Eurobarometer 2016: The biggest issues and their obvious solutions
Richard Parncutt

July 2016

What are the EU's current priorities, according to its citizens? In April 2016, a survey called "Special Eurobarometer of the European Parliament" was conducted in all 28 EU Member States. The main results were documented in the first paragraph of the report as follows:

The fight against terrorism should be the EU's number one priority followed by action on unemployment, the fight against tax fraud, migration, the protection of external borders and the environment, according to the vast majority of people surveyed in a special Eurobarometer carried out by the European Parliament.

Read no further. What lessons can we learn from this? How can these primary issues - these hot topics - be resolved?

I wish to argue that the solutions are simpler than we think. In fact, they may be staring us in the face, but for some reason we don't see them. They tend to get suppressed by a lot of distracting talk in the media. Sensational reports of "breaking news" take the limelight, while careful discussions of the pros and cons of different theories and strategies are forgotten.

Interesting political issues are usually complex, of course. But it is often possible to identify the main problem and to express it in simple, clear language. On that basis we can often formulate a simple, clear solution or strategy.

A lot can be gained by trying to get straight to the point rather than beating around the bush. That is what I will try to do in this little essay. If I have missed something important, please let me know.

Before I start, we should be careful about accusing other people of being less intelligent than we are. I often have to stop myself falling into that trap. The rest of Europe thought the Brits were dumb for voting to leave the EU. Ils sont fous les anglais! Europeans think Americans are dumb for believing in god and guns. Here in Austria we think the far right is dumb for voting against their own interests.

As I will show, the results of the Eurobarometer survey suggest that Europeans in general are not very smart, either. Here is my brief solution-oriented analysis to the EU's main problems, according to its own citizens. To my knowledge, most people don't see these simple solutions - or they don't realise how powerful they could be if we only applied them.

"The fight against terrorism should be the EU's number one priority."

What is the main cause of terrorism (e.g. IS)? There are lots of complicated theories out there about that, but surely the main cause is obvious. It is the countless violent interventions by the US and the West, especially in the Middle East.
This state-sponsored violence has been going with staggering intensity for decades. The Iraq invasion in 2003 was merely the climax.

It can't be repeated often enough that the US has bombed 24 countries since 1945. This is a staggering level of violence, with staggering consequences. It's no wonder many people hate the US and hate the West, and bear that hate throughout their lives. No wonder people are angry. No wonder people adopt extremist ideologies. No wonder some people go so far as to blow themselves up for a crazy cause.

When will we realise that and have the courage to talk about it? It comes down to the good old "military-industrial complex". This monster must be dismantled, and urgently.

The moral to the story is this: Violent "solutions" just cause more violence. And if we look with an open mind at the recent history of the Middle East, we see that what "we" in the West have been doing is far worse (in terms of numbers of people killed) than what "they" (e.g. the Arab countries) have been doing.

The solution is to stop supporting state terrorism. Noam Chomsky has been saying it for decades, backing up his arguments with all kinds of detailed research. It's finally time to sit up and listen.

The best way to solve international conflicts is with open-ended peace talks. Never give up the quest for peaceful solutions. We should be limiting the international arms trade with the long-term intention of stopping it completely. We should be learning the foundations of pacifism and applying them.

Christians should read the Gospels. Those are four great little books! Better late than never.

"followed by action on unemployment"

In a way, unemployment is good: it is a sign that technology is working, so we have less work to do. Isn't that progress?

The problem is not unemployment - it is the unfair distribution of wealth. The obvious solution is to combine wealth tax with basic income. Wealth tax must be internationally harmonized to prevent capital flight. This is what our politicians should be talking about at their international summits.

The trade unions should stop clinging to the idea of full employment. It's a thing of the past. They should stop expecting politicians to "create" full employment. Politicians are not magicians. The world has changed, and the unions have to change with it. If they are serious about promoting the rights and interests of workers, they have to start fighting for wealth tax and basic income.

Beyond that, jobs can be "created" by tax reforms that simultaneously solve other problems. Tax environmental damage and the sustainable energy industry will grow, creating jobs. But any such strategy is likely to reduce the amount of employment in other areas. In that case, please reread the previous paragraph.

"the fight against tax fraud"

Of course. Which makes you wonder: If Europeans are so concerned about tax fraud, why don't they elect politicians who claim plausibly that they are going to stop it?

The first step is to state one's intention of ending the era of tax havens, regardless of how difficult that tax might appear at first. The next step is to work on a global agreement to agree on this intention, insisting that the truth be told about the situation, and all distortions of the truth be exposed. Finally, implement the agreement. Just do it!

I know of only two high-profile politicians with this plausible intention: Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. What makes these two stand out is not that they are left or right, but that they are telling the truth. Which is incidentally the aim of this little essay.

Q: Why are politicians regarded as "radical" if they are merely honest and propose to do what almost everybody wants?
 A: Because most politicians are doing neither of those things.

"migration, the protection of external borders"

The first thing is to remember is that human rights must always be respected. Human rights are not something that can be voted against in an election or referendum. They are inalienable - which quickly becomes clear to anybody whose rights are not respected.

It is no use declaring a "national emergency" just because a few thousand Syrians are seeking asylum in a country with a population of a few million, and then refusing to admit any more. This kind of response, favored by Austria (our motto: "Poor us! Wir sind so oam"), is implausible. In fact, to my knowledge the "asylum crisis" of 2015-2016 has had no net negative effect on Austria or any other country. Any negative effect was small and counterbalanced by the positive effect of new people arriving with a lot of fresh expertise and enthusiasm. Who is going to finance the pension system if not enough babies are being born? Exactly. So much for the national emergency theory.

The second thing to remember is that the refugees knocking on our doors are symptoms, not causes. They are symptoms of a much bigger problem - not the problem itself. The only way to reduce the symptoms in the long term is to tackle the original problem directly.

The refugee problem has been caused, and it will continue in the future to be caused, by poverty, violence, and (increasingly) climate change, especially in developing countries. When people realise that, things will become clearer. The two above-mentioned high-profile politicians have plausible plans to address these causes or the problem. (Not sure about the rest.)

Meanwhile the problems of communication and the mutual misunderstandings in the UN security council that failed to prevent the Syrian war have not been resolved, so a similar crisis can develop in another country at any time. And Austria is spending only 0.3% GDP on official development assistance compared to UK 0.7% and Sweden 1.0% - and hardly anyone is talking about it, as if the old promise to pay 0.7% did not exist.

"and the environment"

Oh dear. What about solutions? What about carbon tax? Banning fracking? Banning oil exploration? Stopping coal exports? Divestment from the fossil fuel industry? Again it seems the same two politicians are talking seriously about this, and not many others. Why don't we elect them?

Meanwhile those many Europeans who say environment is a priority are driving cars around every day as if there was no alternative, and we think nothing of hopping on aeroplanes. What about personal responsibility?

The bottom line: Governments versus corporations

The solutions to the main problems of the EU, according to its citizens, are surely obvious. The problems themselves are complex, but the main solutions are not. That said, we may well ask why the obvious solutions are not happening.

The familiar and usual problem is that corporations and their rich, selfish (it has to be said, sorry) owners are standing in the way. That makes the conflict between governments and corporations the defining struggle of our times. That in turn implies that we should vote for politicians who clearly state that and pursue realistic strategies to reduce corporate power and increase democratic power.

The solution to the Europeans' problems is to support the politicians who are going to solve them! It's that easy. The ones who say: "Here is a clearly defined problem. What is the most obvious solution? Ok let's do it!"

So let's do it and stop beating around the bush. For the sake of our children.

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