How to fall in love with Europe again?

This question was addressed by high-level representatives from the world of politics, industry and civil society at this year’s “The State of Europe” Conference of Friends of Europe which took place on October 13 in Brussels. Under the title “Disruption, Disorder and Division: Crunch Time for Europe”, the conference provided a platform for discussions on current challenges and the root causes of European citizens’ disenchantment vis-à-vis the European Union. As member of Friends of Europe, a leading European think tank, GIZ joined the discussion in workshops and open space sessions to exchange ideas about possible solutions.

Cornelia Richter, Member of the GIZ Management Board, highlighted the importance to advocate for more historical awareness: “We have to create a narrative of achievements of the EU.” There would be a need to acknowledge that the younger generation has much more expectations with regards to democratic inclusion. Further, to convince the young people of the European project, the EU would need to tackle the issue of youth unemployment. On migration she emphasized the importance of integration and the need to invest in migrants and refugees. Developing countries currently host 86 percent of the refugees worldwide. Hence, Europe’s support has also to address the needs of the host communities.

Most participants agreed that there are many dimensions on which the EU should step up its efforts to reach its citizens and meet the current challenges: Next to enhancing communication with its citizens, creating a positive narrative, celebrating achievements and enhancing education about the EU, the EU should firmly fight populism. In this regard, participants expressed their concern that facts were increasingly distorted (“post-fact politics”), which became especially visible during the British referendum campaign. Disinformation should be encountered by effective and fact-based communication. Further, the EU should strengthen its capacities to deliver and address the rise of inequalities within Europe.

Speakers with an external view on Europe such as the former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stressed that Europeans should be more positive and proud about the EU, as it is seen as a great achievement in other parts of the world. Going in the same direction, the former European Commission Vice President Étienne Davignon stated instead of getting stuck with soul searching after Brexit it is time to focus on Europe’s future.