The EU is facing its deepest crisis in living memory. The neoliberal model adopted by EU leaders has set it on a collision course with nature: a path of obsession with economic growth without checking the consequences. This is the regional part of a wider global story.
The path is one of planetary destruction characterised by a will to keep subsidising fossil fuels and pumping out oil, completely contradicting the commitments the EU has made to tackle climate change. The basic narrative of EU leadership is that we can continue to grow without any costs and that technology will save the climate and, thereby, humanity.
But this is also a story of an extreme concentration of power and political capture by economic interests, leading to weak legislation and a loss of protection of people. What we experience is a major disconnect between how decisions are made in practice and the often-stated values of the EU (respect for human dignity and rights, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law, pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice and solidarity).
There is also a disconnect between those values and the way leadership works across the board in Europe today. European leadership is patriarchal, based on a system of domination of power by men. This is not about the actions of individual men, but a deeply entrenched system. It is a system that is based on the values of competition, control and hierarchy and it replicates itself over time. Women, people of colour, youth and many others are missing from the leadership picture. It said that doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity. But so too is doing the same things with the same people and expecting a different outcome. New kinds of leadership can lead to the emergence of different ideas and outcomes.
A mixture of neoliberal economics, patriarchy and racism sit at the root of Europe’s crisis. To get Europe back on the right track, we need to focus on those root causes.
While the original European Community was built on iron, coal and peace, the new EU should be built on a green and just transition. We could live in a different kind of Europe that values well-being. We could live in a Europe that values care, community and human connection, that is aware of its social and environmental footprint, that gives free access to public transport to all, that accepts and values migrants, that respects and practices international human rights law, that redefines the economics curriculum beyond neoliberal theory, that supports cooperatives, that looks beyond offering to ‘leave no one behind’ to putting marginalised communities at the centre of power, that values the knowledge of youth and listens to them on climate change before it’s too late. We could live in a Europe that listens.
In a Europe that listens, democracy can thrive. Hate has less space to grow. People feel heard, they can take part in decision making, reform is possible, dissent is possible. Democracy is also defined as more than turning up to vote every five years. Whilst voting matters, there are many other ways for people to have a say from meaningful consultations to Citizens Assemblies to European Citizens' Initiatives that actually result in citizens’ initiatives being adopted.
In a Europe that listens, the nation is no longer a sufficient vehicle for the progressive engagement of people. Europe is not primarily a geographical space, it is a process and a pursuit, a movement led by Europeans. We advance by questioning our own limits and borders.
In a Europe of connections, we can build a strong European demos that connects. People get involved because they see the links between the issues they face at home, and those faced by other people across Europe. They feel European because they feel the need to come together around causes that are existential for people and planet. They know that we have more in common than that which divides us and that it makes sense to collaborate rather than compete on major issues like tax justice, climate change, migration and even housing.
As WeMove Europe, we set out to play a role in creating reconnection between people, across Europe, to build attitudes around solidarity and trust, not fear and distrust of others. We will connect up stories and conversations across countries. We will partner with and tell the story of courageous mayors and councils in cities taking sides with migrants, rebuilding villages, overturning injustice, challenging the norm.
We will work towards a different leadership in Europe to do things differently. This leadership:
Understands and acts on the root causes of our systemic problems
Understands and acts on the system of patriarchy
Understands ‘power to’ and ‘power with’ and focuses on igniting people power
Leaves its ego outside the door
Is curious, creative and takes risks
Walks the talk on its values
There is a different path for Europe; one in which its values are taken seriously. One that puts into practice some important principles and takes up good ideas that are not yet making it to the mainstream. Getting to that kind of Europe will be a long-term process. Real change cannot happen overnight.
If we sign up to a Climate Agreement in Paris, we need to make sure our EU Energy, Industry and Agricultural Policies back that commitment up. Policies must be coherent, otherwise leaders will just keep breaking promises.
