“Participating to Build a European Identity” Brussels, 10 December 2015 Discussion meeting in the context of the IDEA-C project “Europe for Citizens” Programme
Report Mediter – which participates at IDEC-C project - in collaboration Punto Democratico asbl - an Italian Brussels based cultural association - conveyed experts and representatives of non-governmental organisations to discuss ideas and to envisage tools both to reduce the “democratic deficit” and to encourage the involvement of civic society in the EU decision-making.
The Brussels workshop organised by Mediter and Punto Democratico was consistent with the project’s major goals to give citizens an opportunity to interact on the construction of an “ever closer” and democratic Europe, thereby fostering an active EU citizenship. Another objective is to develop long-lasting cooperation between entities and citizens aimed at improving civic and democratic participation.
Invited speakers were: Giovanni Colombo, from “PD Bruxelles”, the Brussels branch of the Italian Democratic Party and chair of a thematic group on communicating EU within national politics; Pietro Emili, Director of “Maison du Pueple d’Europe” (Home of European People), a NGO active in promoting the dialogue between citizens and European institutions; Maria Laura Franciosi, experienced journalist in European Affairs, former chair of the “Brussels Europe” Press Club; Victor Matteucci, Chairman of the Mediter Network, acting as a major partner to the IDEA-C Project.
Panel interventions Ms. Franciosi, who chaired the panel, introduced the speakers and explained the background and the reasons for the workshop: the professional engagement of most of the attendants within and with the European Institutions based in Brussels enables a discussion around shared values about a “citizens’ Europe”. However, we should always keep in mind that a European identity could only be established through a bottom-up process: citizens have to feel and describe themselves as “Europeans”, and this requires a long way to go for politicians, intellectuals and officers not only within but also outside the European institutions.
Mr. Colombo was then invited to present the project for which he was responsible in the framework of the “EU DEM School”, a large dissemination initiative targeted at young Italian local officers of the party and at political representatives in Brussels, in order to discuss the relevance of EU policies for national politics and policies.
Mr. Emili, Director of the “Maison du Pueple d’Europe” (MPE – House of European People), outlined a complementary approach. MPE promotes civic engagement on several issues, and, in doing so, acts in close collaboration with NGOs and other independent organisations in Brussels. Mr. Emili pointed out that MPE’s initiatives are aimed at promoting “participatory democracy”, whereas EU functioning is mostly based on “representative democracy”. More precisely, EU in principle supports also participative democracy, but this channel is conceived “in addition” to the main processes of representative democracy.
Mr. Matteucci explained how the Mediter Network was founded and how it is currently involved in the realisation of the IDEA-C project. He then discussed how low turnout rates and mistrust towards politicians could be traced also at the national level; a general trend seems to be common everywhere when it comes to people’s attitude towards institutions and politics. According to this viewpoint, we experience a progressive reduction of the role and influence of intermediate bodies: political parties, trade unions, stakeholders organisations seem to be outpaced and incapable both to shape consensus and to represent interests and needs. The disappearance of intermediate bodies goes along, and is possibly caused by, a (dangerous) “simplification” of the political discourse; in this context, an increasing sense of mistrust is hardly surprising, since larger and larger portions of citizens feel that they are no longer represented.
Questions and comments from the audience
A general discussion followed the interventions of the main speakers. Mr. Francesco Cerasani, political secretary of “PD Bruxelles”, stressed the importance of securing representativeness to any political instance in Europe, including the so-called EU-sceptical parties and movements. As far as the Democratic Party is concerned, its Brussels branch is strongly engaged in a political strategy based both on “communicating Europe” (i.e., disseminating among stakeholders, citizens and political parties’ officers information on how EU works and what EU can really do) and “representing people”. This means that the Democratic Party, and hopefully any political party, is an instrument available to people, which want to “speak to Europe”. Mr. Alessandro Giordani, an EU Commission officer working on institutional communication, outlined the difficulties experienced when EU and Member States speak to each other. We cannot pretend that “common people” understand EU policies and processes and support the European project when we note that even professionals hardly establish good communication.