28.06.2013 REPORTS

Civil Society Citizens Summit 2013 tackled the future of the European Union

The Civil Society Citizens‘ Summit 2013 was held in Brussels on 24 and 25 June 2013, just a few days before the European Summit. Representatives of organisations of the civil society gathered together for the two-day-meeting to discuss their ideas on the future European Union.

Monika Kosinska, chair of the organising platform Civil Society Contact Group, led through the event. The opening keynote speech was made by Saskia Sassen, Professor of sociology at the University of Columbia. She brought the question of citizenship to the fore, i.e. what it implies in connection with migration, and to what extent European citizenship will play a role in the future.

"Citizenship is on the one hand closely connected to the law of nation states but on the other hand, migration transcends national borders and therefore the very notion of citizenship. Citizenship becomes increasingly detached from effective nationality and moves towards an open-ended, 'incomplete and complex something between states and rights-carrying persons'," Professor Sassen said in her speech. She concluded therefore that we need new instruments to make migrants citizens.

Creating an utopia on EU in 2020

After the opening of the summit, workshops were organised where the participants created utopia on a European Union in 2020, using the open space and the appreciative inquiry method. Those methods build on positive experience as a means to create a constructive dialogue and to design concepts. By taking already functioning mechanisms and structures of the European Union as a starting point, the participants of the summit thought about the ingredients needed to make the existing European project better.

The outcomes of the workshops were diversified. For all of the participants, however, better connections between the citizens and the European politicians were clearly a very important issue. If the voice(s) of the citizens should get heard, first of all, a dialogue between the people at the bottom and the politicians at the top of the political hierarchy has to be established.

Many groups demanded for more transparency in decision making processes of the European Union, for a better (and less expensive) access to public health care and to public education, for more involvement of the arts and culture-sector, and for more cooperation beyond national borders.

"At our summit, citizens talk about minimum income, equality of men and women, and protection of human rights," one participant stated.

In order to achieve those goals, the participants developed strategies which could be implemented on the local, the national and the European level, e.g. to use modern media and technologies for an exchange of thoughts and opinions, or to organise picnics with MEP´s in many European countries so that people could approach politicians directly.

"It was deeply impressive to see how much believe there was in the European project and a Europe of solidarity," said Nicolas Beger, participant of the summit and Director of Amnesty International European Institutions.

New pact for Europe

Janis Emmanouilidis from the European Policy Centre made the final speech, in which he presented a "new pact for Europe".

"In that new pact, the key challenges for the EU will be identified. As a next step, potential ways and strategies to reach out to member states, policy makers, and so on to overcome fragmentation within the union will be developed."

As to what can be done now, he listed four potential strategic options:

  1. To create a real social and political union and thereby overcoming nations;
  2. To take a step back in European integration and concentrate on the single market instead of a union;
  3. To practice "damage limitation" and act reactive on immediate needs; and
  4. To imply a strategy of "ambitious incrementalism", a more ambitious way to overcome problems, e.g. by involving citizens and stakeholders.

The Citizens Summit was organised by the EU Civil Society Contact Group together with its members Culture Action Europe, CONCORD, European Women´s Lobby, Social Platform, EPHA, EUCIS-LLL and HRDN as well as a group of environmental NGO´s. DEEEP, a project of CONCORD which is co-funded by the European Union, was the partner of the Civil Society Contact Group. The Summit was supported by the King Badouin Foundation, the Open Society Foundation and the European Union.

EAEA is a member of the EU Civil Society Contact Group and the organising platforms and networks Culture Action Europe, CONCORD, Social Platform, and EUCIS-LLL.

Text: Raffaela Kihrer