Power of the people. People in Europe are still far removed from decision making in Europe. The tools on offer do not make them feel powerful. We are looking for ways to improve the tools, bring in new ones, and get people involved in a virtuous democratic circle in Europe.
Feminist principles adopted by municipality leaders in Europe could help shift power and people to a better place. Principles and values like empowerment, participation, inclusion, equality, fairness, humility and courage.
(Get Over) Growth
If all the key decisions made in Europe are guided by the level of economic growth they bring only, then Europe will fall apart. Economic growth is the main criteria for decision making in Europe and it is destroying us. We need much more redistribution if people are to ever benefit from growth. We also need to recall that we only have one planet. The alternative is to introduce decision making criteria that prioritise well-being over economic growth.
Implementation (of Laws)
Excellent laws are being made at EU level. When it comes to environmental regulation, the EU has the best record in the world. However, if Member States do not implement them, they are meaningless. The EC must have stronger teeth to ensure those regulations are implemented.
Inequalities of income, of opportunities, of voice have gotten to such a dangerously level that even the folks at Davos are talking about it. If Europe is to put people and planet at the centre of its agenda, then tackling inequality is the real people issue.
There is no point in challenging sexism, homophobia, racism and other forms of oppression as separate causes. These are all interlinked or intersectional struggles which ultimately have the same root causes. We need to work together to win together.
Language is power. English as a lingua franca in Europe helps people to communicate. But it also risks weakening linguistic diversity in Europe, if it becomes the only focus. WeMove Europe support all efforts to foster linguistic diversity and freedom of expression in many languages that represent the incredible colour and diversity of Europe.
As a minimum Europe must uphold International law on the rights of migrants. But at a deeper level, we need to challenge narratives that demonise migrants and refugees and encourage more exchange that helps people to realise that migrants represent a positive contribution to the social, cultural and economic enrichment of Europe. We also need to challenge incoherence in European policies that continue to allow the selling of arms, land grabbing and the undermining of local production in poorer regions through subsidised production in Europe.
More in Common
The EU is based on the idea of unity in diversity. It is a continent which features massive diversity of populations living alongside each other who practice different cultures. This diversity is to be celebrated. But we also need to acknowledge that we generally have more in common with others than that which divides us. At a time when hatred and fear are being peddled by the far right, this is about bringing people together in spite of their differences to find common ground.
North, South, East, West
There are inequalities in power across different parts of the EU. For example, the voice and representation of the countries that joined the EU from 2004 is still lower than that of their counterparts in other parts of Europe. This can be reversed.
We are building a counterbalance to corporate capture of EU decision making by involving a lot more people to call for strong regulation in the name of people and planet.
24% of Europeans are at risk of poverty. At the root of this is inequality of opportunities for people. The idea of Social Europe is still not working for many people.
Regulation matters. For workers’ rights, for the environment, for health. The rise of the gig economy and the Big 4 has meant that regulation is trickier than ever and more important than ever. In particular, labour regulations on questions like minimum wage, working time and holiday time are crucial. This could be where Europe shines.
Rule of Law
One of the most important values and pillars of European democracy is the rule of law, which must be upheld to protect the fundamental rights of people all over Europe.
We are fighting for a more social Europe that challenges poverty and inequality, that regulates working conditions, equal opportunities and access to work, social protection and inclusion.
What can be better organised at a village or town level should be. Policies like climate change and migration are hard to coordinate on locally. However, there are many policies that do not need to be regulated at the EU level.
Europe needs to adopt a culture of sufficiency that ends the obsession with growth. Friends of the Earth describe sufficiency as ‘the antithesis to permanent ‘higher, further, faster, more’. Instead it prioritises quality of life in work, education and leisure. It is about “better, not more.’
In recent years, campaigners have been winning battles but losing the planet. A preference for campaigns based on incremental change has meant that we can’t yet claim real progress. We need to start by looking at the root causes of our problems and to seek bigger changes that shift power within systems and ultimately the systems themselves.
