The Slovenian Paneuropean Movement in cooperation with the Austrian Paneuropean Movement organised the fifth and last international conference as part of the JOCICEF project entitled The Future of Europe: European Identity and EU Political Lanscape, which took place from 15 to 17 February 2019 in Vienna (Austria). The conference, which was attended by over 300 participants from 24 countries (Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Poland, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and Ukraine), was aimed at discussing the future of the European Union, the challenges related to the decision-making process (how to bring EU policies closer to citizens, and how to include the latter more actively in the process), as well as the importance of the upcoming election to the European Parliament for the future of European integration and managing Euroscepticism. The event featured 4 moderated panel discussions, introductory speeches and active inputs by participants.

The opening addresses were meant above all to spur thought on how individuals and institutions see the functioning of the EU, what are the greatest challenges that the EU will need to address, what policies the EU should pursue to make it more unified and stronger both internally and on the outside, as well as how projects like JOCICEF can contribute to the shaping of proposals and answers to these questions.

Laris Gaiser, the President of the Slovenian Paneuropean Movement, initially stressed that Europe was under constant pressure. Euroscepticism has become the mainstream in the recent years. It poses a life threat to Europe, and has deep historical roots spanning the entire integration process. Paneurope has always kept a close watch on European policies, and is therefore among its biggest critics, but it would also always offer solutions and propose additional analyses for many a European policy. This way it contributes to the formulation of common positions instead of only tearing apart the already weak bonds. According to Gaiser, Europe should return to its roots and capitalise on its historical and political heritage. But above all, political decision makers should come to us citizens, and ask what kind of Europe we want.

Karl von Habsburg, the President of the Austrian Paneuropean Movement, pointed out that the EU should have greater competences when it comes to foreign and security policy, as these two areas lie at the basis of the European integration process. Paneurope is all of Europe! This old Paneuropean slogan is still needed and relevant, particularly if we look at the enlargement process and the countries of the Western Balkans. The EU should “export” security and stability in this region, otherwise the vacuum will be filled by other world powers. The same goes for Ukraine. He stressed that states should be aware that they will not be able to solve certain problems alone. Europe must not be based on the principle of patronising prosperity, but rather on the principles of freedom, responsibility and the rule of law.

Michael Löwy, Director of International Relations at the Federation of Austrian Industries, explained in his address that the industry was very pro-European and wanted closer European integration. He said the Federation of Austrian Industries was some sort of avant-garde for European politics. The key European challenge is how to ensure competitiveness on the global market without increasing competition among member states. This calls for appropriate qualifications, education, training and innovation.

Alain Terrenoire, the President of the International Paneuropean Union, stressed that the EU needed its own geopolitics and a defence union. The EU must become independent of the US and capable of facing on its own the challenges brought about by relations with Russia, Islamist terrorism, etc. He pointed out that nationalism was never the solution for national issues, since this way of thinking makes national issues into European ones. Europe should start working on its own identity again.

Karoline Edtstadler, State Secretary at the Austrian Ministry of the Interior, noted that different states were facing different issues and challenges—challenges related to agriculture differ greatly from those related to urbanisation. Europe is built on the principle “United in diversity”, but this slogan should be made strong enough so that citizens will hear and understand it. Some of the challenges facing Europe need to be addressed as soon as possible. One of these is certainly the protection of its external borders. But at the same time, the EU must put an appropriate asylum system in place.

You can watch a video of the introductory addresses here.

 

The first panel, running under the title More European integration for less Euroscepticism, was moderated by Teodora Ladjić of the Montenegrin Paneuropean Union. It featured a discussion on what policies the EU should start implementing in order to unite people in fighting the emergance of populist and Eurosceptic groups, which aim to destabilise the EU and consequently weaken it until it ultimately disintegrates into nation states.

György Nógrádi of Corvinus University (Hungary) pointed out that many European countries used to have colonies, while Hungary did not. This is a major factor why Hungary is not keen on accepting migrants from former colonies of other European countries. He said that after 1989 the vision of former socialist states was clear—membership in the EU and NATO. Many problems today partly arise from the EU lacking a clear vision on what it wants for its future. There are already substantial differences in the views of member states as to how the EU should develop. The example of how states see Russia is also very illustrative: While Poland perceives it as a threat, Hungary does not see it that way.

