In these challenging times, the European Union and the European values are being tested. As the last days, weeks and months show, many people who are forced to flee from war zones and impoverished regions of the world, who have no safe future in their home countries, are building high hopes on Europe.
Numerous Europeans want to live up to these hopes, which is evident in the high numbers of people gathering on train stations, at national borders and in numerous social facilities and offering their help generously. However, in order to fulfil the refugees’ hopes and to make obsolete the necessity to flee in the foreseeable future, a new understanding of how life together in Europe should work is urgently needed. Yet this change of policy is by no means a matter of course, which becomes obvious when looking at the ongoing debates between EU member states about reforms of the asylum system, as well as resentments which determine the attitudes of certain sections of European society towards asylum seekers.
A climate of fear
In recent years, austerity politics has created a climate of fear in Europe – it has prolonged and exacerbated the crisis. The term signifies increasing poverty, horrendously high unemployment rates, a flagging economy and severe cutbacks in social security. While major parts of European society thus feel highly insecure, the wealth of the richest increases faster than ever. During the years of the crisis, Europe developed into the region with the highest number of billionaires in the world. This inequality, however, is not a law of nature, but the outcome of misguided economic policies, and does not provide a good basis for transnational solidarity, which is urgently needed today. It is obvious that the slogans of “lacking alternatives” and “tightened belts” in the Europe of the 21st century are inextricably linked to the myth of the “crowded boats”. Behind this is an ideology which does not show consideration for humans and their needs but which is only interested in numbers and costs that might strain the budgets. Austerity politics is convinced that “costs” have to be reduced, regardless of the many human lives at risk. In time of need, permanent poverty in European countries as well as massive death at the borders of the European Union are accepted in favour of austerity programmes.
It is thus all the more crucial to establish social security for people currently living in Europe and our future neighbours, thereby providing a perspective for a better future. Hence, instead of doing more harm to society by promoting austerity, more money needs to be invested in educational institutions, social facilities and the creation of new workplaces. Only then will Europe be able to find a way out of the crisis and provide a liveable future for refugees. Nonetheless, what is also clearly needed is financial support for the reconstruction of the local infrastructures in war zones and conflict areas in order to enable people to return to their countries of origin in the foreseeable future. All of this is certainly doable. It is, nevertheless, dependent on the political will and the distribution of power in European institutions and nation states. It is high time for Europe to jointly lead the way and break free from the constraints of Austerity policy. We should fight for or a cosmopolitan and humanitarian Europe as a global model for quality of life and democracy. If we manage to achieve this, the social security that many people are seeking at the moment can be established: a life in freedom – without fear and misery and with the perspective of a liveable future for later generations.