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Whispering Silences

Archive for the tag “politics”

No news is not a fact

https://fcmalby.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/latest-news-headlines.jpgYou know that feeling when you go to bed at night at a decent hour, tired but satisfied with what you’ve accomplished, and then wake up the next morning refreshed and ready to actively engage in a full day ahead? Could you describe what that feels like please? Because in our hectic lives, this all sounds like a luxury. Being able to go to sleep early and wake up having adequately rested.

These current times are interesting in many ways – in the fact that revolutionary movements spur to life, that innovations succeed one another faster than you realise, that societies strive to become more open-minded, that politics reveals just how dirty a game it can be, and terrorism overshadows the entire globe. Everything seems to evolve so rapidly that you sleep-in for a few hours more, and wake up feeling you lost an entire year due to all the things that have happened: violent massacres, gruesome juvenile crimes, train accidents, lost airplanes, mass shootings, explosions, financial crises, political elections, the emergence of radical movements, and so much more than you could ever imagine.

We have reached such a point that when we read fewer than five items of news per day, we begin to worry that we missed something. It’s that feeling when all of a sudden your heart begins to pump faster and anxiety overwhelms you, because you are almost certain there is something you didn’t see or you haven’t heard of. It’s like the restless calm before the storm; when you know that the next day will definitely contain a shower of news headlines to compensate the fewer ones the day before.

But all of this is exhausting. Not only for people who have to cover the news. But for everyone who reads and listens to it. It is physically and mentally stressful to hear all this negativity span our lives. To constantly add to the stress of contemporary living and to know that things will hardly get any better.

So how do you manage this situation? Probably in the only way you can: with a nap whenever possible. Because you may feel strong and able, but after a while, your organism itself will begin to call on you – through headaches that turn into migraines, upset stomach, and drowsiness – sounding an internal alarm that you need to slow down, rest and maybe even hit pause. The news will happen whether you chase it or not. And unless you have some kind of superpower, there is little you can do to change that.

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: Struggle

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The bold and the audacious

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/98/ff/73/98ff73fde916d7ecdb795ed80abdd9d0.jpgAnts – yes, those little creatures we so recklessly step on so often – are acutally astounding mechanical systems, in that they can lift up to 5,000 times their own body weight. But it is not only that which makes them admirable, it is their ability to work so effectively in teams – and even if acting alone, do so for the benefit of all – a trait the human race has yet to master.

You see, humans have an intrinsic underlying weakness: selfishness. The main goal it seems for many is how to gain power, to rise up above others, to stand out from the crowd, often in any way possible. They easily become intoxicated with the supremacy of power and get caught up in a vicious circle from which there is no escape.

When you spend an entire weekend watching Frank Underwood crush anyone who interferes with his plans for power, then it is only reasonable that you’ll begin to understand how being so relentless and emotionally unattached to anyone and anything can serve your own ruthlessly selfish ambitions.

It is not only about having power, however, and the means you use to acquire it. It is mainly about knowing how to use it right. That is what makes all the difference. And it is what sets people apart, either in a positive or negative light. It is the road you choose to take that will determine the legacy you leave at your footsteps.

It is the difference between being bold and being audacious.

There is a saying that “the doors will open to those who are bold enough to knock”. It takes courage to do so. Robert Frost had said that “freedom lies in being bold”, because that is how you chase after your ambitions. But that thin line that separates this fearfulness and daring nature from being reckless and uninhibited is reflected in the words of some of the world’s most prominent figures: “fortune favours the audacious”, said Desiderius Erasmus, and Benjamin Disraeli agreed, saying “success is the child of audacity”. Even Winston Churchill prompted, “the first quality that is needed is audacity”.

It seems it’s not the bold who get what they’re after, it’s the audacious ones.

