Europe Day on May 9th celebrates the anniversary of the Schuman declaration which marked an important step in the collaboration between different European nation states. In 1950 it was the creation of the coal and steel union between six countries that was in question. Since then, the speed of the development of forms of collaboration between the states of Europe has only increased and has taken almost all observers by surprise. But while huge progress has been made in collaboration between European states, the speed of the collaboration between European citizens has not followed the same pace.
Very often, it has seemed to us citizens that we have been deliberately excluded from the decision-making processes of Europe, and that the European Union is anything but a Europe that belongs to us: at best, we have been given crude a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ choice about further European integration; and in France, Holland and more recently Ireland a majority of citizens said ‘no’ in constitutional referendums (even if the Irish were later persuaded to say ‘yes’).
The past 12 months have demonstrated two things perhaps more clearly than before: firstly, that the European institutions will not be able to continue to take decisions without taking a greater account of the citizens of Europe, and secondly that we citizens of Europe are unlikely to get the kind of Europe in which we would like to live unless we take the responsibility and initiative for working together to demand it.
Take one of the most important decisions of the last year: the creation of a European Financial Stability Facility in order to shore-up the economies of first Greece, then Ireland. This was and still is highly controversial. Our political leaders tell us that there is no alternative but to act in the way they have decided. As a consequence there has been little public debate of the impact of the plans put in place, neither for the citizens of Greece or Ireland, nor on the citizens of other countries of Europe. Above all there has been little debate about what alternative ways for restarting the European economy are available. The political dialectic rests between a European elite which says there is no alternative to its decisions, and various forms of protest against any forms of solidarity amongst European member states. It is ‘No Alternative’ versus ‘No Europe’.
One of the dangerous consequences of this European Manichaeism is the rise of extreme parties in many European countries, whether they are the True Finns in Finland calling out against any budget transfers to other countries, or Jobbik in Hungary protesting against the conditions imposed on the Hungarian economy by the EU and IMF. In such a political context of polarisation around the question of European solidarity, even some of the most popular European achievements, such as the right to free movement, are coming under strain, and populations such as the Roma are the first to lose out. When solidarity between European citizens is under strain, it is unsurprising that hospitality for migrants arriving on European shores is even harder to summon. Without facing this problem, both the European elite and the European citizens are likely to find themselves on a slippery slope going in a direction neither of them wants, to a nasty, insular and unjust Europe of national chauvinisms.
The only solution to this problem is for European citizens to work together to propose an alternative series of political propositions for Europe, to take the responsibility themselves for working together to determine the future of their Europe. This is the reason why the trans-European NGO European Alternatives has organised TRANSEUROPA Festival between 6th – 15th May, taking place in 12 cities throughout the continent including Bratislava and Prague, along with London, Paris, Sofia, Cluj-Napoca, Amsterdam and others. Throughout the Festival ,citizens will be coming together to discuss a number of main themes, including Roma rights, migrant rights, media freedom and the future of the European economy. The Festival itself has been organised by citizens from throughout Europe, and you are invited to participate in person or online, and to join the community of citizens who refuse the logic of No Alternative or No Europe.
The website of the Festival is www.transeuropafestival.eu