The Slovenian Paneuropean Movement organised together with the Hungarian Paneuropean Union the fourth international conference within the JOCICEF project, entitled Euroscepticism—roots, challenges and prospects, which took place on 26 and 27 October 2018 in Szentendre (Hungary). The conference, which had 53 participants from 10 countries (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain), aimed to shed light on the challenges brought about by Euroscepticism and different forms of populism for the present and especially the future set-up of the European Union. The EU is under increasing pressure from different forces that doubt the efficiency and even the rationality of European integration, so they resort to populist rhetoric, as well as nationalism, and mostly blame European institutions for domestic political problems. The speakers agreed that political populism and Euroscepticism feed mostly on poor knowledge about the historical value of the European project—and European policies in particular—which is why communication between citizens and European institutions needs to be improved. The event featured 4 panel discussions, opening addresses, a keynote speech and an active moderated discussion of participants.


In his opening address, Aba Béla, the President of the Hungarian Paneuropean Union, highlighted the importance of the pressing issue of Euroscepticism for our future and for future generations. Our task is to form proposals to be addressed to political decision makers, and their task is to review them and take them into consideration. That is why it is important—particularly at the outset of the pre-election period—to prepare proposals based on the right data, and make conclusions that are realistic and future-oriented. However, we must be careful when interpreting European values, as everyone understands them a bit differently today. You can watch the full speech here.


Alain Terrenoire, the President of the International Paneuropean Union, warned about destructive forces in Europe that wish to tear down the project on which European states and nations have been working for over 70 years. The European Union as we know it today was built on the foundations of peace and solidarity, but the latter is getting lost with growing nationalist tendencies. He called on Hungary to stay part of the solid and strong European core, and not to succumb to demagogy. If the EU wants to survive, it must be free, strong, independent, and made up of countries that understand the importance of a common European path. You can watch the full speech here.


Laris Gaiser, the President of the Slovenian Paneuropean Movement, referred in his address to a recent Paneuropean conference in Ukraine, where the positive attitude of Ukrainians is towards the EU was palpable. As they stress themselves, they are fighting for European values. And maybe it would be right to ask the citizens of the countries that wish to join the EU what these values are and why it is so hard for European citizens to see them. While they are literally fighting for Europe, Gaiser said even he would be in a difficult position if he were required to do so, although he is fighting for it intellectually. It is true that the EU is not working as citizens would like (lack of subsidiarity, excessive bureaucracy, etc.), but states and citizens themselves are partly responsible for this. As the main challenge, he underlined voting abstinence, as this allows anti-European forces to mobilise their supporters and take control. You can watch the full speech here.


Georg von Habsburg pointed out in his address how his father Otto von Habsburg had fought for a unified Europe in the past and had foreseen that the fall of the Iron Curtain would mean a start of true European unification. At the end of the Cold War, Western Europe was a place of security, stability and progress. In that time, the desire for a European future in Eastern European states was clear and unambiguous. When Hungary and other states started the process of joining the EU, optimism prevailed. But people tend to forget things, and in the plethora of crises today (the migrant crisis, the economic crisis, Brexit, etc.) they forget that Europe is an island of peace and stability. We must be optimistic, as Europe has achieved something remarkable given its dark past. A lot of responsibility also lies with citizens, who should know their European representatives and ask them questions. It is all the more relevant ahead of the European election to encourage citizens’ representatives to think. Moreover, citizens should have direct contact with political decision makers, which would also help fight Euroscepticism successfully. You can watch the full speech here.


A keynote speech was delivered by Lászlo Lovászy, Hungarian Ministerial Commissioner, who presented the global context of the challenges that the EU will face in the future. The EU will soon need to face challenges such as demography (ageing European population), artificial intelligence (e.g. robotisation), biotechnology (e.g. CRISPR) and (Eurosceptic) politics (e.g. Brexit). For the development of European politics and policies it will be particularly important to redefine the roles of individual European institutions and other actors (e.g. “independent” quasi-autonomous NGOs or quangos), which may become big enough to dictate or steer otherwise democratic processes.




First panel: Combatting Euroscepticism with more Europe


The speakers discussed the meaning of Euroscepticism and how it is defined, as well as the reasons behind this phenomenon. They also touched on the role of European institutions and Members States, and especially how the wave of Euroscepticism and populism could be stopped. The debate was moderated by Annamária Csiszér of the Hungarian Paneuropean Union.


Jan Machacek of the Institute for Politics and Society (Czech Republic) pointed out that there were many kinds of Euroscepticism. The first wants to weaken European institutions and their influence on states. He believes this type most probably comes from poor knowledge of European institutions and policies, because the structures and connections are not easy to understand for the ordinary European citizen. And because they do not know how it works, they instinctively have doubts. The second group of Eurosceptics wants as least European integration as possible, and glorifies nation states and their solutions. To stop both these groups, Machacek proposes making the EU and its processes simpler and easier to understand for the widest public. Moreover, the EU and its policies must be clearly communicated, since many citizens do not even know whether the EU is a federation, union, project, experiment or something else completely.


