Thursday, August 15, 2013

Europe should aim at unity and solidarity

The economic crisis does not only bring negative changes that have to be addressed with vigour. It is also a moment to look at new opportunities. In ancient Greek, krisis means decision or judgment to bring about (positive) changes. This is the dilemma that Europe has to face not only for its own cohesion but also in the global scene. 

Globalization has produced a multipolar world with new economic powers, the so-called Brics - China, India, Russia, Brazil- which have experienced high rates of economic growth. The rise of these countries has shifted the balance of power with the relative decline of  rich western economies characterized by an ageing population and lower growth potential than the emerging economies. In this scenario, Europe appears as disunited and afflicted by internal divisions - Northern countries, led by Germany are  reluctant to support southern economies in recession with the imposition of austerity policies, thereby aggravating the crisis in those countries and Europe as a whole. 

Yet, we need a more united and cohesive Europe, not only for improving living conditions of the weaker social groups, but also to play a driving role in the global arena.  Africa represents  a great opportunity for Europe both for its vicinity and its enormous potential for economic and social development. One of its main challenges is the scarcity of water which puts entire populations on the edge of survival because they cannot develop their agriculture and are thus forced to live in precarious health conditions. But to produce water, African communities need energy ; for this solar technologies can satisfy the energy needs in the poorest villages of which only a small fraction has access to electricity. The availability of affordable energy can allow a more efficient use of water resources and can thus support the development of agriculture and the production of food. Energy, water and agriculture are therefore, the three pillars on which  Europe could devise a large scale plan, not only of financial aid, but more importantly through targeted interventions for the provision and the installation of new energy technologies as well as technologies for the extraction and supply of water. These are medium to long term investments - between 10 to 20 years, which will generate substantial economic returns through the mechanisms of  endogenous development that they will bring about. 

Over the last 30 years, most African countries were forced to implement  'structural adjustment programs' through measures of liberalization and privatization of the agricultural sector. The paradox is that this sector, which is essential for the survival of entire communities was considered as a market activity like any other economic activity which did not need any regulation or public intervention. This has created an adverse context for developing agricultural and food activities and therefore a substantial damage for the economies of many African countries Now the World Bank has changed its position and recognizes the need for the State intervention in this sector - which is also based on the fact that all large economies provide subsidies to their agricultural sector. In this regard, the intervention of Europe on a larger scale can create the basic conditions to allow  local populations to exploit more efficiently their natural resources. In such strategy, the supply of energy and water play a crucial role. 

Europe has enormous opportunities to promote economic development both internally and in other parts of the world. But this will happen only if it will rid from selfish attitudes that lead to stagnation and impoverishment and put at risk the future of entire generations.  A Europe which promotes the well being of populations (not only of European ones) is also the only route to avert  the rise of  populism and nationalism. As Pope Francis said recently in Lampedusa, Europe should not tolerate the 'globalization of indifference' toward refugees and desperate people which have no other possibility than migrate to survive and escape from poverty often risking their lives. 

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