And in the societies we’re growing up in, rife with conflict and controversy, people need to develop another characteristic: the ability to observe the world around them and distinguish between those who are after something for themselves, and those who are there simply to be. Those who stand by others, no matter what, and those who are only after their own interests. Those who empathise and listen when you’re unwell, and those who only selfishly care to have a good time when you’re in the mood too. Those who would do anything to rise above others at present, and those who would work to make things better for those to come.

What matter in the end is the intelligence of knowing how to wield the power the comes with power and the audacity to do it for the right reasons, no matter if you’re a lone ant, risking to be squashed.

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: Fake

It’s not easy being Greek

Youth in GreeceFor the past five years, Greece has been the centre of news around the world. Not so much because of its spirit of democracy and ethos imbued by our Ancient Greek ancestors. But because of the shame, deceitfulness and financial mismanagement brought about by their predecessors. Media around the world have vilified the country that thus far was praised for all the principles and values it had introduced to the modern world. Yet, we ourselves proved unable to live up to them.

It is not Greece alone that is in financial trouble. The whole of Europe is, and most of the world too. But Greece is an easy target. The advertised ‘300 days of sunshine’, the Mediterranean diet, the mythical island beaches, the relaxed and ‘easy-going’ way of life are so easy to despise and scorn, and all the more easy to contradict with the lack of responsibility and order, especially as regards public finances. The source of all our troubles.

Foreigners cannot understand how Greeks can still fill restaurants and cafés, as if nothing is going on around them. But Greeks themselves justify their outings, by arguing that staying indoors and damning their misfortunes is not a solution that will lead anywhere.

And they are right.

Because it is not the “ordinary” Greeks who can do much to change the situation, other than adhere to the harsh measures imposed. Those brought upon them by others. Others, who, are supposed to represent them, but once in power, forget all electoral promises and turn the other way. The lay Greeks are the ones who witness their country’s demise and all they can do is shout, exasperate, and eventually just let it go, because somethings will never change.

This attitude is what has caused over 200,000 young Greeks to search for a future abroad. For many, their dreams and expectations were too big for what the country (now) had to offer. It is certainly not easy to get up and leave. To abandon everything you are familiar with, the life you are accustomed to, your friends and family. But it is even harder deciding to stay. It takes more courage to remain and continue to fight in a country that is constantly proving to be against you in every way.

There are many Greeks who choose to stay. And they should be respected all the more for that. Because they are still trying. They are the ones who believe that “if everyone just leaves, who will stay and fix the country?” They are the ones who still dream, but are determined to compromise on a few things in order to survive. They may not be acknowledged as much as they should, nor are they compensated for the work they do. But they choose to stay. Why? Why would you stay when everything and everyone around you screams go?

Because you still hope. You believe deep down that things will change for the better. And that you will be part of the wheel that will set it all in motion.

There are young Greeks, in their early 30s, educated, full of thirst for life and willing to work. There are those who decide to strive on their own, and, since they can’t find the work they want, they will create it themselves. In a period of crisis, struck on all fronts by austerity measures, stifling bureaucracy and high taxes, these Greeks persist in having their own way. There are many who have launched their own business, determined to change foreign perceptions of their country, making it a model to emulate, rather than one to avoid. It is these Greeks who have been dubbed the crazy ones, the radicals, the dreamers. The ones who people look upon with both admiration and sympathy. But aren’t “those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, usually the ones that do”?

It is not easy being Greek nowadays. And it is certainly not easy being Greek in Greece. But there are still many who insist, persist, and resist all negative waves pounding their way. Maybe it is through them that Greece will arise again. After all, it was Socrates who said that the secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but in building the new. And that is just what we need. A new start.

See also related reports with examples of Greeks who try to accomplish more in their own country in English and Greek.

10 Things we’ve learnt during the Greek crisis

greek_financial_crisis__svitalskybrosFor those in Europe, the past few weeks have been a constant game of diplomatic war between Greece and the EU. With countless meetings, summits and councils convening in the course of just a month, Greece and its international creditors reached a breaking point. An irreparable rift, even if none admit to it.

