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…

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…

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…