By: Sara Mariani

The global COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of today’s society, bringing to the fore the weaknesses of what were thought to be the strong points of institutions, such as education.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected educational systems worldwide, leading to the near-total closures of schools, universities and colleges.

Teaching has turned into distance learning: online learning has become the way to continue to educate themselves by staying in their own homes.

In Europeans’ homes between mid-March and early May 2020, families report that they have divided the various rooms of the house and, equipped with their own PC, have started to create their own space: their own office, their own classroom.

In many European countries, schools and universities will be closed until September, and a new challenge faces us.

Can distance learning work?

Going to school is the best public policy tool available to increase skills, while time spent at school can be fun and increase social skills and social awareness.

Even a relatively short period of lost school-time will have consequences for skills development. But can we estimate how much the interruption of school due to COVID-19 will affect learning? Not very precisely, as we are in a new world; but we can use other studies to achieve an approximate order of magnitude.

Technology can provide teachers and students access to specialised materials far beyond textbooks, in multiple formats and in ways that can fill time and space, but lack of access to technology or good internet connectivity is an obstacle to lifelong learning, especially for students from disadvantaged families.

In fact, there are students who do not have computers, and students who do not have enough internet connection to allow the whole family to connect.

Some European governments have taken measures to ensure support for the most disadvantaged families.

In Spain, a recently adopted law stipulates that families with children receiving school meals are entitled to financial aid or direct food supply during school closures.

The Dutch government has allocated €2.5 million for the purchase of laptops for students in general and vocational education who do not have adequate equipment at home.

In Portugal, a national TV channel is broadcasting classes in different subjects for all students of compulsory school age, targeting in particular those who do not have access to the Internet and/or computers.

In Ireland, a specific guide from the Department for Education and Skills provides advice and practical resources for schools and teachers to support primary and post-primary students who are at risk of educational disadvantage.

Similar initiatives can be found in other parts of Europe. They represent some of the most urgent and fundamental responses needed to address the social and educational inequalities in our societies that the coronavirus pandemic has increased.

But these initiatives promoted by European countries need time to be implemented and, in the immediate future, children in a disadvantaged situation will difficultly participate in the new educational model.

This new challenge has left us powerless, and we have had to recreate, reinvent ourselves.

We recognize 4 different problem on distance learning.

First of all, a privacy issue is then underlined: between teachers and students, there are parents in the middle who try to dictate timetables for video lessons that are more appropriate to their own. This creates real situations of intrusiveness in the field that the school should not allow at all. Nor should we go into the assessment, which is the sole responsibility of the teachers. In short, at the time of COVID-19, all the parameters of professional ethics proper to teachers were in fact skipped.

Without forgetting the objective difficulties that appear in the course of practical subjects: the chemistry labs in universities, those who teach music, how can through a video lesson make the student apply the use of the object according to the correct management of hands or body posture?

How to preserve the sense of belonging, participation, empathy, involvement, friendship, interactions that characterize school life?

The psychological and social aspects are in fact put at great risk with the closure of schools and often overshadowed because they are defined as not relevant problems.

The rate of depression has increased: this was confirmed in an article published by the journal Lancet Psychiatry ( )  by a group of 42 world experts who formed the International Covid-19 Suicide Prevention Research Collaboration, according to which, however, action can still be taken to avoid or at least reduce the problem.

But it is undeniable that the “weak” subjects are those most strongly penalized by this situation.

Finally, there are many invisible in Europe. And COVID-19 has made him even more invisible to political priorities that often relegate the condition of disability to a grant.

Pupils with disabilities and their families are particularly affected by this forced isolation: few courageous initiatives to meet the specific needs and to mitigate the isolation they suffer. Undoubtedly, the forced absence leads to a significant interruption or loss, from a psychological point of view and of interpersonal relationships essential to increase the will to live.

Health needs must also include mental health and well-being, which will continue to be a challenge for both students and staff after the period of confinement. Surveys conducted among teachers during the current pandemic show that many are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety related to school closures, online learning and the uncertainties surrounding their return to school.

The next challenge will be to contain these feelings with the reopening of schools and universities.

What can be done to mitigate these negative impacts? Schools need resources to rebuild the loss in learning, once they open again. How these resources are used, and how to target the children who were especially hard hit, is an open question. Given the evidence of the importance of assessments for learning, schools should also consider postponing rather than skipping internal assessments. For new graduates, policies should support their entry to the labour market to avoid longer unemployment periods.

For more information about Ecepaa:

Read our last article about the inequality to face with the COVID-19:

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Are we equal in the face of the Covid19 threat? There are three categories of people more exposed to risks. Let’s see which one.

By: Sara Mariani

Covid 19 has been coming into our lives for about two months now.  Quietly, in small steps, it approached and began to carve its place in the minds of all of us. Initially on 31st December 2019, with a news report on the news around the world announcing the discovery of a new virus in China.

“Too far away to care” was the general reaction.  Too far to affect us.

The numbers kept reappearing on television “the number of deaths today has risen to…”, and as I walked from room to room in my apartment, I could see these numbers getting bigger and bigger.

One day it reached Italy and made the word “distance” lose all its meaning.

