Sunday 9 May 2010

My Europe Day

My Europe Week has opened up a blog carnival for ideas, thoughts and opinions on Europe, to get a sense of what people hope, want and expect for the future of 500 million people - and counting. Over the last week it's been open to bloggers and non-bloggers alike, and I'd encourage everyone to make a contribution if you can and submit it.

What I'm celebrating

Europe Day should be a celebration, if nothing else! Europe is more to me than the politics that this blog deals with - through language learning (well, attempted language learning!), blogging, traveling and debating, I've met many great people both at home and across the continent, and I've had many brilliant experiences that I otherwise wouldn't have had. Like Julien Frisch, trains and railways symbolise Europe a lot to me. Standing in a train station in Germany, I feel the freedom of being able to travel to practically anywhere on the continent, across several countries and cultures.

It's that feeling of freedom and possibility, along with all the people I've met that makes me so enthusiastic and passionate about Europe, and I'll be celebrating all of this today.

What I want

The flip side of Europe Week is what you want from Europe, and where you think Europe should go.

When politicians speak of Europe, they always seem to talk about the past - and they shouldn't. Speeches on Europe tend to focus on absence, and what isn't: Europe means that there's no war on the continent, etc. While this is obviously something to cherish and celebrate, what I want to see is a more positive vision of Europe, and the leadership to back it up. Lately environmentalism and fighting climate change became Europe's more positive crusade, but there needs to be a vision and a greater level of citizen involvement to make the European project more relevant to people today.

The Europe I want should be about citizen empowerment. Brussels is bureaucratic and distant, but its politics need to be opened up and people need to be drawn in. There's nothing new in saying this; most people in the Euroblogosphere want more interaction and better communication. But empowerment and participation could be part of an engaging vision and renewing narrative for Europe. If the member states are in the EU because they are stronger together than apart, the political parties at a European level need to start communicating and engaging with the public on what "Europe" can do for them. National governments may not be able to tackle these problems alone, but citizens should be empowered to debate the solutions and engage in solving the problems facing Europe today. It's a simple thing to say, but obviously be an arduous task to undertake. But I think it's the only way Europe can become relevant and closer to its citizens.

This requires the Europarties to get their acts together. In the last election, voters rewarded parties to had a relevant message for the European stage - for example, UKIP in the UK and the Greens in France. Explaining challenges, providing solutions, communicating with voters; all these things will pay off in elections, even though the Europarties seem resigned to dependency on national politics providing them with lucky electoral windfalls. So parties need to become more structured in their engagement with the national media and on the internet. Parties should pick MEPs as their spokesperson(s) in a member state, build up relationships with the main broadcasters and newspapers, and be ready to supply talking heads when European issues arise. Having party faces and connections available will help the news media report on European issues: party-point-of-view makes occasional mentions more interesting, detailed and involving, and familiarity with MEPs will open up the EU system to journalists more.

I'm likely to be disappointed in this, but I believe that Europe needs active leaders in Parliament, and Council, and active citizens in NGOs, locally and online to add to the debate and vision so citizenship can be enriched and Europe can move forward. There has recently been indication that electoral reform will be on the European Parliament's agenda. Let's hope that MEPs will be bolder and braver in engaging with the public. 60 years on from the Schuman Declaration, Europe needs a citizen-centred vision that can deliver for citizens and involve them in building a pan-continental future.

Happy Europe Day from The European Citizen blog!

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