2018 marks 60 years of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF). This occasion was commemorated with a festive celebration on the 19th of November in Brussels. The event under the title “Ignite Europe” was meant to not only look back at what has been achieved by the foundation, but also look into the future by sharing a vision and ideas for a more open and liberal Europe.
The Friedrich Naumann Foundation Europe celebrated its one-of-a-kind event by discussing what is most dear to the Brussels office: the European Union.
For this reason Mrs. Gesine Meißner, Member of the European Parliament (MEP), took on the role to welcome the guests in her opening remarks. She described how she connects with the FNF the fight for freedom in all parts of the world and hoped that this fight would continue through the challenges ahead.
Julie Cantalou, former European Affairs manager at FNF and the moderator of the evening, opened the floor for four inspirational testimonials about Europe. The foundation wanted to know through personal stories of the invited speakers, how their enthusiasm for the European project was sparked, and what role FNF had played in this. The underlying question of the night was how to ‘ignite’ the passion for Europe that is seemingly fading.
The speakers were Mechthild von Alemann, former Member of the European Parliament (1979-1984; 1989-1994) in the ELDR Group, Taavi Roivas, former Prime Minister of Estonia, Danica Vihinen, Secretary General of the European Liberal Youth (LYMEC) and Hans-Christoph Schlüter, former FNF Scholarship holder and Co-founder of WhyEurope.
Mrs. Mechthild von Alemann, Member of the first directly elected European Parliament, began with her testimonial and shared with the audience a story about her path to politics. Once the foundation has opened its doors in 1985, it helped the liberal group in the parliament by offering a wide range of ideological, as well as logistical support. FNF helped liberal ideas to be streamlined professionally, as well as more coherently.
Mr. Taavi Roivas, former Prime Minister of Estonia, went onto the stage next. His story revolved around how he got into politics. A lot was due to Estonia’s past, as an unfree communist country. It was impossible to travel, there was no right for property and no free speech. However being supported through the FNF with various trainings, events and networking possibilities, he found the right tools to put his vision into action for a more liberal Estonia.
Danica Vihinen, Secretary General of LYMEC recalled during her speech a seminar in Thessaloniki organized by the FNF. It young emerging Greek leaders.
A few years later, she met them during a LYMEC conference again. Through training and support they got from FNF in Greece, the group managed to professionalize themselves so far that they were able to apply for full LYMEC membership as a Greek liberal youth organization. It was incredible for her to see how much learning and support of the own potential was possible and what a crucial role FNF had in equipping young people with a political voice.
The last anecdote was shared by Hans-Christoph Schlüter, FNF scholarship holder and co-founder of WhyEurope. WhyEurope is a social media project. The project uses “positive populism” to present the benefits of the EU. Their strategy is to communicate Europe in a simple, personal and emotional way. The idea came to Mr. Schlüter during a discussion with another FNF scholarship holder on the consequences of Brexit. The two students were shocked at how little people knew about the EU and wanted to proactively do something about it. It was their way to re-ignite the fire for Europe.
Based on all the shared experiences, Julie Cantalou, the moderator, asked the speakers: “What would your strategy be to ignite Europe?” Mrs. von Alemann and Mr. Roivas were quick to react: the EU has to come closer to the people. In their opinion local MEPs, as well as national politicians were responsible for communicating the added value of the EU. This would help people see to what extend the existence of the EU influences its citizens in a positive way.
Being in the capital of not only Belgium, but Europe as well, Julie Cantalou concluded: “We should all remind ourselves that our grandfathers fought against the grandfathers of our colleagues 85 years ago.” FNF Europe’s work in education, dialogue and critical political analysis has contributed substantially to liberal politics. It has also influenced the fact that we have come to see our enemies as colleagues and friends – something that cannot be taken for granted.
Esther Steverding, FNF Europe Intern & Daniela Oberstein, Programme Manager & Media Officer