Group of European Pensioners from Savings Banks and Financial Institutions

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Index of documents > Euromeetings Magazine > Euromeetings Number 22



EUROMEETING 2017 – OFIR (OPORTO - PORTUGAL)

CONCLUSIONS ON:
“EUROPE AT A CROSSROADS BETWEEN POPULISM, THE ANSWER TO MIGRATION, DISINTEGRATION AND THE FUTURE”

They say Europe is at a crossroads. What does this mean?  For all of us this is about choosing between emerging triumphantly from the crisis or taking the path that will eventually lead us to a dead end.   

What is the reason why Europe, sixty years after the Treaty of Rome, appears today as a discredited institution, questioned and often falsely accused of all evils? We should better ask ourselves this question: what are the reasons? since they are plentiful. 

There is no doubt that that the first one is the economic crisis which not only European economies are facing at different levels, but also the Western economies.

The effects of this financial crisis occurred in 2008 are today still evident ten years later and they are characterized by a growing indebtedness of the States, a disturbing increase of the unemployment rates, an extremely urgent work insecurity and an impoverishment of the middle class.                     

This crisis and its impact on the different Member States economies keep on reminding us of the Wall Street Crash of 1929. This memory, however, still makes us shiver when we think of the fatal consequences of this crisis back then. The second important reason that explains this anti-European phenomenon lies in the geopolitical situation in the Middle East.  

The fall of the Libyan regime, the revolution in Egypt and later in Tunisia and the war in Syria have pushed thousands of men, women and children into leaving their home countries. This permanet migration flow strengthens in some the previously mentioned sense of fear and isolations. Mediterranean countries such as Greece or Italy are at the very forefront and they must manage the massive influx of immigrants.

The measures envisaged include, among others, the will to reduce the number of crossings and consequently to save lives. This fact means intensifying the fight against smugglers and people traffickers under the program “sea horse”, which consists in the placement of coastguards on both sides of the Mediterranean and above all in Libya; the most common departure point.  

Great Britain’s decision to leave the EU (this country had an important attraction to migrants before Brexit) has made it even harder for France, with the migrants trapped in Calais in miserable conditions.

The third reason for the lack of interest of States towards the European institutions could be named “technocracy”. It is repeatedly blamed for its nature of governance: the lack of transparency, the absence of communication, the complexity of the structures and the decision being made destabilize even our most educated citizens. The unanimity rule, which undermines any progress, the obstacle to any kind of evolution, the already mentioned economic scenario of the last years and the distortions of competition related to the absence of tax harmonization contribute to this lack of interest, even to rejection.   

The crisis of unemployment and the fear of immigration and, above all, of terrorism interact with each other: the crisis not only promotes electoral consensus with respect to populist forces, but also broadens the effects of fear. Fear reinforces populist impulses and at the same time, widens the effects of the crisis. The crisis of unemployment and the fear of the unknown are the elements that in recent year have made the populist movement ascend and also that many times we consider someone terrorist without even considering him an immigrant.  

Populism means sympathy for the people (people + ism), the form of "governing" where resources are used to obtain popular support, where personal propaganda is overly used and abused, where sympathy towards the lower social classes is appealed, without economic or political privileges to attain power. Usually, populist leaders present themselves as humble and redeemers, but it is not surprising that they become arrogant and hypocritical.

In our view, Europe is a victim of populism that affects a growing number of European Union States whose nationalist, even xenophobic frivolities are becoming increasingly open in countries that are very different from one another. Today, in the countries of the European Union, the populist or eurosceptic parties are about a hundred, present in 24 countries out of the total 28. Populism  found its place in the emergency created by the three joint crises: the economic disaster and unemployment, migration and jihadist terrorism.

The Finance Corporation Fitch has already figured out the numbers that a hypothetical victory of the populist and eurosceptic parties in the many upcoming elections to take place across Europe this year would mean: more than 100. 000 millions.    

Indeed, the increasing political risk may have an important impact on economics and finance.  In the worst case scenario, the Eurozone growth may be reduced by one percentage point. According to the latest data, 41% of the European economy (in other words, Germany’s, France’s and the Netherlands’s GDP) would be threatened by Populism and Eurosceptics.

To these insecurities we should add the recent announcement made by the four biggest partners (Spain, France, Germany and Italy) during the mini-summit held in Versailles in early March this year aiming to promote different rhythms so that the mainstay of the EU can move beyond this impasse and drag along the most reluctant, specially the East European countries. That is to say: A two or more speed Europe.  

Besides, now a large part of the German population believes that they would be better off without the euro and, in other countries; a similar trend is also seen. Northern European countries fear that the millions of Euros already paid out to bail out structurally weak countries may never come back to them and citizens of countries in crisis consider the reform and rehabilitation requirements monitored by the EU too harsh.

A few months ago, UK citizens preferred Farage, populist leader of the Independence Party and a supporter of Brexit, rather than traditional party leaders, conservative Cameron and Labour Corbyn. Undoubtedly, the "Brexit" has meant a before and after in the history of the EU. According to a research conducted by the London School of Economics the cost for the UK resulting from its withdrawal will affect its GDP between 6,5% and 9,5%, a figure similar to the financial crisis from the years 2008 to 2010. In the United States of America, Republican candidate Donald Trump, also populist and xenophobic was elected president.