The Greek crisis revealed a lot:

1) That there is no real leadership in Europe or its member states. No politician has demonstrated their worthiness of being the elected representative of the people. Not when so many have been named and shamed at how on the onset of a financial crisis they were the first to take their money out, when they are the ones who should have protected the economy and the nation state, let alone the entire union from financial collapse.

2) That politics is indeed a dirty game. We see images of EU and member state officials hugging, kissing and joking around before their “crucial” summits every couple of days, conveying a light-hearted atmosphere. Yet, two hours later, they are at each other’s throats, accusing one another of acting irrationally, unilaterally and unreasonably. The institutions (European Commission – European Central Bank – International Monetary Fund) accuse Greece of departing from the discussions abruptly and breaking off all negotiations, thus abandoning any hope of reaching a compromise. Greece accuses the institutions of blackmail and of handing them a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum for accepting within 48hours their “harsh, absurd and recessionary proposals”. All making one thing clear: that one is out to break the other in an endless tug of war.

3) That solidarity is just a word. With no meaning. No content. Ever since the financial crisis began, “solidarity” has become part of our everyday vocabulary. Everyone is calling for more solidarity. From the EU, from member states, from international partners. Everything is argued to be done “in the interest of solidarity”, yet this is hardly the case. Right now, one state is left fighting for its own survival, pitting itself against another 18 (Euro area member states), who refuse any extension of the current status quo “because there is no will on their part”. However, if after the crucial referendum on Sunday, Greece wants to discuss another bailout programme, “the door is open, in the spirit of solidarity and responsibility”.

4) That the media still has significant power as the fourth estate. Upon the announcement of a Greek referendum on the institutions’ proposals, media immediately conveyed the message that the referendum was a question of whether or not Greece would remain in the Euro. Misinformation that was reinforced and intensified over the week and came to be replicated by EU officials and member state leaders themselves, resulting in widespread fear among the Greek citizens who continue to flock to ATMs, supermarkets and gas stations in what can only be likened to a state of siege.

5) That propaganda is a politician’s greatest tool. “EU leaders urge Greek citizens to vote ‘yes’ to stay in Euro”. This is the featured headline in media around the world, as the institutions launch a last effort to sway the Greek authorities in their direction and accept their proposals. Some even talk of visiting Greece to convince voters first hand. Regardless that this would be a direct intervention into the internal politics of a sovereign member state…

6) That it is easy to say a lot but hard to act on any of it. Like Mark Twain said “action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” The Greek crisis was the issue of at least 87 meetings of European Ministers since 2010, with around a dozen Eurogroup meetings being held in the last couple of months alone. Yet they have all failed and we have reached the point where a country “on the brink of default” is striving for a last minute agreement.

7) That Europe started off as a vision of a united continent, joining its people against a common cause and demonstrating solidarity when the need arises. But today, that dream has perished with Europe appearing more divided than ever. And it is nowhere near the initial vision of its founding fathers. It revealed its ugliest side in the midst of the harshest crisis it has ever faced and continues to squabble over things its people still do not understand. As Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times states, “The current crisis is not just a reflection of the failings of the modern Greek state, it is also about the failure of a European dream of unity, peace and prosperity.

8) That Europe has come to be divided into the lenders and the indebted. Where the indebted are left with no choice other than to borrow from the lenders who profit from the former’s very need to survive. From the hundreds of billions of bailout fund received by Greece since 2010, less than 10% was invested in the country itself, as the majority was used to pay off debts. In the same context, the indebted are forced to bow down and approve every programme presented to them by the lenders as “necessary reforms for economic recovery and debt sustainability”, even if this is diminishes their living standards and would lead to their own suffering. Let alone the economic jargon that no-one other than the ruling technocratic elites comprehend.

