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The Pillars of Europe: Peace, democracy, and respect

Martin Schulz

6 mins - 8 de Marzo de 2024, 07:00

Europe is at a pivotal moment and we need to return to some fundamental ideas of European integration to address the upcoming challenges. The Russian full-scale war against Ukraine on the doorstep of the European Union has reminded us of a basic principle of European cooperation. The EU was the answer to the terrible experiences of World War II. At this moment, the people in Ukraine hope as soon as possible to be part of this peace project.

At the same time, antidemocratic forces are gathering strength throughout Europe. Right-wing extremists are become bolder, following the example of the liberal authoritarian regime of Victor Orban in Hungary. What seems to be forgotten are the experiences of Spain, Portugal and Greece and, after the fall of the Berlin wall, the former members of the Warsaw Pact. These countries got rid of their dictatorships or foreign occupying forces and rooted their newly established democracies firmly in the European family. 

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Last, but not least, the ideas of respect, tolerance and solidarity, that have been at the core of the successful European integration for decades are being challenged by nationalists. As if the example of Brexit has not taught them anything, nationalists all over Europe continue to argue that nations alone can deal with the challenges of the future, whereas the EU is just a bureaucratic burden, holding them back. 

The elections for the European Parliament are thus not just a clash of differing political concepts, they are a choice between fundamentally different ideas of Europe. There is the conservative idea of a Europe of nations, where decisions are made by member states haggling over their different interests in the European Council. We in advance where this leads. The nation-states will claim victory over the European Union and the outcome is generally smaller than the sum of its parts. It is a concept of Europe based on competition against all other parts of the union. The winners will sit in Moscow, Beijing and other places outside our continent. The progressive idea, on the other hand, is based on solidarity and security built through fairness. It is based on the idea of being good neighbours to each other, as Willy Brandt once said. Neighbours that you can rely on, neighbours that make you feel safe, and neighbours that respect each other. The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung has outlined some of the ideas that can shape such a progressive Europe

Such a Europe would make a positive contribution to the daily lives of citizens and at the same time become a more united and stronger actor on the global scene. To illustrate some of these ideas, I would like to focus on three elements where Europe can and should make a difference.

First, protecting citizens by regulating and taxing transnational corporations. Every citizen in Europe is affected by technological advances that are driven by private companies. By offering their services all over the globe, these corporations have acquired a huge amount of capital, data and thus power over their users. The current revolution, taking place in the field of Artificial Intelligence, threatens to accelerate this dynamic and to concentrate even more market power in a small number of tech companies. Single European countries, even big ones like Germany and Spain, will struggle to reign in the power of these companies. The European Union, as the biggest single market in the world, is in a far better position to regulate these corporations, protect citizens’ rights, and focus their impact on the enhancement of human welfare. An EU based on solidarity can also introduce a fair level of taxation for the huge gains of these companies, evading the vicious circle of the race to the bottom in taxation levels, that a Europe based on competition offers. 

Second, securing a dignified life by building a European care sector that is based on respect and dignity. People in the EU are getting older and older, thanks to our high level of healthcare. That should be matched by a care system that is on a similarly high level to offer people dignity in old age. We thus need a fundamental shift in the understanding of care as a common good and a social right. Solving the care crises in many European member states must be seen as a priority for the future of European economies. Furthermore, a functioning care economy must be regarded as a competitive advantage of European welfare states. A European care investment fund, accompanied by fair labour conditions in the care sector could make a real difference. Additionally, Europe can follow the example of Spain and foster a fairer share of care duties inside the family by equal parental leave for both parents.

Third, safeguarding what makes the European Union so attractive for our citizens - our democratic achievements and the rule of law. Even in some EU countries the rule of law, as laid down in the Copenhagen Criteria, is being eroded by autocratic governments. Many citizens regard the democratic and law-making processes as too complicated, distant, and disempowering, which breeds distrust and resentment. A European Union that is proud of its functioning democratic processes should tackle this challenge by moving forward. Innovating our democratic processes with citizens’ panels, strengthening peoples’ rights with citizens advocates to facilitate equal access to justice, should be the European answers to these challenges. A third step should be to secure that media ownership is transparent.

These are just three examples, of how a Europe based on solidarity can easily have a positive impact on the lives of citizens living in the EU. Such a Europe would need a sound financial basis and we should continue the effort of the Recovery and Resilience Facility, offering the necessary means for European member states to invest in the transition towards a carbon-neutral economy. 

At the same time, stronger coherence, an understanding of a shared destiny in the EU, and the sense that we stand up for each other, will make the EU a stronger player on the global scene. The future of Europe cannot be the continuation of multiple bilateralisms. Because in comparison to global powers like China, Russia, or India, even big countries in the EU, like Germany and Spain, have fewer resources. Think about how Luxembourg or Cyprus will fare in such bilateral dealings. Together, however, we stand a chance to uphold our values of democracy, respect and peace, the foundations on which the EU was initially built. Let’s therefore use this pivotal moment and choose the right direction – towards a European Union based on solidarity, that is building our security through fairness.

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