For thousands of years, men with similar characteristics have felt the need to organize in groups, to leave their place of birth and to spread throughout the world. The movement of migration is, after all, as old as humanity.

Today migrations result mainly from the lack of hope for a better future and the business model of human traffickers is once again booming. This was also the result of the so-called illegal immigration and the process of reinforcing borders to prevent the mass arrival of unwanted human beings.

To reflect on these issues and on the future consequences on our "home", about 200 pensioners from the banks of seven European countries (represented by the Group of European Pensioners from Saving Banks and Financial Institutions) meet in Ofir (Oporto, Portugal) between May 28th and June 4th, 2017,. From this joint reflection we draw the following conclusions:

CONCLUSIONS

  • There are many positive aspects in the construction of Europe. We cannot and must not give up this dream. In the last 60 years there have been significant results. For example, a lasting peace that has settled in Europe after two world conflicts that devastated Europe and the world between 1914 and 1945, a true economic integration and useful in some sectors (especially in the high-tech manufacturing industry), and a feeling of belonging to Europe, which is widespread among the students who have benefited from the  Erasmus program in many European cities;
  • The free movement of people and goods, a single currency, the exchanges between young people in the framework of the Erasmus + program. So many advantages that seem obvious nowadays and which anyone would ever dare to question, unless to assess its consequences;
  • We must make clear to the newest generations, since many are not conscious of this, everything Europe has meant in terms of agricultural, industrial and infrastructural development in each country that has joined this community of interests and ideas;
  • The crisis will not end without structural reforms;
  • We must think about Europe, humanize it, bring it closer to the citizens and listen to them more often. Care should be taken not to fall into isolation and dogmatic protectionism;
  • Europe will remain an unfinished project What we need is an open and transparent debate about the Europe in which we want to live. In this way we can achieve a renewal of the EU: a society that is tolerant and open to the world, a Europe of its citizens, because the EU can only continue to exist if we work together. We must admit the existence of great problems and insecurities, but the construction of Europe is a process that has guaranteed peace and that has made possible a good standard of living in its member States. 
  • We still have urgent objectives to tackle such as economic and foreign policy coordination, banking union, the fight against corruption, fraud and tax evasion and, in the medium term, the budgetary union to achieve greater growth, better wealth distribution as well as the reduction of unemployment and always keeping decent wages.
  • The core idea of the EU was solidarity between States, but the influx of refugees poses an even greater challenge for Europe than the previous economic and monetary crisis. The existing disagreement between the member States does not benefit anyone because what is urgently needed is a joint European solution;
  • The source of populism is the austerity policies that European leaders have dictated to their peoples. However, for others the element that has favoured the rise of populist movements is the unorganized and illegal entry of immigrants into Europe as a result of the crises that have arisen in Africa and the Middle East. In the social sphere, the reality of immigration seems to have increased the sympathy for the populist movement;
  • Reducing the inequality rates among European citizens The EU has to do something because the populist movement we are currently seeing in France, the Netherlands and Germany is mainly fuelled by the people's sense of insecurity and frustration;
  • The return to national-socialism claimed by the Front National and AFD would have fatal consequences for Europe: Less work, less freedom of internal market, less training opportunities for young people ... Europe should not be divided. It needs more cohesion and less hatred and violence;
  • There is a feeling of rather pronounced isolation, depending on the countries, and political movements or new parties have been born, taking advantage of the fear and the concern of their citizens. This isolation, this sometimes xenophobic nationalist rhetoric, and the idea of rebuilding internal borders, are feelings incompatible with the European principle of free movement of people and goods that their founders wanted;
  • We need to define the concept of a responsible policy towards refugees.  For example, we need to combat the causes of evasion and to stop providing weapons to the affected regions immediately, because war and civil war, State violence and terrorists in the countries of origin are key factors in the flight. In addition, we must invest in emerging countries and their development to significantly improve the living conditions of people; 
  • The external borders of the EU must be secured, because only a more legal and controlled immigration will stop the rising of organized crime and traffickers and help ensure safe entry routes and permit the management, registration and integration of refugees;
  • The current context is full of insecurities. Not only are we far from overcoming the effects of the economic, financial and social crisis, but to this is added the political and leadership crisis that may threaten the future of the European project. The "Brexit", the management of refugees and the adjustments of the countries of southern Europe are on the European agenda. After two days of meetings in China, the 20 major economies of the world highlighted in the final declaration UK’s withdrawal from the EU as a factor of greater global instability;

The European Parliament should have the capacity to legislate immediately. The ratification that allows each state to enforce the laws, after approval by each Parliament, must be stopped, as this approval can take years.  There is certainly still room for improvement in Europe, but in my view, it would be a tremendous mistake if we overlooked it.  

Now it is time for those who elect their governments, the voters, to choose wisely. From that choice may depend the salvation of Europe.

GET – Work and Study Group