On the one hand, in fact, the coronavirus has managed in a short time to make us understand how much we are all connected and how much what happens in China, apparently on the other side of the world, is not so far away from us; on the other hand, it has narrowed the distance to a minimum common denominator: The four walls in which you live are the maximum distance. It doesn’t matter if you are 20 minutes on foot or 2 hours by plane: the distance that separates you from others is the same and it’s impassable.

covid19 spread: Europe

The lives of each of us have changed, no matter what social class we belong to: rich, poor, no one can move, no one is immune to this pathogen. There is no way to fight this new intruder: but, since viruses spread if they find bodies that can host them, the only way to avoid contagion would seem to be to stay at home.

Many of us are learning that there are a thousand ways to be alone: some painful, some new, some unexpected. The media, social networks and chat messages record the nuances. There are those who spend their days trying to stem the losses of a job they no longer have; those who watch movies, read books, listen to albums; those who record humoral videos, those who clip ironic clips; and there are those who are alone and walk around a table.

Then there is F. who is sitting on a bench in Rome and is worried because he knows that the temperature that night will drop and that he will spend it on that bench. 

Homeless person on a bench during covid19

F. is one of the 14,000 to 16,000 homeless people living in Rome. One of the 50,000 in Italy. (1)

There are a number of limits that are difficult to overcome: the canteens must respect the distance of at least one meter between people, and many can’t make it; many dormitories have decided not to open the doors to new guests; those who distribute clothes have preferred to suspend the collection.

And then there is a paradox: people with symptoms of respiratory infections and fever are asked to consult their doctor and follow the instructions. They often have to stay at home, in quarantine.

This is the first reason: to stay at home, you need to have one. And a lot of people who live on the street besides not having one don’t even have a residence, so they can’t have a doctor.

On the other hand, there is no talk of domestic violence in Italian, Belgian and Greek homes.(2)

The second reason: the virus, meanwhile, forces the victims to stay home:

Table about the knowledge of domestic violence in EU

In Italy, 81.2% of femicides took place within the home, and data from the Telefono Rosa show that telephone calls in the first two weeks of March decreased by 55.1% compared to the same period last year. (3)

The forced cohabitation that the coronavirus has caused seems to be able to silence the cries for help of women subjected to domestic violence.

There is a huge amount of talk about people who are in Europe and want to return to their country.
But we don’t talk about those who are in the “middle ground”. In Africa, precisely because of the coronavirus emergency, many countries have decided to limit the movements of people between one country and another or to close the borders completely.

The migrants, therefore, find themselves in a condition of not being able to proceed either to the destination or to their countries of origin. In short, the coronavirus also stops humanitarian ships.

Reason three: All over the world governments are cancelling events and prohibiting large gatherings, but on the Greek island camps, people have no option but to live in close proximity. Their health is in danger. COVID-19 may be just the latest threat that people face here, but the conditions they live make them more vulnerable than the rest of the population.

Why are we not equal in the face of coronavirus threat?

There are 42,000 asylum seekers trapped in the five hot spots on the Greek islands. While the idea of demanding their evacuation during a pandemic may seem frightening, forcing people to live in overcrowded, unprotected camps is negligent.

Medici senza Frontiere

Today, the pandemic makes us lonely individuals but some are more lonely than others.


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Read our last article about migrants women stories:



By: Sara Mariani.

Gender issues and equal opportunities for men and women are an integral part of the topic of migration, which involves 214 million migrants worldwide, half of whom are women. (1)

SDG( Sustainable Development Goals of 2030’s Agenda)

Migration is “a mighty but silent river…an expanding revolution of movement and empowerment, but one that remains largely silent “(2); however, while international migration has received little attention for a long time, female migration has received even less attention.

Today, we try to give voice to those women, today we give voice to this silent river.

International Women’s Day Manifestation – Brussels 8/03/2020


I arrived in Belgium when I was 17, I was just a child when I was raped.

In my country, especially in my family, the women are the ones who have to do everything: my grandmother built our house, she had cocoa, banana and coffee plantations and I worked so hard. But here, everything is different.

When I arrived I applied for the orange card (3) and the neph (4): I was refused and for this reason, I had to leave the center of Brussels, moving to Liège, (in fact, to get the house in Belgium you need an identity card, an employment contract and a rental guarantee which makes this fundamental right practically inaccessible) (5).

When I was living on the street, a social worker found me. He did everything to help me and, after 5 times they refused to give me a house, after 5 times in which I was living in Brussels Midi station, after 5 times I didn’t know where to go, now I finally have my place, my space, my house.

When I arrived in Belgium, I discovered that I had breast cancer and today I benefit of the integration income but, after the expenses, I only have 80 euros left per month.

My grandfather always said that in order not to have to provide someone with fish every day, you had to teach them how to fish.

Today, I want them to teach me how to fish. I want to be able to work, I want to be lucky enough to be educated, because it is true, I am much luckier than others: I eat, I have a house but that is not enough for me.

I couldn’t get educated because I don’t have an orange card.

Today, I want to find the reason why I wake up every morning.


I am of Senegalese origin and I have lived here in Belgium since 28 years. I never went to school because my family told me that only boys could go there.

I was a victim of female genital mutilation at the age of 7 and I was a victim of forced marriage at 12.

