Can Europe Make It?

Debating the future of Europe in digital spaces

Some thoughts on kicking off Citizens Take Over Europe on May 9, this year, in the absence of the promised Conference on the Future of Europe.

European Democracy Lab
22 June 2020
CTE Programme.
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Spring 2020 promised several solemn anniversaries for the European project. 70 years ago, Robert Schuman declared the consolidation of German and French production of coal and steel, laying the foundation for European integration. 35 years ago, the adoption of the Schengen agreement funded the area of free movement that we have become so used to in the twenty-first century.

When the spread of the novel Coronavirus prompted extraordinary governmental measures across the continent, the comprehensive restriction of this fundamental European freedom in late March was just one aspect of the erupting crisis; human suffering, dramatic economic disruptions, and the many social problems that have arisen from the pandemic have fully engrossed public and political life in Europe. Obviously, also the promised Conference on the Future of Europe, that was supposed to commence on this year’s Europe Day on May 9, was postponed until further notice.

This situation posed a paradox for several political organisers and activists of Europe’s civil society – one that laid the foundation for Citizens Take Over Europe. On the one hand, the social and political fallout of the crisis called upon us to come together and unite to campaign for a fundamental, public debate on the future of Europe. On the other hand, social distancing was – and in many ways still is – an imperative of solidarity: social isolation as an act of protecting our communities and the most vulnerable members of society. The various members of the Citizens Take Over Europe coalition first met, sharing the common concern that the promised Conference on the Future of Europe was going to get crushed out of the picture in the crisis discourse. The vast array of executive actions that are required to manage the consequences of the pandemic threatened to dispel the importance of broad, public debate on the future form of the European project, especially with a view to the effects of this most recent crisis. How then could we unite to make our voices, the voices of European citizens heard? How could we create a public space to come together as civil society organisations and as citizens to debate our expectations for post-Corona Europe?

The sweeping mainstreaming of these digital tools in the wake of the Corona crisis leaves hardly any excuses not to involve citizens in the debate on the future of Europe in a manner that goes beyond tenuous and selective consultations.

Our action on the 9th of May, that kicked off the Citizens Take Over Europe initiative, managed to solve this paradox by digital means. Within a few weeks, 45 civil society organisations partnered up to organise a digital campaign that concluded in a day-long marathon of over 33 live online events. On Europe Day 2020, we managed to create a transnational public space for political groups, artists, and engaged citizens to discuss the problems that Europeans are facing today, and especially in times of Corona. A public exchange of political visions, policy proposals, hopes and fears with a diverse set of Europeans that kept their physical distance, staying at home – this was Citizens Take Over Europe. As Niccoló Milanese (European Alternatives) pointed out in the opening of the day: "despite my social isolation, I am not alone".

The opening of Citizens Take Over Europe – the first panel organised by the EDL in cooperation with European Moments and European Alternatives. The panel starts at min 17:40.

During the day, we had sessions on political visions like 'A Green Card for Europe' (New Europeans) or 'A Green New Social Deal' (Eumans). We debated 'The Future of (Global) Education in Europe' (Obessu) or 'How to Design a European Citizens’ Assembly' (Civico Europa/Eumans). We had 'Citizens Speak Out During The Crisis' (European Democracy Lab) and followed an exchange on 'Women’s Rights – Covid – Future' between feminist organisations from across Europe. The Citizens Take Over Europe initiative continues to gain supporters and members and currently prepares its next event for the 1st of July, when the German presidency of the Council of the EU begins.

We believe that it is crucial for European people to organise across borders to claim the Europe that they want.

The European Democracy Lab is one of the original initiators of the Citizens Take Over Europe campaign. Reflecting on our action on May 9, we think that the kick-off demonstrated once more the vast potential of the digital public sphere. It is remarkable what a group of dedicated individuals with a couple of laptops can put together with today’s technology. With little to no extra funding for the project, the coalition prepared a multi-channel live conference that worked better than many costly high-profile events. Established organisations and actors, whose stated mission is the promotion of a European political union that "puts citizens at the heart" of its democratic processes, should take seriously and support diverse coalitions like Citizens Take Over Europe: digital communication tools that allow various, easy-to-use forms of online participation unfold their political potential in the hands of such bottom-up initiatives.

The sweeping mainstreaming of these digital tools in the wake of the Corona crisis leaves hardly any excuses not to involve citizens in the debate on the future of Europe in a manner that goes beyond tenuous and selective consultations. We believe that it is crucial for European people to organise across borders to claim the Europe that they want. Transnational digital spaces are an important element in this: Citizens Take Over Europe demonstrated how to debate our European, not our national future, and gather support for a Europe that cares for all its citizens in solidarity.

Civil society organisations who are interested in supporting the initiative or joining the longer process of the Citizens Take Over Europe coalition can express their interest here, or get in touch directly here.

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Join us for a free live discussion on Thursday 22 October, 5pm UK time/12pm EDT.

Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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