This Week In Europe

Towards a Civic Union?

No matter how the EU elections go in 2019 – Europe needs new ways in its policy design.
Translation from German to English: Dominik Kirchdorfer

At the moment, many changes are taking place at EU level: the current Austrian Presidency, whose stated aim is to conclude Brexit and a new rigid European migration management system. Then, in May of next year, the elections to the European Parliament and the search for an efficient Commission able to quickly introduce necessary reforms to the European project.

Before a political earthquake?

Due to current developments, one must consider the possibility that the European elections could bring a political earthquake in favour of European populists. Only one thing is clear – Jean-Claude Juncker will no longer be available as Commission President, he has already announced his retirement. But before Juncker leaves the European stage, he brought some new projects on track. Three examples can be cited here: The newly created European Solidarity Corps is regarded as the president’s personal favourite project and officially starts work in October. Already since the beginning of the year, the new Task Force on Subsidiarity Issues is at work and makes suggestions as to where the EU administration would have to do better on a small scale.

And if the proposed doubling of funding for Erasmus + supported by Juncker were to actually come to pass, that would only strengthen the European knowledge and labour market.

Incidentally, 94 percent of the total EU budget goes directly to the countries, the cities and the regions (and thus land directly with us citizens) and only six percent to the EU administration. No matter what faces we will see in parliament after the European elections, the new Commission has to pick up on these big trends. Because it has to be about the European project and about us as a European society, and not about political calculations. So, where this project will go in the next decade will depend very much on what happens in May. Today’s generation of millennials, who are well educated and international, and who will be tomorrow’s decision-makers, busily and inexorably work their hand at transforming the European project into a successful future.

Generation of millennials

What drives them is their educational experience abroad (Erasmus), their networking and cooperation with each other (Youth in Action) and their contacts throughout the world (Youth Ambassadors). Contrary to current political waters, this generation’s view of Europe remains positive and ready to accept its opportunities.

It is well known that Britain would have remained in the EU if the votes of 18-24 year old’s were weighted in particular. The applications for the Solidarity Corps, starting in October, with which 17- to 30-year-olds can do charitable work in other EU countries (such as in the environmental or integration field), have not been abating for months. And Europe’s global youth networks, set up to work together with some of the most interesting young people in our neighborhood (among others in the Eastern Neighborhood, the Mediterranean and Middle East, Africa) for several years, are being flooded with interest. Little wonder, if you can immediately and directly engage for the EU foreign and neighborhood policy. An honorable task, the privilege of which was granted to me as well.

Europe can do much more

Europe offers many attractions. The educated young generation has long been aware of this. And Europe can do much more – just think of the most important civil rights we all enjoy: freedom of movement of persons and of course, free movement of goods, the right to democracy, the rule of law and respect for our human rights, the right not to be discriminated against , the right to free movement of payments or European electoral law (and many more). Where we see anti-European politics today, we also see an attack on some of these core elements of European self-understanding.

The foresight of our European founding fathers, who were above all about the willingness to abandon national sovereignty in favor of Community progress, has increasingly been lost at the level of the nation states. And the European institutions themselves are increasingly experiencing difficulties. Because they face serious legitimacy problems, due to their limited scope for action on the burning issues of climate change or migration.

Involving civil society

The natural cooperation with our international partners to solve these issues must be accompanied by a new implicitness in the involvement of European organised (!) Civil society, innovative educational institutions and representatives with expertise from entrepreneurship and the NPO scene. The European authorities need a solid participatory model, which they can offer without exception to all stakeholders. The first good sign is that the Juncker White Paper, with the five scenarios for Europe in 2025, will be up for grabs in a massive consultation process and more than 1000 so-called “citizens dialogues” across Europe, right through to next year’s elections is provided.

If we want to lead our Europe into the future as an economically successful, democratically meticulously legitimised and at the same time without exception socially fair, then it is less about the elections next year. It is about the aforementioned momentum, which is starting to manifest itself in individual initiatives, and which could herald a change in the way European policies are structured.

Openness and participation

What is needed are those who are at the controls, as well as those who deal with Europe every day and already have a lot of knowledge of it. Openness and participation are on the menu of the day if we are to find broad and effective answers to the challenges of our time. Whatever the political representation of Europe may look like after May 2019, it would be highly desirable that a path of renewal be pursued, taking into account the great commitment of many Europeans.

Originally published in Die Presse on 08.08.2018 at 18:15. Re-released with permission of the author.

Philipp Brugner
Born (1987) and raised in Austria, higher education in Russian Studies (Master's) and Eastern European Politics (Bachelor's degree) at the University of Vienna and State Pedagogical University St. Petersburg. Currently continuing academic education in public policy economics with an online course at the University of Oxford and pursuing a certificate in EU affairs from the Centre international de formation européenne. Professional experience in print and online journalism, foreign and security policy and EU project management. Since 2013 working as an EU project manager at the Centre for Social Innovation in Vienna. Since 2016 actively involved in the EU-Eastern Partnership dialogue as a Young European Ambassador. Since 2018 member of the youth board of the Vienna based think tank PCC (Policy Crossover Center).
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