Four ideas for further activities

Folkemode Bornholm

People's political festival, Bornholm, Denmark, is held every year in June, just after the Danish parliament closes down for summer holidays.

Commentary by Ole Aabenhus
From Tuesday to Thursday next, a group of participants at the final My!Europe Conference will decide on the final text for a yet unknown number of recommendations on ways to overcome the democratic deficit of the European Union. Friday the paper will be presented to the wider public at a conference in Hannover. (For details, look here).

In late January - as the 18 months funding provided by EU's Europe for Citizens programme expires - we will present the paper to a group of MEPs at the European Parliament in Brussels, with Danish MEP Jeppe Kofod as our host.

But what next? I think we should discuss this now. The recommendations draft paper looks as if it could be an important contribution towards a more democratic European Union. The ideas developed through 7 conferences in 7 different countries over more than a year deserve better than just to be read once and then forgotten.

I have four ideas for further activities:

1. Training of Trainers for teachers and youth leaders, based on the xx Recommendations.
Sonnenberg has strong traditions in education, in international youth training and in adult training on social issues (Politische Bildung is the term in German). The Sonnenberg key principles of Talking together, overcoming prejudice, etc. are very much to the point when it comes to democracy and citizens' participation.

Therefore it would be logic to involve people from the Sonnenberg movement (including the My!Europe project partners as well as specialised institutions) in setting up a training program for formal and inform education on democracy in the modern world, - i.e. a world where we have to take as well the national and the supranational level into account - based on recommendations developed by the My!Europe project.

2. European Democracy Umbrella - a series of conferences between like-minded initiatives on democratic development in the EU.
Elsewhere on this page there is a proposal by a Dutch group to set up a conference - I think it should be a series of conferences - where various citizens' groups could get together "under the same umbrella" to exchange views and to demonstrate to politicians and other opinion leaders that there is a debate at citizens' level that deserves to be heard.

As I see it, such conferences should take place every Spring and every Autumn. They should move from North to South and West to East, seeking funds from private foundations as well as municipalities, regions and nations in order to involve the press, the politicians, as well as other citizens in different countries.

It would be logic to involve the European Parliament - especially if we can convince the political groups that one of the tasks of the EP should be to activate citizens and establish better ways for them to be heard.

3. European People's Political Festivals
Peoples' political festivals exist at national level in Sweden and Denmark. The 2016-version of the annual Danish "Folkemøde" ("People's meeting") on the island of Bornholm, a 4-day event, had more than 40.000 visitors on one day, and there were almost 200 tents with discussions and information meetings set up by 800 NGOs and other organisations. 140 politicians took part along with 700 journalists.

Could such an event be transplanted into an international event, where e.g. Germans, Scandinavians, Dutch, Poles, people from the Baltic countries get together to discuss, exchange view - and bring along their music, theatre plays, literature.... ? Could we promote our ideas on European democracy in such a framework? And could similar political festivals be established in other parts of Europe as well?

Again it would be logic to involve MEPs, along with national politicians from many countries, in dialogues at all level.  

4. A Sonnenberg Think Tank on European Democracy
I think we need an input unit for the European Democracy Umbrella, for knowledge production for the press, for producing materials for the training of trainers activities, for the political festivals.

Is it impossible? Maybe, but there are really very many scholars and commentators working with European issues, and there are examples already of a kind of decentralised research and policy units, where experts get together maybe 2-3 times a year to discuss and to put together reports. Of course it needs money, but a think tank focusing on a more democratic Europe with more citizens' participation might have a chance to find the necessary funding.

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