On 9 May 1950, Robert Schuman, one of the founders of the European Union, set out his vision for a future of Europe – a vision in which war between France and Germany would be “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”. Almost 70 years later, the next European Parliament will inherit huge challenges of its own – including the fact that Europe’s moral, political and economic systems have led to 113 million people, 22.5% of our population, living at risk of poverty and social exclusion.
This week, the European Anti-Poverty Network (made up of 31 national networks and 13 European Organisations, representing thousands of NGOs throughout Europe) launched a campaign for the European Parliamentary Elections, asking candidates to recognise these challenges and commit to ‘Make Europe Poverty Free’. We recognise that our moral, political and economic systems need to be radically reprogrammed in order to make poverty unthinkable and impossible on our continent. This reprogramming would also be the engine of economic and social development in Europe, providing wellbeing to European citizenship, including poorer and social excluded people. That is not only fair, it is smart and beneficial for all.
Here’s how this reprogramming could work:
- Rebalance our systems so that the economy promotes human rights, tackles inequality and poverty and guarantees well-being, serves people and the environment. As the now infamous Davos panel focusing on inequality highlighted, this involves re-imagining our tax systems to increase tax on wealth, capital and profits of the richest companies and individuals, implementing progressive tax systems, and tackling tax secrecy, tax havens and illicit financial flows
- Truly become a Europe which protects – its people rather than its businesses and borders. A poverty-free Europe must guarantee strong social protection systems for all who need it, for as long as they need it. And as one participant in ATD 4th World’s ‘People’s University’ at the European Parliament last week highlighted, people shouldn’t be forced to sell assets like their houses in order to access these social protection systems.
- Follow through on existing political commitments. European Heads of State have already signed off on potentially transformative political agreements, notably the Sustainable Development Goals and the European Pillar of Social Rights. Implementing these commitments would go a long way to bringing about a poverty-free Europe and must be a focus of the new parliament.
- Become a Europe of its people – because ‘we are Europe’. Europe isn’t about our banks, our industry, our business – it is about our people, it is about us. To truly become a Europe of and for its people, the European Parliament must meaningfully ensure the participation of people experiencing poverty, and the organisations representing them, in decisions which impact their lives, at every level.
These Parliamentary Elections represent an opportunity for leaders and decisions makers to show moral courage by committing to make Europe Poverty Free. From 12 February – 26 May, EAPN will campaigning a poverty-free Europe. In Austria, we’ll have a flash mob on 9 May. In Cyprus, we’ll focus on mobilising women and youth to vote to Make Europe Poverty Free. In France, we’re part of a national civil society campaign with a shared manifesto. In Greece, we’re asking candidates to the elections directly to sign our pledge. On 9 May, Europe Day, we’ll be organising a collective day of action in as many European countries as possible – all this to focus on the urgent need to make Europe Poverty Free, to make poverty in Europe unthinkable and impossible, much as Robert Schuman did some 70 years ago.
Leo Williams is the Director and Carlos Susias is the President of the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) respectively.