This time, the vote is not only about choosing the policies that we find the most convincing among the manifestos, but about the very soul of Europe. Never before were these two elements so closely intertwined. Voting for pro-European parties is a must for protecting peace against regressive and protectionist programmes. But it is not sufficient. For the EU to overcome the current challenges and stand stronger and closer to its citizens we also need to look closely at the policies proposed by the different parties.
For Europeans to regain hope and thus achieve more social cohesion we need better social protection. To achieve social justice, better social mobility and equality of opportunities we have to demand that the EU be fully committed to tackling inequalities. That means ensuring the legal framework and resources needed for social investment, including for education and lifelong learning, and for fiscal justice.
Nationalists and right-wing populists promising more justice are in fact the ones implementing fiscal policies that hamper the funding of public services in the countries they govern (Italy) and undermine labour rights (Austria, Hungary). What they call justice is securing the happiness of a few against social protection for the many. They have never done anything to improve living conditions for all. They don’t even talk about climate change - none of them – which is the clearest possible example of how little they care about sustainable societies for all and how short-sighted their programmes are.
Investment in sustainable social infrastructures is what is needed to reverse the growing social and socio-economic disparities between and within Member States, and advance social justice all over Europe. The declaration of the Pillar of Social Rights is not enough. Too little was done to implement it in a context where 118 million people (23.5% of the population) are living in or at the risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU, 22 million are unemployed and 23 million are working-poor. The root causes of inequality cannot be solely fought against on the national level: we need the EU to take united action and make this a top priority. The European elections are the best opportunity we have to send a strong message to policy makers and demand social justice.
The austerity measures imposed by conservative and right wing populist governments targeted and put all education sectors under huge pressure and consciously endangered further European integration and the smooth transition from education into the labour market in a changing world of work. To achieve equal opportunities for all, it is essential to create an inclusive learning society on the grounds of openness and democracy, where all members have an opportunity to participate in lifelong and life-wide learning opportunities. This requires both adequate financial resources and sustainable structures for Europe-wide cooperation among all stakeholders.