Contradiction within EU Goals

Post in: German

Although there are many priorities within the European Union, five key areas are interregional and cross-border mobility, gender equality, social cohesion, fertility, and environmental protection.

One central area that the EU sets as a high priority is cross-border trade and a mobile labour market. The introduction of the Euro and the removal of many political and economic barriers increase the flow of not only funds but also people. The European Union generally believes that mobility of people and ideas will trigger innovation and economic growth and increase European competitiveness (European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions 2006).  Mobility is a means of promoting mutual and intercultural understanding in the EU and of boosting social and regional cohesion. In this way mobility may accelerate the processes of European integration and may reinforce the further development of the civic society in Europe. On the other hand, there is empirical evidence that increasing mobility may reduce civic engagement and volunteer work and thereby limit citizen’s involvement as well as the development of inter-generational relationships within families. With respect to the further development of the European civic society, mobility is a very ambivalent phenomenon, both fostering and hindering the process. Mobility is also ambivalent for Europeans. With the exception of young university graduates, most Europeans are very unwilling to relocate over longer distances (Schneider and Meil 2010). This is something that policy-makers, firm leaders, and planners must recognize.

It goes unspoken, but higher spatial mobility creates more pollution. Short-distance air travel – a popular way to link workers with workplaces at a distance, whether due to weekend commuting or short-term business trips – is a significant source of CO2 emissions. Long commuting in private automobiles also puts a toll on the environment, from air and water pollution to noise pollution. As the practice of mobility rises throughout Europe, CO2 emissions also rise – providing a clear inconsistency between protecting the environment by reducing emissions and sparking economic growth through greater spatial mobility. As mobility trends increase, the urgency of finding alternative sources of energy also increases.

Modern law and practice requires an awareness and rectification of gender-based inequalities. Gender equality is an as-yet-unrealised but legally indisputable aim of the European Union. European Law is based on the Enlightenment beliefs in the equal worth of each person, which is reason enough for women to be included in the paid labour market as full persons.  Some justify women’s access to labour market benefits using the “reserve army hypothesis” that not enough talented workers are available among the male workforce and so women should be recruited for the labour market (Kalpagam 1985). Another argumentation says that leaving half the population dependent on the other half for financial survival creates undue burdens on state resources in the event of unemployment, abuse, divorce, or death. Finally, talented human resources are found in both men and women, and these resources should not be ignored or denied because of the body they are in. Europe is on the pathway to gender equality in education, job chances, and leadership and has set for itself priorities in this area (EU 2009). Yet the mobility chances and choices of men and women are often determined by historically-dependent cultural beliefs and government policies about particularly mothers’ roles in the paid labour market. A discussion of mobility in Europe cannot ignore the gendered effects of family care work on mobility; in particular, the way primary caregivers, who are typically women, are less mobile (Bussemaker 1997; Ostner 1993).

Most European countries have experienced a severe downturn in birth rates across the decades of the 20th century. Countries whose retirement systems depend upon the earnings of the working generation, and who depend on expanding internal markets, find that declining birth rates mean a declining economy. Countries address the declining birth rate in a variety of ways. But few have examined the extent to which pressure for high job mobility among young workers leads to a delay and ultimately decline in the probability of having children.

It will be a challenge for Europe to reconcile mobility demands, gender equality, and family caregiving needs.

Each of the goals of Europe must be considered in relation with the other goals. It will be a challenge for Europe to reconcile mobility demands, gender equality, and family caregiving needs.  This challenge calls for creative solutions. It is unsustainable for the continent, and the planet, to advance each individual goal without consideration of its impacts on the other goals. Compromises are necessary. I advocate for a consideration of the long-term health of the individual, the family, and the environment at the centre of policy discussions and solutions, rather than a reliance on short-term, short-sighted demands for economic growth through mobility, a mobility borne on the backs of workers in unequal proportions within the family, across cohorts, and across European societies.

Exerpted partly from: Hofmeister, Heather & Norbert Schneider. 2010. „Job Mobilities in Europe: Core Findings, Policy Implications and Future Outlook “ in Mobile Living across Europe, Volume II: Causes and Consequences of Job-Related Spatial Mobility in Cross-National Perspective. N. Schneider & B. Collet (Hg.). Barbara Budrich Verlag.

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