9) That democracy is a concept that has faded in the modern world. Politicians (overuse) the term to justify actions that in essence cannot be explained. They hold meetings behind closed doors with unelected officials who are not accountable to anyone. Yet it all comes down to one thing: “a clash of democratic mandates — pitting Greek voters’ desire to ditch austerity against the voters (and taxpayers) of other EU countries, who want to see their loans repaid and are loath to let an unreformed Greece continue to benefit from EU money.

10) That instead of joining forces against a common enemy – the threat of terrorism and ISIS that is gathering like a black cloud over the region – we are instead devouring our own flesh, wrangling with each other and by ourselves destroying the very consensus we are trying to create. And as such we become a people divided – both within our continent and within our own countries. This internal strife is actually worse than any foreign enemy.

The dress and an escape from the truth

the dressIn the last week, we have been arguing over the colour of a dress (blue/black or white/gold?), have witnessed llamas run loose in Arizona, and have been baffled over a Senator’s questioning of the effects of climate change by tossing a snow ball as evidence.

All the while, it has been revealed that the masked Islamic State (ISIS) militant known as “Jihadi John”, seen in the videos beheading Western hostages, is a Kuwaiti-born British man from West London, while ISIS militants ransacked Mosul’s central museum destroying thousand-year old priceless artefacts.

Meanwhile, Eurozone countries continue to bewilder each other on account of their increasing economic problems, leading to internal strife, while the fighting in Eastern Ukraine is ongoing and getting worse.

It is interesting to how we chose to see as news what is more enticing and entertaining to us. The fact that conflict is rampant across the world no longer surprises or even affects us (unless we are in those impacted areas). Nor are we touched by the world’s financial problems, even though these affect our own economic state and employment status. These are things we seek to get away from when surfing the web.

Instead, we’ll click to watch Madonna fall at her Brit Awards performance, we’ll enter the worldwide viral debate on the color of that dress, and we will laugh at the videos of animals doing the weirdest yet cutest of things imaginable.

When we enter the world wide web, we seek to be informed, but at the same time entertained. Our attention span diminishes rapidly when we begin to read a long political analysis on the state of affairs – simply put, this is boring. We want something that draws our attention, that is quick and easy to read, and that is entertaining enough but enlightening at the same time.

We like to engage into quizzes on what your choice of wine says about you, for example, read the daily horoscope and cartoon strips, and be inspired by a quote someone famous said long ago.

What we don’t like, is to be reminded that nothing seemingly works as it should pretty much anywhere; that those who were elected to represent us are sometimes just as corrupt as the people they criticize and place behind bars, and that corruption and clientilism are two trends that may possibly never be transcended.

So we turn to entertainment. To momentarily forget the harsh reality and drift into a realm where all there exists are celebrities falling from grace, animals proving they’re smarter than us, and meaningless chatter on trivial issues.

We all need to get away for a while, and if this is the way to achieve some serenity of mind, then so be it. Just remember, The Dress is the colour you see, and all that says about you, is that you can at least see there is a dress.

Don’t talk. Just listen….

unknown call– Don’t talk. Just listen. Did you see the fireworks yesterday? Yes, just after the new Prime Minister’s victory speech? It was as if the country was having one huge party. Well, I don’t blame them. I mean the guy’s just 40 years old. And he is not bad to look at either. Plus, the casual, no-tie look makes him more likeable. I think that’s one of the reasons why he won over so many people. He managed to convince them that he relates to them. He is one of them. And like he said, he wants to have a government that belongs to all the people. Well, good luck. It would be great if at least somebody managed to do so. But did you see the fireworks in the capital’s centre? It reminded me of those 4th of July fireworks. You remember then ones. That is when I met him. You know who. That bastard who broke my heart. He played me like a fiddle on the roof. You know I ran into him the other day at the supermarket? He was shopping for groceries. At least that is what he said. He looked good. Was wearing jeans and a shirt. A shirt I got for him. It felt very weird. To be honest I even forgot to buy half my shopping list after I saw him. I was so depressed by the time I got home, that I spent the entire night watching series on TV and going to bed by midnight. I know it’s pathetic, but what do I do? Come on, you know what I am talking about don’t you?

