Regionalisation: Chance for Europe

Catalan people demonstrate for an independence referendum in Barcelona / September 2014 (Flickr:Joan Campderrós-i-Canas/licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The idea of Europe as a unified and prosperous continent, particularly in light of the devastating financial crisis and recent election results, cannot be considered to sustain itself anymore. Especially young adults have expressed their disappointment and disillusionment with current political processes.

The European South is hit by soaring youth unemployment; economies are at the brink of collapsing; and while the political establishment preaches the end of the crisis and the dawn of economic recovery, people are steadily losing their trust in European institutions and the Euro as our common currency. It can be of no surprise that in these challenging times, people turn to what they know and understand best: their region. They can hardly be blamed.

It needs to be noted that the trend towards greater identification with regional communities is not necessarily a step away from Europe. Both the Scottish and Catalan independence movements, for example, stressed that they see themselves as part of the European Union, yet as independent countries with all the sovereign rights associated with the status.

The youth does not want borders

Young people of this day and age do not identify with overly nationalist notions anyways. A Europe made up of borders is inconceivable to them. In an increasingly globalized world, however, they have developed an acute sense for regional cultural heritage, for a feeling of belonging that exists outside of the normative political and economic structures.

We need to respect this desire for stronger regional identity and greater self-determination, especially when European integration is increasingly perceived among people as an imposition.

The drawing of new borders, however, cannot be the answer. The close cooperation of European states has benefitted all. A return to nation states will only reproduce the problems that brought them together in the first place. What Europe needs are new impulses, creative ideas, and a greater political will to finish what was started more than 60 years ago.

A new dawn for Europe?

Is the future of Europe one of regional identity? (Flickr:Phyllis Buchanan/licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In fact, the altered conditions offer a chance to redefine Europe. The slogan of the European Union “United in Diversity” could finally become symbol for a symbiosis of greater political and economic integration and the respect for cultural diversity. At the moment it too often seems like a hollow phrase.

Now is the time for European institutions to foster what young people across Europe have been fully aware of for quite a while: Europe needs to be a place for all. Being united in diversity requires us to acknowledge that Catalonia is not Transylvania. Both, however, are part of Europe and should be respected as such.

Not just a European question?

The European Union has been a model for other regions of the world. The Union of South American Nations (USAN) is not much unlike the European Community once was, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) will be a strong economic competitor in the future. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is even a step further as it has moved from purely economic cooperation to showing signs of political integration as well. It may be a utopian perspective of the future, but one day the European Union could be only one of several regional blocs spreading the entire globe. In a century or so these blocs might even start integrating with one another. Should that day ever come, respect for regional diversity will be more important than ever.

As you can see, the issue is one that needs to be discussed. If you are interested, join us tonight (Friday, November 14) for YOUTH ON EUROPE | Regionalisation of the EU. We will broadcast the discussion of MEP Elmar Brok with students of the Youth Council for the Future live on the internet.

 About the author:

MP1Prof. Dr. Manfred Pohl is the Founder and Chairman of Frankfurter Zukunftsrat, the think tank that organises “My Europe”. more…

“New Anti-Semitism”

As a young adult in Germany, the acts of cruelty of World War II were present in the education and socialization of each of us. At primary school we experienced through the Diary of Anne Frank how a girl of the same age suffered under the hateful ideology of National Socialists. Followed by additional trips to different meeting points, to Holocaust- memorials, also to concentration camps, I have never lost the feeling, I was educated in the “feelings of guilt”, which I have never felt. Till this day I do not feel so.

Every human born guilty? – The great difference between a collective guilt and a collective responsibility

The European concept of what it means to be human is based on the idea that everyone should become an authentic person discovering his/her own liberty through the use of reason. Taking into account this understanding of humanity, it is important to make a distinction: There is a big difference between a collective guilt and a collective responsibility. I am innocent of the crimes of Nazism. Neither the German legal system nor the European know a transmissible guilt. Every single individual has to assume responsibility for his/her own action. My generation is born a half a century after the Second World War. How could we be guilty then? Exactly this is where the collective responsibility becomes important. I am consciously talking about a collective one. Therefore it is not just a German or Austrian, it is a global – a human responsibility. This responsibility includes two obligations for each of us: Firstly to recognize the abomination of any anti-Semitic ideology. The cruelty of anti-Semitism should not be called into question. The second obligation goes further: It means the responsibility to combat and to respond to every expression of anti-Semitism.

