May 30, 2016
On April 27th, the 1989 Generation Initiative, or ‘89ers’ presented visions and proposals on the future of the European Union at the European Parliament, to an audience of MEPs, think tank professionals and young Europeans. The core message: The EU should always aim to improve its citizens’ lives. Their aspirations and livelihoods should be placed at the centre of its agenda – or more simply, should reflect the idea of Policies for People. To achieve this, the EU is to base its decisions on three broad principles – Connectivity, Solidarity and Opportunity. In this three-part series each are explored in turn.
In the last decade, digital connectivity has contributed neither to more unity in our politics, nor to greater cohesion in our societies. As barbed walls sprout up and carve the continent apart, and old rivalries rekindle; as terror groups and far-right populists abuse the digital space in pursuit of less savoury ends, the European Dream lies seemingly in tatters.
How do we rebuild it? The 1989 Generation Initiative believes we must turn connectivity, whether digital or other, into our biggest asset; and use it to unite, not divide.
Ten months of Skyping and Facebooking with young people from across Europe has demonstrated to us the unlimited potential of the network as a mechanism for change. It has demonstrated that citizens, from Portugal to Lithuania, can join forces to design a better tomorrow. It has shown how a great idea can take root in London, but blossom quickly into action in Rome, Vienna or Paris.
To us, connectivity means the opportunity for citizens to shape their future together, regardless of culture, age or geographical location. To others it can mean the building of a business empire from a laptop; or collaboration on a scientific project, fusing research from across the continent. It is high time we took advantage of our connectivity and used it to foster a Europe of broad citizen networks, pooling the best ideas and strengthening common actions.
A new movement is needed of cross-border start-ups, think tanks and scientific communities, that ride upon Europe’s connectivity to foster civic institutions for all Europeans:
Citizens across Europe must empower each other to take part in policy making; entrepreneurs must be given tools to access clients and collaborators across the continent; researchers must have easy access to ideas and equipment. Think of legislation proposed by citizens becoming EU law; an Estonian tech start-up taking Europe by storm; or of Europe’s best young scientists pooling their efforts to address the world’s ultimate conundrums: energy sustainability; cancer; climate change. Now imagine the potential for social and scientific progress. We will facilitate this only if we take seriously what connectivity has to offer. It should be fostered and exploited.
In order to put the European Project back on course, we ask that the EU place connectivity at the centre of its agenda, and reflect this with ambitious new initiatives. We ask that its institutions use the principal as a guiding light and reference point in all policy-making efforts.
The EU must be the facilitator, financer and driver behind the networked Europe. This should equal the timely completion of the Digital Single Market. It should encompass the area of e-governance – allowing citizens to have easier access to information and to vote online in European, national and local elections.
It should mean the establishment of ambitious funds directed towards thousands more start-ups and research projects than the EU currently caters to. This means a larger proportion of the EU budget dedicated to project and start-up grants, and wider range of projects that will receive funding.
It should prioritise projects of pan-European nature that promote a human element, with sustainable green development and digital innovation at their forefront.
And what of us citizens? Our role is, perhaps, even more crucial. Whilst the EU will provide support, ultimately, it is we citizens that will build the institutions of the new Europe. It is we that must provide the energy, the will-power and the initiative. Otherwise, EU efforts will be pointless.
Let us then be dreamers and doers. Let us weave new webs across Europe, connecting one another in different formats, and for different purposes.
Some of these are already under construction. Fruits of the 1989 Generation Initiative include a satirical online newspaper, the Euro Babble, frantically producing content in various countries, designed to ‘unite Europe in laughter’. Meanwhile, plans are afoot in Italy for an ambitious scheme to connect classrooms across Europe – the first pan-European school. Projects such as these must be supported and proliferated.
Our own Initiative has brought together like-minded Europeans from more than twenty different member states and beyond. And yet, the actions of two-hundred Europeans alone cannot be enough. More will need to be connected. A continent-wide web of similar initiatives, united by a common objective to improve and strengthen our societies will need to emerge, before it is too late. If it fails, prepare for a future of demagogues and nationalists using Europe’s connectivity for precisely the wrong reasons.
The EU can help put a stop to this. But it is up to us, as citizens, to provide the initiative, the intellectual impetus and the energy.
By Michael Cottakis, President of the 1989 Generation Initiative1989 Generation