Public stakeholders event in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands : Towards a European 'Mienskip'*
*Mienskip means "community" in Frisian
On April 23rd European Cultural Foundation organised a public event to discuss the New Pact for Europe’s second report.
The discussion focused on the EU as participatory union and possibilities to involve citizens in policy-making process. Main questions were: can citizen-driven initiatives offer a way of bridging this gap by co-creating a participatory society alongside politicians? Or should these initiatives steer clear of politics and remain faithful to what they were initially designed to be – a local alternative to a political system that can’t be saved? Both approaches were defended during the debate.
The citizen-driven initiative Kening fan ‘e Greide (King of the Meadows) illustrates the mechanism of a new framework of cooperation. A member of the initiative, Wim Hiemstra, highlighted that King of the Meadows illustrates what a citizen-driven initiative can add to the existing mechanisms in society. “Despite aid and supportive policies from several governments <...> it was obvious we needed a different approach. With King of the Meadows we have overcome differences in interests and conflicts.” The shared goal of improving biodiversity fuels cooperation and change.
Professor of Public Law Christian Iaione from Italy and journalist and researcher Carmen Lozano Bright from Spain – both emphasised the importance of citizen-driven initiatives in relation to the gap between governments and society. According to Lozano Bright, grass-root initiatives can bridge this gap, because they help people to connect with one another. Although these people are often very much bound to a local area, they are digitally connected to one another.
In order to profit from these initiatives, governments should not demand control or initiate them. It is crucial to let go of the market-based institutional design, according to Iaione. “It is not the community as an issue; it is the community as a solution. Governments need to co-design policy with the community instead of making decisions on behalf of the community.”
Matthew Fox, writer and filmmaker from Liverpool added: “If governments want to regain trust, they have to trust their citizens”.
According to Pascal Gielen, Professor of Sociology of Art and Cultural Politics, we need a paradigm shift to make politics meaningful. Economic thinking cannot provide that but culture can, he added. “KH2018 [Leeuwarden European Cultural Capital 2018] shows culture can mobilise people,” he said. “Culture is the basis of society, not the economy.”
Bouwe de Boer, local policy-maker, who has initiated several energy cooperatives, highlighted the importance of the cooperative: “When a cooperative works successfully, the news spreads <....> Not because of the profit, but because citizens are concerned about the environment and angry with the large energy companies that take their money and do not do anything in return. They want to provide their own energy to be able to invest in their village.”
Member of the European Parliament Agnes Jongerius recently discussed the idea of cooperatives and commons with her colleagues: “There are serious problems: youth unemployment, declining biodiversity, energy issues. We see Europe has not got the answers and we notice the gap. We talk about this and we are open to new ideas, for example from the commons. Europe is about economy, free trade and free movement of goods. As mentioned by Hiemstra and others, Europe has to be about more than that <....>. We need to look beyond the market.”
The debate was supported and co-organised by Leeuwarden European Cultural Capital 2018.