No region will be left behind, Captain! Europe has witnessed very uneven development; as a result many regions were left behind. This process was exacerbated by austerity policies implemented as a response to the crisis. Some segments of Europe’s population still experience harsh imbalances, and many regions have to cope with structural disadvantages, leading to high unemployment rates and income inequality at horrendous levels. Blind money transfer won’t change this, but targeted programs within a EU common strategy, investments and incentives will, especially when targeting the weakest regions.
What would we do first?
Create jobs by sponsoring smart and environmentally friendly structural investments in challenged regions!
What is going on?
The financial crisis lies in the past, but its effects still have an impact on society. So far we have failed to counter them, as we can see by examining the labour market and income imbalances. The most striking inequality between member states can be notably found in the labour market: 21% of the Greek population is currently unemployed, against only 2.4% of Czechs. The proportion of employment contracts (e.g., part-time, temporary, etc.) varies greatly across the continent. Overall, in 2015 it was estimated that 1.4 million jobs had disappeared since 2007. Since 2006, income inequality has boomed in two thirds of EU member states, with the most affected segment being the “low-wage” earners. Overall, income inequality is at record high; the richest 10% hold almost 10 times the income of the bottom 10% of the population in Europe. Wealth distribution is even more striking, with the top 10% holding half of total wealth, and the bottom 40% only 3% of the share!
When looking at regional wealth and income distribution, it seems clear that the EU fragmentation cuts across borders. People that live in Reggio Calabria, a small city in the south of Italy, are as wealthy as the inhabitants of the 4th biggest city in Croatia, Osijek. When it comes to purchasing power, a southern Italian is more comparable to a Hungarian farmer and a Greek Macedonian, than to an Italian from Lombardy, one of the wealthiest regions. We can establish the same kind of comparisons between the German cities of Brandenburg and Hamburg, which see an income differential of about €35,000, but also between Prague (€51,400), Bucharest (€39,400), and many others.
What is our vision?
We envision a European Union increasing its “positive reach” through the whole continent and not only within its most productive areas. Together with close vigilance on the use of funds, we consider it is time for broader, smarter and environmentally friendly strategies, aimed at narrowing distances, creating opportunities where hope has been lost and isolation seems an unavoidable fact. We want these challenged areas to believe in meritocracy, but also to be given the fair conditions to work hard and target an Economic Renaissance for their region.
How do we get there?
1. Create jobs by sponsoring smart and environmentally friendly structural investments in challenged regions! After years of attempts, blind transfers have proved to be inefficient: we need a serious and coordinated plan for creating real and long-term value! Challenged regions are often isolated from the more productive areas of Europe. Hence, let’s not only create new jobs, but let’s do that while narrowing the distances and pushing for autonomous and greener power generation. We will extend the European High-Speed Railway, invest in local, clean energy production sites or pollution-eating highways, and improve the accessibility and connectivity from rural to suburban and urban areas. Options are broad for obtaining the much-needed transformation of our societies toward more sustainable and integrative models.
How do we propose to do that? Volt will create a more concerted common strategy between the EU institutions and the National Member States, while incrementing the part of EU budget allocated to these projects. Some of the investments could also be financed through bond sales to the ECB.
How much would this really impact the life of “isolated” Europeans? Based on the example of the Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, we believe this will lead to the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs distributed in challenged regions. Moreover, it will provide immediate opportunities to all Europeans who are currently excluded from the job market.
2. Create EU-wide digital platforms to ensure accountability and transparency in deploying EU funds. Huge infrastructural projects often carry the risk of wasting significant resources because of corruption, embezzlement, and non-deployment. We will create a monitoring body that provides transparency to ensure that all the funds deployed in former and new projects reach directly those in need and are not hoarded by criminality and incompetence (cf. Obama’s ARRA).
3. Foster the transfer of knowledge and qualification to increase productivity and reduce imbalances. Volt proposes to fund pan-European research programs in order to include lagging regions in high-standard production methods. The access to and diffusion of knowledge is pushing the process of technological convergence. This research program should for example be focused on digital transformation for SMEs and micro-enterprises, the development of sustainable drive technology, and the production of clean energy from renewable sources.