The Economic versus the Social & Cultural Aspects of the European Union

Susanne Wurm (Standortredaktion Wien)

Abstract


If today a country is incorporated in the EU this means that there are a lot of advantages, you can stay in your country and keep your job, you can speak your language and Europe comes to you, you do not have to leave your home to improve your living conditions. But Europe has embraced privatisation, globalisation and enlargement too quickly and by that has forgotten how the EU has developed. The European welfare state was developed by very experienced conservative politicians who had realised that fascism had its roots in social inequality. That’s why Europe has a legacy of a strong welfare state and many are too much in hurry to say good bye to it to please neo-liberalist economists. For the first time since the end of World War II Europeans can expect that their children will not be as prosperous and secure as they are today.

So how can the European model be saved and be made more attractive for its citizens? One solution that is clearly discernable from opinion polls and the interviews conducted for this paper is a process of decentralisation and drastic scrapping of superfluous rules and regulations that has to take place within the EU soon. The possibilities of the principle of subsidiarity have to be explored and the EU has to think about what can be delegated to national or even regional levels. The second solution would be an improvement of the information policy of the EU, so that the man in the street can understand what new projects, laws and contracts that affect him/her are about. The EU has to manage to enthuse the people and convince them of the values of the European idea and its officials should not withdraw into their committees and offices and just do a good job as technocrats. Further, local politicians have to be aware of the damage they inflict on the European idea if they continuously blame the EU for their own inadequacies. Finally, the most important issue that has contributed to a widespread rejection of the EU is the neo-liberalist economic policy of the Union. At a time when the middle class – always a strong force in Europe - is losing out and sees its existence threatened in Europe, and at a time when working incomes are stagnating while company profits are rising, Europeans no longer accept that EU policy is solely driven by business interests. So EU policy in future will have to concentrate more on preserving the European social model and shielding the European citizens from the harshest consequences of internationalisation. Otherwise it will lose legitimacy in the eyes of Europeans.

The European Union has been driven by economic interests from the start and social and cultural aspects have always been marginal. Europeans also do not expect the EU to take over the social responsibilities of their nation states, as can be seen from the Eurobarometer 2008 and the interviews carried out for this paper. On the contrary, they prefer more freedom of decision making on a national level, but they expect the EU to build a framework within which the European welfare state in its many varieties is not dismantled, but can survive, in a reformed way if necessary.

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