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  • Writer's pictureFriedrich Jeschke

‘The EU’, too, was once a utopia

Writing about visions is something particularly beautiful and motivating. It makes for lively discussion and inspiration. The fact that “the EU” is an opportunity and not a problem has brought me into politics. However, to talk about visions for Europe – which I am happy to address a little later – there needs to be a foundation. What actually is the current starting point, and where are the problems?

Friedrich Jeschke is a member of the pan-European party Volt Europa, parliamentary group leader of DIE LINKE/Volt in the Regional Council of Cologne in Germany and a member of the Open European Dialogue Network. This is an opinion piece.

CoFoE is failing like the White Paper

The European Commission launched the Conference on the Future of Europe – CoFoE for short – on 9 May 2021. Originally, the analogue and digital events format were to start as early as 2020 under the impetus of the German Council Presidency. But the coronavirus pandemic threw the schedule into disarray. Unfortunately, the European Commission under Ursula von der Leyen, as under her predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker, has failed to reach the people of the European Union. In 2017, the “White Paper on the Future of Europe” failed, as CoFoE is failing now.

Here are just a few of the reasons why the great idea of CoFoE will fail:

It lacks an understandable language. CoFoE does not speak in the language of EU citizens. The automatic translation function (it works quite well!) on the in-house platform does not mean that the ideas and discussions follow in an understandable language. The texts and ideas must also be understood – considering that almost all citizens who stray onto the platform have little time. They deal with it during their lunch break, on the train – and yes, even on the toilet.

The marketing also leaves much to be desired. The Commission and the member states are pushing CoFoE half-heartedly. Who has noticed the publicity about it? In the institutions of the EU and even more so in the nation-states, people do not believe in CoFoE. So how can such a conference be sold credibly if their own team does not consider it profitable? The media and publishers are not picking up on this important debate about our future either. And by the way, EU politics provides this opportunity every day.

The parties themselves are not pushing the discourse either. The parties discuss the future of Europe only half-heartedly and do not push CoFoE. Even within our party – Volt Europa – there is more potential!

Moreover, the EU’s structure and division of labour are too complex to be understood by citizens. I have experience in the election campaign and discussions with citizens – and also in myself – that the structures, processes and mechanisms of the European institutions are unknown, unclear and incomprehensible. The media mostly talk about “the EU” without naming the actual concrete institution. Those who do not understand “the EU” cannot easily discuss ideas – and have little motivation to do so.

The ambiguous rules and roadmap of the conference also contribute to the fact that the citizens do not adequately recognise it. Anyone who looks at the (sometimes technically unreliable) platform – and thus the opportunities for submitting ideas – will notice that the EU Commission has not issued a clear roadmap. Until when can ideas be submitted, supported and discussed? What exactly happens to the proposals, then? A lot of text, little statements. Water on the mills of the populists.

Most of the discussion takes place in the EU bubble. So very few people get to hear about this platform and conference. So they have no knowledge that their future is being discussed. In the regrettably manageable events, familiar old pro-European faces cavort. It is also the academic discussions, lectures and information that are off-putting—high-profile panels and lectures with too little time for discussion – a classic.

11 initiatives submitted by us

Now I have listed the problems, and I say: there is hope. Not through CoFoE but through Europe’s citizens. True to the motto: Don’t complain, do it yourself, members of Volt Europa have submitted eleven initiatives. Among them is, for example, the “reform plan for a citizen-based European Democracy” by Hannah Gohlke, who pushed CoFoE as project leader within Volt, or the student Jan Birkmann, who submitted Volt’s vision of a Federal European Republic.

A Federal European Republic with an EU passport

This is my vision of Europe: I have a passport that identifies me as a European. There is a European government, directly elected by us citizens. The European Parliament has the right of initiative and can propose laws. The European Council will be replaced by a Council like the one the Federal Republic of Germany has in the Bundesrat.

The states will continue to have a great deal of leeway owing to the greatest possible subsidiarity. We have a more social European Union with a minimum wage in every member state. We have a common tax policy to close loopholes and reduce bureaucracy. Thanks to the EU Prime Minister, Europe speaks with one voice to Russia, China, and the USA.

Due to more funding for research and development, more digital and social strategy, and a strong and common voice, Europe is strong and sustainable. Instead of 27 government declarations, “the EU” has clear statements. Hence our vision of a European prime minister. Politics communicates at eye level with all citizens and the nation-states.

Only together does Europe have a future – and I am grateful that there are more and more people in Europe who realise that we can only take this difficult path together.

Everything was once a utopia and a vision. That we can fly, that we can cure diseases and that we can talk to each other over thousands of kilometres. I think a reform of Europe is less a vision than simply hard and collaborative work – which is simply necessary for the next generations.

Let’s roll up our sleeves.

Let’s make Europe more democratic, more humane and more sustainable together.

If you have read this far, I sincerely ask you to get involved in a party for Europe – no matter which one, as long as it is for Europe.

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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