Wrong education of young Europeans?

Nowadays there is a dangerous trend: Specific groups of the population, mostly minorities, are increasingly discriminated. Especially the mass media stir up new prejudices. It is a fatal mistake to impose different roles on children: Jewish children and adolescents should not take the passive “role of the victim”, as well others should not be educated in “feelings of guilt”. We should free ourselves from historical roles and understand that only self-confident adolescents can reflect the failures of the past, learn from them and avoid them in the future. In a society characterized by diversity, every part of society should “show its face”. But “Showing face” assumes that all of us have the possibility to approach the past without any impartiality.

Focusing on that point, I think it would be better to teach young Europeans not just the historical facts and horror, but rather how to deal with history. A good historical education should put methods and tools into the hands of the next generation to help them to develop constant principles and maxim.

“European values”: universal rights or privilege?

The European Union is a community based on values, such as the rule of law, human rights or protection of minorities. Even if these are often declared as “European values“, they are nevertheless values of humanity. Maybe the emphasis of “European values“ seems necessary, because they have been violated in such a brutal manner during the first part of the 20th century. It is an appeal to all human beings, to all politicians and decision-makers to make sure that we remain innocent.

human rights
Human rights and European values need to be universally applied (Flickr:Catching.Light/licensed under CC BY 2.0)

However, a lot has been said in media about a “New Anti- Semitism”. In essence, it means the same sickening ideology and vision of the world declaring Judaism as “the evil”. The only new thing about this anti-Semitism may be the criminal groups. Also and especially in view of the conflict in the Middle East the term of “Anti-Semitism” runs through the Western reporting. In my opinion too careless and sometimes not reflected upon at all. Actually there are a lot of anti-Semitic statements hidden behind the freedom of opinion, which a democracy provides for citizens. Anti-Semitism starts, where Israel is regarded as “the representative of the Jewish faith”, where a construct of a categorical “good” and “evil” is established. But it is a fatal error to declare every criticism directed towards Israel as a state or Israeli policy trends as anti-Semitic. A “club” of a categorical anti-Semitism suspicion damages the democratic culture of debate. This culture teaches us to adopt a well-considered stance- The respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are non-negotiable. Everything else is- at least in the context of the democratic culture of debate. In Europe there exists no legal vacuum: In the 21st century there is a consensus of humanity teaching us the equal treatment of each human being. Resulting from this fact, everyone should apply the same yardstick across the political spectrum. So how seriously do we take our “Europeans values”, our “democratic culture” if their applicability is for disposal?

History can not disqualify one from making moral judgments! On the contrary, the past teaches us to assume more responsibility. If we want to remain innocent, we have to!

About the author:

Picture Anissa AsliAnissa (21) is a member of the Youth Council for the Future. She started being active in the “My Europe” Initiative in 2011.

Should Turkey become a member of the EU? (1/4)

The flags of Turkey and the EU (Flickr:European Parliament/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This is the first part of a 4-part series, discussing the pros and cons of an accession of Turkey to the European Union from all angles. Check the blog regularly or sign up to our newsletter to be notified as soon as the following parts are available.

The relationship between Turkey and the European Union (EU) has lasted more than 50 years. Although in the past there have been ups and downs, Turkey is still interested in being a member of the EU. The possible membership of Turkey to the EU has many pros for both sides. Turkey’s geographical position as a bridge between Europe and Asia, its host of different cultures and its secular political and constitutional structure make it visible and important. In this paper, I will try to explain why Turkey should be a member of the EU from the EU’s perspective.

Promoting the motto “United in Diversity”

For many centuries, Europe has been home to many different cultures and civilizations. Like the EU, Turkey hosts many different cultures, such as Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic, Azerbaijan, Greek, as well as many religions, such as Islam, Christianity, Judaism and many others. All of these are in relative harmony with each other. This means that if Turkey becomes a member, the motto of the EU “United in Diversity” will be promoted. At that point, I have to remind you of something. It is known that Turkey is a secular and democratic country as well as the fact that its population is mainly Muslim. To be honest, in the Islamic world the EU is seen as the Union of Christians, so the most important impact of Turkey’s membership will be a signal that Europe is open to the Islamic world.

