Europe is still young and malleable

Posted on 19. May 2014


For me, Europe is more than a continent offering a wide variety in terms of geography and cultures. It is more than just a collection of nation states seeing their borders being obliterated with the passage of time. Europe is also more than just a political system. Europe is an ideology, a perspective and a set of basic values.

At one and the same time it can be proud of both its diversity and its unity, while being faced with the challenge of drawing together a multiplicity of different opinions, cultures, historical backgrounds and political and economic beliefs. Europe is a community within which all work together instead of against each other and in which everyone assumes responsibility for others. There is ever less importance being attached to where I come from, with the focus switching to where it is I am going. Thanks to the freedom of movement available within the European Union, my own nationality is becoming less important, to the benefit of the European passport.

If we look back in history, Europe can serve as an example of how, despite the economic crisis, the solidarity forged between individual citizens has helped achieve a higher standard of living than the nation states could achieve, acting as lone wolves and competing one against the other.

From the political point of view, as I see it Europe is a system in which nation states pool their power to allow them to enact laws for the Union as a whole. The countries draw closer together as they establish common ideals. This facilitates co-operation on an equal footing and makes the states outwardly stronger, both politically and economically. In all respects, Europe is a work in progress with prospects for the future.

What I don’t like about the European Union is how both (national) politicians and citizens alike persist in thinking along rigidly national lines. By this I do not mean that here and now in 2014 I would like to see all borders done away with unconditionally. Nevertheless, the realisation that we must ‘think European’, especially in some specific areas, is simply absent. One of these areas is most certainly environmental conservation, along with foreign and economic policy.

What I have found to be most disappointing in recent years is the influence exerted by individual industrial groups on EU policy. Commerce has a major role to play in politics and is crucial for the welfare of the population. But this welfare should not be neglected in order to support individual enterprises with specific legislation to the detriment of the wider population or the economy of the European Union.

My criticism of society – levelled simultaneously at communications from Brussels and at the individual national governments – is this: our society today is polarised. The question is ‘Europe, yes or no’. Apart from in the course of debates on political science, it is seldom that I hear any constructive criticism or even any defending of a specific standpoint on European politics. It seems that one can only be either for or against Europe. I have never been asked whether I am for or against Germany. Any questions addressing aspects of national politics are mostly worded as follows: “What point of view do you support?” or “Which party do you support?”. Why am I not asked these questions when it comes to Europe? Why are the only questions I am asked about European policy worded solely to elicit a yes or no?

I’ll be casting my vote because … I will be voting on May 25th because I do not want to surrender the decision as to what happens with Europe to others. As I see it, not voting amounts to a statement of indifference. Non-voters put forward numerous arguments. However, the fact remains that if I cannot be bothered to cast my vote I am handing it over to others, including those in favour of the radical parties. Europe is young and still extremely malleable. I have the feeling of being able to achieve some progress, not only by voting but also by means of political commitment. Europe has an enormous influence on my life, even if in many respects my generation sees nothing but what has been created by the EU, as the simple fact is “that’s the way it has always been”. It is not easy these days to imagine life without the EU – indeed such a life would be completely different for us all. If we think really carefully about everywhere that Europe ‘is involved’ today, then I ask myself who would not want to have at least some small say in the decisions made. I want to make use of the power granted to myself and to every single EU citizen – a power which has significantly grown since the last elections – by going to cast my vote.

Past generations fought long and hard for democracy in Europe. Our task now is keep this democracy alive. There can be no democracy without the participation of the citizens. Not voting also means voting against democracy. There are many countries currently fighting for democracy. We should be aware of and value what it means to be allowed to cast a vote!

What has to change in Europe is this … One of the greatest problems facing us in Europe is communication. Brussels seems a long way away and decision-making processes lacking in transparency. Better channels of information are necessary if we are to engage citizens and see them participating more. In a Europe-wide survey which we conducted with FutureLab Europe, one of the most frequently-quoted reasons for not taking part in the European elections was lack of knowledge. Information about the election programmes of the European and/or national parties on European policy is simply not available. Opinions on European policy are not being communicated adequately and the individual parties inadequately differentiated. When resolutions are adopted, the talk in the media is simply of the ‘EU’, with neither differentiation between individual institutions nor explanation of the voting process and the positions adopted by the individual parties and countries. It is not just that a more detailed explanation would make it easier for many EU citizens to make up their mind for the elections, but it would also not be so easy to palm decisions off onto the European Union, and then use it as a scapegoat. The EU is often regarded as a UFO hovering over our heads and dictating rules. While people know in theory that behind the EU there actually is an association of national states, this knowledge has no real embodiment among the population at large.

There is a general shortfall in information on EU matters, with this leading to a general aversion to the European Union and a lower level of participation in the elections. Voting is a classic opportunity to participate. If this opportunity is not taken up, citizens are alienating themselves from political affairs, with a gulf being created between politics and society, where there should be a close connection between the two.

What do young people feel when they think of Europe? What would they want to change, where does the EU plays on their nerves? Handelsblatt Online and FutureLab Europe joined forces to bring up a set of young voices. The respondent today is Dorit Fauck (23) from Germany. Read the original article on Handelsblatt Online.