1. Foreword

For several years now the Great Recession of 2008-2013 has besetted in Europe, hitting particularly hard its southern countries and Ireland. Analysts speculate about the causes and duration and although at times it seems the economies are gaining strength, the numbers are not sufficiently or consistently positive, nor do they grow at a rate to indicate that European economies are on a firm trajectory to recovery. The problem is not a cyclic crisis, but a systemic crisis of human and social values such as greed and competition, both between individuals and between social groups. The roots lie in very profound political, social and economic processes, such as the effects of globalisation on national models of capitalism and welfare state models, the governability of Europe, and intellectual paradigms of models of society. And if we wish to do something about it, we must start to look at values differently.

As an illustration, at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2014 experts presented figures on “growing tide of inequality” from Oxfam’s International new report called, “Working for the Few”. The report states: “Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population and the 85 richest people in the world have as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest.” Obviously, this is an issue that concerns the whole world. But they are particularly relevant to the European Union. In the past 20 years the radical reforms of the European legal and economic order in the process of the EU’s eastward enlargement, together with privatisation and globalisation, have led not only to economic progress but also to widening social fissures. While enterprise profits have been on a steep rise for more than a decade, wages have been stagnant and the economic lives of many have been rendered insecure. The growing discrepancy between the few who are rich and the many who are the so called “working poor” (i.e. people who work, but their wages are so low they cannot sustain themselves nor their families) needs to be addressed.[1]

[1]              The Social Economy in the European Union, Report drawn for the European Economic and Social Committee by the International Centre of Research and Information on the Public, Social and Cooperative Economy (CIRIEC), Jose Luis Monzon & Rafael Chaves, 2012

 

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