Europe is - as we all know - facing difficult challenges these years. Many people wonder whether the close cooperation between our countries is to the benefit of ordinary people. In many countries, we see about our common values, as written in the EU treaties. The UK is leaving the Union in what appears to be a weird dream about the good old days, and the large, shared problems – migration, climate, inequality - are hardly handled properly.
But there is also another, parallel reality. There is a new movement among young people. All over Europe, the youth is mobilizing for climate, environmental and social justice issues, and many in the young generation in the UK did not vote for Brexit feel betrayed. To a significant part of the youth, Europe is an arena and a possibility for real change.
One example is that 200 young Europeans from 22 countries gathered in Denmark before the EP election to agree on and formulate a manifesto, ‘Young Europe Cares’, in which they – among other things - demanded a European Youth Commission to ensure that young voices are heard in the decision-making process.
And perhaps the new President-elect of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has understood that something new and better could be growing in the next generation. At least she has declared that she wants European citizens to play a leading and active part in building the future of Europe, and she will invite citizens to speak out at a conference on the future of Europe to start next year and run for two years.
This conference will hopefully be a new chance for civil society to develop much closer cross-border cooperation and involve all types of organizations, together with ordinary active citizens, in discussions about our common European future. And this time we need to conclude with novel and permanent democratic infrastructures based on citizens and civil society. Conferences, in themselves, are not enough.
We know that, because we have tried discussion before. When Margot Wahlström became Vice-President of the Commission and responsible for communication, she launched ‘Plan D’ for democracy, dialogue and debate to reconnect citizens with the Union. This occurred after the French and Dutch “no” to an EU constitution and in a Union - as today - facing numerous challenges.
"The EU has been good at building roads, railways and other infrastructure to stimulate frontier-free economy. It must now stimulate a frontier-free democracy by building a Europe-wide democratic infrastructure. The EU must enable people and popular movements to meet in a cross-border setting and develop a dialogue at grassroots level", she said, and simultaneously suggested alternative citizen conferences, to be organized in parallel with European summit meetings.
These were very good ideas and proposals, and 40 NGO's - among them ‘Nyt Europa’ (New Europe) in Denmark - supported the ideas and gave Margot Wahlström a plan, ‘Citizens key to Europe’, which included a platform for dialogue between the European institutions and citizens." Another Europe is a possible" said one the NGO's, SOLIDAR, when it was launched.
The understanding of the idea of building Europe from the bottom up was not amazing in the Commission as a whole. The Vice-President was not given the powers she needed, and the outcome was communication rather than actual democratic infrastructure. As a result, Europe did not succeed in creating a new, cross-border wave of democracy, built on civil society.
I hope - and I believe – that we will get the chance this time. At least all grassroot organizations and NGO’s must unite in a shared focus over the next two years and play a major role in the conference of the future of Europe.
Many young Europeans are more than ready.