The Fourth FutureLab Europe Annual Forum: Day 1-5

30. September 2014

FutureLab Europe Annual Forum 2014: Day 1

As a member of the 4th FutureLab Europe generation, it is my pleasure to recall the very inspiring speeches of the first day of this year’s Annual Forum.

After some introductory words on the think tank world in Brussels, we had the chance to discuss not only the main competences of EU decision-making actors, but also the novelties regarding the 2014 European Parliament elections, namely the Spitzenkandidaten experiment and the politicised Commission of Jean-Claude Juncker.

The session continued with a debate on the upcoming legislative term and how the European institutions and the new leadership will tackle the economic, social, political and geopolitical challenges ahead.  Although opinions varied, many advocated for a consolidation of Member States and the European institutions, together with the creation of a new pact combining the different interests of Member States. The discussion was concluded by pointing out the relevance of the present geopolitical situation in Ukraine, which will have a significant impact on the future of the European Union.

In the second half of the day, we discussed the role of the European Council and were given an in-depth analysis on the changing dynamics of the financial market after mid-2012, caused by the creationg of the Banking Union.

We also talked about how to communicate Brussels in the media, and about lobbying and transparency. A particulary difficult question to aswer was whether subscribing in the EU’s Lobby Transparency Register should be made compulsory to enable EU citizens to keep track of who is influencing EU decision-making.

During a working dinner in the evening, we addressed the difficulties of growth and (youth)unemployment the EU is experiencing and discussed multi-level cooperations between national and local authorities on the one hand, and actors from education and economy on the other as a possible solution.

(Sandra Kuna)

FutureLab Europe Annual Forum 2014: Day 2

On day two of the 2014 FutureLab Annual Forum, the participants explored the boundaries of democratic representation within the European Union. They visited the European Parliament to discuss the future political shape of Europe with a number of MEP’s and attended a Committee debate on the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

FutureLab participants first met with Andrew Duff, former ALDE MEP, who argued passionately for the need to strengthen European institutions to tackle the economic challenges of the Eurozone. Despite losing his seat in the recent elections, he remained adamant in his conviction that the EU should strive to be an ever closer union, tweeting after the meeting that “when I hear eurosceptics say we must now reduce EU powers, I know they’ve lost the plot.”

Rather than seeing the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’-process as a way of instilling the Commission Presidency with a “double legitimacy” – as Mr Duff suggested – it seems more likely that the now politicised Presidency has traded political legitimacy within the parliament for challenges within the European Council. Jean-Claude Juncker’s nomination by the Heads of States was turbulent and the political fallout has not yet settled. Despite positive responses to his College of Commissioners, Pieter Cleppe, Head of the Brussels Office at Open Europe, suggested that this unprecedented shift in the balance of power between the European Commission and other EU institutions will have to play out before its long-term impact on European politics is clear.

Although the European bubble remains opaque, there are a number of mechanisms that can cast light into the dark hallways of European power. Participants learned that the EU Ombudsman supports the delivery of freedom of information requests to retrieve documents and communication from the EU institutions, a device often used by journalists to varying effect. Despite opposition from bureaucrats who approach transparency as an unthinkable part of the Brussels culture, we were assured that this mentality was shifting. However, it remains unclear whether citizens really have the ability to leverage this important tool directly.

During a meeting with an MEP in the afternoon, the distance between the world of the Parliament and ordinary citizens became apparent, a fact the MEP acknowledged. He called on young Europeans to cooperate with policy-makers to expand knowledge of the opportunities in Europe, as well as of the work they were undertaking on behalf of citizens.

Concluding the day was a two-hour meeting with the Foreign Affairs Committee, which put these internal EU concerns about freedom into sharp contrast, as seven nominations were given to candidates for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named after Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov. Among the nominees was Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynaecologist specialised in the treatment of rape victims in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The popular favourite, the EuroMaidan activists, received the loudest applause, even though their nomination may prove to be too political to actually win the prize this year.

Having discussed the boundaries of freedom and transparency in the EU and beyond, participants will draft their own propositions for future EU priorities in the attempt to represent young people within the European decision-making process and to engage the Commission on issues affecting young people.

(Mathew Shearman)

FutureLab Europe Annual Forum 2014: Day 3

How is the EU presented in your local or national newspapers? What news do you remember best? Perhaps “EU bans powerful vacuum cleaner” or reports on the shape of a cucumber?

The third day of our Annual Forum was dedicated to the social and digital media landscape in Brussels, and provided insight into the work of journalists and communication strategists.

Keeping in mind surveys that show how many citizens have an alarmingly low interest in and knowledge of what is going on at the political level in the European Union, it is interesting to take a close look at the media coverage.

