Sixteen young Europeans, FNF scholarship holders and partners, came to Brussels from the 9th till 12th of July at the invitation of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom to talk about the “Added value of the EU”. They discussed today’s most topical issues, such as Brexit, Trade war with Trump and populism. This third edition of the Europaforum hosted participants from Afghanistan, Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iran, Poland and the UK.
The event started off with an internal discussion about the added value that the European Union offers to each citizen. Participants shared their own stories, talked about the advantages, such as freedom of movement, but also expressed their worries regarding populism. Bram Delen, spokesperson of Guy Verhofstadt, spoke with the group about populism and surprised with the assessment that Donald Trump would be more an anti-elite person than a populist.
The second day of the programme was entirely taking place in the European Parliament, where the group was hosted by Gesine Meißner MEP and her Parliamentary Assistant Klaas de Boer. In that context, the participants got the opportunity to follow a committee meeting, get a guided tour of the Parliament and to understand the functioning of the EU institutions.
One of the most appreciated speakers was Sir Graham Watson, who shared his personal response to Brexit. With a little chance of maybe 20%, he still believes that Brexit can be stopped. Especially, the current developments would be giving hope for another referendum to finally decide if Great Britain should leave the European Union or not.
Joachim Ott from DG Communication and Javier Corrales Ciganda, an Assistant in the European Parliament, explained the possibilities to get engaged on European level. Joachim Ott valued the participants’ engagement and also explained the difficulties of the European Commission to communicate directly with citizens as it is obliged to remain politically neutral. Javier Corrales Ciganda added that the opportunities the European Parliament offers, mainly the Petitions Committee and the European Citizen’s Initiative, are also not yet known by everyone. Participants added that it is difficult to reach people not interested in European politics and that the advantages of the EU – such as free movement – are commonly taken for granted and that the focus lies on the dividing elements.
The difficulty of reaching people with the right message is connected to the problem of fake news threatening democracy within the European Union. Paolo Cesarini, Head of Unit of Media Convergence and Social Media in the European Commission, and Jakub Kalenský from the East StratCom Task Force, explained their approaches and responses to the issue of fake news. Most of the time, fake news are somehow in a legal grey area, so the Commission believes that only a self-regulatory process by which the companies abide, can address the most pressing challenges regarding fake news. Jakub Kalenský’s task force focuses on the issue of Russia’s influence on the Brexit campaign and the US elections. The goal of the task force is to create awareness among journalists and to avoid the influence of external actors on internal European issues.
In conclusion, all participants appreciated the opportunity to exchange their ideas, get to know the European Union better and understand the processes associated with it. They learnt new ways how to bring Europe to their local level, how to deal with fake news, and how to keep a positive attitude towards the European Union.
Frauke Ohler, Student Assistant, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom