Madrid view: Now, Eurunemployed


The European economy now lies under a shadow - the severe situation of unemployment, stagnation and cutbacks in the welfare state, bringing hardship to millions of Europeans. The magnitudes are impressive. If the 26 million unemployed people in the EU declared their independence, they would be the sixth-largest state in terms of population.

To illustrate this, what country would be better than Spain? There are now more unemployed Spaniards than there are people in Denmark (5.5 million), not to mention less populous states such as Slovakia, Finland and several others. If the 6.2 million unemployed Spaniards decided to secede from Spain and set up their own state, there would be no less than 11 states dwarfed by this hypothetical "Republic of the Dole". Of course, while all these jobless Spaniards lack a political voice of their own, those 11 states of the EU each have a commissioner and a seat on the European Council, and can block any reform of the Treaties.

True, this analogy is a bit forced, but it does underline the magnitude of the problem, and how unaware the EU seems to be of it. Yet it is a central problem that is undermining the EU’s image and moral authority.

The construction of the EU has always been founded on tangible results, rather than on procedures or shared identities. So it is no surprise that, amid such a screaming absence of results, we are seeing a growth of xenophobia and populism. Last week in Brussels, May 9 was celebrated as "Europe Day". But in Spain it is better remembered as the day Zapatero finally knuckled under to the markets and the EU, and had to introduce substantial reforms in the labor markets and the pension system.

Given the results of recent national elections in Britain, Italy and France, where disaffection with the EU has played an important role, the upcoming European elections are cause for concern. On the one hand, these elections will be contested in a proportional electoral system that will allow for a fairly exact reflection of the level of discontent in Europe. On the other, these being “second-order” elections (where no government is elected), voters tend to use them to send warning messages to their political parties. The conjugation of these three elements (disaffection, electoral system and protest vote) means we are looking at storm clouds. Just when we need a European Parliament that represents European aspirations to wellbeing, we risk finding an institution packed with Europhobes that will further alienate it from citizens. “A self-hating European Parliament,” as one observer has called it, is the last thing we need.

The European Parliament now numbers 756 deputies. If the 26 million jobless Europeans voted as a bloc, this hypothetical Eurunemployed Party would have 44 or 46 seats, 12 or 13 of which would be Spanish. Which would make a political force with a good deal of clout. With the technological means that now exist, it would not be difficult to set up a website where each jobless European could post a photo and a short personal history, so as to put together a collage of the map of Europe with 26 million photographs.

This collage would at least serve to remind us of what Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address: that democracy is government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” True, the European Union is a union of states. But we must never forget that it is also a union of citizens, 26 million of whom are now unemployed.

The article first appeared in El Pais.

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