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Rediscovering core social values

Tomorrow, Malta is hosting the 13th meeting of the Arraiolos Group. This is an annual forum of non-executive presidents of the European Union. The Malta meeting is the largest Arraiolos meeting to date. Thirteen heads of state will be participating, and for the very first time, the group will include three female European presidents.

This initiative began in 2003, in the Portuguese town of Arraiolos, by the former president of Portugal, Jorge Sampaio.

Since then, the size and scope of the event has steadily grown and evolved. This forum provides a platform from which the non-executive EU presidents explore the current developing concerns faced by the peoples of Europe.

The theme for this year’s meeting, ‘Crossing Borders’, is an invitation for all of us to reflect on how Europe can rediscover its core social values.

The 2017 Arraiolos meeting is also an opportunity for European non-executive heads of state to increase the visibility of the particular issues being faced within our communities, our societies and our regions.

This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the important Treaties of Rome, which laid the foundations for the setting up of the European Union. I believe that it is essential for us, as heads of state, to use this time to discuss the social dimension of Europe, and explore a more inclusive and participatory future for our family of nations.

I am convinced that, as heads of state, we will focus our attention on important issues of social justice, such as the phenomenon of migration, strategies for socio-economic inclusion, and the need to nurture processes of democratic participation, for the benefit of all our citizens and the residents of our countries.

I believe that focusing on these complex challenges will help us to develop an important dialogue, which, while bridging our differences on the one hand, will create opportunities for connection and mutual enrichment on the other.

We cannot ignore the importance of addressing the social tensions and political uncertainties facing many of our nations, which are manifesting themselves in a variety of ways. In the inspiring words of Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

For this reason, first of all, I believe that we must prioritise the provision of equitable education, through the promotion of inclusive school systems across our union. Such strategies for long-term educational inclusion must also be paralleled by more investment in targeted qualification measures for low-skilled and young people.

There are still around 11 million people in the EU who have been unemployed for over a year, and this figure demands decisive action on behalf of our political authorities.

Let us also highlight the need for sustainable and high-quality healthcare policies, which ensure that the largest possible share of the population receives access to services which extend length of life and enhance people’s quality of life, at the lowest possible cost.

The world is witnessing an increase in far-right rhetoric and aggressive populism

In all of these areas, we cannot rely on a one-size-fits-all solution.

I believe that to seriously address the problems, we must nurture greater solidarity among our countries and peoples.

We must prioritise innovative strategies and the sharing of good practices, especially in areas of mutual concern.

As regards poverty prevention, it is essential that child poverty be given top priority by all EU Member States. According to data from last year’s Social Justice in the EU Index Report, 26.9 per cent of all children and young people are at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU.

Financial support through housing benefits, child benefits, relevant tax allowances for families and other measures, must therefore be paralleled by an equal investment in education and the labour market.

Moreover, unfortunately, the world is witnessing an increase in far-right rhetoric and aggressive populism. Even long-established democracies and liberal nations are not immune to these threats. This situation is further compounded within the context of migration, particularly across our Euro-Mediterranean region.

Studies such as the recent report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development clearly indicate that migrants account for some 70 per cent of the increase in the European workforce over the past decade. This fact shows that migrants are effectively net contributors to our countries, in terms of taxes and social contributions, rather than net receivers of benefits.

Migration is also boosting Europe’s working-age demographic, particularly in the light of the ageing population in Europe, and unsustainable welfare and pension systems.

Therefore, calling for the creation of borders and closing down potential connections, in response to the perceived threat of migration, is a strategy which is not only socially dangerous, but also economically damaging.

Studies show that higher levels of social justice result in greater economic prosperity.

Growing inequalities therefore have a negative impact on long-term economic growth, and must be addressed in a holistic approach, where social and economic transformations take place side-by-side.

The Arraiolos meeting is a platform to promote closer collaboration and solidarity.

In this context, it is my firm belief that we cannot only implement economic globalisation without a parallel investment in a global social solidarity approach.

I look forward to the outcomes of the Arraiolos meeting, which I hope creates a positive effect in the lives of all our peoples.

Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca is President of Malta.

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