Provincieraadzaal (Provinciehuis) @ Koningin Elisabethlei 22, 2018 Antwerpen, Belgium
Subject: Economic Crisis as a Social Challenge for Europe
Said El KHADRAOUI, Member of European Parliament
Johan Van OVERTVELDT, Editor-in-Chief of Knack and Trends Magazines
Dr. Ferdi de VILLE, University of Ghent
This panel was organised in partnership with Inspiration vzw from Antwerp. Having welcomed around 80 participants, the programme aimed at exploring the social impacts that the recent economic crisis has spawned in Belgian society.
European Professionals Network (EPN) organized a panel discussion with the collaboration of Inspiration women’s association on the 1st of March. The panel, titled the “The Economic Crises as a Social Problem”, took place in the governor’s building of the city of Antwerp. The economical situation, from specific to general terms, of the Flemish part of Belgium, Belgium, and and Europe were discussed.
The opening speech on behalf of Inspiration was carried out by Gülten Öztürk, and by Muhammed Özdemir on behalf of EPN.
The panel was moderated by Saliha Özdemir, who is currently a PhD student at the Immigration Migration Minorities research centre at the Catholic University of Leuven. The speakers were the head editor of the magazine Knack, Johan van Overtveldt, the European Parliament parliamentarian Said El Khadraoui, and political scientist Ferdi de Ville, working at Ghent University. The speakers presented their subjects and discussed the following arguments with the listeners during two hours.
Genk is one of the poorest cities in the Flemish region; twenty seven years after the coal mines closed it has once again been stricken by the crises with the closure of the factory of Ford, which resulted with the unemployment of ten thousand people. Archelor Mittal declared that he had to let go of eight hundred people a few months ago in Liege and a few days ago Charleroi announced that they let go of one thousand four hundred people. The European Commission is also at alarm because of the rising unemployment and corruption all around Europe. On top of the increasing unemployment families in Europe have to deal with the decrease of income within the family and the increasing social segregation that comes with it. These are only a part of the issues that are currently discussed in Europe.
The flows in the economic situation spanning over thirty years brings to mind that history is bound to repeat itself. The 1980s in Belgium is remembered as another period where unemployment had reached its peak and several corporations declared their bankruptcy. Professor Paul de Grauwe states that although there are parallels between the crises in the 80s and now the reasons both crises started are completely different. The moderator started the panel with very pessimistic reports but she explained that she did this on purpose with the hope that she will hear optimistic speeches brought out by the other panellists.
The first panellist van Overdtvelt, claimed that it would be erroneous to examine the crises as starting due to governmental debts. According to the speaker the impact of the finance sector on the crises cannot be ignored. He suggested that today, rather contrarily to the 80s, we have more than one crises going on at the same time. His contention was that today contrary to the financial cooperation Europe lacks political corporation and for Europe to overcome this crisis governments have to put aside their individual benefits and work for Europe together. He ended his speech by stating that a successful unity can only come about by a solid chance in the job market.
Said El Khadraoui began his words by saying that he agreed with the ideas of the first panellist. He suggested that the complexity of the financial sector of Europe was going towards a more complex situation and the financial interdependency and varieties between the European countries did not help solve the problem. He said that his view was if Europe wants to solve the problem they have to acquire more democratic responsibilities and seek solutions in counselling. He ended his speech by stating that a common sense of guilt will act as a catalyser for European countries to take more responsibility in solving the predicament and this can only be done when they take responsibility not on a national basis but at the European level.
Ferdi de Ville also agreed with the point about common sense of guilt. He supported the idea that debating is the best way to a common and effective solution and that what Europe needs is more democratic debates and counselling. According to de Ville there is a vast gap of inequality within and among countries which means that there is a bigger problem than just governmental debts.
After the panellists presented their topics the listeners were given a chance to ask their questions. Before the panel ended a few words of the American sociologist Robert Florida, concerning the creative class and how this should inspire people and institutions to find alternative solutions, were shared:
“Economic enlargement is inspired by creativity, if we want to grow in an increasing speed we have to find a way to develop our creativity. This should be the focus of governments, whether local, national or international”.
The Minister of Economy and Deputy Prime Minister Johan Vande Lanotte’s ideas on ethnic diversity and entrepreneurship were shared. EPN and BETIAD (Belgian Active Entrepreneurs Association) organized a dinner on the 8th of February on behalf of Mr. Vande Lanotte with the participation of three hundred professionals. The minister shared very valuable ideas on ethnic variety within a country where he professed that, “Belgium as a global outlook and our ethnic diversity is a valuable resource in strengthening our economic structure and enlarging.” The ideas of the panellists concerning this issue were shared.
Vande Lanotte had explained that entrepreneurship and technology are indispensible means for economic growth. Ferdi de Ville focused on the importance of creativity and gave examples from South America where families were able to utilise green energy to pay their debts and be environment friendly. El Khadroui expressed his idea that Europe should corporate more on a supranational level.
One of the questions that were asked by the listeners was how would Turkey’s prospering economy affect their process of joining the European Union. This question was answered very positively by the panellists and El Khadroui added that the crises started in Europe and will end in Europe.
The panel was followed with a cocktail where the listeners were able to discuss the issues with the panellists and enrich their network.