– I’m sorry, who is this?

– Becky? It’s me, Deborah.

– I’m sorry, I’m not Becky and I don’t know any Deborah.

– Oh. Well, this is embarrassing. I am so sorry.

– Not a problem. I hope everything works out. And don’t worry, we’ve all been there. It takes time. Stay strong!

– Thanks! Sorry again for this awkward call!

[Dials Again]

– Don’t talk. Just listen…

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: Unknown Caller

Speaking Truth to ‘Stupid’: Reestablishing Dignity in Journalism

AB15521Journalism was once described as the Fourth Estate: a watchdog of the elites, informing and protecting the masses. People looked to it for the truth. Today, information is propelled from every direction, medium, and person. Does the power of the Fourth Estate still exist, and if not, how do we reclaim it?

More people today choose to avoid the news at all costs. Especially political news, since all they appear to do is replicate the status quo, with politicians lining up to give their own position on developments (if any), while not even staying long enough to listen to opposing positions. It almost feels like we live in a world that doesn’t want to be changed. But, it is the civil responsibility of journalists to change this by presenting hard-core facts, inspire debate and fuel a desire for improvement.

With The Newsroom Season 3 having just begun, and Kill the Messenger recently hitting the big screens, journalism seems to have returned to centre stage, not that it ever left. But right now, it seems this profession has become all the more important, especially since journalists are sacrificing their lives in order to reveal information that is critical for public safety.

The aforementioned film is based on the true story of journalist Gary Webb and takes place in the mid-1990s, when Webb uncovered the role of the CIA in arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua and importing cocaine into California. Despite enormous pressure, Webb chose to pursue the story and went public with his evidence. As a result, he became the target of a vicious smear campaign fueled by the CIA and was forced to defend his integrity, his family, and his life, even reaching the point of suicide.

Consider the recent example of Serena Shim, an American journalist of Lebanese origin who disclosed that ISIS jihadists were being smuggled into Turkey and back into Syria in the back of humanitarian aid vehicles. Just days later, she was reportedly killed in a car crash with a heavy-duty vehicle. The second car was never found, raising suspicions as to the true cause of her death. Shim is not alone. Journalists around the world are regularly threatened against publishing information that is their disposal. In 2013, approximately 100 journalists were killed, while so far 64 journalists have lost their lives this year, fighting for what they believe in.

But journalism no longer seems to really be what it used to. Journalists are often characterised as “the Fourth Estate”, a term originally used by Edmund Burke, who in 1787 said that the Reporters’ Gallery in the British House of Commons was where a Fourth Estate, which was more important than the other three, took its seat. Since then, a lot has changed in journalism. Although there are some who criticise the government, many argue that journalism has become part of the ruling estate rather than an objective observer of it.

Journalism became a vulnerable profession with the rise of digital media. However, the economic crisis struck a large blow causing salaries and media revenue to decrease. Churnalism has taken the place of investigative journalism and reporters of all stripes simply find it easier to replicate press releases, instead of researching, analysing and criticising power to provide citizens with informed explanations of current affairs. There is also “citizen journalism” which has blurred the definition of who is a journalist. Furthermore, claims blast from every direction, often without any credible evidence to support them. Yet, this is what sells and what is seemingly desired by the public. This is an age where global terrorism is real and no longer an imminent threat; where people are more interested in exchanging narcissistic selfies rather than improving social welfare; and where everyone complains but few take action. Now, more than ever, is the time for journalism to reclaim its lost vigour, grace and glamour.

