However, I am fully aware that Europe’s problems will not be solved simply by talking; decisive political action is needed. Institutional changes are also needed to create a culture of conflict in European politics so that the media views it as newsworthy. For example, there would need to be a dispute between the ‘governing majority’ and ‘opposition’ in the European Parliament, while political rather than national camps would need to face each other in the European Council. But everything is connected: political Europe cannot function without a public Europe of equal standing.
I experienced this in autumn 2013 when I was working as campaign manager for the European Green Party in the run-up to the 2014 European elections. In the European Parliament I represented my candidate in the negotiations between parliament, the parties and the media on organising the first European TV debate. This was the first time that the European parties had nominated candidates for the office of President of the EU Commission. The fact that the results of the European elections were now more closely connected to the question of who filled the most important post in the EU was a step forward for democracy. In Brussels, we hoped that this increased voter influence and personalisation would make the European elections more attractive and lead to a higher turnout.
A political Europe cannot function without a public Europe of equal standing.
Unfortunately, we failed to convince the national TV stations to include this piece of EU history in their main programming. Instead, the debate was broadcast by special interest channels such as Phoenix, the BBC Parliamentary Channel and France24. The sobering result was that by the time election day came around, very few voters knew who was standing for the EU presidency – just 5% of the electorate in the Czech Republic and the UK. Worse still, most people didn’t realise that their vote now had much more influence on who became the next president of the EU Commission.
However, it mobilised the few voters who knew about it, and a poll showed that one of the reasons they voted was the candidates themselves. Once again, it was a case of could have, should have. The time of missed chances and unused windows of opportunity must now be over – otherwise the EU is over. Over the last few years, the truism that every cloud has a single lining certainly hasn’t applied to Europe. Perhaps this is Europe’s last chance, by providing a space for discussion, constructive debate, empathy, commonality, a place where the positives and negatives of the European Union can be aired. Platform Europe is this opportunity.
One thing is clear: in today’s Europe, there are two spheres where its citizens lack sovereignty – the political and the digital. In a democracy, they act as the pillars of sovereignty, but the power to make decisions is subject to conditions. Only someone who is adequately informed, has a grasp of the various facets of an issue, understands political responsibilities and can name the actors involved is in a position to make independent, autonomous decisions – such as at the ballot box. These conditions are not currently being met in the decision-making processes of European politics.
This has less to do with people’s lack of interest than with the absence of a European discourse. In the national discourse, the language revolves around ‘us’ and ‘them’: Europe has not become part of our home, of ‘us’. As a result, the public debate focuses on the national interest, which is often the only yardstick used for assessing European policy.
In today’s Europe, there are two spheres where its citizens lack sovereignty – the political and the digital.
The national bubbles exclude the plurality of European voices and the European common good as an analytical framework. For European democracy, this means that civil society lacks an adequate public sphere of influence on EU policies, while EU institutions are unable to link decisions back to citizens within a public framework.