Business: European project put under spotlight in bleak gut check
The Decline and Fall of Europe, By Francesco Bongiovanni
That the European Union was given the Nobel Peace Prize last month is in stark juxtaposition to Francesco Bongiovanni's prediction that the region could be headed for catastrophic decline.
In a thought-provoking book, Bongiovanni warns that 'Project Europe' cannot be taken for granted – while the potential for it to unravel may be remote, it's a possibility nonetheless.
After centuries of war, the European Union has managed to keep conflict at bay among its members for over 50 years.
"Project Europe may contain serious flaws, but one virtue is undeniable and priceless: the locomotive of integration, central to Project Europe, so intertwined the economic and socio-political lives of countries it touched that armed conflict between them has truly become unthinkable," observes Bongiovanni.
But the system is in danger, he insists.
The "disease" of generous social welfare payments, particularly abused in southern Europe but pervasive across the region, is just one of the symptoms of Europe's illness.
Child benefit payments – spent by recipients from the UK to France "as if it were a Christmas bonus" – come under attack as just one of the elements of a social welfare system gone mad. One that enables people to live a work-free life at the expense of taxpayers, where French dock workers can retire at 55 with a near €50,000 pension after working just 18 hours a week.
The social rot goes deep, he says. It begins with children being assimilated to a school life where they get a couple of months off during the summer – "few of them work" during this time, unlike in the US, insists the author. "Even when business is bad, Europeans will put their vacation time ahead of work whatever the consequences."
This, of course, has a ring of complete nonsense to many Irish people and business owners who have slaved hard over the past few years as the country suffered from economic meltdown.
Bongiovanni admits as much, noting that northern European workers are "less inclined to profligacy and selfishness".
But while he may generalise, the wider point is true – that across Europe, over-generous social welfare payments will put the entire social model in question.
The seeds of Europe's misfortune have been "planted by a series of broad, dismal socio-political choices", Bongiovanni adds.
You may not agree with him, but his book is undeniably invigorating.
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