A stronger voice in international arena

With globalization, something happening in a part of the world can have an impact in other countries. For example, a change at the New York Stock Exchange can cause a disaster in London. Or a political crisis in the Middle East can easily make the USA to be worried about it. To eliminate the negative power of globalization, countries have to stick together. In Turkish there is an idiom about this issue: “One hand has a voice, but two hands have more voice”. So instead of alone or excluded from others, the EU should be closer to Turkey to be stronger.

“As a member of the EU, Turkey can re-invigorate Europe’s relations with fast evolving regions like the energy rich Caucasus and Central Asia, to the new Middle East that emerging from the new events. Turkey’s unique geo-strategic position, plus the strength of NATO’s second-largest army would greatly add to European security, too.” (1)

Demographic position

I, as a university student, have visited some countries within and beyond the European Union. During my trips, I realized that there is an aging population in member states, so of course the population of the EU is aging. At the same time, today’s Turkish population is very young and increasingly well-educated. The young population in Turkey is about 40 million. You cannot see this youth power anywhere else, so I think that the aging EU should consider this demographic aspect of Turkey as a soft power.

Dynamic economy

Unfortunately, the economic crisis at the beginning of 2010 has created economic recessions in some member states of the EU. If we look at, for example, Greece, Spain, Portugal and some others we can easily see this scenario. At the same time, for a long time, the Turkish economy has been growing and it has more stability. Today, Turkey is a part of G20 but hopes to be the G9 of G8 in a short time. Moreover, the membership of Turkey will add 75 million consumers to the single market. This indicates that if Turkey becomes a member of the EU, both sides will benefit economically.

Briefly, Turkey and the EU need each other politically, economically and culturally in today’s globalized world. When Turkey is a member, the EU and Turkey will share both happiness and sadness. Thus, if Europe is to become an active global player, rather than a museum, it needs the fresh perspective and energy of Turkey.

Continue to Part 2 of the series


1. (20.10.2014)

About the author:

haci mehmetHacı Mehmet Boyraz (21) is a student of International Relations with Political Science and Public Administration at Gediz University in İzmir.

The Future Needs You!

Since the Maastricht Treaty, there is a European citizenship defining a series of rights. These have been completed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, which entered into force in 2009. Besides social rights and classical freedoms, citizenship most importantly includes political rights. This means rights to participate in the political process, for example by voting your Member of European Parliament, to address a petition to the Parliament or the very new possibility to sign a European Citizens Initiative. So these rights are about concrete democratic practices.

Modern democracy is founded on the force of the better argument and not of the force of violence. Therefore discussion and the exchange of arguments are crucial. Discussions precede every step of a political process: when you bring up a new idea, before you decide if and how you realise a project, before you vote a candidate for a public office and when you hold politicians accountable for their actions. If you want to convince others and win a majority, you have to put arguments on the table.

As most other things in life, democratic practices can be learned. By getting familiar with them, young people like you grow in their role as citizens. But what does it mean to you? Get used to ask questions. Learn to listen to the other. Participate in political discussions. It’s about learning by doing. And by the time you will become more self-confident. You have a voice, so use it! Become an active citizen! This is my wish in general. I encourage you also specifically to practice in the European context, because the future of Europe depends on its future citizens. The participation in the activities of “My Europe” is a first valuable step in this direction.

As European Commissioner, I initiated the Citizens’ Dialogues. We brought the debate on Europe to more than 50 cities all over Europe. We not just invited people to ask us their questions. We also listened to them. And we expect them to tell us what they want, what they wish. It was the possibility of a face-to-face communication. I learned a lot during these dialogues. Therefore this direct contact between Europeans and all political decision-makers should continue. I hope you will have the opportunity to participate in this new forum of democratic practice one day. Until then: Become an active citizen! Europe needs you!

About the author:

Speech by Viviane RedingViviane Reding is a Member of European Parliament and the European patron of the “My Europe” Initiative. From 1999 to 2014, she served in the European Commission, from 2010 on as Vice-President. more…


PS: Viviane Reding will gladly answer all questions you might have. However, due to time constraints, she cannot do so regularly. We will collect your questions and comments that have been submitted until and including October 20, 2014, and will pass them on to her. For all questions submitted after that, we cannot guarantee an answer.

