Maybe you think that European cities are quaint, beautiful and historically fascinating? You are right, of course. But Europe is much more than that, and it is leading the world in many fields. Just look at the European Union, for a start. It is a success story of political, social and economic integration. All this has led to 70 years of peaceful co-existence which would have taken centuries in another era. It is not surprising that it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. Let us have a look at what the world can learn from Europe.
1. Europe leads the way in energy efficiency.
There are many examples of energy saving in housing projects all over Europe. The Brussels project known as L’Espoir is an excellent illustration of what can be done at a very low cost in terms of materials and green energy.
This project is a model of eco–construction and energy-saving initiatives. Low level income families were able to buy houses for very modest sums. The houses themselves have the following features:
- Wooden frames
- Sustainable materials used throughout
- Thermal solar panels
- Green roof
- Rainwater cisterns
Another excellent example is the Hammarby Sjostad project (10,000 homes) in Stockholm. Builders here had to meet very high standards in the areas of technical installations and energy saving, which have led to a model development. There are 50% less emissions here compared to other areas of Stockholm. In addition, they have beautiful cycle paths, green areas, renewable fuels, and modern sewage treatment. They also use gray water recycling where shower water can be reused for watering landscape areas and also flushing toilets.
2. Europe encourages cyclists.
The winters may be cold and wet but that does not discourage cyclists. Cycle paths are a standard feature in urban development. Just think that the main station in The Hague in Holland houses 3,000 bicycles in its parking lot. Amsterdam is another example. Only 20% use their cars while 30% are on their bikes and 36% walk! These cities have stopped the urban sprawl so typical of American urban areas which never seem to end. Americans have no choice: they use cars and pollute the atmosphere.
3. Europeans know how to enjoy their food.
The Americans have invented an expression which sums up perfectly how they gulp their food down. I am referring to the expression “to go” when ordering takeaways. In Europe, there is a much more relaxed attitude to eating. People sit down, take their time and really enjoy their food. The Spaniards combine this with an afternoon siesta (soon to be reduced, unfortunately, if a new law goes through). Food and eating are revered in Europe.
4. Europe provides free health care.
European countries provide mostly free health care, adequate unemployment benefits, and low cost college education as basic rights. It is startling to realize that 16% of Americans are living without any health coverage at all because they cannot afford it.
5. Europeans take longer holidays.
Most companies are now trying to encourage their workers to actually take all their vacation days. Many do not and think that their work ethic is all that matters. There are now many studies which show the health benefits of vacations. Reduction of stress plus increased creativity and productivity are just a few.
Just look at the recent OECD study which shows that Americans are working 400 more hours annually than their European counterparts. Give me a break!
6. Europe leads the way in flood protection.
The Dutch have been the trailblazers in protecting their land, often below sea level, from devastating storms and excessive rainfall. This process is known as “climate proofing.” They have become experts in building dykes and dams. They now let citizens grow their own vegetables along the dykes.
7. Europe leads in childcare and parental leave.
There is a long way to go in the reduction of poverty and protection of children. Neglect, exploitation and abuse of children stalk the world. The European Union is committed to improving maternity benefits and childcare facilities as many women are forced to leave employment due to a lack of facilities.
Europeans pay higher taxation, but they are getting many more benefits, especially in the area of childcare and parental leave. Just look at the infographic here to understand how far behind some countries are. America joins Lesotho and Swaziland as the countries where maternity leave is unpaid, although many US States are working to improve the situation.
8. Europe and Erasmus
The Erasmus+ programme developed by the EU in 1987 is unique. It fosters transnational partnerships in the areas of education, training, youth work and sport. It allows up to 3 million Europeans to gain work experience, to study, to train and to volunteer in countries adhering to the programme. It has recently simplified the application procedures and funding rules.
Erasmus has fostered not only the free movement of people learning new skills but has also developed cross-border contacts and friendships throughout the European continent.
Let us know in the comments how your experience of visiting or living in Europe has changed your outlook on life.
Featured photo credit: Europe Day/Niccolo’ Caranti via flickr.com