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Opinion: Across Europe, equality is being obliterated by austerity

Social Europe is being destroyed. Will our EU 2014 candidates pledge commitment to fighting rising poverty, unemployment, inequality and social exclusion?

Image: Markus Pfaff via Shutterstock

THE EUROPEAN SOCIAL Model is being obliterated by austerity. The ECB Chief, Mario Draghi, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2012 was blunt and explicit in stating that “the European social model is already gone”. The goal of a Social Europe should place the reduction of inequalities and the promotion of fundamental rights and social cohesion at the centre of EU policymaking to drive economic recovery. Instead a continued emphasis on austerity at EU and member state level has led to rising poverty, unemployment, inequality and social exclusion.

The abandonment of Social Europe has had immediate impact:

  • In 2012, 124.5 million people, or 24.8% of the population, in the EU27 were at risk of poverty or social exclusion;
  • On average, women in the EU earn 16% less per hour than their male counterparts, with the gender pay gap as wide as 20% in some member states;
  • 17% of Europeans have personally experienced discrimination or harassment: people with a disability (28%), LGBT people (28%) and people from a minority ethnic group (27%) are most likely to report experiencing discrimination;
  • The youth unemployment rate in the EU27 was 23% at the end of 2012 (more than double the overall unemployment rate in the EU).

This abandonment involves a rejection of explicit and binding commitments to a Social Europe. Social Europe is stitched into the two core Treaties of the EU. The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union requires the EU to take account of: the creation of high levels of employment, the fight against social exclusion, combating discrimination, and promoting gender equality in policy-making and implementation. The Treaty of the European Union states that the EU is based on values that include human dignity, equality and respect for human rights. The Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth contains explicit objectives for reducing poverty and increasing employment.

Waning commitment

Further signs of the rollback of Social Europe are evident in the paralysis in progressing EU equality legislation. The draft equal treatment Directive to prohibit discrimination in the fields of social protection, social advantages, education and goods and services would broaden the current protection offered to the protected grounds of age, disability, sexual orientation and religion or belief beyond the field of employment. The failure of the Council of Ministers to secure unanimous agreement to enact this Directive, which was adopted by the European Parliament in April 2009, demonstrates the waning commitment to Social Europe.

The European Commission’s proposal for a new Directive on maternity leave also remains stalled in the European Council. This Directive includes measures for a longer period of fully paid maternity leave and a new period of paternity leave.

As part of our European elections 2014 campaign, the Equality and Rights Alliance, a coalition of over 170 civil society groups, asked all candidates in the forthcoming election to the European Parliament to pledge their commitment to work for Social Europe, should they get elected. We asked all candidates to commit to seeking:

  1. Enhanced targeting of EU funding measures to support actions for greater equality and social inclusion in member states;
  2. Equality and human rights mainstreaming in all policy making at EU level;
  3. Enactment of the draft equal treatment Directive to combat discrimination based on religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation, outside the field of employment;
  4. Standards for effective and independent statutory equality bodies and human rights institutions in each member state;
  5. A European Commission committed to equality and human rights.

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As of April 24, the candidates who have made this commitment are:

  • Emer Costello MEP, Labour Party, Dublin.
  • Lorraine Higgins, Labour Party, MNW.
  • Lynn Boylan, Sinn Féin, Dublin.
  • Matt Carthy, Sinn Féin, MNW.
  • Liadh Ni Riada, Sinn Féin, South. 
  • Mark Dearey, Green Party, MNW. 
  • Grace O’Sullivan, Green Party, South. 
  • Eamon Ryan, Green Party, Dublin. 
  • Pat (the Cope) Gallagher, Fianna Fáil, MNW.
  • Brian Hayes, Fine Gael, Dublin.
  • Jim Higgins MEP, Fine Gael, MNW.
  • Sean Kelly MEP, Fine Gael, South. 
  • Brid Smith, People Before Profit, Dublin.
  • Paul Murphy MEP, Socialist Party, Dublin.
  • Marian Harkin MEP, Independent, MNW.
  • Nessa Childers MEP, Independent, Dublin.
  • Diarmuid O’Flynn, Independent, South.

Rachel Mullen , Coordinator, Equality and Rights Alliance. 

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Rachel Mullen

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