It is time to reconnect the EU with citizens’ wellbeing

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

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For too long conservative and liberal-led governments focused on austerity. As we recover from COVID-19, it is time to refocus the EU on meeting the needs of citizens.

Only one in four Europeans believe that future generations will have a better life than them. This should send alarm bells ringing. But it is not surprising.

After the 2008 economic crash, the liberal approach has been to take selected economic and financial indicators as the benchmark for the general welfare of Member States. This policy neglected the long-lasting social consequences of that crisis: inequality, youth unemployment, degraded workers’ rights, environmental damage, diminished trust in public institutions and more.

As we recover from the coronavirus crisis, the EU must adopt a new approach or it risks repeating the same mistakes. Building a society of wellbeing is an objective that is deeply rooted in our traditional values of equality and social justice. It is the basis of our proposal to build better societies in the post-pandemic world.

The pandemic has exposed the gaps in our societies, in how we care and provide for citizens, particularly the vulnerable. It has shown the value of healthcare, the importance of guaranteeing access to education for all. It has made clear the value of culture, not only for individual wellbeing but for inclusive and cohesive societies.  It has exposed how fragile employment is for so many citizens, and the strain of low wages and poor work-life balance. It has revealed persistent gender inequalities, in the workplace and the home. It has shown the value of good housing, the social economy, local consumption and sustainable cities. It has highlighted the importance of nature and clean, green, spaces for all. And it has proven, beyond any doubt, the transformative role public services can play.

Tonight, we are proud to join fellow socialists and democrats for a livestream to set out that new model, one which reconnects the EU with its obligation to improve wellbeing for all.

Follow live from 17:00 CET to hear from European Commissioner Nicolas Schmit, German Secretary of State of Labour and Social Affairs Rolf Schmachtenberg, President of the Young European Socialists Alicia Homs MEP, Evin Incir MEP, ETUC General Secretary Luca Visentini, and many others.

As socialist and social democrats, our political family has always fought for a more equal, more fair, more sustainable societies. This has many dimensions, linked to workers’ rights, economic considerations, gender equality, sustainability, social justice, and many more.

These areas are the fundamental tenets of a wellbeing society and COVID-19 has made achieving them even more urgent.

Rising inequality is a process that has been going on for years, which is further highlighted and amplified by COVID-19. It made clear the need for public policy to look beyond aggregate economic performance towards the quality of life across social, economic and environmental dimensions. In short, it has underscored wellbeing as the overarching policy goal.

We believe the EU has an important role to play in achieving this society of wellbeing. Article 3 of the Treaty of the European Union is clear: “the Union’s aim is to promote peace, its values and the wellbeing of its peoples”.

It is time for the EU to finally shift focus from the tools – economic measures, public finances, the single market – to addressing the needs of its citizens. And as socialists and democrats, we are determined to make it happen.

Delivering on the European Pillar of Social Rights, the European Green Deal and the UN Sustainable Development Goals will be vital. At the same time, we must strengthen this push by realigning the European Semester towards wellbeing too, coupling fiscal objectives with social, employment and environmental ones. This is how we achieve a society of wellbeing for all across the EU.

The upcoming Social Summit in Porto – an initiative of socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa – will be an important milestone for the EU. We believe it must mark the beginning of a rebalancing of EU policies towards a more social Europe. We need the commitment from the Member States, the Commission and the European Parliament in Porto, to set clear and binding targets, to achieve real social progress in 2030.

There is no doubt that there will be those who will resist our push to prioritise citizens’ wellbeing, determined to stick instead to the old austerity agenda. Nevertheless, both the aftermath of the 2008 crisis and the current pandemic have shown that this approach does not work. Sceptics must understand that wellbeing and economic growth form a “virtuous circle”, in which increasing people’s wellbeing – better education, health, equality, social protection and more – creates economic prosperity, stability and resilience too, which in turn helps sustain wellbeing.

For us, society does not exist to serve the economy. The economy exists to serve society. It must meet the needs of people and planet, providing a good quality of life within a fair and cohesive community. As socialists and democrats, we are determined to deliver a society which works for all. We are determined to reconnect the EU with the wellbeing of its citizens.


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