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Civil Dialogue: For a Europe of the Future?! Is there a European Identity?

On the day of Emmanuel Macron’s first speech to the EU Parliament, in which he called for a re-devel­opment of the EU, the Repre­sen­tation of the European Commission in Berlin provided a platform for young politi­cians of five different German youth parties to engage in an inter­gen­er­a­tional discussion on a European identity and the future of the EU. The civil dialogue was initiated by the Institute for European Politics, the Repre­sen­tation of the European Commission in Berlin and the think tank Polis180. The paper published by the network “Alter­native Europa!” provided the basis for the discussion, as it assessed the concept of a European identity and examined concrete policy recom­men­da­tions for the promotion of a European identity. Partic­i­pants on the panel included Malte Fiedler from the Left Youth, David Jahn from the Young Liberals, Jonas Littmann from the Jusos, Jenna Behrends from the CDU Berlin and Moritz Heuberger from the Green party. The civil dialogue was held in a fishbowl format, allowing the young audience to actively partic­ipate. Patrick Lobis from the Repre­sen­tation of the European Commission in Berlin and Carolin Marx from the Institute for European Politics welcomed the guests. Clara Kemme from Polis180 chaired the event.

The discussion paper of the network “Alter­native Europa!” proposes the emergence of a European identity, in addition to the already existing national identities in the EU; as such an identity provides a solid basis for a stronger EU, supported by its citizens. Among other things, this would signif­i­cantly foster cohesion and unity in the EU. The paper partic­u­larly mentions concrete policy recom­men­da­tions in the areas of partic­i­pation, publicity, solidarity and a European narrative.

In the wake of  strong populist and Eurosceptic parties in Europe, the emergence of a European identity was criti­cally discussed with consid­er­ation to the broader question of legit­imacy of the EU and the benefits for its citizens. Several questions were raised, for example on whether the impor­tance of the EU could be further strengthened through a European identity, even for regionally anchored citizens all over Europe. All of the speakers perceived this aspect to be crucial to counteract Eurosceptic and nation­alist resentments.

Even though all speakers shared the overall value and impor­tance of a European identity, clear differ­ences were identi­fiable with regard to the concrete meaning of a European identity. David Jahn, from the Young Liberals, and Jenna Behrends, from CDU Berlin, perceived co-existing regional, national and European identities to be a crucial instrument for the promotion of citizens unity on all regional levels within the EU. On the contrary, Malte Fiedler, from the Left Youth, and Moritz Heuberger, from the Green Party, funda­men­tally questioned the construct of identities defined by regions. They criti­cised that unfor­tu­nately European citizens do not automat­i­cally share similar­ities simply because the live in a common location or region. In addition and as a matter of principle, regionally anchored identities would automat­i­cally exclude individuals in other regions. Instead, European identities rather develop, for example through material similar­ities or shared values that are not be subjected to any form of hierarchy. The audience objected that those identity constructs would not provide for cross-group solidarity, as it is envisioned for a European identity. A European identity would bring about the advantage of fully embracing all people within a region and conse­quently to promote unity and solidarity. Moreover, national resent­ments could be overcome through a European identity. Interest-based identities on the other hand do not provide a basis for cohesion in society, unless equipped with additional supple­men­tation. Regardless of any disagree­ments, all speakers agreed that the promotion of a European awareness through transna­tional exchange programs, acces­sible for all social classes and educa­tional levels, repre­sents a reasonable possi­bility. In addition, the audience requested that EU policies should be more directly addressing the European population, in order to strengthen their awareness of the EU and optimise its impor­tance for all European citizens.

Besides the discussion on the impor­tance and perception of different national identities, the partic­i­pants additionally assessed various European objec­tives for the future. Hereby, the idea of a European state was raised in the discussion. Almost all of the speakers demanded an enhanced and funda­mental debate on the policy direction of the EU, in which concrete goals will be defined. Although the super­structure of a transna­tional peace-building associ­ation is of great impor­tance and relevance, the younger gener­ation needs a compre­hensive debate on the legit­imi­sation of the EU. Instead, the audience and the politi­cians from the Jusos, Green Youth and Left Youth suggested uplifting the eradi­cation of social inequality as a central topic of impor­tance for the EU. Here, a European social policy could act as an incubator. A European social policy would refer to the immediate reality of human life and provide an added value to every single EU citizen. Through this initiative, the EU could foster unity among citizens and legit­imise the EU. In addition, in order to achieve more unity, the European partic­i­pation mecha­nisms need to be strengthened and the democracy deficit decon­structed. Moreover, the EU should be more active instead of being driven by its critics. For example, the EU could use its strong position  to promote a socio-ecological trans­for­mation. Alter­na­tively, the audience proposed the accep­tance of the unified internal and external security policy as a top priority. The audience and all penalists agreed that it is about time to think about funda­mental reforms in the EU and the adaption of treaties. French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed a variety of visionary proposals for the successful contin­u­ation of the European project. Funda­mental reforms could emphasise the role of the citizens as sover­eigns of EU policy and demon­strate the supporting role of the EU within everyday life of citizens. Together with the civil society, the EU should tackle the future visionary and imagi­native, in order to success­fully approach the future of Europe.