Policy makers debate in The Hague
On Tuesday, 03 February 2015, the European Cultural Foundation (ECF) organized a policy makers debate in the framework of the New Pact or Europe project.
The high-level closed door policy debate – Nederland in Europa – took place at the Haags Historisch Museum in The Hague. The debate included 40 invited Dutch politicians, policy-makers, journalists and representatives from the cultural and business sector. This top-level exchange focused on how to restore the trust of citizens in the European integration process. The goal of the debate was to introduce workable, realistic reforms on what needs to be done to reverse the tide of public opinion and restore trust in the EU.
The two most important challenges for the European Union as formulated in the report were recognised by the majority of those present. Increasing fragmentation – between the Union and its citizens, between Member States, and within Member States – and doubts about the added value of European integration were discussed at length. Participants expressed the need for governments and politicians to take into account the growing number of citizens who no longer see the EU as a win-win project seriously and address their concerns, whether they are eurosceptics, populists or "people who think the European Union has not done anything for them”. Others questioned the assumption that European cooperation is a win-win situation; in coalitions you always have to compromise, certainly with 28 Member States, which always creates some losers.
The lack of trust in the European Union and in European integration in itself was broadly acknowledged. At the same time many recognised the wider development of loss of trust in politics and in political institutions in general, even within Member States. In the business community too, the relevance of political decision-making is no longer always felt or acknowledged. Citizens, given the opportunity, are increasingly circumventing political institutions. To many citizens the way we have designed the political-administrative systems of Europe seems bureaucratic, slow and obstructive, and so they do not believe that Europe really has anything to offer them.
For many the reforms and measures in the report seem too ambitious. The prevailing view is that the Union should not embark on any big new projects, should not formulate any far-reaching ambitions and should not allow itself to be seduced by grand prospects. Some participants argued that there is a need to first do what has been agreed and analyse the specifics of what went wrong with earlier attempts at cooperation.
The most important question concerned the way to best to convey that sense of urgency to the citizens so that they feel that they are co-owners of the future of European integration. The role of culture was put forward and also the role of innovation. "Make the future of energy or the future of mobility into a challenge. Then people see themselves not as tax payers but as citizens." Political parties seem not to be always consistent over the long term in their views on European cooperation and integration. Fairness and transparency are also important in conveying – as objectively as possible – the added value that the European Union offers its citizens.