Janik Szabolcs, Deputy Director of the Migration Research Institute (Hungary), pointed to the dilemma of who was more Eurosceptic, political parties or citizens. The perception of the EU is greatly impacted by crises, which seem to have no end (economic, foreign policy, migration, etc.). Consequently, citizens get the impression that the EU is not functioning and is unable to find the right answers. This is perfect for Eurosceptics, who blame European policies and European institutions for every problem. The most resourceful here are the political parties that mostly look at things very narrowly through the lens of their own interests. And the rise of such parties is what we should worry about.


Charles Nonne, independent researcher and press correspondent (Slovenia), also stressed that there were different types of Euroscepticism, but divided them into exogenous and endogenous ones. An example is the European enlargement policy, which is a paradox in itself. It is the policy where the EU has invested the most money, but has an extremely low support among citizens. This is a case of poor communication of European policies to the citizens. Moreover, Euroscepticism comes from the EU’s fatigue, which is reflected in (a) lack of integrity; (b) lack of vision (what the EU should be like in 30 or 50 years); and (c) lack of trust (the entire European integration process is based on trust, but when it comes to the most pressing issues, people prefer to rely on states).




Second panel: Discussing driving forces of Euroscepticism in EU Member States


According to Eurobarometer, EU Member States and candidates differ greatly with regard to their outlook on the future of the EU. While the level of trust is higher in candidate countries, scepticism about the common European future is growing in Member States. The discussion was moderated by Dejan Hribar, the Secretary General of the Slovenian Paneuropean Movement.


Ferenc Mislivetz of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Kőszeg (Hungary) pointed out that NATO had just started the biggest military exercise in the last decade in Norway, and that the US would be installing several pieces of nuclear weapons in EU territory. This indicates growing concern among European countries regarding security, which was not felt ten years ago. And it is precisely security that dictates relations between states today, and largely shapes the views of citizens. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the civil society had the power, the drive and especially the sense that it can do and change things. Citizens felt it was time for a unified Europe without borders. After 2008 this enthusiasm cooled down greatly and has reached a point of so-called fake enthusiasm—everyone wishes the EU to survive for the benefits it brings, but in the end everyone will always resort to national-level policies.


Áron Máthé of the Hungarian National Remembrance Committee looked at Euroscepticism from the historical perspective. He believes today’s Euroscepticism is mostly some sort of anti-Western sentiment, since Eastern European states have never really been accepted as equals. This gives Eastern European states and their citizens reservations when it comes to closer integration. With regard to the rise of populism, he stressed that Eastern European states were seeing support grow for parties on the extreme left, which draw their ideas from communism. According to Máthé, this is happening because Communism was never put on historical trial like Nazism.


Marko Stojić of the Metropolitan University Prague (Czech Republic) presented Euroscepticism in SE Europe and in EU candidate countries. The most evident fact is that candidate countries have a much more optimistic outlook on the EU’s future than European citizens. There is a list of different reasons for this, but the key one is that different crises (especially the migrant crisis) did not impact these countries as much and did not resound as strongly there as in EU states (e.g. Hungary). Traditionally, the most Eurosceptic state in the Balkans is Serbia, mainly due to what happened in the 1990s. The citizens of Serbia still think the US and European countries did them great injustice, and that the country was later not treated equally to others from the region. In this respect, he highlighted the very important role of the media, which either create or manipulate the public opinion, which can be very dangerous.


Marcelo Ciola of the University Paris-Est and of Mediterranean Affairs (Italy) divided Eurosceptics into three groups: (a) those who became Eurosceptic due to their (deteriorated) economic situation; (b) the Euro-rejecting group, which rejects the EU’s institutional order; and (c) the Euro-pragmatics, who become Eurosceptic whenever common European policies are not to their liking.




Third panel: Economic, political and security crisis—what’s next?


In the last decade, the EU has been facing crises in the extent it has not seen since the end of WWII. It started with the global economic and financial crisis, which pushed many members to the brink of bankruptcy. This was followed by a crisis of leadership and management in the EU, which then turned into a security crisis (with the security and defence dilemma on the one hand, and on the other hand with the migrant crisis making security the highest European value). The panel was moderated by Rainhard Kloucek, the Secretary General of the Austrian Paneuropean Movement.