Jolanta Szymanska of the Polish Institute of International Affairs highlighted the fact that the past crises paralysed the EU and the European integration process—the financial and economic crisis from within Europe, and the social and political crises in its neighbourhood from the outside. Every crisis was a great test for one of the key European values—solidarity. In 2016, Eurosceptic and populist parties were stronger than ever. Nevertheless, elections in some of the European countries that year brought pro-European politicians to power. From that moment on, trust in the EU started growing. The latest Eurobarometer survey shows that over 60% of citizens see the EU as positive. This is a result of several factors: (a) economic recovery of European states; (b) a stabilisation of migration flows at the pre-crisis level; (c) Brexit serves as a warning where reckless populist rhetoric can lead.

Markus Tschank, a member of the Austrian parliament, identified one of the reasons for Euroscepticism in the EU’s failure in 2015 to offer an answer to the migrant and refugee crisis. At the same time, scepticism does not necessarily mean opposition, as long as this doubt points to the possibility of better solutions and reforms. The EU must clearly define its competences and the competences of member states. He noted that the EU must protect its borders, but expressed regret that some member states opposed Austria’s proposal on controlling the borders at the time of its EU Council presidency.

You can watch a video of the panel discussion here.

 

The second session, entitled European political disunity—food for Eurosceptics, was moderated by Marko Balažic of Fokus 2031 (Slovenia). The debate focused on the role of political decision makers in the rise of Euroscepticism and their communication with citizens.

Volodymyr Shulga of the Euro-Atlantic Communications (Ukraine) briefly presented his organisation’s mission of deepening dialogue between the Ukrainian civil society and the EU. By informing Ukrainian citizens about European policies, they wish to bring EU affairs closer to them and encourage them for greater support for Euro-Atlantic integration.

Slovenian MEP Lojze Peterle noted that talk on European identity was back on the political agenda, since achieving common positions requires discussing the basic building blocks of the EU first. According to Peterle, we are not aware enough that Central Europe is historically, culturally and politically distinct. While most of Central Europe and the Balkans dealt with Turkish presence for centuries, some Western countries could occupy themselves with more exotic geographical areas. When the West was building a community of peace, freedom and prosperity, people in the East fought for the preservation of “Western” values under communist dictatorship. And not only for themselves but for all of Europe. He further explained that conservatism bothered many people today, but this was based on a misunderstanding that it was about referring to the past or tradition. In reality, he stressed, the focus is on sustainability and preserving what allows continuity of growth. Being true to one’s roots is worth more than constant innovation and distribution of likes. Roots are not the past, they are a condition for growth. And the EU should seriously work on this.

Martin Kastler of the Hanns Seidel Foundation warned about the role of the media and social networks in communicating European policies. In the ruthless media battle for primacy, news must reach the user as quickly as possible. The quality of the news thus becomes secondary. But the problem also lies in the users, the citizens, who are mostly interested in sensationalism. And (EU) politicians have succumb to this as well—trying to be the fastest, exclusive, funny, likeable. However, the EU is not a matter of fun, but rather of dialogue and compromise. European institutions must start communicating good and successful projects to citizens, so that they will see the direct positive effects on their lives. This is one of the ways of raising trust in European institutions and the future of the EU.

Karlis Bukovskis of the Latvian Institute of International Affairs pointed out that all European citizens first and foremost wanted to live in a safe environment. That is why the EU has two objectives it must pursue: security and prosperity. All European countries set these two objectives at the top of their priority lists, but they cannot seem to find common ground on how to achieve them. And it is the quarrelling about the path towards these goals that divide states instead of bringing them closer together. The EU has two forms of Euroscepticism: (a) technical Euroscepticism, which aims to win votes by criticising European policies, and (b) demagogy. Both forms are harmful for EU policies as well as the future of Europe itself.

 

The third panel was dubbed European election 2019—new faces, old Europe? and was moderated by Rainhard Kloucek, the Secretary-General of the Austrian Paneuropean Movement. It aimed at discussing what can be expected from the European election in May 2019, why established political groups are losing their reach, and what gives rise to extreme political groups both on the right and left.

