October 17, 2016
Nearing the end of 2016 one fact has become abundantly clear: we cannot escape populism any longer. A doggedly fought Brexit campaign, the discourse on the refugee crisis, a surge of aggression across the continent, and the brutality of the US presidential election: At the beginning of the year these events appeared to be outliers, just a bump in the road. Now, there’s the threat that Europe could soon again be under the sway of politicians not too dissimilar from those of its darkest days. Their common denominator is an appeal to base instincts, fear, and the lure of simple solutions to complex problems.
This is why populism will be the central theme of our Launch Conference, to be held on 15th & 16th February at the London School of Economics. We aim to develop policy proposals designed to counter the underlying causes rather than treating superficial symptoms of populist movements. The goal, ultimately, is to emerge out of these multiple crises with determination, unity, and crucially, a path forward that provides Europe with hope.
Today, based on the results of our survey, we present you with the topics for our conference.
Knowledge is Power: Reconnecting with and strengthening European citizens
The EU needs to rethink its communication strategies. EU citizens must be better informed about what the EU is, and what it does, and also what it offers its citizens. It can be achieved through better communication and education. Information needs to be more accessible and reader-friendly in order to avoid ignorance, disinterest and blame-shifting, and ensure that people know who is responsible for what ( member-states or the Union).
The EU should also make better use of new technologies, such as social media, to directly engage with citizens and improve transparency. It must at the same time avoid the impression of misleading people or twisting facts. Education and immersion within the EU network should be a part of every EU citizen’s life, allowing citizens to critically engage with the EU’s politics and policies.
Our two groups will address both issues, working on strategies for the EU to connect to its citizens, and on new ways for Europeans to learn about the opportunities and processes of the Union.
Politics & Institutions roundtable
A Model of inclusion: Encouraging participation and enabling European citizens to shape policy directions
Survey respondents highlighted the EU’s failure to connect with the people, despite its structurally democratic set-up. The perception is that the EU is so complex and remote that only large corporations are big and close enough through their lobby resources to influence policy.
A common concern relates to the case of civil society, the common citizens and small businesses, and a lack of understanding about how they can participate in EU decision-making and have an impact. The EU needs to rebuild its negative image as an institution serving the interests of big corporations.
We want participants to find ways for improving existing ways citizens’ involvement to participate in decision-making, and also empower their voices in new and innovative ways.
A Better Single Market: fairness and new perspectives
Survey respondents emphasised the necessity of economic reforms to ensure continued existence of the EU, pointing towards more and better integration.
The 2008 Financial and subsequent Sovereign Debt Crisis created a sense of urgency. Policies were pushed forward in response, but have stagnated. The banking union, capital markets union, and digital single market are logical additions to the removal of unnecessary barriers to investment and to the evolution of the economy at the heart of the European Project. They need to be completed in order to demonstrate the EU’s capacity to fulfil its primary mandate under stressing conditions.
Recently, the particular feature of the free movement of people has been under heavy criticism – even more so in populist discourses. The posted workers issue is deeply embedded in this debate. The response must be a refining of the existing framework so as to safeguard the principles of the Union, while answering without demagoguery the legitimate concerns of people feeling some of the negative impact of free movement.
The goal for our two groups is to gather ideas that harmonise labour mobility and different standards of welfare provisions, and also push the transition towards a unified digital economy.
Global Affairs roundtable
Restoring hope and security, at home and abroad: Addressing the roots and consequences of instability in Europe’s neighbourhood
The EU has long stood back from many of the events that have wrought instability and conflict in its neighbourhood. The impact of these events has threatened the security of the EU and weakened its humanitarian outlook. The current refugee crisis might have roots outside of Europe, but its consequences reach the heart of the Union; it needs to address both those aspects simultaneously.
First, we seek to design a comprehensive approach to migration and asylum that both secures the our external borders and takes pressure off Greece and Italy. Furthermore, it has to ensure that it maintains the EU’s humanitarian values in dealing with those who have come into Europe and those who want to. At a time when the Schengen Agreement is partly suspended, a fair, sustainable and truly common asylum policy is key to ensuring that temporary fences and barbed wire do not become the harbinger of the erosion of one of the EU’s most striking achievements, the free-movement area.
Second, the EU must also step up its involvement in its neighbourhood, especially after Donald Trump’s recent election and the uncertainty that looms over the US’ future involvement in NATO. This is an opportunity for further coordination and integration at the European level, which could ensure the EU’s ability to prevent conflicts and manage crises. While President Juncker’s proposal for a new European External Plan for Investment is a first step in this direction, we want to look further ahead and ask what other pre-emptive measures should be taken.