I divorced my first husband because he was violent and because he kept telling me that, as a woman, I had to wash the dishes and take care of the house, but I thought “that’s not all I am”.

I only learned to read and write when I arrived here but now I have a certificate.

My aim is to help women in the problem with the residence permit and to make known the cases of violence that are not taken into account here in Belgium, such as mutilation. I fought so that genital mutilation and forced marriages could be a reason to seek asylum.

Today it is more difficult to obtain a residence permit than when I did so because there are more parameters but not because we do not have a sheet of paper, we cannot afford to educate ourselves, to allow ourselves to dream.

Since 1975, the United Nations has convened world conferences on women with the aim of identifying a plan of action for the advancement of the condition of women, during which the concept of empowerment (6) was formed.

It can be said that empowerment has been ‘measured’ by the percentage of women’s presence in public institutions, in relation to men, or by the economic ‘resources’ they possess, in relation to poverty indexes.

This interpretation reduces the concept of empowerment to institutional relationships or the private sphere. In fact, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) (7) reduced empowerment to 4 indicators: literacy, women’s access to education, non-farm wage labor and the percentage of seats in national parliaments, too little to satisfy feminist movements.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders in 2015, embody a roadmap for progress that is sustainable and leaves no one behind.

Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is integral to each of the 17 goals.

In any case, the cooperation policies have prioritized an economic approach to women through “equal opportunities” as if this were enough to remove power asymmetries, as if it were not necessary to act against the patriarchal devices that made the above stories possible. (8)

Now “Women who for a long time have been the invisible figures of immigration, ignored by public authorities, must be placed at the center of the integration process “(9).

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1 IOM- International organization for migration, (2010)

2 Taken from the 2006 UNFPA Report. The United Nations Population Fund was established in 1969 and is the central body for population issues within the United Nations system.

3 Certificate of registration. This is a temporary residence permit issued to a foreign national who is a third-country national of the European Union. It attests to the ongoing processing of an application for a residence permit or an international protection permit submitted in Belgium.

4 The NEPH number (Numéro d’Enregistrement Préfectoral Harmonisée) is a series of 12 digits that are assigned to you as soon as the prefecture registers your wish to take the driving licence exams (regardless of the track you choose for your training).

5 Droit au logement, CIRE asbl.

6 The process of giving a group of people more rights and freedom 


8 Ianni V., (2017) Lo sviluppo nel XXI secolo, concezioni, processi, sfide. 

9 Resolution 1478 (2006) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.


An overview of the Bewogen Festival in Brussels

By Sara Mariani.

Multiculturalism is what I perceive when I walk through the streets of Brussels, when I sit on its metro and see books in the hands of people of all languages: English, French, Flemish, German.

In Belgium, Brussels-Capital is the region where, in proportion to its population, most foreigners live. In 2017 the total foreigners were 64.799, which was 34,14% of the entire population in Brussels.[1]

But multiculturality is not enough to eliminate inequalities: living in the same territory does not translate into integration, but rather, it happens that it translates into ghettoization, acceptance of the “different from me” without the will to know it, it creates a division by cultures that leads to the formation of an invisible and impassable wall.
Being open and tolerant today is no longer enough, multiculturalism is not enough, today we need interculturalism.

The multicultural policy focuses on public initiatives aimed at taking charge of cultural diversity within society to recognize, tolerate and, if possible, encourage it.

The term interculturalism, instead, has a projected value: it refers to a common commitment that has as its end the active encounter between subjects with different cultures, open to dialogue, willing to change and to be changed. [2] (Morin and Pasqualini 2015:413)

Interculture is oriented towards mutual enrichment aimed at peaceful coexistence and the collective search for appropriate solutions to face the difficulties of multiculturalism.[3](Nanni 1999:42)

From 12 February to 16 February Brussels tried to become intercultural through the Bewogen Festival.[4]

The idea to create this festival was born during the wave of refugees in 2015. During this period, there was uncertainty and intolerance as well as wide-ranging solidarity and the socio-cultural sector in Brussels tried to find ways to get in touch with these new groups of people in the city.

On 13 February 2020, the ‘A cultural migration and climate platform for open dialogue’ was discussed at the University of Benelux (Boulevard Paepsem, Building 22,) organized by AFIIP (African International Institute for Peace).

The conference welcomed 3 main guests: The first to speak was the Belgian poet Karel Sergen, who decided to talk about migration by detaching himself from the political and economic idea but analyzing it from an emotional point of view, through the magical filter of poetry.

The artist imagined he was a refugee, he tried to put himself in their shoes, focusing on the theme of departure, within which you have nothing with you during the journey, only hope and fear. The atmosphere was familiar, people welcomed poetry, cohesion was able to take away all inhibitions and make us open to the emotional part: at that moment we were all migrants and poetry was the means through which to feel those feelings.

The second intervention was by the interpreter and translator Svetlana Saic, who is part of a poetic and musical movement.

Her exposition was based on the comparison between, on the one hand, the irrelevance that people attribute to the thousands of victims in the Mediterranean Sea, people traveling in search of only hope and, on the other hand, the growing fear concerning the deaths caused by the coronavirus.

In fact, according to the actual death figures, coronavirus deaths are extremely low: what should be most frightening, she said, is that sea, now an open-air cemetery.

