Sunday, March 27, 2011

How to integrate 27 strangers? Education and integration in Europe.

One of the main goals and visions of the European integration, is the creation of one federal Europe. There are many who oppose this and support a nation state approach.

Unemployment, the economic crisis, negative press and of course the reluctance of our national political elites to let go of power, have seriously damaged the orientation and the purpose of this cause recently. 

So far they attempted to create a pan-European identity or culture based on the American model. A United States of Europe, inspired and copied from USA. Our leaders try to integrate the populations of Europe following the American "panacea".

In my opinion instead of trying to "Americanize" Europeans, it would be better to "Europeanize" them! Why make them feel less for their national history, heritage, music, culture and lifestyle? It would be better to project each others' cultural elements on each other!

One way of achieving the above is by teaching European history and the benefits or obligations of EU membership to all our pupils, in schools across the continent. In this way, we create engaged and conscious EU citizens as soon as they leave school, instead of having an apathetic population.

If we explain to our students how the EU works and what it does for them, then not only they would be informed but also be able to take advantage of their EU citizenship. Then populism and nationalism could not settle as easy in their conscience.

European history with all its bad and good pages, is what unites us and we should learn from it. Our collective history shaped the continent, but our individual shaped each nation. I think the best way to understand each other and learn about each others shortfalls, is to actually examine both our collective and national history.

So that we will be able to reach to the root of a problem in each country and potentially even solve it, while working together. Share knowledge and experience to sooth any differences and inequality that stand in the way of further integration.

 How do you expect to integrate 27 (and soon more) total strangers? Before the Soviet block collapsed, my generation hardly knew that countries like Latvia or Estonia even existed. We never learned anything about them because they were in the Soviet block. Suddenly they regain their independence and they join the EU.

But all I remember of them  when I was in school is that these countries were located where the U.S.S.R started on the map.  How many of the European population really saw 2004 as the year of European reunification? How many knew the history of those "new" nations? It is not as if Lithuania suddenly sprang out of Russia. But people just saw them as poor ex-communist populations that joined EU to work for us or receive subsidies by our hard earned taxes!

If we studied about our history and each others culture, we would both keep our national heritage, but also project it to another 500 million Europeans across the continent. And of course enrich our culture with another 27 elements!

So far not only we failed to promote European integration, but we failed to integrate the immigrants in our societies too. Many European countries are struggling to integrate their immigrant populations. Instead of having separate religious schools for immigrant youths, we should be putting our kids together from a young age, not segregate them. Religion should be taught in a more generic and academic/philosophical content, instead as a dogma that must be followed.

In the case of other European immigrant children, we could promote a more multilingual education. Why set up separate language schools that youngsters must attend to learn their native language, but not have optional classes within the state schools in areas with high populations of expatriates? They could opt in for classes of their mother tongue in the same school for example.And not just them, but any student that wished to learn a new language.

The teachers of those classes could come from any EU country but should be employed by the state that the immigrants reside in. So far in most cases, it is the responsibility of the country of origin to send teachers to the expatriate populations across Europe. Why we make immigrant children feel different from a young age?

To conclude, European integration must go hand in hand with the education of its youth. Being a pupil in a European school should be an exciting learning experience, that offers the best qualifications for the future. But also exposes the young in a more collective way of thinking, cosmopolitanism, tolerance and active citizenship.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Craic Agus Ceol

March the 17th is St Patrick's Day in Ireland; a four day festival of fun, drink, Guinness and of course, the parade. A display of colorful dressed people, flags and shamrocks, everything that symbolize “Irishness”. The whole country joins in a huge big party. Will you come and join us?

Well if you actually knew that this particular day had any significance in Ireland perhaps you would. But what if you are not Irish and you live in another country, would you?

That is because very few people know anything about the public or national holidays of another EU/European country. Every year loads of tourists flock to Dublin of course, but imagine if the Parade and the events here in Ireland or parts of them, would be broadcasted in all EU countries.

Wouldn’t that promote the events in Dublin and more people would fly over to take part? What better advertisement to have, than reaching out to the nationals of the countries nearest to you, show them what is currently happening in your country. A city break for fun, drink and cultural events and with so many low cost air lines in Europe, the perfect get away for a few days!

