The eurozone crisis sets some unprecedented challenges for European integration. As most member states face the spectrum of recession, a great part of European citizens experiences falling standards of income and living, while they seem pessimistic over short-term prospects.
Meanwhile, unemployment reaches record-high rates in most countries. The most disadvantaged groups of citizens, the young people in particular, feel helpless in their effort to find a job and secure even a standard source of income, especially as welfare policies are running out of money.
On these grounds, the ability of the EU to deliver prosperity as one of its foundation tasks is put into question. In consequence, this situation might destabilize the very high levels of civic adherence and trust that underpinned the EU for many decades so far. There are clear signs about changing civic attitudes. Indeed, most polls cast evidence that citizens expect more efficient solutions to the ongoing eurozone crisis and concrete results to jobs creation, while some segments of the citizenry develop even a more skeptical attitude to the very scope of the EU.
The European Council is well aware of the situation. As early as in June 2012 the "Compact for Growth and Jobs" was agreed. The Compact includes many important policy tasks and financial tools, such as growth-friendly fiscal consolidation, normal lending to the economy, competitiveness, deepening the single market, completing the internal energy market, promoting a European Research Area, labor mobility and financing the economy with more than 120 billion euros. All these add up to a timely response to the EU, but progress should be closely monitored.
In a recent report to the European Council on these matters, the Commission highlights fields in which more effort is needed. Employment and the labor market is one of the fields that clearly stand out and completing action is required. For instance, the EU secured 6 billion euros for the Youth Employment Initiative for the coming years, but better preparation should be made at the national level for the most effective use of funds.
Other initiatives, such as the Youth Employment Package and Youth Guarantee, have not reached the phase of full implementation yet. Moreover, we can do more to facilitate labor mobility across Europe with regard to the recognition of professional qualifications and posting of workers.
The Lisbon strategy set the goal for 'more and better jobs' by 2010, but delivered rather poor results. Compared to 20 million of unemployed persons in 2000, the same figure now has reached over 26.5 million people in 2013. The 'Europe 2020 strategy' offers a more elaborate approach to 'smart, sustainable and inclusive growth' in Europe. Citizens rightly expect concrete results with regard to unemployment. EU institutions and national governments are responsible in accordance with their competences to take up all the necessary action in order to pursue the respective goals. The "Growth and Jobs Compact" makes evident that all the parties are fully aware of the situation and have already responded with specific actions. Moreover, the Multiannual Financial Program will offer more opportunities for reinvigorating Europe's suffering economies.
The way the EU institutions will deal with the thorny issues of recession and unemployment shall possibly have an impact on the progress and paths to European integration. In the coming European Parliament elections in May 2014 we should do our best to tackle the issues that fuel the specter of skepticism, cynicism and intolerance over Europe by advancing the purposes of political cooperation, peace, democracy, prosperity, solidarity and care for the least advantaged citizens.
Finally, let me point out that the Greek people shows great strength and integrity in the way the Greeks deal with the effects of crisis. Recession led to a sharp decrease of the GDP by more than 25 percent, while unemployment reached the record-high rate of more than 27 percent (greater than 62 percent youth unemployment). There is possibly no equivalent with any other democratic state in peaceful times. Nevertheless, the Greek society shows its great social capital founded on the significance of the family and other forms of social solidarity that help people go on with their lives and face with integrity the grave effects on their standards of living. It should not be underestimated that Greece faces no more threats to political stability and social cohesion compared to any other member state with significantly less problems.