21st May 2022


Covid has exposed decades of poor EU decisions

  • The effects of the bad management of the Covid-19 crisis are clear: high unemployment, unaffordable prices, low wages, and the extensive 'précarisation' of working and living conditions (Photo: Shamballah)
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In these times of unprecedented social and economic challenges, the EU must self-critically rethink decades of poor decisions.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and its social, economic, and human consequences has demonstrated the failure of the neoliberal policy model. The Left is fighting to change the current reality, which only serves to widen the gap between countries and exacerbates inequalities.

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The idea that market liberalisations are the answer to the political and economic crisis has now been exposed for what it is: an illusion.

Minor changes in European politics will not be enough to pave the way for a "social Europe" capable of addressing inequalities of all kinds, which have increased over the last decade within and between EU countries.

To overcome the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, both the national governments and the European Commission were forced to temporarily withdraw further austerity measures from their agenda.

Nevertheless, the effects of the bad management of the Covid-19 crisis are clear: high unemployment, unaffordable prices, low wages, and the extensive 'précarisation' of working and living conditions.

The failures of the present integration process are also clear, resulting in a growing public disengagement with the European idea. Democracies are in jeopardy because of extensive use of state of emergency rhetoric, a pretext for dismantling democratic and social rights in several European countries.

What we need in Europe is to expand bottom-up participation in political processes, revitalising the connection with citizens, social movements, trade unions, and NGOs. In other words, ensure that citizens' voices are heard after decades of policies that have not been made in their interests.

'Bottom-up' future conference

A potentially valuable tool for the humble reassessment of prevailing policy is the ongoing Conference on the Future of Europe (COFOE).

The conference represents a useful opportunity to open a debate with citizens on the EU's institutional model, raising the notion of a citizen-centred economic strategy that breaks with the neoliberal framework and works to address people's needs.

However, this is not the first time that a debate on the future of Europe has opened in the last two decades, and its potential impact should not be overestimated.

Any new vision of sustainable European development cannot be based on a blind acceptance of the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties.

New financial instruments should be put in place, including fostering the democratic control of the ECB, fairer taxation, and concrete measures against fiscal avoidance.

The Growth and Stability pact must be fully abolished and replaced with a new pact focusing on cohesion and economic convergence, sustainable development and the reinforcement of social rights.

The EU must ensure access to decent, stable, safe, and well-paid working conditions, as well as to public services. The European Pillar of Social Rights should be legally binding, and the systems of social protection, salaries and pensions should be adapted to the highest levels we have in Europe.

Any attempt to exploit the current crisis to foster xenophobic or nationalist demagogy has to be firmly rejected by progressive forces in the EU, but if we want to open a new path for the development of society, a change of tack in economic policy is necessary and urgent.

The time has come for the creation of a social, ecological, democratic, and peaceful Europe that puts people at its core. A shift in the EU's economic governance regime will be crucial towards establishing a a new way forward for the EU, and most importantly, for its people.

Author bio

Heinz Bierbaum is president of the European Left.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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