Brussels is aware of the erosion exerted on the European spirit by authoritarian parties, especially after the passage of the pandemic, which has exacerbated the economic deficiencies of millions of citizens. The scuffles between most of the EU member states and Poland and Hungary are known for their reforms to limit freedoms on their borders, a claim that the Commission has tried to stop through the negotiation of European funds, now conditioned for members to ensure judicial independence. In addition to the battle against populisms, Brussels recognizes that the economic crisis derived from covid-19 has caused certain Europeans to look skeptical at the multilateral powers. “The challenges come from many sides and it has never been so urgent to reconcile citizens with the European project. Democracy cannot be taken for granted ”, summed up this Thursday Dubravka Šuica, vice-president of the European Commission, during her speech at the 2022 Trends Forum, organized by EL PAÍS.
“The pandemic has had an unprecedented impact, with a great burden on society,” has deepened Šuica, who has warned that the crisis will be exploited by populists: “We know that many citizens feel abandoned, but that vacuum cannot be filled with empty speeches ”.
To counteract these interference, the Vice-President of the Commission is committed to dialogue between Europe and its citizens and to show them that European organizations listen to the population, and has referred to the Conference on the future of Europe, underway since March and that will connect to the citizens of the Twenty-seven among themselves and with the leaders. “It is the most democratic project we have ever developed”, Šuica assured, adding: “We can only be successful if we all hold ourselves accountable and citizens interact with politicians, even with those who feel alien to the European project”.
Latin America, an opportunity for Europe
Another of the geographic keys for the EU is in Latin America, where the Commission must grapple with the expansionist ambitions of Russia and China, in addition to the new, more assertive role of the United States.To Dita Charanzová, vice-president of the European Parliament, who has also participated in the 2022 Trends Forum of EL PAÍS, this panorama does not worry him, and he believes that the Old Continent will not see its position in the region diminished. “We have contacts, historical and cultural ties with Latin America and that will continue forever.”
In any case, an accolade always comes in handy and there are few better for it than the agreement between the European Union and Mercosur, which went ahead in 2019 after more than 20 years of negotiations and which now finds obstacles to achieve its ratification by the States especially because of the French, Austrian and Irish reluctance. “It is a unique opportunity for the Union, because we have the opportunity to be the first in this market, which is traditionally very protectionist,” explains Charanzová. “Some member states think that trade agreements are not just a matter of tariffs, but have a broader scope: we have to touch all the issues of the environment, human rights and social issues.”
Photogallery: 2022 Trends Forum: How to channel the exit from the crisis caused by the coronavirus, in images
In this sense, some policies of the Government of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil (by far the largest economy in Mercosur), especially that of its treatment of the Amazon rainforest, have reinforced the position of the most reticent states, eager to protect industries such as the meat. “I agree with this broad vision of trade agreements”, has defended Charanzová. “But you also have to have some limits on where we can go. We cannot resolve all issues prior to approval of the agreement. But it will allow us to have a structural dialogue, a space, with these countries where we can touch on all these issues ”. And he gives as an example the case of the agreement with Cuba, in which there is a mechanism to suspend the agreement if certain human rights parameters are not met, “which I believe are not met.”
“Doctors and even farmers of the future will use the technology”
One of the aspects that has changed the most due to the pandemic is education. As explained by Hadi Partovi, founder and CEO of the organization Code.org: “In the world of education there are at least three things that have happened due to the pandemic and that will be part of the new normal. The first is that countries like Colombia, El Salvador or Peru have invested in computers and the internet for children. The second is that, in many countries (in the United States, of course) teachers have become more technological: they have all learned to use video conferencing, online surveys and other tools to keep in touch with their students. As soon as they return to the classroom, these teachers will have lost some of their fear of technology, and will be more willing to learn and teach. And third, many jobs have been taking an approach that prioritizes remoteness. If you learn computer skills, you no longer need to move to Silicon Valley or a big city to work, in a tech or anywhere else – the jobs will come to you. And that makes education important everywhere: in cities and towns ”.
The insistence on computer skills is not a whim, Partovi has pointed out. “We will need doctors, teachers, farmers and we will always need them. This is precisely why we need to develop digital talents: because the teachers, doctors and even farmers of the future will use technology in a way that has never been done before ”. And he has put several examples. “It is clear that the future of medicine is technological. If vaccines have been developed so quickly, it is because computer science has been combined with genetic engineering and biological modeling. Farmers of the future will use autonomous tractors and drones that will need to be programmed. “
Using such technology, Partovi added, cannot be just for a few who know about computer science. “All jobs will be increasingly digital, so learning from this technology, not only how to use it, but also how to create it, is a skill that will be fundamental, not only for technical careers, but for all careers in all economies. That is the direction things are taking, both in primary and secondary education: and you have to act and react ”.
And that reaction must be inclusive, because women have borne the brunt of the pandemic, as is often the case in all crises. As Cheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer and ambassador for Code.org: “Women are 69% more likely to be illiterate than men, because when you have to choose who to send to school, you prefer to send boys, not girls, for a lot of reasons that should change in our societies ”.
“What should we do? Make sure girls get an education. Make sure that internet access, including mobile phones, is the same for everyone, regardless of gender ”. Asked if she is concerned about the potential long-term impact of the pandemic on girls’ education, Sandberg was blunt: “Yes. This is undoubtedly a health crisis and an economic crisis, but it is also a gender crisis. And it is seen all over the world, starting with the developed one ”.
“In the United States, women have just dropped to the labor participation levels of 1988,” Sandberg has abounded. “We have undone decades of progress. More than five and a half million women have lost their jobs and two and a half million women have left the workforce. Because if women already had a double task before the pandemic, working in offices and then having to take care of housework and care, that has multiplied during the pandemic ”.
The Facebook executive has delved into how the pandemic has increased the double duty of women. “The children were not in school and the elderly parents had to be looked after as well. And the vast majority of all this fell and continues to fall on women. ” In developing countries, this does not improve. “72% of African women have been concerned that they did not have enough food to eat for the past 20 days,” explains Sandberg. “Let’s look at the rates of job loss and the rates of hunger, the rates of domestic violence, of violence against women, of rape. All the things we want to see improve, like education, are getting worse, and all the things we want to see fall, like violence against women, are going up. We are in a gender crisis, an absolute crisis, and not only is it not over, but it is not about to end ”.