Rethinking Prosperity for the 21st Century: A Message to Parliaments and Policymakers Across Europe
This article is a reflection of the conversations had at last year’s 5th Mercator European Dialogue – “Future of EU Prosperity”, at which 40 parliamentarians from EU member states got together with experts to discuss critical issues for Europe’s path towards prosperity. It is authored by the following participants at this event.
Carmen Jeiter Cincelli, Austrian People’s Party, Member of the Austrian Parliament
Sandra Julià Julià, Ciudadanos, Member of the Spanish Parliament
Josko Klisovic, Social Democratic Party, Member of the Croatian Parliament
Chiara Rosselli, Head of the Mercator European Dialogue, German Marshall Fund
Harry Theocharis, New Democracy, Member of the Greek Parliament
The article reflects the opinions of the authors alone, not of their affiliated organizations or parties, nor of any of the other participants of the Mercator European Dialogue.
The Mercator European Dialogue is a parliamentary network offering members of national parliaments an informal political space for cross-party, cross-committee, and cross-country exchange.
Today, we wake up to a world where the very notions of living in freedom, peace, and prosperity are being challenged.
This means we are seeing citizens pay the price of our political systems, in which partisan conflict takes prevalence over compromise and cooperation, and polarization has made a victim of constructive political debate.
It means we are seeing citizens grow impatient at the slow reaction times of self-absorbed political systems, and that policymakers are left to bear a growing burden of responsibility.
It means we are witnessing the most important political capital of all – trust in politics, in politicians, in the future – rapidly deteriorating. Citizens and political leaders alike are coming to question the functioning of our current democratic set-up.
What Has This Got to Do with Prosperity?
More than half of Europe’s population believes their children will be worse off in the future.
Looking to the future, it is impossible not to be humbled by the magnitude and speed of the economic, technological and societal changes we are confronted with. These trends share one key characteristic – they disregard geographical and political barriers, encouraging us to think about how to tailor solutions across borders to the benefit of citizens.
Yet today, the value of cooperation has become more contested.
As the challenges of our common future are more complex than ever, growing uncertainty and fear of the future are fueling a trend toward non-cooperation. As citizens increasingly demand solutions that will make them feel secure, politicians face increasing pressure to provide simple and safe answers.
But political leaders have a duty to steer the tides, not only ride them. This means having the courage to admit that they do not hold all the answers for citizens’ future wellbeing, that they need to look for new answers and embrace innovative and thinking to break with political business-as-usual, which citizens across Europe have loudly voiced their disappointment with.
The sooner we can admit the uncertainty, the sooner we can start asking the right questions. One, above all the rest, is the question of how we define prosperity in the 21st century and how can we promote a new debate in our own countries and across Europe about what prosperity really means to us.
How does this relate to happiness, to GDP, to inequality? Does a growing GDP truly capture the whole picture? Studies have shown that even countries with the highest GDP rates in the world do not perform too well when it comes to the general happiness of their citizens. So perhaps we are missing a piece of the puzzle. We must seek new thinking, new metrics, and analysis, as well as engage citizens actively in an open political debate about these fundamental political questions.
Five Urgencies and One Commitment
There are five areas where there is an urgent need for new thinking in order to future-proof our national and European policies.
Preparing citizens through appropriate education tools. Europe’s human capital is unparalleled in the world. We can start with what we are good at and strengthen lifelong learning and retraining programs, especially for the unemployed and those in precarious working conditions, while promoting the exchange of ideas and best practices among students, workers, and teachers.
Finding new resources to finance our future. This means rethinking our taxation systems to bring them up to speed with the 21st century – starting from looking at how we tax digital businesses. We currently lack the adequate means to tax new and complex wealth-creation processes behind digital goods based on technology that often defies territorial borders.
Inclusive and connected societies. We cannot afford to selectively include sectors of societies in the digital revolution, we must take everyone along, or else we risk further entrenching divides that are contributing to the disintegration of our societies. This requires investment to integrate those in danger of being sidelined through the provision of adequate physical and digital infrastructure, especially in remote and rural areas where these are perceived to be commercially unviable.
New open and transparent governance. Politicians are faced with the burdensome task of regulating change and phenomena while being embedded in institutions and systems that are resistant to change. There is a demand for new governance systems and new political ideas sweeping across the continent. To rebuild trust in politics and democracy we need to build systems that are adaptive to change, starting from making use of the technologies at our disposal and seeking best practices for new modes of open governance and citizen participation.
Above all, we need more dialogue – across parties, across sectors, and across borders. We need to seek new collaborative solutions so that we can remain leaders of change and not subjects of it. In order to do so, we must defend compromise and dialogue in the public space, and we must take the responsibility upon ourselves to be the door openers to dialogue, to initiate conversations, and to talk to people in different parties and different political spheres.
We commit to playing an active role in enabling, promoting, fostering and initiating cross-country and cross-party conversations to further our collective thinking in the abovementioned action areas – education, taxation, inclusive societies, and new governance – and to encouraging colleagues in parliaments and in policymaking to do the same in their own fields of influence and reach out to us and join the conversation.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.