Actually applying these principles to all inner and outer dimensions of EU policy-making in global governance will equally constitute the main anchor of the future’s EU democratic legitimacy.



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