Progressive Paths to Growth and Social Cohesion. A Future Agenda for Eastern and Central Europe
Young professionals and high-level speakers from politics, academia, and civil society discussed with EU commissioner László Andor at the kick-off event of the joint project “A Future Agenda for Eastern and Central Europe. Input for a New European Economic and Social Model” of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and Das Progressive Zentrum in Vilnius, Lithuania, about the renewal of Europe and the key questions for the region of Eastern and Central Europe.
In his keynote speech the commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion emphasized that Europe faces a “make-or-break-period” concerning the European Monetary Union and “the future of Social Europe”. Andor called for “a new EU architecture”. A new model of the Monetary Union would be necessary for a sustainable economic recovery. The commissioner also called for a strengthening of the Social Model of the EU in order for the European Union “to emerge stronger from the crisis” and underlined the need to rethink the current economic and social model of the EU towards a more sustainable model.
Based on the central question “What Europe do we want to live in?” 95 young progressive thinkers, writers and decision-makers from 10 member states then discussed tangible political approaches towards a new European economic and social model. The first panel “Democracy in Times of Austerity” shed light on the effects of Brussels’s austerity policy on the democratic constitution of the Eastern and Central European member states as well as alternative ways out of the crisis – especially with regard to social acceptability. Alena Krempaská, Program Director of the Human Rights Institute, Bratislava, and Zoltán Pogátsa, Lecturer at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Western Hungary, Sopron, agreed on the pronounced austerity policy endangering the democratic constitution in many countries of the region. Populism, the rise of extremist movements and the lacking trust in politicians and political institutions are just a few of the signs mentioned with regard to this development. The question if austerity might be a reasonable political decision in some cases or if reforms are always a better alternative to cuts, ensured a subsequent controversial debate between audience and panelists. Furthermore, the panel focused on the questions: How do the main conflict lines within the societies change due to the European austerity policy? And aren’t financial politics always a questions of values, for example the decision who is taxed how?
In the second panel „Social Fragmentation in the New EU Member States“ Michal Polak, General Government Counsel at the Slovakian Ministry of Finance, pointed out that the governments in Eastern and Central Europe do not do much against social fragmentation. Inequality is still seen as something inherently positive, which provides motivation and incentives to the people. Therefore, the problem is a political one: to change the discourse would be the adequate starting point. Social inequality is not a political issue. If inequality becomes a topic for debate, the governments might start taking up the issue. Ramūnas Vilpišauskas, professor at the Vilnius University, focused on Good Governance as the decisive factor: the lack of trust in the political institutions is a major obstacle concerning steps against (increasing) social fragmentation. Without trust in the institutions and effectiveness, introducing new welfare policies will not work. This could only be achieved if Good Governance was further improved. In this case a break-through concerning social cohesion would be possible.
Sabrina Schulz, Policy Fellow at “Das Progressive Zentrum”, emphasized during her impulse in the third panel “Smart and Sustainable Growth: To What Extent Can a New Energy Policy Contribute?“ that coal and nuclear energy do not constitute technologies of the future for Eastern and Central European countries. The countries of the region would be better of in diversifying their energy supply with regard to climate change policies as well as security of supply and economic reasons. Realizing economic growth, social justice and the transition towards a sustainable energy system is creating an enormous challenge for the countries of the region. This is why the public needs to be involved in the process.
Sabrina Schulz as well as Dariusz Szwed, Head of the Polish Green Institute, called for a more European thinking concerning energy policy. The EU could provide tremendous support for the region with regard to the expansion of renewable energies, the modernization of the energy infrastructure as well as the cross-border integration of energy markets.
But the debates will continue. In the upcoming year, the three key subjects will be discussed in-depth in small groups (so-called “Future Labs”). Progressive thinkers from Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and the Baltic States will develop new ideas and innovative policy recommendations for the further development of the region. The results will be presented at a conference at the end of 2014 and will be put up for discussion. The impulses will be incorporated into a larger discourse dealing with a future economic and social model for the European Union.
For the first draft of a discussion paper (as of November 11th 2013) please click here.
For further information please contact Lea Deworetzki (firstname.lastname@example.org).