Her speech ended with a quote from Camus that seems to summarize in a few verses the key idea of the translator’s ideology.

“Ne marche pas devant moi, je ne te suivrai peut-être pas. Ne marche pas derrière moi, je ne te guide peut-être pas. Marche à côté de moi et sois simplement mon amie.”

The last intervention is that of Hassum H., who stopped to analyze how much those who want to help refugees tend to forget the first needs, in favor of a direct integration of the individuals at the expense of their own culture: we try to integrate them into society by teaching them the language but what people need after such a long journey, he emphasizes, is simply water and food: the basis for survival, they ask for nothing else.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived is that very few of the spectators were those who did not belong to African culture. This generated curiosity in the other participants and in the members of the organizing association who, surprised, asked me how I had become aware of that event.

Does the open dialogue on the migration issue really work?

The reality is that at that event everyone knew each other, I was the outsider: I was the minority in a minority group. 

At the end of that conference, the family atmosphere did not dissolve, on the contrary, we tried to keep it alive: the audience expressed the desire to share poems, most of which were recited in Arabic.

At that point, I was the only person who did not speak or understand Arabic. At that moment I understood how important social inclusion was, at that moment I felt the weight of the word integration on my skin.

Me.  Italian girl arrived 3 weeks ago in Brussels for an internship. Me, Italian girl, part of the European citizens. With an average family that supports me financially. Even I felt excluded.

There were attempts to include me, although I could not understand the meaning of their speeches, I was asked if they had to speak in English to make me participate and they also asked me to participate in the photos with their group.

The final question is: does the Bewogen Festival work as a way to raise awareness of interculturality?

What I saw during this conference is a lack of intercultural participation in favor of segregation of people belonging to the different cultures that make up the city of Brussels. There are still ethnic groups and the boundary between keeping the culture you belong to alive and the lack of social integration is very blurred, despite this I think the Bewogen Festival is a good starting point to raise awareness of the inclusive problem.

Does the Bewogen Festival in Brussels work as a way to raise awareness of interculturality?


[2] Morin E. and Pasqualini C. 2005, “Rediscover complex identities”

[3] Nanni A. 1999 “Deconstruction and Interculture”



Overcoming the margins: intersectionality.

By Elena Alban.

Even if in advanced and developed countries, the judiciary system has developed consistently during the history and many results have been reached in the recognition of human rights toward all humankind, in the practice people still face many obstacles in having their rights granted.

In the article “Mapping the margins: Intersectionality. Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Colour” by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, the issue is focused on the difficulties that black women face in denouncing acts of violence in the U.S. According to the article, the problem within the African-American communities concerns the suppression of domestic violence mainly for two reasons.

First of all, according to Crenshaw’s view, there is a resistance from the community itself in recognizing such a type of violence, by privileging other rights, such as the fact that saving the honor of the family from shame has the priority over the violation toward the woman. Moreover, most of the time violence is not denounced for the will of the minority community not to disrupt the integrity of the community and not to be stereotyped as a violent community. There is a general tendency within antiracist discourse to regard the problem of violence against women of color as just another manifestation of racism.

Secondly, according to a field study of battered women’s shelters located in minority communities in Los Angeles, the refusal to denounce battering or rape comes from women themselves. They are more reluctant to call the police and the authorities as there is a generalized community ethic against public intervention.

These feelings are a consequence of the racist policies of the past. Moreover, they have contributed to shifting what was born as segregation during the Jim Crow period into what is seen today as congregation, based on the assumption according to which the black community is seen as a “safe place”. Indeed, in the past in the US, because of racism, black communities developed as closed communities, where all black people could find a safe shelter from the intervention of the State. Nowadays, this sense of belonging and inclusiveness is still present and strong.

As Crenshaw writes, this mentality and approach toward an ongoing changing world are limiting the evolvement of those communities that first of all need to see their rights to be recognized by public authorities. Isolating themselves contributes to the adoption of the identity-politics approach by the State. In particular, this approach limits the category of black women that are not fairly taken into account in policies provided by the States.

The problem of identity-politics issues is that it ignores intragroup differences. It is based on the identification of groups following specific targets, such as black or white, man or woman, middle-class person or worker, …. It risks falling in stereotypes that crystallize the identity of a person reducing it to a mere single category. Mainly, the category of black women is a convergence of two different categories: sex and race. These two categories, taken individually, normally define policies against sexism (based on white women’s experiences) and against racism (based on black male experiences). It is in this context that policies do not take into consideration an intersection between the two phenomena. Indeed, black women are less likely to have their cases pursued in the criminal justice system, because of limited meaningful intervention by institutions based on a non-intersectional context that do not foresee cases of multiple-subordination.

Moreover, besides sexism and racism, other status can affect the access of black women to escape from situations of battering or rape, like the immigrant status. An example is provided by the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986, according to which a person who immigrated to the United States to marry a United States citizen or permanent resident had to remain “properly” married for two years before applying for permanent resident status, at which time applications for the immigrant’s permanent status were required by both spouses. Predictably, under these circumstances, many women are not willing to leave from an abusive marital situation in order not to be deported. As reported by Crenshaw, when facing the choice between living with your batter or being deported, many immigrant women decide to choose the former one.

