Last year, the European Commission received a ‘citizens’ initiative’ on the introduction of an unconditional basic income in the European Union. It asked to promote and encourage cooperation among the Member States in order to launch such a basic income and to improve the systems of social security.
One million signatories were necessary to successfully introduce this demand, but it failed. However, it did stimulate the debate. In many meetings of social movements, someone is asking to put this topic on the agenda, whereas social protection is hardly mentioned. It is indeed an attractive and easy proposal, more particularly at a moment when all people are suffering from austerity policies and when social protection systems are ‘modernized’ in order to make them more ‘effective’. The proposal certainly has to be looked at carefully in order to see its advantages and its pitfalls.
Sustaining the planet, preparing the future, building another world … these are daunting tasks for the current generations. But their pursuit is also a promising manifestation of concern for the future of humankind and of nature.
We are living amidst a multifaceted civilizational crisis that forces us to reflect on our political, social and economic organisation. The current production and consumption models, particularly those of the rich world, are not sustainable.
We also know that the transition to another and better world cannot be achieved overnight. Unfortunately, while many proposals – and some achievements - are made for the preservation of nature, few forward-looking ideas are crafted for the protection of men and women.
Challenges for the European elections of 2014 on the eve of the European Council of 27 and 28 June 2013
At the end of June, as usual, a European Council meeting will be held in Brussels. Once again, economic governance is on the agenda, as well as the ‘social dimension’ of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). For those who might think this is a step in the direction of the so often claimed ‘social Europe’, disappointment will be inevitable. What can we expect, then, of this Council meeting?
The World Bank and its ‘new’ Poverty Approach
‘We should strive to eradicate absolute poverty by the end of this century’ said World Bank President Robert McNamara in 1973 at the annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. As we know, at the end of the century, the World Bank and the IMF introduced their ‘Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers’ and at the UN General Assembly it was decided to halve extreme poverty by 2015, compared to 1990. To-day, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim proposes to ‘end extreme poverty by 2030’.[i]
An emerging new social paradigm for Europe
Western European countries still have the best developed and the most efficient welfare states in the world. They are looked at with envy by many people from less developed countries. Yet, these welfare states are threatened, and instead of serving as a model for other countries, it may well be that the population of the EU will soon learn what it means to live with less security. The reason is very simple. The huge public debt, a consequence of bank bail-outs, will oblige countries to more and continuing austerity programmes.
In this contribution, I want to summarize what is being prepared at the level of the European Union for Europe’s social future. There should be no misunderstandings: even if much of the work is done by the European Commission, it is fully in line with the wishes of the European Council, that is the national governments. The aim of this article, then, is not to blame the European institutions, but to show how the change of scale at which decision-making is done contributes to making the policy changes almost invisible. While trade unions and social movements are mainly working within their national democracies, their governments are preparing a new social paradigm at the European level. Moreover, many of the social changes are hidden in other policies or programmes, such as the internal market, EU2020, etc.