4th conference on European democracy
After discussions... Participants from Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, The Czech Republic, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands and Great Britain, Germany – and refugees from Syria, Afghanistan.
By Ole Aabenhus
At the 4th My!Europe conference, the so-called TopTagung at the International House Sonnenberg in the Harz Mountains, Germany, discussions on the "Ideas/Questions" paper to prepare for a My!Europe declaration were short, but intense.
The paper can be found here in English and in German.
One remarkable theme during discussions was peace. There has been no wars in Europe for 70 years, one speaker noted – with the exception, as others noted, of the war in the former Yugoslavia and the low-level war that's going on in Eastern Ukraine. Anyway, Europe as a peace project was on many participants' mind.
One group criticised the fact that we elect a European Parliament, but commissioners are not elected by virtue of our votes. They are appointed by states.
Some people don't know who the Commissioners are. "EU is a strange animal", said Ivaylo Gechev, the Bulgarian participant, - there is no connection between the vote of the people and the establishment of a commission. This has to be changed soon, he said.
One point of view was that 28 commissioners are too many. The treaty says 18, but the member countries broke the rule even before the treaty entered into force, to satisfy the Irish who first voted no (like the French and the Dutch). There were other voices for a clearer political structure, but also doubt about how that could be achieved.
One group focused in on transparency and e.g. TTIP (German-language report here).
They underlined, that
- there should be more information, in easily accessible form, on the EU, and the workings of the EU should be taught in schools.
- there should be better possibilities for a larger share of the population to visit the European Parliament during sessions. Such visits should be "largely free" for the participants, who should on the other hand rest under obligation to pass on their knowledge. This could e.g. take place at the International House Sonnenberg.
- they also felt that there is a lack of a shared public space and a transnational discussion. An example was the fact that discussions on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact were very strong in Germany, but weak in many other countries like e.g. Denmark or Romania.
One comment was that we need more simple, explanatory material on the EU, e.g. "in the form of a brochure"
Transparency was also discussed in more general terms, but some people felt that full transparency in the EU was as impossible. On the other hand there was a feeling that more transparency was needed. However, the Snowdon case and now LuxLeaks and the Panama Papers show that there is a need for both transparency and whistleblowing.
Refugees must be accepted, if they are victims of war – "Merkel was right", as one participant put it. But we must also make a distinction between refugees and economic migrants. Some economic migrants come because of real problems like lack of water, and we need to help them – directly, but not necessarily receive them here.
Isolde Hartung from Stuttgart, Germany, made a point that refugees are needed to ward off the ageing of Europe's population. She called for more language schools, more integration through active job centres. We should be more aware that refugees come with very different qualifications, she said.
Others added that we should not forget the importance of citizens' initiatives such as fitness and gymnastics, helping refugees to learn to bike and making them feel part of a local community.