The Scottish Lesson

The Scottish galleon remains English, we know that. After two and a half years of electoral campaigns for the referendum on 18 September 2014, the plebiscite has moved all souls of the sympathetic Alba (ancient name of Scotland); the exit from the United Kingdom has been imminent and is now already almost forgotten. 55 % have clung firmly to England, to a London that just woke up at the last minute: reason defeats passion, much to the displeasure of Jane Austen! The 300 years during which Scotland enjoyed peaceful days within the United Kingdom have won over passion, no matter how genuine. The Yes camp, the camp of supporters of independence, has been overcome. They achieved only 45 % at the polls, but their supporters joined from all over the world for the event.

Just like them, I made my way to Scotland these days, and I was as disappointed as the rest of the passengers when my mobile phone said “Welcome in United Kingdom” upon landing.

We all had been reading the newspapers and magazines that analyzed this most famous game of the century, UK versus Scotland, and whereas half of the plane was filled with voters, the other half consisted of people expecting to assist a historic moment; something similar to the inauguration speech of Barack Obama, if you know what I am saying. We could have had such a moment. But in the end, history does what it wants.

The key issue of the referendum was not secession or separatism, not even independence. It was the possibility that at least once in its 50 years of history the European Union would not continue its existence based on treaties or decisions taken in haste behind closed doors, but on a referendum. Do you realize what fabulous jurisprudence we could have had at European level, governance following a direct vote? I do not believe that such a method could be labelled anarchism. Once there had been a Scottish example, we could have seen a wonderful legal struggle to show that the time has come to take into account what people want. The play of simplified neo-liberalism could have ended.

The last words on the referendum are on Facebook. That is no coincidence. Once again and for the hundredth time in the past ten years, reality does not emerge from newspapers, TV screens or treaties, but it is a product of inter-human relations. It does not matter where they take place: in a bar or in social networks. According to constant paper announcements, Glasgow and Edinburgh were the staging groundsof fervent Yes and No supporters. Not at all! Both Glasgow and Edinburgh were quiet and peaceful as the 70 kilometers of countryside between them. Reason. Working days. There was a life before the referendum and it was resumed immediately afterwards. Only that it was done in a way that we, the Continentals, do not understand. For us, things are very simple, reduced to an equation with just one variable. The Scots, however, live in perfect rhythm with geometry: simplicity in its complexity.

The evening before the referendum, I entered the bar ‘Kilderlin’ on Canongate, a street prolonging the Royal Mile, not far away from the Scottish parliament in Holyrood. “Wifi? No way, never.” I liked that. Simplicity. Humility. I asked for a whisky. What followed were ten minutes of questions and discussion: smoky flavour or not, with or without aroma, what kind of aroma, to what extent, what age, which region, more or less bitter. In the end I had a sensation of  ….being overwhelmed. I said “Listen, Sir, in France I drink Jack Daniel’s or Ballantine’s”. The guy responded unperturbed: “That’s no whisky. And you are not in France here”. I thus had a look at the drinks menu: nothing sounded familiar. I therefore allowed myself to be seduced, according to their measurement, not our millimeters, and it was …divine. Perfectly customized for my taste buds.

Here it comes, the first Scottish lesson: never accept what you get and what others think to be appropriate for you. Take what really suits you. The United Kingdom, the European Union, the United States, Eurasian Economic Community for instance, they can give to and take from a state in a way that does not correspond to what is expected or commonly needed. That is not universally valid though.

The second lesson is, despite the fact that the referendum did not bring about independence, the flawless exercise of democracy, conducted in a calm and professional manner: “It is possible to set up a referendum on the future of a nation without armies or militias putting pressure on the people. This is called democracy and is specific of Europe”, the French journalist Fabrice Pozzoli-Montenay wrote on his Facebook page. That is how it should be, I would add. He also affirms: “The Scots are already guaranteed extra powers in the management of their territory. No gain without pain.” This is also the case with the Irish and Welsh.

Last but not least, “the excellent Yes campaign, which was led by Alex Salmond, has revealed the mediocrity and contempt of the London ruling class. Certain Parisian elites should have a closer look at that…”.

Well, Alex Salmond resigned from his position as Prime Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party. However, the example of his campaign should be followed not only by Parisian elites but also European ones! So that we get the feeling that our votes count.

The future is not written in stone for the English. Actually for neither of the breakaway regions in Europe. The only one with virtually no power at this moment in the United Kingdom is London. England. She still depends on Westminster, whereas the Scots, Welsh and Irish have awoken with more decision-making power. With practical independence. As to Catalonia, the No has given wings to Madrid, which forbid the referendum scheduled for 9 November. In Spain, the excise of democracy will not take place yet.

