In the midst of a nasty break-up in the West and moves by Hungary and Poland towards ‘illiberal democracy’ in the East, a unique opportunity might present itself: a pan-European list of MEPs. Because let’s face it, the European elections do not rouse the spirits of most European citizens. Very often, European elections are hijacked by national quarrels that transform the European elections into an evaluation of respective national government’s performances. While we know all about Trump and American affairs, European issues do not get a seat at the dinner table. With the United Kingdom (UK) leaving the European Union in March 2019, 73 seats will become available in the European Parliament. Notwithstanding the trauma of Brexit, these free seats can be used to create a pan-European list of MEPs to be voted upon directly by European citizens. Such an electoral college will strengthen European democracy, thereby bringing the EU ever closer to its citizens and put a halt to the nationalization of the European elections.
More than being just a fancy idea, it provides a firm response in the face of recent illiberal moves by Hungary and Poland. Over the last year, ruling Eurosceptic parties Fidesz and PiS have taken several highly controversial measures. For example, by taking government control of NGO funding. Recently, their close bond was confirmed when Mateusz Morawiecki, freshly appointed Prime Minister of Poland, decided to use his first bilateral visit to meet with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Together, their deep resentment and distrust of Brussels increasingly poses a threat to Europe’s core values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Continue reading “How Brexit could pose an opportunity for the EU”→
After President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker finished his third State of the European Union speech on the 13th of September, the thing that stood out to most people was the almost unchecked optimism in his message compared to his gloomy address last year, when – in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum – the general sense that the EU was heading to imminent disintegration seemed all too real. According to Juncker, the EU now has “wind in our sails” and he urged to “make the most of the momentum”. He did so by proposing a wide range of initiatives, some bolder than others, but all encapsulating this sense of optimism and determination. Nothing showed this more clearly than Juncker’s reluctance to talk about Brexit – the hour-long speech devoted only one minute to the painful issue. The looming threat of inertia and disaster that marked the State of the Union speech in 2016 seems to be replaced by a general sense of growth and hope. How can it be that the tables have turned so drastically in only a year? And is this truly the state of today’s Union?
The State of the Union speech is – in a true European fashion – a product of import. In the United States, the State of the Union is an annual event that is deeply ingrained in the American political tradition. In Europe it was only introduced in 2010, when the Lisbon Treaty stipulated that the President of the European Commission must address the European Parliament annually to reflect on and discuss the successes and failures of the European Union in the year before, in order to stimulate transparency and democracy in the European political arena. Continue reading “Blowing the wind into your own sails – Juncker’s State of the European Union”→
In the world today, English, in all its variations, occupies an undeniably central place. From the offices of multinational corporations, to university classes and research teams, to local marketplaces and cafes like the one I’m sitting in. In a town in the middle of Denmark, my cafe table numbers Danes, Spaniards, and Germans – guess how we’re communicating?
When it comes to English, communication is precisely the point. English is a means of communication in the globalized world. According to the Harvard Business Review, business today speaks English. Even when a company in Germany is dealing with another German company, there is no guarantee that the employees will be German speakers. If you visit an industrial farm in Denmark, the working language isn’t Danish – it’s English. The presence and importance of English as the working language globally is so apparent thatfour out of five Europeans consider English the language worth learning for the future. English today is not the property of its native speakers, it is the lingua franca of the world. English transcends cultures and borders, and the assertion that the EU should drop English as one of its working languages is therefore highly problematic.
Two recent rulings in France have put the country and its citizens at the forefront of waste and excess food disposal in Europe. According to Angelique Chrisafis of The Guardian,“France battles an epidemic of wasted food that has highlighted the divide between giant food firms and people who are struggling to eat.” The result of this battle is a rare unanimous political consensus that made it illegal for supermarkets to throw away food that is approaching its expiration date. More specifically, this food will now go to charities that, according to center-right parliamentarian Yves Jégo, “are desperate for food” and will help curb the vast number of unemployed, homeless, and even students who regularly forage through the bins of supermarkets in search of food. The ruling has been well-received, especially by French food bank Banques Alimentaires.