Similar events from other EU countries could be broadcasted all over Europe. What about the Patra, Xanthi or Naoussa carnivals in Greece, the Venice carnival and so on! In that way, not only we promote tourism within EU, something that we need now with the loss of so many jobs due the current economic crisis. 

But we also learn a bit more about each other, our culture and lifestyle, national holidays, share the events that happen in our cities. We create a common interest, a common culture and sense of belonging. It does not have to be a full length documentary, a few clips in our national broadcasters’ news would be sufficient.

We could stimulate the interest of our citizens with something different to relate the European project with. Apart from finances, banking and trade, there could be culture, fun and showing off your heritage, thus placing the foundations of unity and solidarity among the different populations of Europe. So why isn't this initiative happening yet?

Happy St Patrick's Day to all!!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Can small European countries like Greece and Ireland, become Europe’s Green Industries?

With the recent recession and crisis in the Euro-zone, the two hardest hit members that were forced to get a bail out from the IMF, Greece and Ireland, are pondering on solutions and reforms for their economies.

Apart the fact that they need to push for enough reforms that the IMF demands to secure the loan deal, they really must create a plan for the future, to make sure their economies are fully functioning. They would not like another similar crisis and I am sure none of their EU partners would either.

In both cases various opinions claim, that these countries should explore the Green technology, to heal and sustain their future economies. Tourism and Agriculture mixed with the property bubble economy of Ireland, obviously can not guarantee a stable economy.

One could really applaud such ideas and we should be looking forward to watch such developments happening, not just in Greece and Ireland but on a pan-European level. But what will the opinion of other EU states be, especially that of the “EU heavyweights” France, Germany and Britain?

Imagine if those two nations started producing green energy, or set up an industry for let's say green cars, how would Germany react to this? Before the Athens Olympic Games, we were presented on national television an electric car made by the Greek Automobile Industry (ELBO), in co-operation with other companies and funding by private investors.

It was meant to go on display during the Olympics, but we never heard of it ever again. Obviously it had to be subsided to go onto mass production, something that never happened. Could it be because there was no place for more competition in the European market, or perhaps the Greek Government did not consider developing these kind of products, to diversify the Greek economy with?

One could only imagine the Germans and the British, ever buying electric cars from the Greeks. So what kind of “green industry development” can these countries invest in, to reform their economies in the future?

Perhaps the plan is to work on producing green energy, exploiting the natural resources that we already have in Europe like the wind, sun, sea and its currents. Build an economy of producing and manufacturing the components needed to do this, like solar panel manufacturing.

But with all major manufacturing companies moving to China or elsewhere with cheaper work force, can any European country set up a new industry from scrap? It will be interesting to see how do they plan to diversify the Greek and Irish economy. How can small European countries compete with much larger, well established industries in bigger countries on this?

It sounds a perfect plan, and a long delayed one too. All European states should agree to create a united industrial reform, with commonly agreed policy to develop it. It is not realistic anymore to have few countries that hold the majority of the manufacturing industries in Europe, while their partners are left to make ends meet with not so stable or profitable industries like agriculture and tourism.

With a common market and one currency in our continent, if one economy fails, everybody is affected. Tourism is not a stable economy. It relies on the financial situation of the rich developed countries and their citizens. Agriculture on the other hand needs a lot of subsidizing to make it as profitable so it can sustain a whole economy.

It is time to create pan-European manufacturing industries, with many EU nations participating and hosting facilities for exploration, testing, and producing those new “green” goods. We should stop thinking on a national level and create a competitive new kind of Eco-friendly industrial revolution, on a pan-European level.

All EU states could be participating, creating jobs and opportunities for the citizens everywhere, securing jobs for Europeans, promote development and stability throughout the continent and eliminating inequalities. Ireland and Greece do not deserve to go from boom to bust, they deserve a stable economy. They should be treated as equal EU partners and be encouraged to invest in other types of economy.

It will not just benefit them, but the whole European region in the long term, to have them and all small EU member states, thriving and equally competitive as the larger ones.

