Key year for the future of Europe

It is difficult to measure the impact and the human, social and economic cost that many years of austerity policies, public spending cuts and neoliberal dictates will have on the future generations of citizens in Europe. Elections this year in Spain, Greece, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland, Poland, Portugal and Estonia are so far providing clear indicators of citizens’ disaffection with European traditional politics.

The arrival of new forces in the European political arena is bringing new challenges and setting out new potential scenarios. Northern countries face the rise of far-right anti-immigrant parties whereas in the south the rise of new left-wing anti-austerity forces is resulting in an enormous hostility from the European political, economic and media establishment towards the new democratically elected parties. Europe is now divided between what it wants to keep and what it wants to change (and recover).

The horizontal right-left difference no longer applies having been replaced by a vertical difference. To reduce this division and advance towards a more equal and prosperous Europe – which is the only foreseeable future to build up the so-called Social Europe – a compulsory new perspective and a glance at the political outcomes and developments in Greece and Spain seems to be mandatory.

This new approach comprises many key elements, chief of which is a reversion of the austerity policies at the national levels and its replacement by a more social model of economic growth and political stability; a model which takes on board the actual needs of the majority of the population. National policies supporting the financial sector in detriment of the welfare state to please foreign governments and creditors have proved to be a failure for the countries themselves and for most of their population.

Europe also needs a fairer redefinition of its priorities and commitments, including the payment of the debt. In Spain and Greece, legitimate commitments acquired by their current and former governments must be respected. But it needs to be redefined through a revision to what extent the existing commitments do correspond to legitimate ones.

Political parties in power which agreed on the conditions of the debt repayment were legitimally and democratically elected. However, at least in the Spanish case, those conditions – and by extension the austerity measures, were not included in the political programme of those parties when they won the elections.

It seems that Europe is now facing a challenging period with unprecedented political scenarios ahead. New divisions and a high risk of social fragmentation require actions from a new perspective focused on a more equal, citizens-friendly economic regime. The scale of this challenge remains unknown, as its outcome does. Therefore, this year might prove to be key for the future of Europe.

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