Another recent ruling has seen the French ban the use of plastic cutlery, cups, and plates in a bid to reduce the country’s environmental footprint. Although this law will not come into effect until 2020, it will see a significant reduction of non-biodegradable plastic waste in France. In effect, France has undertaken two major steps in creating a better Europe, both environmentally and socially. Therefore, if these rulings are considered successful, similar policies should be implemented by other European Union members in their efforts to achieve a better, more sustainable Europe.
The European Parliament’s Zero Waste 2020 initiative,enacted on 24 May 2012, is one of the ways through which the EU is pursuing this very goal. This initiative calls for Europe to “bring residual waste close to zero.” However, this initiative is marred by the fact that in Europe, subsidies, incentives, and other economic stimuli go towards incineration and energy generation over recycling. Furthermore, this initiative is just that – an initiative, and thereby not legally binding. Effectively, if the French rulings were made into European policy, it would help Europe achieve its Zero Waste 2020 initiative without impeding on any of its market incentives. This would make the rulings much easier to implement without affecting other areas of the European economy and/or waste management. It would also signal to European citizens and to the rest of the world that “we as Europeans” take an active stand against the destruction of food and of our environment, and are not scared to lead on the important issues. This might, in turn, help to strengthen the bonds of the EU.
Crucially, if the French rulings were to be made European, Europeans themselves would benefit tremendously. First and foremost, it will help still the hunger of thousands of homeless and poor scattered across Europe, as homeless shelters and food banks will now be able to provide better quality food for more men, women, and children in need. A recent report in the Euractiv made evident the fact that French supermarkets currently throw away €16 billion worth of food every year. This “waste” could in fact be used to help those in need and deter them from foraging in bins. This is a point stressed by Arash Derambarsh,who says that he is “outraged by the sight of homeless people […] scrambling in supermarket bins.” Derambarsh is a young center-right politician who helped start the movement in France.
The ruling also creates new opportunities in biodegradable and sustainable product markets, while at the same time providing a new venue for European conglomerates and supermarket chains to create a better image. Prior to this ruling, supermarkets were known as great wasters of food, going so far as to contaminate unused food to deter scavengers. Former food minister of France Guillaume Garot stated, “It’s scandalous to see bleach being poured into supermarket dustbins along with edible foods.” With this ruling, supermarkets have the opportunity to change their image and use their new status as an advantage. At the same time, as plastic cutlery and utensils will be banned by 2020, businesses that focus on biodegradability and sustainability as alternatives to plastic find themselves in rapidly expanding markets. This is an important development, as it is fundamentally important that we stimulate the decrease in our carbon footprint while, at the same time, creating opportunities for fresh talent and business ideas that will help create the Europe of tomorrow.
In pursuit of Europe’s goal to reduce its carbon footprint, it should look to France for guidance. France’s initiatives on how to deal with waste, waste creation, and previously disposed-of food products serve as an excellent example to follow. If these new pieces of legislation are deemed successful in France, it opens up the opportunity to stimulate similar rulings in the rest of Europe. This will not only help us achieve the Zero Waste 2020 initiative and a greener, more carbon-friendly Europe, but will also create new opportunities whilst helping those who need it most.
Paul Hoffman has a bachelor in American Studies, is currently in his first year of the Euroculture Master, and aspires to work on the Digital Agenda for Europe. He has lived in Spain, Ireland, and The Netherlands, and is planning a move to France.
In 1992, forty years after the European Union was established, the Maastricht Treaty introduced the notion of a “European citizen”.
It did not go well. Not only did this new term awaken mistrust between the peoples of the EU’s different Member States, it even caused such considerable internal controversy states such as Denmark that the European Council had to release a statement in order to confirm that “citizenship of the Union is a political and legal concept which is entirely different from national citizenship (…)”. In the same year, the European Commission sought ways to create common EU symbols but faced strong resistance from the Member States. A good example of this was the Commission’s proposals to have athletes from all Member States appear as one delegation during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, a proposal which was fully roundly by governments.