It is little good to them if the production of the solar panels, for the proposed "HELIOS" program in Greece are made in Germany, and they are just placed on Greek soil? Shouldn't be Greece who manufactured the panels and create jobs, boost its exports and become a main exporter not just of "green" energy in the region, but also of the components that are required for its exploitation. 

If everything is manufactured elsewhere, then  there is little profit for Greece and no reforms in its economy will ever take place. Perhaps part of the solution is to also stop companies from moving to China, and redistribute them throughout Europe instead. Have all nations working together, while redesigning the type of energy, cars and lifestyle our future generations will have.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

GMO? No but thanx, not in Europe!

Recently there has been a lot of debate on the right of each EU state to ban GMO crops or products made from them. Good arguments are being presented from both sides, but what must European policy makers do?

 We should not be negatively against every effort made by scientists, to better the conditions of living of the human race. But on the other hand can they totally be trusted when large corporate companies are also involved? Our food and health is not something to be experimenting with. It has been happening a lot until now, but do we know the consequences in our health?

In a common market like EU if some nations allow GMOs, then the whole market is flooded with them. If Spain starts growing GMOs, how can we stop them from spreading in the rest of the market? Either we must accept them unanimously, or rejected them the same way.

Knowing that the 27 members states, soon to be 28, argue over the smallest policies and some debates have been going on for decades, how long it will be until we make up our minds on this issue? With different nations having different agendas and interests, it is almost impossible to reach to an agreement.

Our main concern should focus on the welfare of the people. It will take decades perhaps of GMO consumption to witness any real benefits, disadvantages, or hazards.  Have we done any tests on how our current diet affects our health? It is doubtful that it is only down to smoking or stress, the rise of cancer cases of all kinds in humans.

Do we know what the food industry is putting on our table and what chemicals do we consume? If with the current practices of the food industry we have such effects in our health, I suggest instead of exploring new mutated foods, it is best to explore better, cleaner, safer food. Of course some will say the population growth can not sustain a more organic approach in our food production.

Our grand parents ate less food, yet cleaner, fresher and they are living longer and healthier. If only they had better medication perhaps they would have even better quality of life. We on the other hand, with all the junk, plastic, and mass produced food, all the chemicals involved and injected, what quality of life and health we will have when we are 80 or 90?

One has to only taste a tomato that has been grown in a hothouse, injected with so many chemicals and one that has been organically grown. Just taste butter, eggs or the meat of animals that were grown with no or minimum chemicals injected in their bodies, and you will understand the difference.

The supporters of GMO production use as an argument that we already eat modified food, developed in labs. That the breeds are crossbred to create better, faster producing animals and we already feeding plants with so much chemicals to grow faster. But what we got is tasteless food in the best case and no one knows its effect on our health. Is that really a reason to open the doors to GMOs food as well?

Another argument is the same that is being used against the CAP, the main obstacle to allow GMOs in Europe: poverty in the third world, and how Europe’s policies affect their economies. This is supported by the multinational corporate organizations of America, that have an equal share of blame for their own practices of subsidizing their farming industry.

We play the fortunes of our future generations in the stock markets. We “commodify” everything from fish, animals, water, trees and land, even people. That is the true cause of poverty and hunger in the world. We produce way too much, more than we need, yet there is still hunger in this World.

Can we really trust “created” food and the companies that make them or promote them? We do not need to eat beef burgers, chips, chicken breasts and tomato ketchup everyday, or deep fried food in oil of questionable source, such as palm oils.

Why industrialize our food in such scale, while we could eat less meat and produce less waste? Most of the food we produce goes to waste, and it is proven that fast foods are the worse kind that we can eat. There is a growing obesity crisis that hits all developed nations. Yet they want to create modified food “to feed the world,” when the reality is that they want to make more money.

Stop the growing trend of fast food eating around the world, and we won’t need as much beef, potatoes, wheat or tomatoes to create them. Keep our food “real." Why have fast food chains in every country of the world, in every neighborhood of any country, which require tonnes of beef and potatoes to keep them going?

There is only few who will benefit from all this and it is the corporate multinationals. They want to introduce GMOs, with the pretense that we need to feed the world, so they can produce faster, cheaper, more and everywhere. But with what cost to our already in danger health?