That’s why Crenshaw introduced an important concept in the literature on the violence against women: intersectionality.

Intersectionality refers to what can be called “multiple identities”: it is a concept used to understand how different dimensions can affect different grounds of one’s identity.

Intersectionality helps us in understanding why policies generally fail in addressing a type of subordinated group that does not fall within the categories provided by the identity-politics approach, such as black women, but also immigrant women too.

In particular, by applying this type of study in Europe, given the refugee crisis of 2015, intersectionality should become a fundamental principle on which creating policies focused on the integration of immigrants in the European society. It obliges authorities to take into consideration the fact that “new-comers” arrived in Europe do not always shape the European basic values and many times discriminations are placed within their original cultural background. National and European authorities should be aware of these aspects and of the fact that they can obstacle the enjoyment of rights in Europe, by producing policies that take into consideration the people to whom they are destined. It means, with reference to women, not to conceive them just as immigrant women, but to take into account the different degrees of subordination that are imposed on them because of their race, because of their class, their gender, because of cultural factors, etc…. Intersectionality implies to take into account different aspect shaping one’s identity to create policies that could better address the needs of people.


But who will be more affected?

By Elena Alban.

On the 23rd June 2016, an event marked the history of the United Kingdom and the European Union.

«Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?>> was the question that could change the future of Europe. And it did, even if the referendum that took place in the UK was a consultative one, not legally binding, and whose results were far from being clear and decisive. The “leave” percentage won over the “remain” one just for 3,78% more, as BBC data reported.

A strong difference in the reception of the European Union can be detected in the different age of people voting “remain” or “leave”. According to BBC data, young people seem to trust more the European Union and to see it as an opportunity for their future.  In particular, the Brexit will have substantial implications on students:

  1. The automatic direct of the citizens of the EU to enter directly in the UK will be no more granted: there will be the necessity to have the passport;
  2. It will be required a visa or a work permit to enter the country;
  3. The touristic visa will last only 3 months and for what concerns the working visa, it will be easier to access jobs for skilled workers (researches, doctors, etc…) than for unskilled workers like “pizzaiolo”, barmen, etc…
  4. Studying in the UK will become more and more an opportunity destinated to an elite as the cost of education in Great Britain is higher than in Europe and many European citizens will be disadvantaged by the fact that part of the funds used to study there were provided by the EU through the application of different programmes such as the Erasmus +.

With reference to the last point, recent news has shed light on the Erasmus+ programme. On the 30th of January 2019, the European Commission proposed a set of emergency measures to avoid the interruption of the mobility period of the students of the Erasmus + Programme in the case the UK would leave the EU without an agreement.  According to the European Commission, the regulation should grant that in the day in which the UK will leave the EU, Erasmus + mobility periods should not be interrupted. This rule should be valid for all the activities financed by the Erasmus + (including international activities in countries not part of the programme) that started before the 30th of March 2019, both for European citizens in the UK and for English citizens in the EU.

And for those who started their mobility period after the 30th March 2019?

The Commission proposed an emergency cross-sectional regulation based on more restrictive measures and specific conditions as specified in the “Council Regulation on measures concerning the implementation and financing of the general budget of the Union in 2019 in relation to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union”.

The destiny of the Erasmus + programme is not known. It will depend on the will of the UK and the EU to find an agreement and to renegotiate the programme not to deny students an important opportunity as the Erasmus+ is.

However, at the end of the story, what this sad situation leaves us is a strong sense of disappointment.

Besides the will to reach an agreement in order to go on granting students the opportunity to study in the UK, being the mainland of the English language, the international language used all over the world, the Brexit is the result of a losing approach toward the construction of a more united world. Cutting the bridges with the rest of Europe is the sign of the disbelief on the European Union. It could make sense, as the European Union is full of incoherencies and lacks, but it is important to look at all these negative aspects by balancing them with the positive ones. The EU is not perfect and it will never be as such, but it is the best result of international cooperation ever achieved in the course of history. To make it work, the solution is not to get away from it, but to stay in it, to get your country involved, to make your voice be heard. Escaping is never the solution as neither isolation. To get a stronger Union, there is the need for more dialogue and listening at the higher institutional level and, most of all, there is the need of creating a common culture and a common awareness on the principles on which our European society is based and that have granted more than half a century of peace for the first time in Europe. Culture is the key point to building a strong basis to deal with future challenges that mankind will have to face. These new challenges do not always refer only to events caused by human decision (such as wars, conflicts, …), but they will oblige mankind to deal with problems that it is not even able to manage, such as climate change.

The Erasmus+ is one of the best achievements of the EU in reaching an important goal like this: it helps in creating a common culture through the confrontation among different knowledges, through dialogue and mutual understanding, through strengthening links among people of different countries to create a more favourable environment for cooperation and collaboration.

Isolation cut you off the game and, in an interdependent world like ours, it will be worst first of all for UK citizens than for the European ones.


The refugee status: a distinctive factor that must be understood as such.

By Elena Alban.

“Financial inclusion means that individuals and businesses have access to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs – transactions, payments, savings, credit and insurance – delivered in a responsible and sustainable way.”

World Bank definition.

Financial inclusion plays a vital role in reducing poverty and promote a sustainable economic growth. Access to and use of financial services help people manage their cash flow, become more resilient to shocks and participate in business activities and life-cycle events by investing assets.

