Paul Sweeney: In 2009, the Spring Alliance was established with the four key civil society groups within the European Union: the European Environmental Bureau, the European Trade Union Confederation, the Social Platform and CONCORD, the body representing NGOs in Europe.
Spring Alliance has set out an agenda for the next decade, laid down in their Spring Alliance Manifesto. It has already had two debates with President Barroso on the results, and this manifesto formed the background for many contributions to the consultation on the EU-2020 Strategy being debated by the Commission.
The see five major challenges facing Europe:
The first challenge: climate change and loss of biodiversity and natural resources.
The second challenge: global inequalities between North and South are growing, and fundamental rights violations remain widespread.
The third challenge: the EU’s focus on competitiveness and deregulation has failed to serve the public good.
They argue that, since 2005, the EU has made a push to increase the deregulation of its markets, including its labour market, in accordance with its “Lisbon” growth and jobs strategy. This has had a detrimental effect on European society, causing a rise in low-quality work and failing to reduce poverty. The Lisbon strategy, with its strong emphasis on competitiveness, also had an adverse effect in the environmental domain, by halting or slowing down the adoption of legislation, including in the area of climate change.
In addition to these trends, today we’re facing a global economic crisis that has been triggered by the same philosophy of deregulation, which gave rise to irresponsible lending and negligence on the part of weak regulatory bodies. As a consequence, unemployment is now rising, and public debt is increasing.
The fourth challenge: inequalities in wealth distribution are increasing, putting the cohesion of our societies at risk.
The Spring Alliance notes that “79 million people in the EU are living in poverty, affecting one child out of five. Although many of these people have full-time jobs or receive pensions or benefits, their income is still too low to stop them from falling into poverty.”
Finally: the gap is widening between the EU and its citizens
It is stated by Spring Alliance that “The majority of the EU population feels disconnected from EU decision-making processes. National politicians often consider “Brussels” as an external power, and sometimes use it as scapegoat for unpopular decisions. This further undermines the EU’s credibility and its capacity to lead its citizens through difficult times.”
The Spring Alliance suggests ways in which these challenges can be addressed with the EU taking a lead. Further information is available on their website.