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    European Ideas on Interview with Jean-Claude Barbier

    26th November 2012
    Prof. Jean-Claude Barbier is a Senior Researcher in Sociology at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) based at the University Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne. He was interviewed by European Ideas ambassador Nadia Bonifačić.
     
    You recently published a book called “The Road to Social Europe”. Has the goal of Social Europe been reached or are we still on the road towards it?
     
    I am afraid the goal of Social Europe was never really put at the core of the European project, even in the days of its “golden age” which are unfortunately behind us. There is a deep asymmetry in the functioning and in the conception of the European Union, between the design and consistent support given to economic rights, and the uncertain and limited support given to social rights, especially collective rights, like social insurance, but also cultural and language rights, despite their listing in the Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union, now fully European law, but little used in the Court of Justice case law.
     
    You deliver a cultural analysis of welfare systems in Europe. Are you in favour of harmonising welfare systems in Europe or keeping the broad diversity?
     
    One should not pursue impossible goals. A time may come when systems of social protection could be really “harmonised”, but this is in the very long-term. The goal of “harmonising” was present when the Community was made of 6 countries, but it was gradually sidelined. As new countries became members over time, their systems looked increasingly different. The difference was at its most with Central and Eastern Europe joining in. Hence, keeping diversity is inevitable. It is also inevitable because, as the developments of the crisis have illustrated since 2008, solidarity across the Union is not a given. Since the 19th century, systems of solidarity have been grounded on national bases. Because of the diversity of political communities in the European Union, conceptions of solidarity and of social justice vary strongly from country to country, and also from region to region. It is an obvious fact today that spontaneous solidarity does not exist between this and that country’s populations.
     
    What does a sociological understanding of cultural diversity in Europe entail?
     
    Although many Europeans are unfortunately not conscious of it, European values do exist. This does not prevent the fact that national or regional ways of thinking about justice and solidarity vary; this does not prevent the fact that, unfortunately, in all the countries, insiders and nationals do not consider outsiders and foreigners on an equal footing, be they European citizens or people coming from outside the Union. The cultural diversity is linked to the fact that political communities, because of their linguistic frontiers, are all like “language prisons” to a certain extent. Only a tiny privileged elite is able to speak English with sufficient proficiency in order to fully participate to the European political debate. This is why the true making of a full- fledged European solidarity entails an authentic multilingual dialogue, political and cultural. In this respect, learning from each other, including learning many other languages – be it also acquiring passive understanding, is essential for any form of strong solidarity to emerge in the future.
     
    How does increased cross-national mobility of young people in Europe affect cultural diversity in Europe?
     
    As Erasmus – despite its limited scope – has shown, mobility increases comprehension between the different cultures; it enhances linguistic skills, and not the lazy solution of English as the only language. However, it is essential that young students keep being active in exchanges, in their jobs and careers, in order to keep and update their linguistic skills, and be able to pass them on to their kids; this is far from the situation prevailing today. It is also essential to open up new programmes for less privileged young people, who cannot afford attending university; equivalents for Erasmus projects should be funded in the future for young workers, apprentices, etc. Democratizing mobility is essential, also as an investment against the creeping hostility to Europe in an age of austerity.
     
    How important are languages for the European integration?
     

    You have understood from all my answers that I view language skills as central to the whole European edifice. This entails a difficult reshuffling of political and spending priorities in the Union, but it is at the same time possible and indispensable. 

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