Let’s get back to EU values

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

Europe needs to return to its core values of integration, tolerance and diversity as the means of coping with globalisation, argues European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) President Staffan Nilsson.

This commentary was authored by Staffan Nilsson, the president of the European Economic and Social Committee. It was first published on his blog.

"This summer we called for nominations for the EESC 2011 Civil Society Prize. This year we want to reward civil society initiatives which serve EU values such as diversity, tolerance, solidarity and integration, by seeking to diminish and prevent the societal effects of xenophobia and xenophobic nationalism, which are on the rise in Europe.

Politicians need to avoid making xenophobic, populist and also Eurosceptic speeches and promises.

Those affected by the crisis in particular may feel resentment towards politicians in general, towards a Europe they perceive as remote and demanding, and towards immigrants. Why this resurgence of populist nationalism and xenophobia? What do we need to counteract all this?

Globalisation and increasing European integration may have triggered questions regarding identity and meaning. People may be fearful, and they look for references to their identities. The 'snail syndrome' I talked about earlier this year is growing in Europe and arises from Europe's long story. We fear losing our jobs, and what we see as familiar.

My own fellow villagers were very much afraid of Sweden's EU accession in the mid-1990s. For fear of losing something. What? Maybe the purpose of their own community and identity. How about seeing the positive face of globalisation and trying to counter its ugly face?

However, I believe there are a few things in Europe which unite us, and I hope they will continue to keep us together. I think there must be a Europe of the mind based on common values and beliefs.

Diversity can work as a way to generate greater equality between citizens, generations, men and women, between different religions, and cultures. It has to be applied as a resource, not as a constraint.

Tolerance is something which makes us feel better, to become more compassionate and to evolve as humans. This includes tolerance of minorities and their integration. Acts of segregation such as the wall erected in a Romanian town to separate the run-down Roma neighbourhood are to be condemned and must be prevented. No more walls in Europe!

Solidarity in the EU is the only way to cope with globalisation and to create a cohesive society. German reunification, EU enlargement and cohesion policy have all shown in practice that solidarity works. Europe needs to step up its solidarity towards the poor, between generations and towards the most vulnerable.

Integration can only be a win-win process for everyone in Europe. An inclusive society provides the best standard of living for every citizen. The European Integration Forum that we organise regularly with the European Commission encourages migrant and minority organisations to contribute to the EU agenda on integration.

Maybe what we lack is more intensive work to explain the positive vision of Europe to its people. Civil society organisations can contribute to reinforcing European identity and citizenship. For the civil society prize, we want to hear about any initiative, anywhere in Europe, that has given a boost to a more tolerant European society.

When I talk about EU values, I mean more than just words. Here at the EESC we represent businesses, employees, consumers, professions and various other interests of EU citizens.

We have evidence of the positive vision of the EU: companies in each and every country can now do business in any of the other twenty-six member states; trade unions together have been fighting for workers' rights at EU level and they have proved they have a stronger say together.

Consumers often feel in their pockets EU benefits: mobile phone roaming prices, border-free travel, etc. But there are also other gains from working and living closer together that cannot easily be measured. Europe is a small part of the world and we need to cooperate better in order to succeed on tough global markets.

Of course such evidence, questions and values are not new but I feel a certain urgency to underpin them given recent developments in our European society."

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