Correspondent's Choice

The first day of the Biennial Conference held by the European Economic and Social Committee in Florence, Italy, produced some opinions that are vital to the future of the European Union. The conference is titled “Education To Combat Social Exclusion” and hopes to produce a report by the third day to be handed to European Commission President Barroso who will be in attendance.

Understandably, the state of European government finances was a focus, producing high octane statements from a number of influential speakers.

Former President of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell, was the star turn, delivering a virtuoso speech in his native Spanish about the relationship between global financial markets and government. He suggested that government fiscal policies are so influenced by the markets that there is a negation of democracy.

He highlighted the damage being done with the insightful remarks that having bailed out the financial services sector, governments are now being punished by those very same firms. With their capital levels replenished, the banks are using their government supplied funds to sell the government debt that has saved them.

With debt having such an influence on proceedings, a number of participants – including EESC President Mario Sepi – suggested new taxes to help pay for the debt burden. These would include a tax on CO2 emissions and a financial transactions tax.

Gianni Pittella, Vice-President of the European Parliament, went further. He suggested that the common currency cannot survive this crisis unless national governments start working in the European interest and put their national interests aside. If this does not happen, he fears that either the EU may crumble, or the emergence of a two-speed Europe. This two-speed Europe would be dominated by a strong Northern Europe and a number of Southern European states “reduced to the status of brothels”!

With such empassioned opinions, it was left to Anna Diamantopolou, Minister of Education for Greece, to ask the really difficult question. Her question, “What is the cost of Europe not having a social policy?” is one that will dominate the remaining two days of this conference.

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