As the financial market has developed consistently in the last decades, nowadays more and more people can access to a broader range of financial products and can benefit of it.

Anyway, there are still groups of people that lack even the most basic financial products, for instance a current account or insurance.

Financial inclusion has become an essential element to achieving the goals of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, such as reducing inequality, poverty, gender gap, hunger, getting a decent work and sustaining economic growth.

With reference to Europe, the 2013 Report on good practices on Financial Inclusion provided by the CeSPI gives evidence of the fact that financial inclusion has entered more and more the national agenda’s priorities of States.

The problem that governments must face since the last decade concerns mainly the refugee crisis of 2015, that has produced an unstable environment both at political and economic level.

In order to analyse the relation between migration and financial services, it is necessary to take a look at some fundamental variables affecting the financial needs of migrants. In this context, an important aspect is to look at what kind of migrations States and the financial system have to deal with, taking into consideration the background from where these people come from.

Refugees escaping from conflicts, such as the Syrian ones, have completely different needs than economic immigrants.

They have lost everything. When they arrive in a new country, there is the need not only to offer them shelters and protection, but to introduce them to the host society, to allow them to become independent and responsible of their own choices and to start a new life.

Thus, with reference to the refugee status, States must be more strongly committed in implementing not only civil and political rights, but also social and economic rights, given the precarious and difficult situations these people come from.

A deeper cooperation between governments and the bank sector can be a successful action plan in order to create new policies to face the dramatic phenomenon of social exclusion.

It is in this framework that financial inclusion takes place. It is a powerful concept to allow people to get access to the financial services and products, that are necessary to provide them with the basis on which to build a kind of economic stability. Moreover, financial inclusion is more and more essential in advanced economies, such as in Europe, where the financial system has already developed and plays a vital role in people’s life.

Several practices have been implemented at the national level. Examples are the housing associations or the Toynbee Hall in UK, the Santander bank action plan and El Plan Nacional de Educaciòn Financiera in Spain, or ADIE in France. Anyway, according to the 2013 Report on good practices on Financial Inclusion provided by the CeSPI, the majority of these practices are based on an universal approach, meaning that they do not concern specific groups of the population, but they are mainly focused only on disadvantaged and vulnerable subjects at risk of social exclusion, given their poverty status, to avoid to use the immigrant category as a distinguishing factor.

The issue here is that the migrant category, in particular the refugee one, is a distinctive factor and it must be concerned like that, as refugees rely on a economic and social basis completely different from that one of citizens or of economic immigrants in the host country.

Even if according to the Geneva Convention of 1951, refugees have to be reserved the same rights as those of immigrants from other countries, when talking about positive obligations of the State, there is the need to create ad hoc financial inclusion policies for the refugee category. Some practices adopted in Germany, such as Investitionsbank Berlin’s program to give microcredits to refugees, have given evidence that this will benefit not only the host advanced European societies, but also the refugees too. Through a stronger cooperation between the normative and the private sector, it is possible to create a more favourable environment for both actors participating in the financial system.

Being poor in a rich country maybe is worst than being poor in a poor one. In advanced economies poor people are left alone, society runs fast and it does not care if you are put of the game. That’s why financial inclusion becomes so important: it is the key to get and achieve the most basic services (such as a salary) to get your rights be respected.


Buone pratiche di Inclusione Finanziaria: uno sguardo Europea, CeSPI, 2013

Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951


If at the end you feel good for nothing, freedom is just another word.

By Elena Alban.

“It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”

Fredric Jameson

This is a strong statement that, unfortunately, hides some truth.

Mark Fisher, a famous English cultural theorist, used this expression several times in analysing the crisis of 2008-2010. Specifically, in his book “Capitalism Realism”, he emphasises how, nowadays, there is so much surrounding the widespread sense that this form of exasperated and globalized capitalism seems to be, not only the unique viable political and economic system, but also that it seems impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.

The Frederic Jameson’s statement is, thus, used by Mark fisher to explain how people feel, when embedded in a system they are not able to manage: they fear losing their jobs, their pensions, … for them it is easier to imagine the end of their lives than the end of capitalism.

In particular, Fisher talks about a sort of capitalism linked to a current of thought that developed in the 80s until today: neoliberalism. Fisher claims that our societies, our liberal democracies have been overcome by the exasperation of that freedom on which capitalism and free trade are based. An exasperation that reduces freedom to the mere rational choice, without taking into consideration other factors affecting human decisions. In this context, the free market is untied by ethic and moral constraints, identifying itself with the romantic ideal of a perfect society, based on a perfect competition, where all people act as efficient and informed entrepreneurs, able to maximize their own interests.

But could this ideal society even remotely reflect the reality?

Of course, not. Neoliberalism is a limited concept, as it takes into consideration only one part of human personality in making decisions, making choices and living everyday life. Indeed, on the other hand, it neglects those aspects of the human being that cannot be foreseen by rationality, that cannot provide certainty, that can fall out of rules, norms, routines, without having necessarily a rational or comprehensive justification. Moreover, it takes for granted that self-interested ways of action are just positive, by realising own’s freedom and by letting it invade others’ spheres of freedom.

