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14 March 2013

Diverging Europe threatens citizens’ trust in European project

Widening economic and social gaps among EU member states, as well as among different groups and categories of citizens within society, are not only placing in jeopardy the future of Social Europe but threatening to undermine also the whole project of European integration. The post-2008 recession and debt crisis, helped along by EU leaders’ obstinate clinging to the failing remedies of fiscal austerity, have accelerated the disenchantment of millions of European citizens with the half-century-old project to build and consolidate a European Union. This is one of the most striking conclusions of the ETUI’s upcoming Benchmarking Working Europe report for 2013.

Benchmarking Working Europe is one of the ETUI’s regularly appearing flagship publications. Issued annually since 2002, the report offers an alternative perspective on EU developments. Using publicly accessible data, it reveals what is actually going on behind the EU social and economic affairs headlines. After last year’s issue focussed on growing inequality in Europe, this year’s Benchmarking Working Europe report will demonstrate by means of hard-hitting graphs and cogent argument that Europe is, rather than converging, actually drifting apart in numerous respects.

Since American writer Jeremy Rifkin published his well-known book in 2005, the ‘European Dream’ predicted by this close advisor to EU Commission President Barroso seems – within a period of only a few years – to have turned into a nightmare. The values of ‘more’ and ‘better’ Europe, characterised by solidarity and reconciliation within a healed continent able to develop a trend of convergent prosperity after the fall of the Berlin Wall, have been blown out of the window by the new ideology of fiscal austerity. The social devastation that has ensued in the worst crisis-hit countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy has undermined European citizens’ belief in any remaining purpose or possible underlying rationale of European integration.

The new 2013 issue of Benchmarking Working Europe will be published in the next fortnight and officially launched on 23 April. The report will provide, in its seven chapters, the statistical evidence that current gaps among EU member states are widening in numerous areas including macro-economic developments, unemployment, wage structures, collective bargaining and investment in the green economy. A multi-speed Europe is being created but with most countries experiencing a downward-spiralling trend. The main driving rationale behind the EU’s eastward enlargement, namely, economic and social convergence, has turned into its opposite. The EU leaders are – according to ETUI General Director Philippe Pochet – creating ‘a new low-wage China’ within the borders of Europe.

The reaction from EU citizens is one of political disenchantment with their national political elites and with Europe, accompanied by a worrying turn towards extremism and xenophobia. EU citizens have started voting against the EU elites not only in elections but also with their feet, by emigrating to other continents.

In the run-up to next year’s European Parliament elections, and assuming that EU elites do actually wish to enjoy a democratic mandate from their citizens, the EU leaders gathering for their annual Spring Council over the next two days cannot afford to ignore this evidence and these alarming signals.

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