By Marissa Ryan, Deputy Director of Advocacy & Campaigns and Head of Oxfam’s EU office.
Europe is not flourishing this spring. The European Union is beset by baying populism, Brexit, and a faltering economic model which bred an inequality crisis. Come the May elections, will the Union succumb to internal strife and selfishness, turning its back on Europe’s and the world’s citizens, or will the elections mark a period of regrowth and renewal for the European project? It is vital that European leaders address the main challenges of our time, namely economic and gender inequality as well the crisis of climate change.
Restoring faith by proving valuable
As a European citizen, I am hopeful. The European Union was founded as a political project of peace, prosperity and democracy. Despite significant problems, it is still an important political force in the promotion of these values – both in Europe and the rest of the world.
But during these recent years of political turmoil and polarisation, the founding values of the Union, as well as the very value of the Union itself, are increasingly under attack. The benefits of international cooperation are in question, and countries within and beyond Europe are adopting nationalist, isolationist and short-sighted policies that do not serve the long-term interests of their citizens.
Rather than confront the impact of policies which led European citizens to lose faith – austerity measures, increasing privatisation of basic services and a widening gap between the rich and the rest – the EU has responded by turning inwards, and allowing its policies to be dictated by the political agendas of a few member states. This spring, I am hoping that European politicians will turn away from these policies and damaging narratives of the recent years.
Fighting injustice, poverty and climate change
The challenges confronting our people and planet are critical. We need a Union that takes responsibility for the future of our shared world, serves the interests of ordinary people and tackles inequality, climate change and the realisation of women’s rights head on. The May 2019 elections are a chance to breathe new life into the European project and restore the faith of citizens by reviving the EU founding values of solidarity, peace and justice.
Right now, we live in a world where 736 million people are living in extreme poverty, while 65 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes. Meanwhile, 26 people own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world.
As economic growth continues to benefit a small number of rich people, the rest of society suffers, and the world’s poorest are hit the hardest – especially women and girls. Climate change is threatening all people and our entire planet, with the richest doing the most damage while the poorest suffer the consequences.
We need European leaders to prioritise addressing these challenges. They must ensure that more and better aid assists the world’s poorest and those in crises, develop a fair and effective asylum system, implement ambitious climate policies, and fight inequality through progressive taxation, investment in quality public services and renewed support for labour rights.
A Union of true solidarity
Europe needs visionary political leadership which goes beyond short-sighted and self-interested policies. In the next parliamentary term, European politicians and policy makers must focus on improving the lot of our shared humanity, demonstrating solidarity within Europe and beyond.
The upcoming election is a vital opportunity to restore trust in the EU and the benefits of global cooperation. This requires candidates uniting behind a European agenda of fairness, equality and solidarity – for the benefit of all citizens.
To learn more about Oxfam’s recommendations for key priorities to be addressed by European Political Parties in the next European term, have a look at “European Elections 2019: Oxfam Submission to Party Manifestos”.
Oxfam International EU Advocacy