Now, 1992 seems a long time ago, and surely, one would think, that after more than twenty years, with a generation already born as European citizens coming into adulthood, this term would have to be something warm and familiar, something, we cherish as much as our nationality.
But, for most, it is not.
In the European Union’s web portal, it is still stated that “EU citizenship is additional to and does not replace national citizenship.” Eurosceptics keep arguing that to overcome nationality is impossible, and those who think otherwise are to be regarded as utopian fantasts. With Brexit, it feels like the utopian idea of a one strong, united Europe is slowly drifting away. More and more people from the Member States reject the idea of an ever-closer Europe, often out of fear that their state might lose its sovereignty under the pressure of common policies. On this note, one might even argue that it is the lack of trust and general indifference among the Europeans that is the main reason why the European Union is facing such problems now.
A survey conducted by TNS political & social at the request of the European Commission in 2015 shows that there still are people in the Member States – fortunately, not too many, and the share of them is declining – that do not even fully understand the term “European citizen” and the mystery hidden within the term . In 2015, 13 % of the respondents stated that they have never even heard the term “citizens of the European Union”, while 35 % of respondents said that they have heard about it, but do not know what it means exactly.
Maybe this is the reason why, when looking at the statistical data from 2015, over 30 % of the Europeans admit not feeling like a European citizen. In addition, 38 % of all Europeans admitted that they not only do not feel like a European citizen, they actually see themselves as exclusively a member of their nation. This, again, might be the reason why European citizens distance themselves from European affairs – this can be seen in all its “glory” when looking at the 2014 European Parliamentary election where only 42.6% of all people holding European citizenship voted. 42.6%! Not only it is that the lowest turnout since the first European elections in 1979, it also makes one think – what happened?
It is not like the idea is not being promoted. There are different levels of Erasmus programme available to encourage exploring other Member States, there are European days, information centres in every country, videos, information campaigns and the homepage run by the European Commission – europa.eu– can be accessed in every single official EU language. But somehow, the notion does not reach its target. It seems that on the way from Brussels to our homes, the information gets lost and never really reaches us, the citizens of the European Union.
So what does it mean to be a European citizen?
Let’s put it in an everyday perspective.
To be a European citizen means that you can finish your dinner with your Spanish family, and carry on your night with drinking a nice, cold bottle of German beer, maybe snacking on some French macaroons while watching Downton Abbey and texting with your best friend from Bulgaria. It means that you can say “Hello” in at least five languages, and your “bad” words collection is enormous thanks to your friends from Italy, Estonia and Greece.
Being a European citizen means you can spontaneously buy some low cost airplane tickets and have a nice weekend whether up in the snowy mountains, deep into mysterious forests or sunbathing in the sunny beaches, regardless whether you are from Latvia, Portugal or Slovenia.
On a more serious note, it means that you can make your voice heard by a petition, or a letter, or even by becoming a candidate for Parliamentary elections and you have the fundamental right not to be discriminated whether by race, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation. It means that, as long as you stay within the borders of the Union, you are never “illegal” and you can work and live abroad, and are always protected by the diplomatic and consular authorities in another twenty-seven countries, excluding your homeland. Being a European Citizen means that under certain conditions, if you feel that the national court of your homeland has ruled unfairly, you can bring the country to Court of Justice and fight for your truth.
To have the fortune to be a European citizen means that you have the rare opportunity to see, hear, smell, taste and touch the world in new ways again and again, and yet – stay true to your own nationality.
That is what being a European citizen means. Simple as that.
Elizabete Marija Skrastinais new to The Euroculturer. Keep up with her latest stories by following The Euroculturer on Facebook or by subscribing to our newsletter.
The European Parliament offers a space for dialogue to politicians with different backgrounds and perspectives. It provides a forum for them to debate constructively their ideas, because they have to work together within a common group.
The European Union (EU) consists of different cultures, countries, nations and languages. It is diverse and this diversity reflects the multitude of political systems, working in accordance with their own rules and regulations.