About the Author:

Iulia-BadeaIulia Badea-Guéritée is a journalist at Courrier international and regular contributor to . more…

Russia vs Ukraine

Ukraine is a country located between Russia and Europe. Since declaring independence in 1991, Ukraine has been a strongly divided country and this crisis is a result of major internal divisions. The population is divided between pro-Russian and pro-European. According to political scientist Leonid Peisakhin, Ukraine “has never been and is not yet a coherent national unit with a common narrative or a set of more or less commonly shared political aspirations.”
The crisis was initially an internal one, but then rapidly escalated to what is now the tensest situation between the US and Russia since the Cold War.

A look at the facts

In November 2013, President Viktor Yanukovych was offered a deal for a stronger integration with the EU, his rejection caused major mass protests, which he violently put down. Many Ukrainians wanted the deal, not only because they feel closer to Europe culturally, but mainly to save their weak and troubled economy. It was not only an economical deal, but also a political one. Protestors were mainly students and young people, trying to save their country, fight against corruption, make a change. This was the breaking point: Russia backed Yanukovych, while the US and EU backed the protesters. As protests continued and turned into anti-government protests, Yanukovych was forced to leave the country, seeking Russia’s support.

In the meantime, Russia wanted to reinforce its influence on Ukraine, so in March 2014 Russian troops slowly arrived in Crimea, a peninsula situated south of Ukraine and surrounded by the Black sea and the Sea of Azov, which used to be Russian territory.

A power struggle for Crimea

Crimea is in a strategical position, having 3 main ports on the Black sea and its territory has sparked fights for domination for centuries. On March 16, Crimeans voted for their region to become a part of Russia. Most of the world sees Crimea’s secession vote as illegitimate for various reasons: it was held under pressing Russian military occupation with no international monitoring and many reports of intimidation; it was pushed through with only a couple of weeks’ warning, and it was illegal under Ukrainian law. Still, legitimate or not, Crimea has effectively become part of Russia.

A draft UN investigative report found that critics of secession within Crimea were detained and tortured in the days before the vote; it also found “many reports of vote-rigging”.

US and EU united against Russia

The US and European Union have imposed economic sanctions on Russia to punish Moscow for this, but there is no sign that Crimea will return to Ukraine. Russia’s sanctions have hit many of the EU’s agricultural states, especially the closest ones.
The Netherlands – the world’s second-largest exporter of agricultural products – is set to lose 300 million euro annually from canceled business with Russia. Poland as well was hit hard by the Kremlin’s sanctions. Spain, a large exporter of oranges to Russia, is estimated to miss out on 337 million euro in food and agriculture sales, while Italy has estimated its losses at nearly 1 billion euro.

From the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, Russia feared losing influence on Ukraine and that their neighbors would fall under what Moscow sees as a Western conspiracy to surround Russia with inimical governments. It’s very difficult for many Russians to untangle their own history from Ukraine’s and accept the equality and legitimacy of the Ukrainian culture parallel to their own. Since April, pro-Russian rebels have been colliding with Ukrainian troops in the eastern part of the country, taking over government buildings and cities. Several Ukrainian military planes have been shot down and a Malaysian Airlines flight as well, killing more than 300 civilians. Of course, neither Kiev nor Moscow admitted taking part in the incidents.
These deaths attracted major attention; the world could not stand back and ignore the conflict anymore.

The Ukrainian response, especially a youth response

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced the start of “Project ‘Wall” in September, the building of a wall along its borders is a strong statement. Yatsenyuk said that Ukraine should be clear about who its enemy is, the former Soviet neighbor has become an “aggressor”.

The US has provided non- lethal aid (food, body armors, etc.) instead of weapons to Ukrainian forces. This is a strong affirmation of the US to avoid any further worsening of the situation.

Since March 2014, the Ukrainian government has sent letters to young men to invite them to join the army. Surprisingly, many young Ukrainians joined without second thoughts. Mainly the reason they had was helping restore law and order in Ukraine. We should certainly learn from these motivated young people protesting and ready to fight for their rights.
Hopefully the youth will stop the conflict and save Ukraine.

About the Author:

APicture Alessandra Maffettonelessandra (22) is Chairwoman of the Youth Council for the Future (YCF). She is involved with the “My Europe” Initiative since 2012.