I was invited to speak at the New Europeans debate about what do new Europeans really want from the European elections in 2014. Also speaking were:
- Hope Not Hate
- European Citizens Abroad
- New Europeans
- National Union of Students
- Sussex European Institute, University of Sussex.
This is what I shared:
European Alternatives brings people together from different cultures & disciplines to help people imagine, enact and demand new ways of connecting across borders. In short, democracy & culture beyond the nation state.
Because we believe you can only connect people across borders if you bring together different ways of thinking and doing.
We don’t talk about international or supranational but transnational collaboration, because we believe that a purely top-down or bottom-up approach doesn’t work, it’s like having one of your eyes constantly blindfolded. We prefer a transversal approach.
People will will vote when they believe the elections will make a difference on the issues they want their vote to affect.
The problem is that firstly, most people currently feel that the political establishment aren’t aware of let alone understand and empathise with the issues they’re facing…and in some cases the ideas they’ve got to tackle them.
They feel that politicians are too distant from their everyday lives…that they don’t experience what they go through on a day to day basis. However much MEPs try and connect with their constituents lived experience, the imagery of an MEP representing you in Brussels doesn’t dispel this perception!
Secondly, people feel in some cases that even if politicians did understand the issues they faced, they don’t have the power anymore to tackle them, particularly in the face of globalisation.
There is a feeling by some that Europe – whatever we mean by that – is best placed to tackle issues which are impacted by globalisation, but that it’s not doing so.
People often feel that MEPs are in thrall to lobbies. Vested interests certainly do put pressure on the institutions, some even going to say there is a “hold up” of the EU. But this (unfortunately) is no different to the circling of the corridors of power by lobbies in our own national parliaments.
On a more optimistic note, as the French philosopher Michel Foucault once said “Power is everywhere: not that it engulfs everything, but that it comes from everywhere”.
What he meant by that, is that power doesn’t exist within individuals or even institutions – whether they be lobbies or MEPs – they exist in the relations between people.
When people go to the polling station to vote, they go on their own to make their vote in the privacy…and isolation of the ballot box. This doesn’t create any sense of connection with other people around them, let alone other Europeans. Of course, I’m not proposing that we open up the privacy of the ballot box.
But we need to think of the vote as only the “closing curtains” of the process to build power between people, in a particular at a transnational level. That’s why at European Alternatives we provide the spaces for people across borders to imagine, enact and demand new ways of building this transversal power –
- imagining it through our Citizens Manifesto which has been built together from discussions across over 30 cities and over 1000 people
- enacting it through our Transeuropa Festivals where creativity and activism come together to help people take part in collective experiences of tackling issues that cross borders
- demanding it through our European Initiative for Media Pluralism, which uses a new tool for building power transnationally to reclaim pluralism and freedom from the vested interests