Is Europe’s glass half empty? Instead of hope and optimism for the future, many Europeans seem to fearful. The world that younger people stand to inherit feels more chaotic, less secure, with a degraded environment and degraded prospects. Roughly half of EU citizens currently say they are pessimistic about the future of Europe (the highest number since the height of the Eurozone crisis in 2012-2013).
So, how can we restore hope and optimism for change? We had a comment sent in by Danny Boy, who says he is sixty-two and he doubts he will live long enough to see the end of Europe’s current crisis. In fact, Danny Boy doesn’t think his twenty-three-year-old grandson will live long enough to see the end of the crisis. Should he be more optimistic about the future?
To get a response, we spoke to Anna Triandafyllidou, Professor at the Global Governance Programme of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (RSCAS), at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. What would she say to Danny Boy?
I would say there are many things to be optimistic about; we live in a more affluent world, more connected, more mobile than ever before. But, of course, not everything seems better than in the 1970s and ’80s; we no longer have the welfare state in the way we used to, and we haven’t yet found the new kind of welfare state we need. We cannot go back, and that is a real challenge for Europe’s left-wing parties. We cannot go back to a “job for life”, secure pensions, and all of that. Yet we haven’t yet found the right model to replace it…
Personally, I don’t think I will have a pension, but I’m trying to find other ways to secure my future in the old age. But we have better health these days, today we live longer and are more active.
I think what we also need to reinvent is the collective level. I was born in 1968 and, when I was 18, young people believed they could change the world. There was a real ideological struggle going on between left and right in society. I was twenty when the Soviet Union collapsed, and the unfortunate thing is that we stopped believing what the collective can achieve. This crisis gives us the opportunity to think and act collectively. People should think of their own collective, go beyond individual self-interest, and think what can we do for the public interest…
To get another perspective, we also but Danny Boy’s comment to Luca Jahier, President of the Various Interests’ Group of the European Economic and Social Committee, representing various social, occupational, economic, and cultural organisations that make up civil society across Europe.
I think that is a general mood shared by a lot of people in Europe, and I have to confess that I am 54 and I sometimes have the same sentiments as Danny Boy. But this is not a correct representation of reality, because in the past it was also much harder than it is today. Today, we have access to an enormous amount of opportunities that a person in the 1960s simply didn’t have.
The quality of life in the 1960s and 1970s, the industrial relations, working conditions, all of these were not what they are today. It’s true that today we are anxious about the future of the welfare state… but we also have so many opportunities, in terms of technology, social opportunities, etc.
Yes, the international reality of the day feels much more chaotic, not just in Europe but around us. All around Europe are wars and conflict, not peace as it was in the 1990s. But we also have enormous opportunities. The question is: Do we have the capacity to look in the long-term, do we believe that together we can deliver faster and more effective responses than divided? How we will respond to the new challenges facing society? Will everybody choose to go alone, turn inwards, and rebuild walls? That is the terrible temptation of today… No, the solution is to be open to innovation, to work together, and to be curious about the future and what we can achieve together…
What will it take to restore public hope and optimism in the future? Will the next generation be worse off than their parents? Is the glass half empty, or half full? Let us know your thoughts and comment in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!