Chain Reaction
Can freedom and equality in Europe be reconciled once more?

Freedom and equality are a question of the financial viability of social security systems. European countries should focus more on their core competencies of culture, science, research, ecology and social integration for positive economic development.

By Michalis Attalides

This is a very important question for Europeans today. Equality and the degree to which it can be attained is a crucial question once more. Not of course in an absolute way, because as Aristotle has pointed out, something which is more unjust than equal performance being rewarded unequally is unequal performance being rewarded equally.

Photo of Prof. Michalis Attalides
Prof. Michalis Attalides | Photo: Kommenos © Goethe-Institut
However there are crucial questions to be answered. Firstly, how we can avoid extremes of inequality which may distort both the functioning of democracy and also the economy? But more immediately, how can we guarantee people the basic social benefits to which they are entitled as European citizens - the right to work, the right to a dignified life and a minimum income, the right to education and the right to medical treatment?  In some parts of Europe some people are deprived of these self-evident rights due to current economic issues.  And it seems that there is a reason for this problematic situation, which is globalization of the economies and the competition which accompanies globalization.  Global competition means that it is becoming increasingly difficult for governments to follow policies which require a level of taxation which can assure minimum social services, and put an end to extreme inequality.
It would be wrong to reject globalization which has many positive aspects, including the possibility it has given to previously impoverished parts of the world to develop. Answers have been proposed for this dilemma.  And it is the development of areas of creative activity in which Europe could have comparative advantages: education, science, research and culture. These are the means by which Europeans can assure their successful participation in the global economy and the successful running of their economies to encompass dimensions which are additional to economic growth indicators. In any event in order to safeguard a technologically advanced economy we also need to maintain high levels of cultural life, environmental protection and quality of education and social cohesion.  But these issues need to become a more prominent part of national and European political dialogue, along with the issues of economic growth.

Recommended Reading:
Axel Honneth, The Pathologies of Individual Freedom, Princeton University Press, 2001.
Jurgen Habermas, Europe: The Faltering Project, Polity, 2008.

The next question:
"How can we make social, cultural and environmental issues a more prominent part of national and European policy making?"