For journalists, selling ideas on the European Union to their national media is not an easy task. European policies or processes seem distant and bureaucratic for the average citizen in Helsinki or Athens and prejudices prevail. EU policy making is simply not “sexy” enough. With media facing their own economic crisis, having to do the same amount of work with fewer journalists, they sometimes lack the knowledge and network needed to convey EU news in a coherent way. As a result, EU news is at risk of becoming sensationalistic.

But the EU can be “sexy” without being sensationalistic, as several actors we have met here in Brussels argued. All that is needed are journalists investing the time to research the relevant angles for their national audience. “If a new EU directive sounds dry and far-fetched, just find out who it is relevant for and clarify the practical implications”, one journalist explained. “It might be that it affects thousands of people in your region”.

But good media are not enough to get the man in the street involved and informed about the work of the Union. Throughout the week we, as young European citizens, have debated with several actors about the different ways to achieve this goal. Drawing on their valuable input and our own experiences and reflections, we spent the rest of the day drafting our propositions for what European politicians should focus on in the years to come. These we will present on the last day of the Annual Forum. To whom? Just follow our website or our facebook page.

(Maria Alette Abdli)

FutureLab Europe Annual Forum 2014: Day 4

On Thursday 28 September, the 4th Generation of FutureLabbers discussed whether a next step towards a more integrated Europe should include efforts to develop and strengthen a Social Union. This debate has received a lot of attention in the EU, especially taking into account the deep negative impacts of the economic and financial crisis on the social sphere. We had an enriching day that involved discussion moments at the European Economic and Social Committee and with representatives from Youth Organizations about the inclusion of Young Europeans in the EU decision-making process.

The morning started with a visit to the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) where we first met with Rudy Aernoudt, Head of Cabinet of the President of the EESC. The current generation of FutureLabbers assisted Stephan Kool in presenting the resolutions on education and employment of the New Pact for Europe on behalf of the previous generation of FutureLab Europe. Rudy Aernoudt commented that young Europeans had a crucial role in shaping the future of Europe and he assured that many of their demands are being taken into consideration by policy-makers. In the Q&A moment, we also asked for clarifications regarding topics such as the Youth Guarantee Scheme as a job creation measure, the creation of a European tax and the likelihood of implementing a fiscal union.

After that we met with Heather Roy, Secretary General of Eurodiaconia and Ben Butters, Director of the EU Affairs office of the Eurochambres. Heather worried that the social element was not sufficiently being taken into account in the package of measures meant to deal with the crisis. She illustrated her concern by stating that 1/5 of the population in the EU are at risk of poverty and exclusion and emphasized the need for EU citizens to have 100% access to financial services, mainly through a bank account. We were also told about the Social Scoreboard, which collects information on how the Member States are performing in social terms. Ben added that reviving economies (for instance, through a start-up culture) should be the EU’s priority, by facilitating access to the market, diversifying funding sources and promoting social investment.

The afternoon was equally interesting and focused on how to stimulate youth participation and involvement in the EU decision-making process. At the European Policy Centre, three representatives from the European Union Youth Forum, Think Young and Young European Leadership discussed the role of each organization in fostering a closer contact between young people´s demands and concerns and policy-making at the EU level. It was a particularly dynamic debate that enabled us to voice our biggest concerns, such as the skills mismatch, non-paid internships and the urgent need for job creation and the lack of an entrepreneurial culture in some Member States as a result of an environment of uncertainty inherent to the crisis.

We all know someone that was a victim of the crisis. All over Europe, many people are now lost in the labour market and there seems to be no place for them no matter how hard they try to counteract that. Lifting those people out of poverty and exclusion is necessary to build a fair and inclusive system. As a FutureLabber and as a young individual from a country severely hit by this problem, this issue touches my heart. However, this day contributed to restoring my hope regarding future policy developments in this area.

(Ana Luísa Correia)

FutureLab Europe Annual Forum 2014: Day 5

On the last day of this years’ Annual Forum, the FutureLab Europe participants handed over workplan for the European Commission 2014 – 2019 to László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. This workplan contained their recommendations to the European Commission on the basis of the four umbrella topics listed in the Strategic Agenda for the Union in Times of Change: a Union for jobs, growth and competitiveness; a Union that looks beyond its borders; a Union for freedom, security and justice; a Union that empowers and protects all citizens. FutureLab Europe’s final propositions range from calling for a reconfiguration of the Youth Guarantee scheme to support long term youth employment, to asking for the development of a unified EU migration policy. Presenting their propositions to Commissioner Andor allowed them to debate with one of the most prominent policy makers and to suggest directly resolutions on the policy areas they cared about the most. Commissioner Andor commented FutureLabbers’ propositions comprehensively, expressing his thoughts on the Youth Guarantee scheme, the future prospects of the Digital Agenda and the broad issue of unemployment in the EU.

 

Download the 2014 FutureLab Europe Propositions for the EU Commission