Nowhere is the principle of transparency more violated than by the Council, the house of our own member state representatives. We need to see radical change, starting with the publication of meeting notes so that our leaders cannot say one thing in Brussels and something else at home.
The current EU treaties, ratified by the EU member states, are contributing to austerity in all EU countries. We must ask ourselves whether it is possible to achieve a green and equal Europe without reforming the treaties and the 3% deficit rule. As WeMove Europe, we want to channel a bigger conversation about the need for treaty reform.
Urgency vs Systemic Change
We are conscious of the urgency of the EU political situation. We want to help build a long term cultural shift in Europe and short term innovations. We know however that if we focus only on the current crisis, we will lose out.
It’s time to get real on the values of the EU (respect for human dignity and rights, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law, pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice and solidarity).
There are many good ideas out there that bring the above principles to life:
50/50 parental leave
There is a huge wage gap between men and women in Europe. All data shows that while it is reasonably small for people without kids, it gets dramatic after the birth of the first child and never closes again for mothers. Similar happens with women’s access to the public sphere, positions etc. Without equality in child care, there will be no equality elsewhere and Europe must take responsibility for it.
CAP that is coherent
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) needs to align with other Directives protecting humans and nature. The CAP is actively undermining efforts towards the protection of nature and humans and needs to be aligned.
WeMove Europe has drawn inspiration from the example of Ireland which recently went through an important democratic experiment with the Citizen’s Assembly on abortion. That experiment brought together people - randomly selected - to listen to, question, debate over and deliberate on a controversial issue with a long and difficult history. It experimented with deliberative democracy without losing its commitment to representative democracy, understanding it as mutually reinforcing and not in competition.
Active and informed citizen participation forms the basis of democracy. Public schools can play an important role in civic education and can help students comprehend how the EU works. All European public schools should include in the curriculum classes to better understand the EU. This could kick start better participation in voting and in the EU policymaking process. More knowledgeable and connected people will be in a better position to improve European policy.
This is about redefining the role of European institutions and the meaning of democracy through the mass participation of citizens. It would involve convening a Constituent Assembly in which the whole of European society has a voice and can be elected on transnational tickets. Its mandate would be to draft and enact a Democratic Constitution of Europe.
European Citizens'' Initiative (ECI)
The ECI is a means to draw on people power to bring or change European policies and laws. By bringing together one million signatures from people in Europe, it’s possible to effect changes and new laws. This transnational tool of direct democracy needs to be be taken more seriously by the EU institutions, where member states are still largely unaware of it and the Commission is not yet implementing the ideas or re-framing the tool as simply “agenda setting”.
Erasmus for All
Erasmus is seen as one of the best programmes of the EU, and it arguably is. However, it is still something of a programme for the privileged in that it is only accessible to those in higher education. A universal Erasmus for all youth is a very good proposal in this light.
So far associations can only register in individual member states. This is a major impediment to the growth of associations across borders and of the emergence of a proper European community of associations.
European Public Broadcaster
Europe needs more spaces for debate. An independent European Public Broadcaster could provide opportunities for people at different levels to get involved in the conversation.
European Social Pillar
Europe is getting more and more unified and integrated in all areas which serve big business. The costs of this unification are on the shoulders of the common people - with poor social standards, worsening working conditions, insufficient public services and health care. In some countries and regions, the situation is dramatic. The EU must take responsibility for its people and build a European social pillar to secure welfare for all.
EU representation in international organisations
The EU should have a seat at international organisations to provide more representation instead of the outdated tradition of keeping them for member states like France, Germany and the UK.
This international network of cities is built on the power of cities as a place for progressive change and stronger internal connection between communities inside the city space. The leadership of Fearless Cities is based on feminist values and could be a strong model for the European institutions. Cities have a major role to play in Europe. All efforts to reinforce them should be supported.
A feminist Europe acknowledges and addresses power and the major imbalances in power between different groups in Europe. It does not see power as a bad thing, but rather values the idea of ‘power with’ other groups instead of ‘power over’ or control. A feminist Europe also values 50/50 representation of men and women in power and a whole lot more!