Austrian MEP Lukas Mandl stressed that all citizens should play a (pro)active role in ensuring and preserving the values that the EU represents. Peace and prosperity should not be taken for granted—they are elements that are always being tested. According to Mandl, if we sleep in time of democracy, we will wake up in dictatorship. European citizens must be persuaded to start taking interest and engage in discussions on the future of the EU. If they do not take part in discussions, others will set the course of future development for them. And it is the EU that provides a big enough roof for all the different European nations to be able to live together based on their shared principles and values.

Patrick Müller of the Vienna Diplomatic Academy said the EU’s history illustrated how politicians from different sides of the political spectrum can work together on European integration (e.g. Giscard d’Estaing and Helmut Schmidt, or Helmut Kohl and François Mitterand). Today we are witnessing a new phenomenon of political extremism on the left and right, with both sharing an anti-European stance. He further highlighted security as the next possible field of cooperation, where competences on the European level would be in the interest of all political powers.

Jakub Wisniewski of the Slovakia-based Globsec Policy Institute shed light on one of the most intimate delusions of populists and the most serious problem, the consequences of which must later be faced by member states and the EU. Populists build their political discourse on skilful rhetoric, unverified information, empty promises and shifting blame on external factors—and mostly the EU comes in as the handiest for this. According to Wisniewski, populism will disappear immediately when the electorate realises that there is no content and strategy behind populist slogans. The problems of member states have nothing to do with the EU or European integration. They are mostly the results of globalisation and the (in)capability of states to adapt to global processes—giving populists a great basis for blaming national problems on external factors (e.g. the EU was blamed for the economic crisis and the trouble member states faced in the migration crisis).

Nini Tsiklauri, a candidate in the upcoming European election in Austria, started by asking herself who she really was and what defined her. She was born in Georgia, spent seven years in Hungary while growing up, then moved to Germany, and now lives in Austria. Therefore, she defined herself as European. She underlined an important message that being European does not mean losing one’s national or regional identity. Moreover, she said she wished for the EU to be stronger, especially in foreign affairs and security, since she knew first-hand what it meant when Russia invaded Georgia—she missed a stronger response from Europe.

 

The fourth session bore the title The Future of Europe, and was moderated by Annamária Csiszér of the Hungarian Paneuropean Union. It featured a look at the future, what kind of Europe we expect in 2050, what great political projects lie ahead for the EU, and how to face the challenges posed by its direct neighbourhood as well as other global actors (especially the US, Russia and China).

Rajko Uskoković of the Montenegrin Paneuropean Union started by presenting his country’s efforts to join Euro-Atlantic integrations. He stressed that Montenegro wanted to join the European Union as quickly as possible, since its future is in Europe, not some other region. Many interests of different states are present in the Western Balkans, and not all these countries want to see Montenegro in the EU. Montenegro is working especially hard on harmonisation with EU policies, as this is the only guarantee for the country to also meet all the other criteria. However, he also said the EU should be aware that the people of Montenegro have great trust in the future of the EU, so they also expect some more understanding and support from the EU.

Ihor Zhaloba of the Ukrainian Paneuropean Union put the future of Europe mainly in the context of the EU’s relationship with Russia. The EU should no longer view Russia as a competitor, but rather as an adversary, since Russia’s interest is to weaken the EU as its neighbour. The stronger the EU the weaker the influence of Russia in Eastern Europe. He stressed that Ukraine wanted to become part of the Western world and not of Russia. This is why there have been a number of initiatives in Ukraine in the recent years aimed at deepening the relationship with the West, and particularly with the EU.

Lucia Mokrá of Comenius University Bratislava (Slovakia) pointed out especially that Europe was facing a crisis of values. When the EU was still in the making, everyone followed plan A, which meant clear objectives and values. Now that all this had been achieved, we have no plan B on how to proceed. We need to ask ourselves whether human rights, the rule of law and solidarity are really the values that all member states share—a simple look at the practice reveals that this is not the case (numerous reports of human rights violations at the European Court of Human Rights every year, disrespect for the rule of law in many EU member states, lack of solidarity especially in economic terms). European politicians should therefore sit down together and discuss openly what are the truly common values, and on which it would be possible to build once again a stronger and more unified European future.

You can watch a video of the panel discussion here.

 

You can watch a video of the closing remarks here.

 

Reports from the event in the media: