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It’s time to get real about Europe’ just transition

Trade unionist Reiner Hoffmann calls for an investment programme leading the EU into a fair and climate-neutral future. Articolo da International Politics and Society

Ever since the financial and economic crisis, the European Union has been in a mode that can best be described as ‘taking it slowly.’ The economic cohesion of EU member states ended abruptly in 2008, carrying serious repercussions for Europe’s workforce. Real wages have been stagnating or even falling, while the nation state’s power has continuously declined. In Germany alone, the public costs of saving the financial sector are estimated at €68bn. Deutsche Bank Research estimates the crisis-related reduction in world GDP to be four trillion US dollars.

As a result, rising unemployment and divergence in wage development are causing an increasing division of society in the member states. A handful of billionaires faces a host precariously employed workers. Climate neutrality, energy transition and efficiency, however, mean high costs that cannot be met by those same workers. In Europe, 40 per cent of working conditions are already classified as precarious.

Surveys show that 30 per cent of Germans feel left behind and/or not represented by mainstream parties. Hence, they don’t vote. In France, the ‘yellow vest’ movement is evolving into a new challenge for trade unions and political parties. In Italy, left-wing and increasingly right-wing populist parties are enjoying unprecedented support from voters protesting against the EU’s austerity policies. It’s because of the EU’s crisis mode that climate and social policy has been granted little room on the political agenda.

A climate-neutral continent

The scientific evidence is clear: the current economic model will soon reach its planetary limits. However, the real political problem of climate change lies in its long-term cause-and-effect relationship. Climate protection does not directly improve the situation. Likewise, neglecting climate protection has no directly identifiable consequences. These come with a time delay. This makes political action more difficult and affects future generations in particular. The young student movement ‘Fridays for Future’ might function as a trigger for radical change: in the climate strike in early March 2019, 1.2 million young people took to the streets, with 300,000 of them in Germany. On 20 September, 1.4 million people in Germany alone took to the streets in the Global Strike for Climate. Their demand is simple: having the right to a future.

The EU’s strategic agenda for 2019-2024 provides a foundation for this to happen. The concept of the EU as a single market, based on the rule of law and competitiveness, will be given a new equal priority with the ‘building a climate-neutral, green, fair and social Europe.’ The agenda mentions a transition to a climate-friendly economy, a major mobilisation of private and public investment, of accelerating the transition to renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency. And we need to remember how important it is to accompany and support communities and individuals.

The implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights should ensure adequate social protection and inclusive labour markets, promote cohesion, and ensure good access to health care. In addition, the fight against inequalities that affect young people in particular is seen as the most urgent task.


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