It is not often that you feel a politician has listened to you. When it does happen a wry smile appears, cynicism slightly reduced and a hope that there is more to come.
In December 2013 I wrote an essay for the Cultural Coalition for a Citizens’ Europe, (a rather unwieldy title) and spoke at their March conference in Berlin. Other speakers at the conference included Jean-Claude Juncker, Martin Schulz and Guy Verhofstadt, then all “spitzenkandidats” for the post of European Commission President. As we know Juncker got the job and Schulz remains as President of the European Parliament.
……that the new President of the
European Commission will create a senior “vice-president for citizens”
responsible across the board for everything the EU does which engages with
citizens with transversal authority to delve into every proposed policy from
every directorate, a role well beyond mere “citizenship”.
Well that may have become true. (OK, I don’t think any politician actually read my piece, dream on!). I’ll not comment on the selection and appointment of the commissioners, that’s for another day. They start work on 1 November. Juncker has tweaked the structure, giving the vice-presidents a wider role. One of the vice-presidents is Valdis Dombrovskis who is responsible for the Euro and, wait for it, “Social Dialogue”. Juncker set out one of the aims of the post in his commissioning letter to Dombrovskis: “promoting social dialogue and engaging with social partners at EU level on all aspects of interest for the delivery of our priorities”.
Not quite as strong or all-encompassing as I hoped but a start. The Commissioners for Education,Youth and Culture, for Gender Equality, and for Social Affairs are in the grouping of Commissioners “steered” by Dombrovskis. Many of the aims and aspirations of the cultural sector for a new Europe are similar to those from the social sector (once you set aside the straightforward lobbying for more money). Is the start of a joined-up approach?
Is there a real difference between calls for a “Social Europe”, a “Citizens’ Europe” or a “Cultural Europe”? All recognise that the EU of today is out of touch with citizens, that many are “falling behind”, that a greater sense of community is needed to balance the overwhelming attention to economics and to austerity.
Bringing the campaigns together may make them understandable to more people and not fall into the cul-de-sac of the “New Narratives for Europe” initiative of the Barroso era. With a worrying rise of not just euro-scepticism but of euro-opposition across the EU the ideas and approaches like the “New Narratives” fail to engage with those more tempted by the populist parties. Its declarations sound like a self-congratulatory rhetorical device to convince the converted.
Paul Mason identifies the underlying problem of the EU, and of politics, in this piece in the Guardian. It is UK focused but its main thesis applies across the EU. Read it, apply it to your country. Change in the EU, to make it more in line with today’s citizen’s needs means not starting from your own cosmopolitan perspective. Start looking from the perspective of what Obama calls “main street” and those who Mason identifies: people in towns and cities most affected by globalisation, by the move to the digital world, living in places where the main employers have disappeared: where the long term city business model (often based on semi or unskilled male work) has gone and not been replaced. Such places probably also have a lower level of formal education attainment and the participation rate in culture is also probably lower than average.
And then see how your “cultural, citizens’, social Europe” aspirations meet this challenge. We need to see a wider coalition for change bringing together the currently disparate and overlapping movements. A stronger EU needs to address this decade’s priorities, not those of 50 or even 10 years ago.
Mr Dombrovskis, this is where your social dialogue starts.