People want to read the news. They no longer accept bad journalism, as they want to learn what is going on quickly, simply and clearly; to be informed, not mocked. As MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) told Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) on the first episode of The Newsroom: We need to reclaim the fourth estate; to rebrand journalism as an honourable profession; to produce news that informs and stimulates debates characterised by civility and respect; and return to what is important. It needs to end ‘bitchiness, gossip and voyeurism.’ We need “to speak the truth to stupid,” because we need to actually believe that the audience is not stupid. In reality, it is composed of intelligent people who we should address as such. If we treat people as if they were stupid, that is who they will be, but, if we refer to them as intelligent people who have a say in bringing about change, then that is who they will become. Journalism is not simply about conveying news and arousing the wrath of the masses. It is about communicating information and enabling the audience to develop a clear awareness about what is happening in the world and how things might change, for the better, and for the benefit of all of us.

 

First published on Cafébabel.com and translated into French and Italian.

Indebted to the future

DSC05826“We live in a Europe of mistrust”. This is what European Parliament (EP) President Martin Schulz stated yesterday Monday 4 November speaking at a very interesting conference in Athens. Organised by the EP Information Offices in Greece, Cyprus, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain – the countries worst hit by the crisis and forced to implement austerity measures – the first of its kind international conference entitled “South for Growth” aims to address the challenges and prospects faced by the countries on the south of the European map in managing the crisis.

In a densely packed room at the Athens Concert Hall, keynote speaker Schulz uttered “it is time to come to an end with the rhetoric of crisis and start a new debate – the rhetoric of hope”. He outlined four proposals which he said are the key points in forging a strategy that will help the south exit the crisis.

Calling on personal experiences, Schulz stated that during the post-WWII period governments asked parents to make sacrifices, with the promise that this would bring a better future for their children.
“These promises were kept,” he said, noting that his generation lived a better life with unprecedented opportunities. “Europe was a promise”. But now, how can we ask parents to make all the more sacrifices, when their children are unemployed, desperate and have lost hope in their future? It is for this reason, Schulz said that youth unemployment must be the first step in promoting growth.

In a passionate and dynamic speech, the EP president stressed that it is unacceptable that the European Central Bank (ECB) maintains interest rates at such a low  figure (0.5%), but Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) do not have access to liquidity. This money is not injected into the real economy, he said, and for this we need a strategy to overcome the credit crunch and help realize the SMEs’ projects. This in turn, he added, will help with employment opportunities.

“We are not bold enough,” he stated. “Let’s dare more, be more imaginative, let’s seize the potential of the resources and geostrategy of the Mediterranean”. Greater economic cooperation in this region will lead to a stronger south and as a result to a more powerful Union.

But “for all these proposals to be realized we need to regain confidence between north and south, between citizens, politics and institutions”. Using the word “trust” over ten times, Schulz was striving to pass the message that without the trust of its people in the EU and the principles of the EU forefathers, the EU structure cannot move forward.

Himself a probable candidate for the post of European Commission President, Schulz delivered a speech that by far responded to the expectations of all those people from all over Europe, mainly young, who filled the room for this conference. It is unknown as to whether the EU officials’ persistence on immediate actions that deliver results is actually due to the campaigning that has already begun ahead of the 2014 EU elections. Because it is widely acknowledged that to stay on board, you need to have achievements to show in your favour.

“The trust of citizens cannot be gained by speeches. It can only be gained when we deliver solutions,” said Schulz with MEP Thodoros Skylakakis (ALDE) adding that “we are just talking heads…we do not realize the extent of the problems, and for that citizens don’t listen to us”.

We live in a Europe of mistrust and of debt. And as EP Vice President Anni Podimata said, “we are indebted”. Not only because of the money we owe, but because of the hope and future we promised to provide to the next generation.

 

Also part of NaBloPoMo (November 2013)

Living in a bubble

Photo 16-10-13 18 46 23The signs in Brussels Airport say “Welcome to Europe”; because let’s face it, you think of Brussels and European Union (EU) springs to mind.

I was over there for a two-and-a-half day workshop for young journalists, hosted by the European Parliament. It was stressful and hard work, but it was an amazing experience and the contacts and friendships made were more than worth it. To be honest the amount and quality of work we managed to produce in such a short time is indeed impressive. Especially given all the challenges we faced.

