Last week the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, launched an ambitious EU Investment Plan to “get Europe growing again and get people back to work”. The plan is to be implemented through the new EU Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI).
The prospect of investment in education, employment, digital and energy infrastructure, and innovation and research are certainly to be welcomed. As Social Platform (of which Volonteurope is a member) has highlighted, investment in Europe’s future is not to be regarded as an expense that adds pressure to Member States’ or European budgets in times of austerity. Rather, investment is desperately needed if Europe is to overcome its current social crisis and put people back in the centre of economic policy.
However, a multi-billion investment plan is not the magic solution to Europe’s social malaise if it is not an investment in people and communities. Developing transport and communication infrastructure is a step in the right direction, but Europe needs to be more ambitious than this. The current crisis is not rooted in lack of infrastructure but in lack of prioritisation: human capital and the social health of Europe have been neglected in the name of fiscal consolidation and GDP growth (which, in any case, have not been achieved).
The Investment Plan has to go beyond simply stimulating economic growth and promote the “Common Good for Europe”. A common good approach puts the wellbeing of people first as it seeks to benefit everyone in society, not only vested interests within specific sectors. It is underpinned by certain types of behaviour, that is, behaviours that promote inclusion, fairness, transparency and, very importantly, empowerment.
The way investors and political institutions behave is crucial. They can choose to take advantage of a publicly-backed Investment Plan to maximise private sector profit and improve economic statistics, or they can involve all stakeholders in planning investment that increases the life opportunities and inclusion of the most disadvantaged groups in society.
This requires courage and vision.
At a time when austerity measures are adding pressure on the voluntary sector to deliver social services and support to those most in need, social investment offers some interesting opportunities.
The value and benefits of volunteering and active citizenship are well recognised by civil society. We need governments and European institutions to do the same. Investing can be targeted at enabling individuals, communities and civil society to take ownership of the changes they want to see in their own lives. One example is investment in quality volunteering opportunities for young people and other vulnerable groups, which can go a long way to promote social inclusion, improve physical and mental health, thus decreasing budgetary pressures on health systems.
This fits well with ongoing debates about the ‘enabling state’, one that encourages active citizenship and frees people from centralised control. Volonteurope will soon be taking part in this debate and promoting citizens’ meaningful participation in society.
Investment also needs to be well targeted. Volonteurope’s current campaign on the rural isolation of citizens in Europe reminds us that poverty and social exclusion have a geographic dimension that needs to be addressed. The growing social divergences that we observe between and within EU Member States are also expressed as an urban-rural divide. Europe will not achieve inclusive, sustainable and smart growth if priority is not given to its most deprived and remote areas.
Investment must benefit everyone. It must be guided by an ambition to pursue our common good.
Stay in touch with Volonteurope to learn more about our upcoming campaigns on “The Common Good for Europe”, the “Rural Isolation of Citizens in Europe” and the “Who Should Do What” campaign. Volonteurope will also soon engage members and partners on a project to develop high-level standards of volunteering impact measurement in Europe. Finally, we look forward to involving young people in our “EU Youth Ambassadors” programme.
See also SOLIDAR statement on the European Commission’s Investment Plan.