Recently I've been asked a lot of questions about the way we at the EESC respond to the EU's economic and social crisis in general, and specifically how we deal with the EU democratic deficit - something which is increasingly questioned. Yes, the EU is at cross-roads and may need to re-position itself. "We are Europe" could be a national campaign slogan for instance.
When I talk to young people about the benefits offered by the EU I tell them about the great opportunity they have to cross borders without visas, and to live and work wherever they like within the EU. But I am so sad when I hear about the downside of European labour mobility, and how this works in some Member States. Take only the example of the Dutch Party for Freedom which launched a website inviting people to complain about the problems they had encountered with people from Eastern and Central Europe working in the Netherlands. We at the EESC denounce this xenophobic action, and other EU institutions have done it as well. We are asking the Dutch people and its government to react firmly against such discriminatory initiative.
So, are we Europe?
I will tell you another true story:
A young person from an EU country X going to study to another EU Member State Y, paying (from her family budget) for her Master's degree in country Y, asked the authorities there for a work permit so she could work part-time while studying.
What do we encourage our children to do when they grow up? We tell them to get a job so they can earn some money early in their student years.
She put in an application, but as she couldn't explain where her money came from and show that she had enough money in her bank account, she had to take an oath that she would not become a burden on that state's social security system. This statement was a precondition for her work permit application - an application which was eventually refused, after three months.
And I have to ask what such young people can think of Europe and European mobility in cases like this? How can we encourage solidarity among Member States when people still feel like outsiders in Europe?
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Europe: working in progress? How EU is felt from its citizens? The governments say: "it comes from Brussels", while people is affected by one of the most important economical and social crisis of the last century: Where are the benefits? Peace, mutual understatement, economical opportunities, yes, but they are considered already "normal". EU it seems too far from people.....EESC has a great role to play and we have to foster it!!!