It is a concept that cannot be compatible with the democratic one.

In the article “Good For Nothing”, published in “The Occupied Times” in March 2014, there is evidence of it. According to Mark Fisher, powerless, depression, resentment are the outcomes of the neoliberal system. In particular, depression is the illness of our society and it lays on the contradictory idea of what Fisher calls “reflective impotence”: on one hand, the concept of “responsabilization” has been a successful tactic of the ruling class; on the other hand our society teaches us according to the line of thought called “magic voluntarism”. The responsabilization criterium encourages each member of the subordinate class into “feeling that their poverty, lack of opportunities or unemployment is their fault and their fault alone” (Article “Good For Nothing”). “Magic voluntarism” refers to the “dominant ideology and unofficial religion of our contemporary societies”, according to which “it is within every individual’s power to make themselves whatever they want” (Article “Good For Nothing”).

So you find yourself without the sufficient means and tools to change your life (and it is your fault), but you are taught you can do everything, you can choose what you want to be. You are in a jail, you do not have the keys to open the door, but you can open the door, if you want. Depression takes place, when you understand you are not the kind of people who can act to change the system, so let’s say… you feel good for nothing.

Depression is what people suffer when political institutions are not able to counterbalance the economic system.

By starting from the assumption that it’s not man who is made for economics, but it is economics made for man, the liberal economic system in itself is not bad. Anyway, the invisible hand of Adam Smith can work and provide for positive outcomes if all human facets are taking into account. So, where the economic rationality cannot solve the problem, there is the need of the State and politics in intervining and giving solutions to what at least concerns the most basic human rights issues.

We stand for liberal democracies: it means we stand for a free market system, respectful of human life and freedom, mutually limited and balanced by a political one, defending the fundamental rights of mankind, the democratic principles and the rule of law. Liberal democracies are based on the rule of law, not on the rule of money and there are some areas you cannot put a price on and that should be granted for all, such as health and education.

Not only workers, unemployed and retired people are affected by this decadence of the welfare state, but a special focus should also be reserved to young people, in particular students.

Today, a bachelor degree alone is not enough, so people feel obliged to do a master. It is better to be specialised in a particular subject. The more qualifications, experience and skills you have on your CV, the more chances you have in getting a job in your studied subject.

Neoliberalism is always on the run, it does not wait for anyone. You have to be prepared, to enter the system you have to be already taught.

In this way education stops to be a right, it becomes an economic investment, no more a social one.

So can a right be bought?

When our most basic rights are deprived of their human inherent nature and become just market goods, at that point it’s hardly surprising if we just feel good for nothing

M. Fisher, “Capitalism Realism”, John Hunt Publishing, 2009

M. Fisher, “Good For Nothing”. The Occupied Times, 2014


The opening of a new scenario: the first European Union rule of law crisis.

By Elena Alban.

The Article 2 of the European Union Treaty states: “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail”.

Nowadays, democratic values seem to be in danger, even in Europe, where most of the times they have always been taken for granted. At the European Economic and Social Committee Conference on  “Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law – Trends in the EU from a civil society perspective”, held on the 5th of November 2019, in Brussels, the Group on Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law (FRRL) reported the perception (and the reality) of a general crisis within European democratic culture.

The Brexit and the rise of populism have been born in an unsatisfactory political and economic environment, that has not been able to provide answers toward the crisis Europe is still facing today.

Indeed, the European Union presents a strong and consistent lack, what is better known as “democratic deficit”.

The term “democratic deficit” is used to put in evidence the inaccessibility perceived by the EU ordinary citizens toward EU institutions and policies, due to their complexity. It reflects the absence of an effective European policy, able to provide appropriate answers to the new challenges of the recent years, such as the migration and refugee crisis and the recessionist economic crisis. Actually, the concept does not refer to the inability of European institutions on reacting to these phenomena, but it better concerns the fact that at EU level, citizens do not feel themselves involved. In this regard, populist movements and separationist movements are born as the expression of feelings of anger and disappointment in relation to a world that seems extraneous toward own’s ordinary life.

At the EESC Conference, the president of the LIBE Commission, Juan Fernando Lòpez Aguilar, emphasized the fact that “EU was never meant to be just a market, economic, financial project”.

It was destined at a political goal, that reached its first real turning point in 2009 with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. In particular, he pointed out the importance to link article 2 of the European Union Treaty with article 7, in order to solve the so-called “Copenhagen dilemma”. Indeed, with reference to article 7 the decision of suspension of some rights, as a consequence of the violation of article 2, is submitted only to the competence of the Council (a political body), as the role of the EU Court of Justice concerns only procedular prescriptions (article 269, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).

Rule of law, democracy and the respect of fundamental rights are the basis of European Union and it must be imperative for States to respect them, as they are crucial for mutual trust, market and friendly environment.

In this context, the “Copenhagen dilemma” is an extremely high important problem EU institutions have to face, when talking about democracy, as it implies consequences for those Member States that do not respect the Treaty of Lisbon.

Thus, here is the problem: as EU governance cannot still be identified as attributable to the one of a State entity, but it is reflected in the form of “no government”, how can EU effectively act in order to prevent such democratic crisis within Member States?

