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European elections 2019: Jahier (EESC), “Europe is the best gift we can give our children”

The next Elections to the European Parliament are expected to be held in 23–26 May 2019 across EU member Countries. The UK will not participate for the first time, as it is due to exit the EU in March 2019. We interviewed Luca Jahier, President of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), to collect his views on the challenges these elections bring about

“Europe is the best gift we can give our children”, declared Luca Jahier, President of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), the advisory body comprising representatives workers’ and employers’ organizations and other interest groups. The gift will opened on May 23-26 2019, when the next Elections to the European Parliament are expected to be held across 27 EU member Countries – for the first time without the UK, as a result of Brexit. However, Jahier warned, the party could be spoiled by

“those who will seek to use the EU as the scapegoat of all evils, exploiting citizens’ fears, tensions, and expectations, spreading fake news with the sole purpose of seizing power and return to the so-called ‘golden era’, that is, when Europe was controlled by nation-States.” Moreover, the growth of populist and Eurosceptic forces risks seriously challenging the European project, “silencing all the good work done by the EU over the past years.”

President Jahier, what good things has the EU achieved?

Thanks to the EU that manages a budget corresponding to 1% of Europe’s GDP and to 2% of all European public spending, this Europe has ensured to its peoples the longest period of peace in its thousand-year-long history, after a century that saw the death of 60 million people in two world wars, 75 million injured and mutilated, unprecedented destruction of property, enterprises, social fabric and territories. Furthermore, Europe ensured a progress and a transformation that led it to regain a unique role in the world, amidst the Cold War between USA and the Soviet Union, asserting itself as a place for multilateral development and mediation.

Today Europe is the best place to live, to study, and to form a family,

to enjoy the respect of fundamental human rights, access a huge range of information and build a future. Without a doubt, Nation-States cannot guarantee a better outcome, even considering the major challenges that lie ahead. Europe, as I said, is the best present we can offer our children.

What will the elections of May 2019 be like?

“The Europe we want” is the central theme of the next elections. We know that together we can overcome wars, make peace, be reconciled and build progress. Through the EU we have shown that the Gospel parable of feeding the multitude is successful. Unprecedented results have been obtained with very small resources. Suffice it to mention the achievement of high environmental standards, and the same applies to trade, health and welfare. Europe produced unprecedented growth and employment mechanisms, such as the Juncker Plan, that triggered EUR 400 billion in investment having started with 14 billion. In the course of its history Europe developed a Community governance model and a participatory dimension marked by the access of civil society to the creation of unparalleled European laws and policies.

Today’s Europe is a model of integration.

Nonetheless we face the concrete risk of a populist drift …

I believe that a large part of the population – as evidenced in a number of opinion polls – still feels bound to a prospect of union and integration. We realize that we are experiencing a major, epochal transformation whereby the institutional system and citizens’ participation are experiencing a major crisis.
Anti-establishment forces that intend to seize power by taking advantage of a period of weakness must not be met with inactive people. Are you referring to pro-European forces?
Those who harbour strong European sentiments must speak out with a louder voice, and most of all, they must find the courage to clearly explain all the good that Europe has done and is doing, equally highlighting the critical aspects on which we lag behind.

There must be a ‘call to arms’ of all those who intend to fight for Europe

by sharing ideas in the public debate and by going to the polls. We must not give free rein to the forces determined to cause havoc. The latter are clearly outnumbered by the constructive forces.

Important, hanging issues, on which the EU is marking time, are yet to be resolved. Such issues include banking Union, foreign policy, Common Defence…
The interests of some countries, determined to preserve an advantageous position, weighs heavily on the progress of the Banking Union. As concerns common Defence we have made remarkable progress, although we are still far off-target. Indeed, the decisions taken with regard to common research and industrial investment related to defence, in the area of security and counter-terrorism, all follow this direction. With regard to foreign policy it should be said that while Member Countries uphold common action each claim their own decision-making powers.
Yet, as I said, the problem is not the failure of European Treaties or Community mechanisms but national jealousies and interests aimed at financial gains from contracts with other States. Migration is bound to be one of the main themes of the upcoming election campaign. Yet another thorny issue…

Europe has failed on migrations. Europe, not Brussels.

The Europe of the 28 Governments. In two years and after 35 meetings the European Council, which brings together national governments, that sovereignists yearn for, failed to reach an agreement on the distribution of migrants, on strengthened border control, on monitoring mechanisms… they agreed on nothing. In fact, the problem is not our common institutions but Member Countries that use their powers of veto against each other. We failed to find solutions to the migrant issue and this caused anxiety and concerns that some took advantage of, in a detrimental way.

In Brussels you met with the COMECE bishops. What is the role of the Church before the challenges that Europe is called to address, starting with the next round of elections?
First of all to nurture a prospect of hope and unity in these times of conflict and disagreements. Hope is a leg of the future that calls into action slumbering energies. We must never forget that this Europe is the fruit of the dream of people who had been forced into exile and deported to Concentration camps. The Churches are called to carry out a huge work of formation and mobilization of youths so they may read, understand, take direct responsibility without being carried away by superficial communication systems that transform a tweet into an ideology. Moreover, the Churches can play an extraordinary role in supporting reconciliation processes. We learn from history that they were also involved in major divisions. In this respect I think that the risk of a schism in the Orthodox Church could trigger critical divides with heavy repercussions in eastern Europe, thereby shifting balances and causing rifts.

In which ways could the Church “support reconciliation processes”?
With significant gestures such as a ‘great prayer for Europe’, starting in monasteries, during the months leading up to the vote of May 2019. A prayer to enlightened government leaders and human consciences. Or else a European pilgrimage or chiming bells to mark a set of events, such as the sad date marking Great Britain’s exit from the EU in March 2019. Brexit must not become the mainspring of further divides. It must stand as a source of hope in reconstruction. The sound of the bells could accompany European leaders for their summit in Sibiu on May 9th.

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