Comment: Panel debate on ‘Do Europeans care?’

Published: 07 December 2010

 The highly anticipated panel debate on the subject, “Do Europeans care about the rest of the world?” filled one of the EDD’s larger auditoriums with eager spectators, with the event broadcast live on the web for those unwilling or unable to find a space on the floor.  

After two hours of debate, the majority left unsatisfied by a polite debate focusing on development education – skirting the title subject and ignoring the important questions. Do Europeans even want to be educated about the developing world, for example?

While the subject of whether nations crippled with debt that can’t even help themselves – younger member states in particular - was touched upon, there was little sympathy, with the words ‘selfish’ and ‘self-centred’ appearing more than once to describe people that are supposed to be European citizens.

As Meagan Baldwin of Concord pointed out in an earlier discussion with the Young Reporters, the EDDs bring like-minded people together – experts in development, people campaigning for change. The problem is, these people are often in the minority. They are passionate about what they are fighting for, development – but this does not reflect that of the average European, who is arguably more likely to be passionate about The X Factor. This shouldn’t be regretted for a second – the EDDs have been inspiring in showing the world that so many people do care, that apathy has not taken over – but is it possible for these people to understand the mind-set of the majority? These selfless people may just struggle too much to see the world from the viewpoint of the selfish – and may struggle even more to see that sometimes – just sometimes – they have a point.

For example, according to MEP Franziska Keller, our motivation in giving aid should be compassion: seeing the human faces behind the statistics of deaths and illness and famine. The more ‘selfish’ idea that aid should be seen as another form of security, to increase stability and avoid costly wars and unrest was generally condemned.

But as far as I can see, the selfish argument is the right argument. If we are only encouraging struggling EU nations to donate money abroad for the sake of compassion, the argument will soon fall flat. Why not be compassionate for the 18% of Latvians who are unemployed? The Roma gypsies forced to live in squalor as they travel west to Spain or France in search of a better life? Or the 1 in 6 Europeans either below of at risk of falling below the poverty line? Although stereotypically it is the newest EU members who are seen with the biggest social problems, if we really are going to be compassionate, why should older member states give money abroad either? Lives are full of suffering in every single European nation. With this facing us every day, on our own doorsteps, should we care about the rest of the world? Aid donations would slowly disappear, along with hope for developing nations.

Ultimately, the question was never going to be answered by this panel. Europe is too diverse for a start – and this was hardly reflected in the panel. All of them had a strong interest in development issues, all of them appeared to be well educated, to understand politics. While I wouldn’t like to presume anything about the panellist’s personal circumstance of any of the panellists, I would guess none of them live below the poverty line. Whether Europeans care is a question that will never be answered- because in the end, we can only speak for ourselves.