For starters there was the adventure of finding your way in Brussels and to the EU institutions. For first-timers it was no piece of cake. Three years after my first time in Brussels and there are still construction works going on all around the EU Quarter. Something which makes orientating yourself so much harder. And for people (like myself) who have a bit of trouble with orientation, it means getting lost countless of times. But hey, that’s how you learn a place better. At least that’s what they say. Because I’ve seen beautiful places that I have no idea how to get back to!

So, after walking in circles between the Schuman and Maelbeek metro stations, that is between the Commission, Council and Parliament buildings, there on one side of rue Belliard appears the impressive esplanade of the European Parliament (EP), with the fancy digital screen of the Parlamentarium inviting you in, and this period calling you to vote in the 2014 EU elections.

So all is well, and having already burnt the calories you had for breakfast, you’ve passed the security checks and you’re in! You’re in this huge (I mean really huge) building that hosts representatives from 28 European countries and serves (or at least claims to do so) as the ‘voice of EU citizens’. Being inside is impressive. But there are so many offices, rooms, floors, towers, buildings, that it is almost impossible not to get lost. Yet everyone who works there seems so comfortable in moving (actually rushing) around that it makes you wonder: do they have a secret map embedded in their brain that we do not know of? Personally, I had to ask for directions a handful of times while going around and up and down that building. It seems like a maze. And one person who kindly directed me to the right elevator (yes, I had trouble finding these too!) told me that ‘this building is so confusing it’s as if it is designed to trap people inside’. For example, did you know that there is an exit on the third floor?

Even finding the canteen required asking for directions. And then actually getting the food was itself a complex process, or so it seemed to us, because everyone else pretty much knew what they were doing and where to go. We were just in their way.

This EP mall, as it is called, is exactly that. Fully equipped with a sports centre, hairdresser’s, banks, cafés, restaurants, shops, florists, and I’m sure there is a ‘nap-pad’ hidden somewhere. It’s like the Google playground in The Internship, only for EU civil servants. And I’m sure the buildings of the other EU institutions are similar to this.

But seeing and experiencing all this from the inside, you are left to wonder: do these EU officials live in their own world? They don’t even need to go outside. Heck, by the time a visitor would manage to find the exit, it would be time to go back in again to resume their work! But it seems that after all, the EU does live in a bubble. Detached from reality, distant from what people’s lives are really like. They make decisions, reports and dossiers, all drowning in bureaucracy, but they seem to be unaware of how all these policies affect people’s lives in practice. Just ask any citizen of a Memorandum country and you’ll see the negative view that prevails of the EU, its officials and its policies.

If the confusion and disorder that reigns in the EU Quarter and is encountered by visitors is in any way symbolic of the ‘Europe’ that Brussels proclaims it represents, then it is no surprise why the EU is in such chaos and is constantly losing credibility and trust in the eyes of its citizens.

EU officials should exit their bubble once in a while and see for themselves how their decisions affect the people they claim to represent. After all, isn’t that their job? They’re supposed to be accessible and close to their constituents. Not locked in an office, a building or a mall. Particularly one in which you need a map, comfortable shoes, security badges, and a lot of patience, in order to find your way around.

Brussels is a beautiful city, but if you’re isolated inside what in essence can only be described as a ‘small state’, you don’t really get to experience it.  And if you’re in there too long, when you do get out in the real world, you should cover your ears at the deafening sound of your bubble bursting.

18 October 2013, Brussels

Jobless, Hopeless and Divided

Is European Labour Mobility dividing the EU?

news_1794_2

It’s a hard time to be young. It’s even worse if you come from the periphery of Europe. Unemployment has reached unprecedented levels, and youngsters are forced to migrate northbound for a better future. But how is this ‘great escape’ affecting the unity of the EU project?

