Europe is at a crossroads, and the future of European cooperation and the benefits it brings are at stake. This is about the future of our society and how we want to be viewed by the wider world. The future of our planet and the kind of Europe our children will grow up in. The current crisis highlights the urgent need to reflect on fundamental questions: how do we ensure that the European project reclaims its promise of peace, democracy and solidarity? How can Europe work for its people?
Too many people across Europe are dissatisfied and disillusioned with the European Union and feel remote from its institutions and policies. But there are groups of committed politicians, trade unions, community groups and non-governmental organisations across Europe who are ready to take action and work for a renewed Europe. Together, we can shape a Europe that is inclusive, open, just, sustainable, and that works for people of all ages, social backgrounds and nations.
Where do we go from here to build the Europe we want and need?
Reject populist solutions
This crisis in confidence comes as people struggle with decreasing living standards, declining buying power and the rise of precarious work, hardship created by austerity policies, anxiety over movements of people to our shores, and the impacts of climate change and environmental destruction. As people search for answers, euroscepticism and nationalism, intolerance and misinformation are winning out over cooperation, humanity and solidarity with one other. We must all – leaders, media and individuals – actively and at every opportunity speak out and act against division, marginalisation of different groups in society and those that play on fears for their own political ends.
Tackle challenges together
Many of the challenges facing Europe – such as inequalities, climate change, natural resource depletion, and a global economy that benefits the few and not the many – are better tackled together than by countries individually. The European Union, which embodies international cooperation and collaboration, needs to be leading in ensuring sustainable and inclusive development, advancing human rights, and allowing for dignified movements of people, where refugees are welcome and all people feel safe.
Fight for a sustainable, social Europe for people and for our planet
There needs to be a decisive and transformational change in political will, direction and policy. Such a vision is provided in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in which people, social justice, environmental and health protection, democracy and transparency take centre stage. Guided by this agenda, EU economic policies need to go hand in hand with strong social and environmental policies. The EU single market and international policies must promote enforceable rules to protect workers, consumers, all citizens – men and women, young and old – and the planet. EU policies must support democracy, dialogue and more equality within and beyond the EU. We need a Europe that aims at improving the living standards of everyone.
Work for better Europe, not less Europe
The current tendency to weaken EU institutions and to strip away protections for people and planet in the name of ‘deregulation’ is not the answer. Current economic policies of reducing deficits and boosting ‘competitiveness’ have promoted too narrow an interpretation of growth, and corporate profits have failed to make it into workers’ wages or trickle down to improve people’s lives.
It is these policies, not ‘too much Europe’, that have alienated people, leaving them feeling disempowered and left behind. We now need new, progressive European initiatives to deliver tangible benefits for people and to win back their confidence and trust. A ‘better Europe’ is where joint European action creates tangible benefits for people and planet. This includes a new focus on equality and inclusion, a relaunch of the European social model to provide decent work, quality jobs and better living conditions, strong environmental protection, meaningful action on climate change, and an EU-wide effort to welcome and integrate migrants.
Listen and engage
EU leaders, prime ministers, presidents, chancellors and parliamentarians must listen and engage actively with citizens of all ages and social backgrounds to understand and respond better to people’s concerns and propose a new, positive vision of Europe. Everyone, perhaps most importantly the young, needs to be more actively involved in decisions that have an impact on our future. Together, we can take the decisions and actions on the issues that matter.
Make the case for Europe
We need a genuine, democratic and inclusive dialogue on the future of Europe, and on how the EU can deliver tangible benefits for Europeans. We stand ready to play an active role in this dialogue, and to work even harder in making the case for the benefits that working together have brought to European citizens, and the values for which this Union stands.
This common statement was drafted on the initiative of WWF, CONCORD, ETUC and European Youth Forum, and supported by the 177 signatories. The full statement can be read online here.