Europe at the Crossroad: Decline or Reconstruction?

Photograph: Edited by Opulens.

SOCIAL EUROPE. Uncertainty and unease surround both Europe´s current predicament and future prospects. Be it national governments devoid of European solidarity, the self-contained Brussels bureaucracy or fear of another economic recession. The status quo in Europe contains much to be concerned about.



In particular, the rise of the far-right casts a shadow over contemporary Europe from Poland and Hungary to France and Italy. As things stand, after the European Parliament elections of 2019, the far right is a force to be reckoned with. The liberal consensus of the European Union, previously successful in presenting itself as essentially the only viable way forward for Europe, has suffered serious setbacks in the last decade, including the exit of one of the member states, Great Britain.

The EU has absorbed the calamitous developments but, at the same time, carefully avoided any major reconstruction in order to recalibrate its project. Thus one might well wonder if the European Union has reached an impasse as a democratic project which benefits populations and stands for a better, more liveable world?

The current troubled state has its origins in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992. With the Maastricht Treaty, the Union officially itself adopted a market-liberal stance both in terms of policy-making and discourse, which effectively marginalized earlier concerns with welfare and cohesion. A vision of individualistic and competitive social life which has dominated Europe ever since came decisively to the fore.

Economically, the treaty places a one-sided emphasis on fiscal responsibility at the expense of other issues such as growth, employment or unregulated capital flows.  Nation-states were deprived of their earlier sovereignty in economic governance without anything like this sovereignty being recreated at the European, i.e. federal level. In a nutshell, economic liberalism triumphed over social Europe. But it still got a lot worse in the 2010s.

Social Europe is by now, let´s face it, but a rapidly fading dream.

With the sovereign debt crisis of 2010, a distinctive mode of governance emerged. This was a juncture of massive government intervention to save the banks. Structurally unprepared for a crisis of this magnitude, governments after initial hesitation rapidly moved from stimulus to fiscal austerity. This decision, and the dogged refusal to reverse it against all evidence, still continues to hold sway in Europe. The overall impression throughout the post-crisis era has been one of continent adrift and in decline.

Desiccated welfare states in South Europe and Great Britain, trenchant austerity in Ireland and Eastern Europe were morbid symptoms of this. Progress made in addressing inequality between Scandinavia and Western Europe and Eastern and Southern peripheries has been rapidly undone. Solidarity, the indispensable building block of social Europe, was in short supply everywhere. Social Europe is by now, let´s face it, but a rapidly fading dream.

What is to be done if we are not willing to bid farewell to social Europe, i.e. socially just Europe with commitment to human well being and solidarity? In late 2018, a prominent group of European intellectuals published a “Manifesto for the Democratization of Europe” which contains several important ideas for tackling the current malaise. The manifesto calls for a Eurozone Parliamentary Assembly and a shared European Budget.[1]

The assembly is the institution representing the people of Europe within the governance of the euro area. It is composed of both members of national parliaments and members of the European Parliament; both of whom will be involved in decision-making processes as citizen representatives.

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Such a proposal matters because currently the Eurozone governance is thoroughly undemocratic, with the European Parliament carefully sidelined from any meaningful policy-making role. Instead, we are now dealing with an executive power of the dense network of extra-mural governance of the Eurogroup, bureaucratic and financial treasuries and senior officials of the Commission´s economic and financial affairs and bankers.

The shared budget has the purpose of fostering sustainable growth, social cohesion and employment, as well as greater economic and fiscal coordination between the Member States of the euro area. Fixed at 4% of GDP, the budget provides Europe much-needed resources for investing in the future (i.e. in research, training and European universities) and for addressing the problem of inequality between countries. Finances would come from four significant European taxes on profits of major firms, the top incomes (over 200,000 per annum), the highest wealth owners (over 1 million euros) and carbon emissions.

In sum, the EU and the single currency union need a major recalibration to put a stop to the progressive unravelling of Europe, of which the latest development is the rise of nationalist international spearheaded by prominent right-wing politicians and ideologues. However complicated the manifesto´s political prospects at the current juncture of emboldened far-right and the European Union reluctant to undertake far-reaching reforms, the initiative to achieve European solidarity instead of growing polarisation can be dismissed only at our increasing peril. Both are indispensable for rekindling the spirit and practice of social Europe hospitable to a sense of hopeful future and social justice.














[1] There are, of course, other credible ideas to recalibrate social Europe. For example, the concept of basic income or Eurodividend is one of them. Among the supporters of basic income is the pan-European DIEM 25 movement.


Opulens är ett dagligt nätmagasin som vill stärka kulturjournalistikens opinionsbildande roll. Kulturartiklar samsas därför med opinionsmaterial – allt med en samhällsmedveten blick där så väl klimatförändringarna och hoten mot yttrandefriheten som de sociala orättvisorna betraktas som självklara utgångspunkter.

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