How can EU manage to put in action more sever policies toward the unrespect of the fundamental values, without finding itself submitted to national self-interested policies?

CIVIL SOCIETY is the answer.

If top down actions cannot work, because of the strong power Member States have within the European context, there is the need to change direction. European Union approach needs to be bottom up. Even if all EU policies are integrated to own’s ordinary life through the State, it does not mean that EU institutions should be totally unlinked to citizenship. The key weapon to face such a global crisis of democracy is to look at where democracy effectively lies: to citizens.

Civil society plays a fundamental role, both for the Member States and for the European Union as it is the scenario in which all policies take place. Even if at the institutional level some EU organizations of civil society are already functioning (like the Conference of NGOs), there is evidence of the need to rethink a stronger cooperation, especially in these years of crisis.

A cooperation that can take life in different forms: through promoting a shared European culture, through the education of citizens on the functioning and the values of EU as an international organization, through the building of new bounds with the activity of the Council of Europe (that plays a vital role in the respect of human rights, by providing every year an annual report on the 47 Member States, and so on the 28 EU Member States too), through a collaboration with NGOs to organize more on-spot visits on countries or through the deepening of monitory mechanisms in Member States (such as the one promoted by the FRRL group on the annual rule of law cycle with a final report synthetizing positive and negative developments and trends that, consequently,  shall be discussed within the Parliament and the Council).

The democratic deficit is not a consequence of populist and separationist crisis, it is the cause and the cause does not lie within member states only, but firstly within EU.

The European Union must take actions: it must involve the direct recipients of its own policies in order to make citizens become aware of what a wonderful project it is aimed to be, if people first decide to stand for it.


Isn’t it time to change our minds?

By Elena Alban.

On the 24th and the 25th October 2019, the 8th University-Business forum was held at Mont Des Art, in Bruxelles. The Forum brought together policymakers, representatives from higher education, business and other stakeholders to discuss and debate the role of university-business cooperation for innovation and sustainable development. The conferences that took place were focused on the actual need of integrating university training with the activity of firms. Entrepreneurship, sustainability and digitalization have been at the centre of the debates.

It was underlined the importance of creating a strong cooperation between students’ learning and their involvement into the labour and market world. This necessity was supported by the fact that it must be part of the priority agenda of politics, economics and education adopting both different technics of teaching and learning at university and a different approach toward education by entrepreneurs and firms.

During the conferences, it was highlighted the fact that a mutual relationship exists between the market world and the educational one. Firms should invest in higher education and universities in order to promote research and development from which they themselves can benefit. Universities should accept the evolution to which knowledge is subjected nowadays, especially due to the digital revolution of the last decades. We are not talking about a kind of knowledge that lasts for some times (as in the past); we are talking about an ongoing changing knowledge, that develops day by day. It is in this context that universities should adopt an approach more focused on making students become more proactive, more challenging and creative toward the external world, in order to offer to the labour market human capital able to keep up the speed of the technological and digital challenges.

A key-point of the conference was, indeed, the concept of lifelong learning, meaning the fact that due to all these types of evolutions (from the educational to the digital to the environmental ones), learning (at all ages) never ends, neither for firms as for universities.

The university-business cooperation was so included in a broader framework based on sustainable development. Borhene Chakroun, secretiariat of UNESCO, reminded the goals of the 2030 Millennium Agenda, among which poverty and inequality, sustainable development, digitalization, gender equality, health, climate change and education are the main top priorities and he emphasized how important is to create a stronger link between innovation, education and entrepreneurship in order to face these challenges.

The Forum was a great space of discussion and confrontation and brilliant and smart ideas from universities, start ups and companies were exposed during the meeting.

Anyway, to put them into action, it is necessary to consider also the type of space in which we are going to act.
All these beautiful projects risk to remain abstract ideas when introduced in the actual neoliberal context that is governing the world today.

We speak of entrepreneurship in a world that does not allow to take risks.

We speak of digitalization skills in a world that runs too fast, in a world that does not allow to the same creators of those skills the time to experience their new inventions, as other innovations are already required. In particular, digitalization is a subtle theme. There is no doubt on the necessity  of supporting technological and digital innovation for what concerns science and the study of the world around us, but we should look also at the other side of the medal: the risk concerns the fact that artificial intelligence could replace not only technical and scientific skills, but also human responsibilities that individuals should have toward the society and toward each other.

We speak of risking and being proactive. As highlighted from the forum panel “Developing an entrepreneurial culture”, firms do not risk, they do not invest on education and on research.

And do you know why?

Because education and research need time, a time that our economic system, aimed at increasing the value of its final production, is not able to conceive.

In this context it is difficult for a student to become proactive: they go out from an academic environment that did not teach them the ability to fail and they enter a labour market that does not allow them to fail.

There is the necessity to change our mind, to adopt a different approach toward education, work, business. We have not to be focused only on the final result of our action, but we need to look also at the way through which we can get the goals, because, as in the words of an Italian writer, “a tree with much foliage and few roots is uprooted at the first gust of wind. In a tree with many roots and few foliage, the sap barely flows. Roots and foliage must grow in equal measure, you have to stay in things and stand on them, so that in this way you can offer shade and shelter, in this way in the right season your tree will cover itself with flowers and fruits.” (Susanna Tamaro, 1994).