In the midst of the post-Brexit turmoil, FNF Europe welcomed a group of eighteen young Europeans from Germany, Hungary, Greece, Lithuania and the Czech Republic to Brussels for a dialogue programme that could’ve not been timelier. Euro, migration and populism – many topics were on the agenda of FNF’s first Europaforum on the future of the European Union.
Gesine Meißner MEP received the group in the European Parliament and shared her personal views and worries on the Brexit. She invited the participants to join her for an ALDE group meeting, which took place in anticipation of the upcoming plenary session in Strasbourg. Here, the participants could follow firsthand debates on protecting the rule of law in the EU and a liberal approach to new gun legislation in the fight against terror.
“It’s important to understand how Brussels works because only then you do understand many things in your everyday life back home,” said one participant from Germany after discussing the working mechanisms of the EU institution and the EU legislative process with Klaas de Boer, Parliamentary Assistant in the European Parliament and FNF fellow.
Alexander Graff Lambsdorff MEP, Vice-president of the European Parliament and chair of the FDP delegation, shed light on the EU-Turkey deal and explained that visa liberalization for Turkish citizens were dependent on the modification of current anti-terror legislation, which has been regularly abused to silence government critics like journalists, academics or Kurdish activists.
The prospect of closer EU-Turkish relations had also played a prominent part in the British “Leave” campaign, with activists claiming that the EU-Turkey deal had injected new impetus into the membership negotiations. But the reason for the Brexit campaign’s success run much deeper explained Andrew Burgess of the ALDE Party. He pointed to the impossible task of convincing people of the benefits of EU membership when national politicians had criticized the EU for forty years. Now, “project fear has become project fact,” he said, hinting at the racist, anti-immigrant outburst currently unfolding in the UK.
On this backdrop, the group also spoke more broadly about migration and the so-called refugee crisis with Daniel Sjöberg of the European Parliament and Juliane Schmidt of the European Policy Center. Both emphasized that the current crisis was a political one, one of failing solidarity and identity, and that the EU states had no other chance than drawing up a long-term migration strategy because “migration is here to stay.”
During an ELF Dahrendorf Roundtable the participants looked at characteristics of populist movements and identified such features as emotional appeal, the use of easy answers and lies, anti-elitist propaganda and symbolic policies as drivers of populist rhetoric and action. Prof. Meindert Fennema, a longtime researcher on populist movements, explained that these movements were calling for more democracy in the form of referenda. A discussion took off whether calls for referenda on complex topics such as EU Membership could actually be called “more democracy” or whether they constituted a danger to democratic societies, providing open doors to populists and their false promises.
In conclusion of the four-day Europaforum, one participant said: “Eurosceptic voters are often skeptical of Europe because they don’t know what Europe is all about, so I would recommend them to come here, talk to the experts and I hope they’ll understand that Europe is a good thing – maybe it’s not optimal, but it’s the best we have.”
Another FNF fellow underlined how her perspective on European identity had changed over the past days: “At home, you never talk about what you are, but then you come to Brussels and suddenly you realize ‘We are European.’”