On 9 May 1950, Robert Schuman said that Europe cannot be built in a day, but rather through events that require solidarity. Today’s European Union (EU) seems too distant from this vision. “We are doing everything in the wrong way,” says Portuguese MEP Inês Cristina Zuber (GUE/NGL), Vice President of the European Parliament’s (EP) Employment and Social Affairs Committee. She explained that the biggest problem qualified youth face today is that they are in jobs without quality contracts, no job security and no social benefits. They may even live precariously like this for years. In fact, youth unemployment has reached unprecedented levels, averaging 23% in the EU and reaching 63% in Greece, and with increasing long-term unemployment, the youth of today risk becoming the unemployable adults of tomorrow.

“We have to change these kind of labour relations,” stated Zuber, “we must create safer labour relations with guarantees and rights in order to keep people in their country. It is impossible to develop a country without these qualified people,” she said.

Her co-vice president for the EP Employment Committee, German MEP Thomas Mann (EPP), said that the EU’s Youth Employment Initiative is very important in this sense, and particularly the Youth Guarantee Scheme through which member states committed to ensure that within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education all young people up to 25 years receive a high-quality offer for a job, an apprenticeship or traineeship. But can this really work?

EURES Adviser in Cyprus Antonis Kafouros appeared pessimistic. He said that even this is targeted to specific groups, as it cannot help everyone. “Such schemes often simply serve to keep unemployment figures at a steady level,” he explained. “There is no real investment in infrastructure or job creation. Demand levels do not increase. The programme is simply adding more qualified people into the supply end. If there are no jobs in which to use the skills/experience gained then it is futile”.

The EU has earmarked €6 billion for 2014-2016 for this scheme. But even though that sounds impressive, Joachim Weidemann, head of “Insight EU” at Deutsche Presse Agentur (dpa), calculated that this amounts to a mere €500 per unemployed person per year. “In order to have the minimum effect this programme would require €21 billion,” he noted.

Giving youngsters a chance

For Mann, however, this initiative is “a small drop on a hot stone”. It is a first step to give young people a chance to become integrated into the labour force, to gain experience and have the opportunity to seek a job. Such programmes are supported by the European Social Fund (ESF) which for the 2007-2013 period amounts to some €75 billion, more than €10 billion per year.  Mann believes this would help create the conditions for young people to stay in their countries. “The decision is taken at the EU level but the realization is in the hands of member states,” he said. He stressed that the ways for southern European countries to combat increased unemployment is by changing the conditions in these countries. “They should realize reforms and this takes hard work. Some are too lazy for these reforms.” But he insisted that the best way forward is to learn from each other: “we must ask why some countries are so successful while others are waiting for money from outside.”

Qualified individuals from the periphery of Europe face more than twice as high unemployment rates than in the north and core (17.1% compared to 7.1%). Many of these seek a better future abroad. But according to a 2011 Flash Eurobarometer, 44% of EU respondents do not want to leave their country. “They are forced to go,” says Zuber, pointing out that this is not true ‘mobility’ but immigration.

“The EU is marketing its idea of Social Europe to legitimse itself before public opinion,” continued Zuber. But how the EU is actually affecting the lives of its citizens is different. “We are now living worse than our parents,” she said, reverberating EP President Martin Schulz’s statement of a lost generation. “The EU’s programmes will help the youth find jobs and traineeships, but it is not solving the problem.” She argued that a positive discrimination is required to help countries in trouble recover and develop top-quality infrastructure. “More solidarity” is needed she said.

Zuber believes that the EU must invest in these countries, otherwise the gap in development will become even greater. “There will be the countries with the know-how and the technology and then the periphery (the countries now under a Memorandum of Understanding) with the cheap labour force to work in their industries. We will create a Europe even more divergent.”

The EU’s motto is in fact united in diversity. With all the challenges and opportunities this entails. But by failing to contain this ‘brain drain’ from the periphery to the core, the situation in immigrants’ home countries deteriorates further, accentuating the division of the EU into a prosperous north and a despaired south.

Written in Brussels on 15-17 October for the European Youth Media Days (EYMD) 2013 Orange Magazine.

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