The European Union was created "to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples". A union of European states is a precondition for achieving these objectives. So, despite the Union's many major successes, it cannot be regarded as a permanent achievement but must be consistently and continuously safeguarded and developed.
The serious and far-reaching crisis currently affecting Europe is proof of this. Economic and financial difficulties have highlighted the weaknesses of Union governance, the inadequate degree of integration and the serious risk of rifts opening up, even within civil society.
The danger of the Union moving away from its values and objectives is now more visible than ever. The absence of an effective social policy during the crisis has contributed not only to an explosion in unemployment, effectively writing off the next generation of young people, but also to the rapid rise of poverty, now affecting even those who have jobs. This also ties in with the lack of a strategy for coping with refugees, with some Member States showing a regrettable lack of solidarity, while the right of citizens to move freely in the Schengen area is now being contested.
Despite all this, the European Union is not the problem, but the solution.
But how can the European project be upheld at this critical juncture?
We need to strengthen its social foundations and to bring Europe closer to its citizens. Youth unemployment today is a cause for real alarm. Employment should be the absolute priority. First of all we must make sure that the financial resources allocated to tackling this problem are governed by effective rules and applied properly and directly where they are needed. Illegal and undeclared work must also be targeted. Investment in research and innovation should also be our priority, to make Europe a pioneering environment in which young scientists play a leading role. In tandem with this, the Union and Member States need to invest more in education and training. Measures to promote personal development, culture, intelligence and socialisation should be promoted. The free movement of people and goods must be ensured: we must get the message across that Europe is open to the entire world, and that it is capable of defending its economic interests and social advances.
So, solutions exist and Europe can deliver them. The EESC has already put forward detailed proposals to the European Commission for addressing the economic crisis. Its package of recommendations includes opinions on a European minimum income, on a financial transaction tax and on issuing European bonds.
The European Union must of course listen carefully to the views and proposals of civil society, work on them and draw them together, just as the EESC suggests: incorporating the willingness of businesses to take the initiative and invest, harnessing the energy of workers and what they have to offer, and maximising the sense of solidarity that drives all those who make up the European Economic and Social Committee.
Lastly, as I emphasised in the programme it was my honour to draw up when I took up my post, a human project is meaningless if humans are not its ultimate aim. Our wounds will not be healed by social retreat, but rather through entrepreneurship, jobs and solidarity. The only way to prevent extreme nationalists from tricking vulnerable people, promising them a glowing future, a golden dawn heralding better days, is to be bold and inventive in showing them, in practical terms, how strength lies in unity. This is the way to successfully fend off political and economic speculators of all kinds and secure better living conditions for all.
We must put Europe back on its feet, improve it and protect it, but we must not do this for the sake of systems, structures or abstract concepts, but for the citizens of Europe.