2015 is an important year for development. The Millenium Development Goal Agenda, which was introduced in 2000 with ambitious goals to reach within 15 years, should be fulfilled. It is the sad truth that development worldwide has not come as far as it was desired. On the contrary increasing gaps in societies become apparent. This has not only impacts on less developed and emerging countries, but it is as well a trend to observe in Europe. The Millenium Development Goals tried to tackle the world as a whole project, this article will only discuss the case of Europe, the European Union in particular.
Raised and socialized in Europe, especially in the West, scholars, politicians and other people of public life often share the same Euro-centric perspective. Born into a prosperous, safe and fairly peaceful place they bring a certain bundle of values and ideas which they try to put on everyone who strives for development. Instead of taking an observing, suggesting and moderating role in development aid, international support is often linked to certain ideas and therefore to certain conditions which often lack to notice and consider the (cultural) background and the pre-conditions in “recipient countries”. Sure of the superiority of their own perspectives and knowledge those people rest in their comfortable high-ranked chairs and strive to see the world as a reflection of their own mind.
Apparently blind for the differences between very distant areas of the world, it does not surprise that the same people often let differences in their own community go unnoticed.
The European Union is a diverse and heterogeneous community, a union of 28 countries who all have different perspectives on the same historical events. Those 28 countries use different vocabulary and are grown out of different systems. It would be fatal to lump everyone together. Still, in their bases those countries are all fairly similar and share the same values. Yet those countries are not the same. Conditions are not the same, opportunities differ and the living standards of one person in a country might be tremendously different compared to somebody else in this exact same community.
With the Millenium Development Goal Agenda expiring and the just as ambitious creation of a post-2015 agenda, the European think tank “friends of Europe” published a report written by several representatives from national and European politics to tackle the problem of inequality in Europe. The final report of this High Level Group on “Social Union” seeks to give “recommendations for a more caring Europe”. The incentive to write such a report was the ongoing social crisis in the European Union which does not seem to get as much professional attention as all kinds of economic or fiscal crises. The report appeals to policy makers as well as the society in Europe to recall the original values of the European Union. Being “confident about the future of [the EUs] welfare states” they introduce the most burning areas of inequality and imbalance between people and member states in the EU. As quoted from the report those are (1) employment inequality (2) income inequality and poverty and (3) inequalities in education.
Education seems to be the key for an overall solution. Investing into good education means the investment in human capital which is one of our most valuable treasure. Education does not only include education at university level, but begins in elementary school and continues until young people either decide for vocational training or an academic continuation. It also involves formal and non-formal actors and should continue (through trainings etc.) lifelong. If (young) people are well educated and prepared for the labour market – but only if the labour market is as well designed for the needs of those people – employment inequality will decrease. This automatically leads to a decrease in poverty and – possibly supported by a reformed taxation system – a reduction of the income gap.
Frank Vandenbroucke, former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Social Affairs in Belgium and nowadays Professor at the University of Leuven, introduced the final report on unequal Europe to a panel during the European Development Days in Brussels in June 2015. Just as mentioned above he stressed the importance of education for sustainable development. Education and skills differ so much within different European countries that it is impossible to process or successfully integrate further. Reminding the panel that inequality affects everyone directly or indirectly he calls upon the solidarity.
Over the crisis, people in Europe, yes, already people within the original national states, seem to forget the idea of a caring community. People lose the sense of a mutual community overall. Everyone is expected to be his*her own fortunes architect. But on the long run this does makes everyone to losers, only that some will feel the impacts sooner or stronger. Together with other representatives from development, Mr. Vandenbroucke puts the (political) leaders into the center of responsibility. They all can agree on the fact that the knowledge about existing problems and challenges exists, that the intellectual analysis of those issues is done. It is about making choices now, making the right choices and probably making the more difficult, more risky choices.
The EU, that is what they are certain about and what the report points out right in the beginning, is at a critical juncture. It is high time now to establish an EU framework to hold the welfare states, to establish an egalitarian system and to invest in equality in the Union. “The EU has to seize the moment. She has to listen what the people demand and ask and then we must hope that the EU commission can get the council to really seize the moment and act.”
We are left with the hope to hope that there will be done more than hoping.
You can find the whole final report by friends of Europe here:
“Unequal Europe: recommendations for a more caring EU. Final report of the High-Level Group on ‘Social Europe’”:
Marie Jelenka Kirchner, June 2015