Friday, June 14, 2024

10 reasons to use your vote in the European elections | BreakingNews.ie

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2024 is being billed as the ultimate election year, with almost half the world’s population having the chance to vote. When it comes to the European Parliament elections this June – the second-largest democratic exercise in the world – what will motivate Europe’s citizens to take to the polls?

Some say the European Union should sell itself – be proud of what it has managed to achieve in the face of numerous crises. Others say that lauding the key achievements of the EU over the last five years is not the way to go.

What should spur voters is a belief that a united Europe can achieve remarkable results, focused on a desire to tackle the very real challenges it faces. Policies at EU level have far greater potential than national measures to tackle common crises, in line with values we all share, making the union stronger.

What follow are five social-policy successes of the past five-year EU term and five key challenges that only a strong Europe, supported by an active electorate, can hope to solve.

Five successes

First, the SURE instrument (Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency) kept employment rates high during the pandemic. With resources borrowed from the financial markets and channelled to the member states, some 31.5 million workers and self-employed and 2.5 million businesses received support during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Sustained employment served as a macro-economic anchor and economic recovery took less than two years.

Compare the six years of austerity implemented after the financial crisis of 2007-08.

Recovery then was slow and unstable, marked by declining EU gross domestic product in three out of the five years between 2009 and 2013, with a 4.3 per cent fall in 2009 alone.

Yet the record 5.6 per cent fall in GDP in 2020 was compensated in just over a year, with rapid recovery in 2021 and 2022. The lesson is simple: preserving jobs pays off – accelerating recovery, reducing potential poverty and preventing deep, negative economic and social consequences.

Secondly, the 2022 minimum-wages directive now safeguards workers with a wage floor. A few years back, it would have been unthinkable to address minimum wages and wage setting at EU level.

The directive leaves sufficient room for adaptation to the national context during transposition while bringing union-wide benefits: it increases transparency, levels the playing field in a competitive cross-border labour market, stimulates a more prominent role for social partners and limits the precarious jobs that restrain EU competitiveness.

Thirdly, the new platform-work directive will protect workers in a context, particularly after the pandemic, of evolving digital tools and new forms of work, including platforms.

Innovation and flexibility in labour markets should be welcomed but there are risks: of circumventing labour regulation, disadvantaging existing businesses, depriving a large number of workers of adequate social protection and decent working conditions, and challenging social systems and the integrity of societies.

These motivated the EU legislature to forge a directive, striking a balance between digital development and preservation of basic rules, principles and rights in labour markets.

Fourthly, the 2023 pay-transparency directive addresses the fact that, still, women in the EU are paid on average 13 per cent less than men. There are, of course, countries where the gap is much smaller – including most of the central- and eastern-European member states, where women and men have worked and been paid equally for decades.

But there are also countries where this flagrantly unjust differentiation is even greater. After years of consultations and negotiations, the directive provides much stronger instruments to defend the rights of all workers.

Fifthly, a new, enhanced mechanism to boost social partners’ participation at national and EU level is unfolding.

Social dialogue ensures accountability in decision-making: any key decisions for the future of the economy are sustainable as long as the social partners are involved.

Amid deep transformation in the world of work—caused by digitalisation, demographic trends, geopolitical developments and the green transition—employers and workers have to be part of the decision-making process at corporate, sectoral, national and EU levels.

Social partners can, however, only participate as far as legislation allows.

Over the last few years, the European Commission and the Council of the EU have made substantial efforts to promote social dialogue, to increase the capacity of the social partners and to involve them in important discussions, such as over the National Recovery and Resilience Plans and achieving the collective-bargaining coverage required to uphold minimum wages.

These are not the only success stories of the EU over the last five years, but they are landmark achievements.

Social policies are mainly the competence of the member states, yet in many cases the European public looks to Brussels for solutions: the EU has far greater potential to generate resources quickly and to apply measures, avoiding the disastrous ‘race to the bottom’ where labour-market regulation is lax. This is beneficial for businesses, for workers and for economies and societies across Europe.

Five challenges

Of course, there are also challenges where the EU is expected to do more. But these expectations are often not matched by adequate budgetary resources or decision-making powers. If the EU is to do more, it needs to be equipped with more than today’s budget – the sum of member states’ budgets is about 40 times as big. But these challenges represent another five reasons for voters to make their voice heard at EU level.

First, the future of work is very much to the fore. While the EU is an attractive place to work and live, which helps in the global competition for talent, these advantages should be enhanced. Job quality is critical.

Not just wages, but the balance between demands (work intensity, physical and psychological risks, job insecurity, irregular working hours and so on) and resources (including autonomy, possibilities for training and promotion, work-life balance and support from managers and colleagues) is what makes a job attractive.

Focusing on job quality can provide tools to address labour shortages, promote mobility, improve productivity and make the EU labour market even more competitive, as well as boosting quality of life more generally.

Of course, the new world of work must also address the challenges associated with human-machine interaction, including the role of algorithms and artificial intelligence.

The rapid development of digital technologies does not only necessitate rapid and large-scale upskilling and reskilling but also clear rules in terms of ethics, data protection and individual and collective rights. To reap the benefits from these technologies requires human-centric regulation.

Secondly, unaffordable and inadequate housing is a hot political issue in almost all member states, while care—formal and informal—is an issue in almost every family.

On the former, at this point there is not much that can be done at EU level beyond sharing experience and best practices. But as the negative impacts on demography, labour mobility and work-life balance emerge, a common EU approach will almost certainly be foreseen.

On the latter, today in Europe we have about six million official and 60 million unofficial domestic carers.

Addressing their conditions is of wide European interest and could also affect demography, labour supply and quality of life.

Thirdly, ensuring access to these and other public services will be a critical element in trying to address the various inequalities in our societies. These encompass those between rich and poor, young and old, men and women, and urban and rural.

This will in turn be fundamental, fourthly, to a truly just transition.

The ambitious climate goals of the EU are timely and relevant.

Still, a constant analysis and swift response should guarantee that the public benefits it brings are balanced by affordable efforts on the part of different social groups, in terms of age, income, location and so on.

The green transition is a top-down policy that will be realised only if society consciously supports the political decisions. It should not lead to widening gaps in society.

All of these, not least the last, will be best addressed in a context, finally, of improved trust in institutions across the EU: between people, in their legal systems, the police, the media, their governments and the EU itself.

Without trust social cohesion crumbles and efforts, at EU or national level, to implement the goals set out above are severely hampered. (Re)building trust is a crucial challenge in its own right.

The elections are critical

The European Union has created one of the world’s largest economies—a leader in areas such as the environment and attractive working and living conditions.

These achievements cannot be ignored. But of course, we all want more, and better. That is why the elections for the European Parliament are so critical.

This is one of these pivotal moments, where EU citizens can have a direct say on the priorities to be addressed and the solutions to be expected.

The union can and does add value, above and beyond national specificities, and works for the benefit of all European citizens.

It is for these ten reasons (though there are many more) that everyone should use their vote come June.

Read more about living and working in Europe in Eurofound’s digital story.

Ivailo Kalfin is the Executive Director of Eurofound.

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