Freedom of Movement
Freedom of movement is one of the greatest things the EU has ever agreed to doing. This said, in light of the European solidarity crisis which came about as a result of more people fleeing war, poverty and climate change, borders are being re-erected and freedom of movement Is being challenged in the European Union. We need to fight to keep this basic principle in place.
Gross Happiness Index
Europe could draw inspiration from the best parts of the Gross Happiness Index. It basically means that all major decisions need to run through a set of happiness indicators likely to impact people e.g. a trade deal. If they are likely to hamper happiness, they are dropped. What a great alternative to economic growth happiness could be.
Harm reduction drug policy
Instead of treating people who use drugs like criminals, this policy focuses on harm reduction and treats people who use drugs as people in need of help and treatment. Hardline policies that criminalise drug users exacerbate existing systems of poverty and inequality and use up valuable state resources on prisons, policing, and legal proceedings without treating the root causes of the issue. European values like respect for human dignity and rights, justice and non-discrimination require policies based on the reduction of harm to all people.
Just Transition is about shifting from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy in a process of transition that is just. If the process is not just, the outcome will never be.
Mandatory Lobby Register
The existing lobby register does not work because it is voluntary. All entities lobbying the EU institutions must publish their lobby spend. All meetings should be documented with officials.
Minimum corporate tax
Some countries in Europe, like Luxemburg or Cyprus, are effectively tax havens. Others, like Hungary and Poland offer generous tax exemptions to attract business. Corporations don’t pay taxes and billions of euros for schools, hospitals and social transfers go to private pockets. A European minimum corporate tax would put an end to these immoral procedures.
Minimum wage in Europe
Bulgarians earn 1/10 of what their fellow Europeans in Luxembourg do. In the international division of labour, some European countries are - and their governments often want them to stay - cheap labour countries where people don’t get a living wage and where businesses relocate from the European core. The EU has the power to change this by introducing a mechanism of convergence between minimum wages and other work-related coefficients.
Green New Deal
The Green New Deal is about fundamentally restructuring the economy to deliver good jobs and a liveable future. It is a plan to end austerity, reinvest in communities, avert climate catastrophe, and secure prosperity for future generations.
With scandal after scandal emerging, we can no longer tolerate a situation whereby corporations are paying low to no taxes. No number of jobs created can make up for the loss of tax revenue that states rely on to provide public services like health and education. Just as individuals need to pay taxes, so too should corporations. The EU could do much more here.
We need more trains and the tickets need to be affordable and accessible. Europe needs one, locally-owned railway network to help reduce plane travel, climate change and create more connection in Europe.
Transnational voting lists
Electing candidates by platform instead of place could help to create a stronger European identity and a viewpoint beyond the national levels.
UN Binding Treaty on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights
The binding treaty is about ensuring that companies are fully accountable for human rights violations and environmental crimes. Overcoming current voluntary frameworks of social corporate responsibility is key to make the economy fit for people’s rights and wellbeing and to stop corporate impunity.
Unarmed European Peace Force
This would be a force similar to the Peace Brigades International or the German Forum for Civilian Service enabling non-army, non-governmental personnel to intervene and mediate in conflicts, similar to UN-Peace keeping, but unarmed: https://nonviolentpeaceforce.org/.
Universal voting rights
Officially, 4% of EU citizens live in a different EU country. In reality, the number is even higher. Beyond this, residents from outside the EU also live in Europe. These groups pay taxes but have no say about their pensions, schools for their kids, healthcare and their right to stay. One solution is universal voting rights in all elections, based on residency and not citizenship.
Work time reduction
People in Europe should be able to work less. European regulation on working time could help to trigger a much needed debate on power and rights of workers as well as inequality in Europe. There is currently a difference of over 12 working hours per week between EU countries where people work the most and the least. These differences lead to industries moving to “cheaper” countries in the EU.