France, for instance, is a unitary semi-presidential republic. Indeed, in contrast to a federation pulling together different political units and a federal government coupled with more local governments (like Germany or the United States of America), France has one constitution effective across its entire territory. It is semi-presidential because the President shares her or his power with the Prime Minister.
The United Kingdom (UK), in comparison, despite being also a unitary state, is a Constitutional monarchy. Currently, its head of state is Queen Elizabeth II and the country is governed under a body of laws, and not a constitution. To complicate things, the process of devolution gave Scotland its own Parliament, and Northern Ireland and Wales their own Assemblies.
“For example, a unitary semi-presidential republic and a Constitutional monarchy exist together in the EU…”
Several national political parties, classified according to their positions on economic and social issues, can be gathered in European-wide political groups. Currently and until the next European Parliament election in 2014, nine different political groups are present in the EU Parliament.
A strategic choice must be made: national parties must decide whether their elected Members of the European Parliaments (MEPs) should join a European political group in order to gain size, supporters and votes. If they do not, the MEPs fall into the Non-Attached Members, the ninth political group – marginal and therefore often more boisterous.
Thus, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group is presently made up of the Party of European Socialists and three unaffiliated national parties. Within the Party of European Socialists, the French Socialist Party and the British Labour Party work together.
French culture is famous for its anti-Americanism. The word liberalism in the XIXth century was used to refer to the Orléanist movement wishing for the return of a monarchy after the French Revolution. Given that the 14th July is the French National Day associated with the storming of the Bastille, and consequently the Revolution and the end of the monarchy, it is clear that ‘liberal’ had negative connotations for the majority of the French population.
“It was no surprise when De Gaulle vetoed the entrance of the UK into the EU…”
This mind-set surely influenced modern French politics, and it was no surprise when De Gaulle vetoed the entrance of the UK into the EU both in 1963 and 1967, describing the UK as ‘America’s Trojan horse’ and thus hinting atthe indirect entrance of liberal American ideas.
Last week, coming back from work, I was reading the Metro in the tube. Non-surprisingly, I stumbled across a Eurosceptic article. It presented the EU project to introduce a tax on financial transactions, and the EU proposal to cap bonuses paid to bankers to 100% of their base salary (or 200% if shareholders approve):the article referred to both as ‘stupid’.
On that very same day, a French company moving its headquarters to London did not allow my work division to publish an article on the matter. The former knew that if this information came out publicly, the French media and the majority of the public opinion in France would strongly criticise that move, immediately assuming it must have been motivated by the wish to pay less taxes.
Two visions – worlds apart.
It has often been repeated that there is no major left-wing party in British politics. On the other hand, despite criticisms from French voters over the centrist or rightist policies the French government has put into place since its election, the French Socialist Party is a left-wing party in the country where education is free.
All this gives us insight into why it is hard, at first, to imagine the French Socialist Party and the British Labour Party working together in one group.
Yet, the Party of European Socialists is what the European Parliament provides.
“The European Parliament offers a space for dialogue…”
The European Parliament offers a space for dialogue (as opposed to criticisms and condemnations) to politicians with different backgrounds and perspectives. It provides a forum for them to debate constructively their ideas, because they have to work together within a common group.
It is clear that petty criticisms based on the form of the debate rather than its content exist in EU politics.Nevertheless, this happens much less than in national politics, due to the scale of EU politics and its diversity forces for cooperation and discussion.
My European Union, through one of its legislative bodies: the European Parliament, theoretically allows 377 MEP, 9 different European-wide groups representing more than 100 national political parties to express themselves and thus as many different inputs and ideas.
Paul is from France and graduated in British and American Literatures, Civilisations and Linguistics from the Sorbonne (Paris) spending the last year of his undergraduate diploma in Edinburgh, Scotland. A Euroculture student from September 2011 to July 2013, he studied at the Universities of Strasbourg (France), Udine (Italy) and Pune (India). He is curently working at the French Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain as Publications and Communications Assistant. His interests go from EU politics and Franco-British relations to Scottish Civilisation and Gender Studies.