Civil Dialogue “For a Europe of the Future?!”
On the day of Emmanuel Macron’s first speech to the EU Parliament, in which he called for a re-development of the EU, the Representation of the European Commission in Berlin provided a platform for politicians of five different German youth parties to engage in a discussion with a diverse audience on European identity and the future of the EU. The event was organised in cooperation by the Institute for European Politics and the think tank Polis180. A paper published by the network “Alternative Europa!” provided the basis for the discussion, as it assessed the concept of a European identity and discussed concrete policy recommendations for the promotion of a European identity. Guests were Malte Fiedler from the Left Youth, David Jahn from the Young Liberals, Jonas Littmann from the Jusos, Jenna Behrends from the CDU Berlin and Moritz Heuberger from the Green party. The mostly young audience got the chance to actively participate in the discussion due to its fishbowl format. Clara Kemme from Polis180 chaired the event.
The paper of the network “Alternative Europa!” proposes the emergence of a European identity, in addition to solely national identities in the EU; as such an identity provides a solid basis for a stronger EU, supported by its citizens. Among other things, this would significantly foster cohesion and unity in the EU. The paper particularly mentions policy recommendations in the areas of participation, publicity, solidarity and European narrative.
In the wake of constantly strong populist and Eurosceptic parties in Europe, the emergence of a European identity was discussed with consideration to the broader question of legitimacy of the EU and the benefits for its citizens. Moreover, it was questioned how the importance of the EU can be comprehended and brought closer to the attention of regionally anchored citizens all over Europe. All of the speakers perceived this aspect to be crucial to counteract Eurosceptic and nationalist resentments.
Even though all speakers shared the overall value and importance of a European identity, clear differences were identifiable with regard to the concrete meaning of a European identity. David Jahn and Jenna Behrends perceived co-existing regional, national and European identities to be crucial for the promotion of unity on all regional levels. On the contrary, Malte Fiedler and Moritz Heuberger fundamentally questioned the construct of identities defined by regions. They criticised that people do not automatically share similarities simply because the live in a common location or region. In addition and as a matter of principle, regionally anchored identities would automatically exclude individuals in other regions. Instead, identities develop, for example based on material similarities or shared values that should not be subjected to any form of hierarchy. The audience objected that those identity constructs would not provide for cross-group solidarity, as it is envisioned for a European identity. They bring about the advantage of fully embracing all people within a region and consequently to promote unity and solidarity. Moreover, national resentments could be overcome through a European identity. Interest-based identities on the other hand do not provide a basis for cohesion in society, unless equipped with additional supplementation. Regardless of any disagreements, all speakers agreed that the promotion of a European awareness through transnational exchange programs, accessible for all social classes and educational levels, represents a reasonable possibility. In addition, EU policies should be more directly addressing the European population, in order to strengthen the awareness of the EU and emphasize its importance.
Besides the discussion on the importance of different identities, the participants additionally assessed various European objectives for the future. Hereby, the idea of a European state was raised in the discussion. Almost all of the speakers wished for a fundamental debate on the policy direction of the EU, in which concrete goals will be defined. Although the superstructure of a transnational peace-building association is of great importance and relevance, the young politicians demanded a comprehensive legitimization of the EU. Instead, the audience and the politicians from the Jusos, Green Youth and Left Youth suggested uplifting the eradication of social inequality as a central topic of importance. Here, a European social policy could act as a connecting element. They refer to the immediate reality of human life and directly relate it to everyday life in the EU. This would in return legitimise the EU. It remains of central importance to focus on similarities, rather than differences, between EU citizens. Key for such ambitions is the strengthening of participation mechanisms. Moreover, the EU should be more active instead of being driven by its critics. For example, the EU could use its market power in order to promote a socio-ecological transformation. Alternatively, the audience came up with the idea of establishing internal and external security principles, which, among other things, appeal to voters of populist parties. The representatives of the CDU objected that a primary focus towards social measures could jeopardize the EU project and David Jahn from the Julis also considers current problems to be more relevant than large social projects. Lastly, the representatives of the Left Youth objected that a social and citizens-orientated EU is not feasible within the current institutional conditions. Therefore, a fundamental reform of the structures should be aspired.
Within the discussion on the institutional structure of the EU, the democratic deficit of the EU was problematized. Reforms could emphasise the role of the citizens as sovereigns of EU policy and demonstrate the supporting role of the EU within everyday life of citizens. If this would demonstrate the difference of various policy proposals, the EU could gain greater public awareness.