How can the EU stay relevant in a rapidly-changing world? The think tank Friends of Europe has published an EU citizens’ “Mandate for Change“, setting out eleven ideas for revitalising the European project. They were formulated in response to a survey of 11,000 EU citizens, and have been presented to Members of the European Parliament as part of the #EuropeMatters project. Debating Europe will be discussing some of these ideas, and taking your comments and reactions to policymakers and experts for them to respond.
One of the most radical ideas is the development of an EU-wide unemployment benefit scheme. The publication from Friends of Europe suggests the European Union should:
“Champion the development of a Europe-wide healthcare and social protection framework. The EU’s emphasis on social and healthcare policies is close to citizens’ hearts. The EU should strive to buttress poorer member states’ social safety nets while also stimulating debate on progressive ideas ranging from an EU-wide unemployment benefit scheme to ideas for a Universal Basic Income.”
This is an old idea, dating back at least to the 1970s and early ’80s. It’s an idea that is still alive today; in 2017, the Centre for European Policy Studies published a feasibility study and roadmap, looking at the technical and macroeconomic impact of the policy. Even the German government, long seen as being staunchly against any possible new fiscal transfer mechanism, is reportedly in favour of the idea.
So, what would it mean in practice? There are couple of ways of implementing it, including either making direct payments to unemployed EU citizens through a European unemployment scheme, or providing assistance to national unemployment schemes on a temporary basis if there should be a spike in the jobless rate. The second approach might be more politically viable as it would only kick-in during a crisis, and would work as an “automatic stabiliser” for the Eurozone currency, ensuring continuing demand in crisis-hit EU Member States that would benefit exports in countries with stronger economies.
Will it be a popular policy? That’s the billion euro question. Will voters in wealthier countries fear they are being forced to subsidise poorer countries? Will populist politicians latch onto it as a way to attack the profligate EU? Or will it improve the functioning of the Single Currency for the benefit of everyone?
Should there be EU-wide unemployment benefits? Would it increase European solidarity and cohesion? Or would it be divisive, and cause resentment and a political backlash in some countries? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!