By Ingo Mayr-Knoch
Question: “What could serve as a new narrative to foster cohesion in the EU and what strategy should be used to implement this narrative?”
- There is a lack of identification of the middle class with the European project because citizens have not been actively involved.
- Transnational pro-European movements should be established to give people on the local level the possibility to engage in developing European values.
- Focusing on supporting civil society projects on a local level gives positive visibility and influence can be exerted on people’s daily lives.
- Funding has to come from the civil society. Small business associations in Germany, France, and Poland should take the initiative and establish an EU-wide funding platform to encourage the building of transnational pro-European movements.
The European project has stayed a project of the political elites. Since the political elites and state institutions spearheaded it, there was no need for “ordinary” people to take an active part in its construction, the latter thus remaining largely passive. Politicians have failed to engage people in the European integration process. Also, voters’ influence on EU decision-making process is limited. Anti-EU movements are currently gaining traction in the face of a lack of pro-European popular movements to counter them. One explaining factor is people’s tendency to consider the “elites” as the ones responsible for defending the European idea. Furthermore, even though people have grown more critical towards political elites in Europe and their ability to bring actual reform, the fundamental values behind the European project remain attractive to a wide variety of people.
Pro-European popular movements should be aimed at developing the underlying values of EU institutions, not EU institutions themselves. They should be aimed at fighting for more democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and European cooperation and solidarity. In this way, eurosceptics who nonetheless support European values could be integrated. A variety of movements with different political values speaking for different social segments should be encouraged as long as they remain attached to these fundamental European values. Such movements will have a greater impact if they are not part of any political party since the middle class is increasingly sceptical towards the willingness and ability of the established political system to reform. Political influence in society is not restricted to the electoral process. Local networks of family and friends are utterly important for the development of the political opinion and have a very strong impact on people’s daily life. The Muslim brotherhood in the Middle East has exerted tremendous influence without being a political party by connecting like-minded people in local informal networks and bringing them together under a political and social idea. Organizing and financing social projects like schools, universities, charitable organizations, and student organization creates a positive impact on the daily lives of people and helps recruiting members.
A pro-European movement should use a similar approach, building local informal networks by connecting people who identify with core European values, thus generating a positive brand attraction. To build positive brand attraction and recruit new members, the movement should fund and sponsor NGOs fighting for human rights or the freedom of press in Europe. Morerover, it should sponsor social and charitable institutions like theatre, art, soccer clubs, day-care centres, or youth centres. This directly brings the values of the movement into the daily lives of people. In addition to starting new initiatives, existing ones could be included, for example a theatre club could join the movement and display the brand. Local informal networks could be used in order to solve local problems and cases of social hardship, mediating between people and organisations. Also, the movement should hold local meetings to discuss and develop communal projects.
Building a landscape of movements for European values does not depend on a political or bureaucratic infrastructure. Everybody can engage in building these movements either by giving time or money. The first prerequisite would be to educate people about the possibilities that they can do something to change the situation by engaging in a movement. A pan-European funding platform for social projects should be established in order to organise fundraising for political and social projects. Student associations in cooperation with small business associations in Germany, France and Poland should take the initiative and establish a EU-wide funding platform.