EU's north-south social divide intensifying

Growing social imbalance threatening 'future of European project', warns new report.

By Brian Johnson

Brian Johnson is Managing Editor of The Parliament Magazine

16 Sep 2014

The new study argues that, "The growing gap between northern Europe and the crisis-struck southern countries threatens social cohesion inside the EU over the medium-term, and in the long-run even the future viability of the entire European integration project."

The 'Social Justice Index' compared several key social justice areas, such as poverty prevention, health, equitable education and labour market access across the EU's 28 member states.

The Index's results, published on Monday by the Bertelsmann Stiftung foundation, suggest that social justice is generally declining across the EU, and has been exacerbated by the "rigid austerity policies implemented in the course of the crisis."

Europe is making "some progress" in terms of economic stabilisation, but, say the report's authors, "the level of social justice has declined in recent years in most EU states."

While countries in the north and west such as Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands still retain strong levels of social inclusion, further south and east social injustice has increased in countries such as Greece, Spain, Italy and Hungary.

"In the crisis-ridden states of the EU… it has not been possible to administer the massive cuts in a balanced manner," highlights the report.

"The growing social divide between member states and between the generations can lead to tensions and a considerable loss of trust. Should the social imbalance last for long or increase even more, the future of the European integration project will be threatened" -  Jörg Dräger

Jörg Dräger, a member of Bertelsmann Stiftung's executive board, also warned that Europe's young people are more threatened by poverty or social exclusion that the bloc's older generations.

"The growing social divide between member states and between the generations can lead to tensions and a considerable loss of trust. Should the social imbalance last for long or increase even more, the future of the European integration project will be threatened," said Dräger.

Dräger said the report highlighted the need for social justice to play a bigger role in European politics, warning that the EU needed to be more than just a club to ensure economic stability and calling for an "integrated strategy" encompassing policies to combat social injustice.

"The report highlights the need for social justice to play a bigger role in European politics, warning that the EU needed to be more than just a club to ensure economic stability"

"Investing in opportunities for participation is not only useful for reasons of social justice. It is also necessary for the innovation potential of a country," said Dräger.

"In addition to competitiveness and economic stability, the guiding principle of equal opportunity must therefore be more clearly anchored in the EU and its member states in future."

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