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 Voxeurop.eu . 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.

Unfinished Struggles

I was touched when I recently read the memoires of Paul-Henri Spaak, the Belgium socialist statesman and one of the founding fathers of the European Union. How beautiful to see the passion of the man who in the middle of the fifties headed the group that worked on the Treaty of Rome (1957), the treaty establishing the European Economic Community.

The negotiations between the founding countries were not always easy. Sometimes simple issues like duties on bananas seemed insurmountable obstacles.

‘When I ran out of arguments and patience, I declared that I gave the struggling parties two hours to come to an agreement,’ Spaak writes in his memoires. ‘Otherwise I would invite the press and tell them that it was impossible to build Europe because we could not solve the issue of bananas.’

They made it. When the Treaty was signed on the 25th of March 1957, ‘the clocks of Rome sounded at full strength, to greet the birth of the New Europe,’ Spaak wrote. In his eyes it marked ‘the triumph of the spirit of cooperation and the defeat of egoistic nationalism’.

I work for the Dutch online journalism platform De Correspondent. At De Correspondent we don’t believe in absolutely independent journalism. Of course we strive to be open-minded and not driven by ideology. But we choose to show the parti pris everyone has and that journalists normally feel obliged to hide. I fully confess that I have warm feelings for Spaaks ideals, for the attempt to overcome narrow nationalism and seek common understanding and cooperation on our war-torn continent.

Just like the European Union, De Correspondent is a project of collaboration. We believe the time in which the journalist told “the truth” to the reader and simply sent his message to him, is over. We want to take the readers with us on our journalistic adventure. Under our articles readers have the possibility not to react, but to contribute, and to mention their field of expertise. Often very interesting debates take place on our site. Readers share their ideas with us and give us suggestions for research we have to do and new articles we have to write.

De Correspondent is made possible by our members. We started a year ago after setting a world record in crowd funding for journalism. We proved that it is not true that people do not want to pay for journalism on the internet. Maybe not for news, but our goal is to not to provide news. We want to delve deeper and to write background articles on the reality behind the headlines. On our site we have no advertisements, to avoid flickering banners and give a comfortable reading experience, but also to make sure that advertisers don’t have any influence on what we write.

At the moment about thirty correspondents work for us, each with their own field of expertise. I myself am ‘Correspondent Europe between power and imigination’. As I said, I have strong feelings for the European idea. But that doesn’t make me an uncritical sympathiser of the European Union as it is. On the contrary. My research as a journalist shows that there is a lot wrong with the EU. Lobbies often have too much influence on the making of European laws. Although the European parliament has become more and more powerful, many Europeans do not feel they are represented by it. And the EU wants to be a ‘strong global actor’, but often the member states act on their own in foreign policy.

The memoires that Spaak published in 1969 have the tittle ‘Combats inachevés, Unfinished struggles. The part in which he writes about the EU is titled:  ‘de l’espoir au déceptions’, from hope to deception. In the last chapter Spaak writes about the crisis of 1965, when France stayed away from European meetings, protesting against the plans for a common agricultural policy.

Fifty years later we are maybe in an even deeper crisis. How to overcome the economic malaise we’re suffering from for years already?  How to regain believe in the Europaean project in times of rising euroscepsis? How to find an answer to the chaos and the violence near our borders and really become a strong global actor?

As ‘correspondent’ I want to find out how Europe tries to find answers to these difficult questions and to renew itself. Not only the European Union, De Correspondent is also an ‘unfinished struggle.’ Indeed, in both cases we have just begun.

About the author:

Tomas VanhesteTomas Vanheste is journalist with the innovative online media platform De Correspondent in the Netherlands. more…

 

The Truth about the Clothes we wear

It’s the three little words “Made in Bangladesh” or “Made in India” that are found on almost every piece of clothing in huge department stores and have the power to easily turn a fun shopping trip into a test of one’s conscience. While the majority of people either don’t care about the origin of the T-shirt they’re wearing or simply can’t afford to do so, there are still some who want the feeling of fair trade and appropriate working conditions on their skin. In the belief that they’re going to contribute something to the world becoming a better place, they often look out for the “Made in Europe“ tag, thinking the garment was sewn by a reasonably paid employee. A myth that turns out to be false.

The Clean Clothes Campaign documents how employees in clothing factories in Eastern Europe and Turkey are paid about as much as workers in Latin America or Asia and therefore can rarely feed themselves. A situation that especially the European Union is affected by, since more than half the imported articles of clothing are produced in the stated region. The study also points out how global clothing companies with earnings of billions of dollars per year shamelessly take advantage of very loose restrictions in countries like Bulgaria, Macedonia or Ukraine, where the minimum wage covers only approximately 14 % of a salary that could actually guarantee one’s existence. Unfortunately, it’s not only discounters that exploit their workers like this, but also renowned designer chains, which inevitably misleads many customers.

In order to take action, the European Union not only has to make sure that the minimum wage in the clothing industry in member countries like Bulgaria or Romania is raised to humane standards, but also needs to be more careful when it comes to the origin and the production process of the clothes imported into the Union. If the necessary trade measures are set, consumers all over Europe will hopefully soon be able to buy their clothes without having a bad conscience.

About the author:

Benedict Winkler - Author at Spotlight EuropeBenedict (16) participated in the “My Europe” workshop in Vienna, Austria, in 2013. Since then he has been a member of the Youth Council for the Future (YCF).