A Europa será mais diversa, em que pesem as objeções da direita racista e xenófoba:
For Europe’s far right, the trends across the continent point to catastrophe: Birthrates are slumping, populations are aging and whole communities are shrinking. Right-wing nationalists bemoan liberal agendas, feminism and supposedly sinister plots to replace White Europeans with foreign migrants.
But the picture is more complicated and uneven within the continent, with the decline far more acute in certain countries than others — especially those whose faltering economies incentivize the emigration of the young and skilled. Experts believe demographic trends in Europe will necessitate more migration from elsewhere, no matter the objections of the anti-immigrant right.
I touched on these issues during an interview with Dubravka Suica, one of the vice presidents of the European Commission, the European Union’s executive body. Her portfolio has a combined focus on demography and democracy. With the former, Suica is on the front lines of efforts to help conditions across the continent, supporting those in the care industry and improving the work-life balance of ordinary Europeans. On the latter, she leads a sprawling initiative known as the Conference on the Future of Europe, a series of debates and discussions bringing in ordinary citizens across the continent that has already shaped new policy in Brussels.
The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
TWV: What are the demographic challenges facing Europe?
Suica: One third of European households are single households, be it youngsters or older people. Yes, in the last 50 years, European life expectancy has grown by 10 years more on average, which is a big achievement and phenomenal. At the same time, it’s a big challenge for national states, for pension systems, for health-care systems. So we are trying to address these issues, of course, knowing that … we are shrinking. We are aging and we have to find the way how to balance this, knowing what is going on in different parts of the world, in Latin America, in Africa. Europe is completely opposite.
Would you say the trends constitute a crisis?
I wouldn’t say that it’s a genuine demographic crisis. We are using different tools to help make Europe and Europe’s economy and social life sustainable. We are investing in the cohesion policy [E.U. funding for job creation and sustainable development projects]. Second, we are using AI and robotics for different purposes massively, and promoting it. And third, we are managing legal migration, without which we would not be able to have sustainable labor markets. Managing legal migration means that those who have a right to asylum, fine, they have a right to come. Those who don’t have a right — they have to go back.
You also manage the Conference on the Future of Europe, a major exercise in “deliberative democracy.” What’s the link between that effort and the demographic agenda that’s also on your plate?
What is the connection between democracy and demography? Because citizens are easily influenced by populists and they start believing them. And this is why we have to approach citizens, we have to be on the ground. And of course, it’s not only me, but all politicians at different levels.
So do you see your role as a de facto rebuke of far-right populism?
I wouldn’t say that. It’s not that blunt. My role is to come closer to our citizens and to show each and every European that he or she can influence drafting European policy. We were listening and following what citizens told us, and this was something very courageous. No democracy in the world has ever tried to do something similar, at least at such a large scale. Of course, some people in rural areas and elsewhere sometimes feel left behind because there is no infrastructure, there are no services. And they start blaming democracy.
We are trying to fight foreign interference, fight fake news. At the same time, we are also fighting the undemocratic tendencies from within and we have to teach our citizens, our children from a very early age, how to be responsible citizens. This is not going to happen overnight.
You come from Croatia, a country that emerged from war not long ago. What are your impressions of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine over this past year?
[The Ukrainians] are fighting for us. They are fighting for themselves. They are fighting for Europe. They are fighting for America. They are fighting for our values. I lived through war, unfortunately. At a larger scale, the same doctrine is used now by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, as by [Serbian despot Slobodan] Milosevic in Yugoslavia against the Croats and Bosniaks. So for us know, we don’t know when the war will finish, but we have to do our utmost in order to help these people. And the time is of essence here.
A slate of migration reforms sit high on the European Commission’s agenda, but seems to have fallen by the wayside because of the war. How crucial is its passage?
This is very important for Europe, you know. In 2015, there was a big crisis and we didn’t manage it well. But now there are crises not only in Ukraine, but elsewhere in the world because of climate, war and other reasons. We really have to show that we are capable of resolving this problem because in the last hundred years, each European was once a migrant. Everyone was a migrant, be it because of the Second World War or be it because of different consequences. And I think that we have to really show empathy and solidarity.
Europe has embraced millions of Ukrainian refugees in a spirit that critics say was absent in 2015 and 2016, when an exodus of Syrian refugees and other migrants arrived on the continent. Do you see the double standard there?
It is true that we triggered a temporary protection directive that was adopted in 2001, and we triggered it for the first time for Ukrainian people. In the future, we have to treat all [refugees] in the same way, so not to have special treatment for Ukrainians and for others. For the first time ever, [refugees were treated] so they have the same rights as European citizens — everything from schooling to jobs to health care. They are treated as if they are us. But in the future, we should have the same approach for everybody. I think that this is a lesson learned.
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