Ferenc Kalmár of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, started by quoting an infamous statement that the EU was not a global player, but a global payer. The 2019 election to the European Parliament will show more clearly the direction that the EU will be taking in the next years and decades. The EU should come to a clear decision what kind of rule it wants (a federal Europe or a Europe of nations), since this would make it easier to communicate the EU to its citizens and globally. He identifies two perceptions of development within the EU: the Western view, based on civic aspects; and the Eastern approach, based on ethnicity. This is the root of the greatest divisions when we talk about European citizenship and human rights. But at the same time, he noted that the attitude of Western Europe had changed through history. In the 1990s, Western states intervened in order for Eastern Europe to become democratic and more developed. Today, the rhetoric paints Eastern European countries as part of the problem not the solution. He stressed that (intercultural) dialogue within the EU must continue.


Willem Pieter de Groen of the Centre for European Policy Studies (Belgium) said the EU had come through several crises in the last decade, which weakened or strengthened it. He focused on the consequences of the financial crisis and how states are preparing for the next one. He stressed that in 2009 states invested EUR 4.8 trillion in state aid in banks, which accounts for around a third of the EU’s GDP. In order to avoid a new financial crisis, a banking union has been set up, but it has not been finalised. Another great mystery for the European financial market is Brexit, since the negotiations about the exit and its conditions are not yet finished.


Emanuele Sessa of the Euro-Mediterranean Economists Association (Italy) presented the economic aspects of migrations and what they mean for the future development of the EU, as well as the broader Euro-Mediterranean region. According to Sessa, the migrant crisis had an impact on a number of issues related to jobs, cheap labour force and other factors that can affect the economy. Nevertheless, the EU must be aware that its population is ageing, and it has no strategy and vision for development in this respect. The migrant crisis is a result of not having a true common foreign policy, particularly towards Southern Mediterranean countries. He highlighted the need for dialogue and strengthening democracy in order for the EU to design a common strategy of development.




Fourth panel: Why multicultural Europe does not accept more multiculturalism?


The EU is fundamentally a multicultural entity, as it brings together 28 different countries, different religions, cultures and identities. The peace that was built throughout the last 70 years was based on respect towards fellow human beings. So what is it that drives the extremes today that make us question again the possibilities and even the sense of coexistence with those who are different? The panel was moderated by Laris Gaiser, the President of the Slovenian Paneuropean Movement.


Andrés Santana Leitner of Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (Spain) touched on the issue of populism on both the left and the right rising in the EU. He believes rightist populism prevails in Eastern European countries, while leftist populism is dispersed throughout the EU. Politically, populists on the left compete especially with other leftist political actors (social democrats, greens and other leftist parties). But in some views they are very close to rightist populists, which means they also compete with them. Leftist populists are more critical of economic and cultural policies, which separates them from more centre-left parties. But the biggest difference compared to the populists on the right transpired in the migrant crisis.


Oscar Garcia Agustin of Aalborg University (Denmark) started by touching on the issue of European identity, which populists open together with the integration process. Here, he pointed to a paradox of European politicians that affects the degree of Euroscepticism. Politicians largely reject multiculturalism, but they think that a common European identity is necessary. In the same breath, they say they must fight to preserve and strengthen national identities. By rejecting the concept of multiculturalism, they open doors to all sorts of populism. We should start thinking about what the EU actually is: a multicultural entity, or an entity with many cultures. At the same time, European politicians have a problem with multiculturalism because it is a concept that cannot be imposed top-down, but can only be built slowly from the bottom up.


Belhaj Abdessamad of the Migration Research Institute (Hungary) presented the importance of culture for communities and the effect of migrants on this aspect. Together with culture, we also import community. Culture is part of the individual—it defines and identifies the individual in a society. In a similar sense, all Europeans do not identify with Paneuropean ideas and values. When a community or a different culture enters a new environment, this environment must allow it to integrate. Rejection and exclusion only give this culture grounds for radicalisation, which is why it is justified to expect conflict. Today we should be talking especially about interreligious dialogue, since multiculturalism is too often focused only on religion. He concluded that multiculturalism was not working today because we live in a time of a clash of cultures.


You can watch a post-conference interview with Laris Gaiser, the President of the Slovenian Paneuropean Movement, here.

You can watch an interview with Laris Gaiser, the President of the Slovenian Paneuropean Movement, made after the conference by the Slovenian national broadcaster here.

Promotional video of the Szentendre conference and interview with the president of the Slovenian Paneuropean Movement, Dr. Laris Gaiser, is available here

Introductory speech of the president of the Hungarian Paneuropean Movement, Mr. Aba Bela is available here.

Introductory speech of the president of the International Paneuropean Union, Mr. Alain Terrenoire, is available here

Introductory speech of ambassador, Mr. Georg von Habsburg, is available here.

Introductory speech of the president of the Slovenian Paneuropean Movement, Dr. Laris Gaiser, is available here