Virtual Debate @Academy: Can the EU’s Future of Europe Conference Reign in the Bloc’s Autocrats?
Deep changes are currently shaping contemporary Europe – and creating new cleavages between European countries. The rise of autocratic systems presents perhaps the most serious challenge. Authoritarian political forces and governments cherry-pick among EU policies enabling them to benefit from the EU’s prosperity and assistance while systematically undermining the bloc’s capacity to act as one. These political forces call for a ‘Europe of nation states’. Their aggressive power politics threaten the EU’s founding values, unity, credibility, and its effort to remain a key player in the world.
The Covid pandemic created further opportunities for some governments to tighten their grip on power. If the EU remains ineffective in the defense of the rule of law, the cohesion of Europe’s society can further weaken. The EU must demonstrate a stronger pro-European narrative than the alternative of the nationalists.
- How can the bloc’s political and non-governmental actors ally to better articulate strong democratic values?
- How can the conference’s actors push governments to recognize the anti-democratic threat and present a stronger political will to hold back autocratic forces in Europe?
• Richard Youngs, Senior Fellow, Democracy, Conflict and governance, Carnegie Europe
• Kalypso Nicolaidis, Professor at the School of Transnational Governance and Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford (tbc)
• Daniel Freund, Member of the European Parliament (tbc)
Moderated by Julia Propp, Robert Bosch Academy
This Virtual Debate is hosted by the Robert Bosch Academy
Event reportVirtual Debate @Academy Can the EU’s Future of Europe Conference Reign in the Bloc’s Autocrats? Outline of the June 29, 2021, discussion: The Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), which started on May 9, is seen an opportunity for Europe’s societies to discuss and frame their objectives for the years ahead. Deep changes are currently shaping contemporary Europe – some of them creating new cleavages between countries. The rise of autocratic systems presents perhaps the most serious challenge. Authoritarian political forces and governments cherry-pick among EU policies enabling them to benefit from the EU’s prosperity and assistance while they systematically undermine the bloc’s capacity to act as one. These political forces call for a ”Europe of nation states.” Their aggressive power politics threaten the EU’s founding values, unity, credibility, and its effort to remain a key player in the world. The Covid pandemic created further opportunities for some governments to tighten their grip on power. If the EU remains ineffective in defense of the rule of law, the cohesion of Europe’s society can further weaken. The EU must demonstrate a stronger pro-European narrative than the nationalists’ alternative. The panel discussed whether the CoFoE is an opportunity to reinforce the EU’s values and ability to act together. Speakers • Daniel Freund, Member of the European Parliament • Kalypso Nicolaidis, Professor at the School of Transnational Governance and Professor of International Relations, University of Oxford • Zsuzsanna Szelényi, Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow, Robert Bosch Academy • Richard Youngs, Senior Fellow, Democracy, Conflict and Governance, Carnegie Europe Moderated by Julia Propp, Robert Bosch Academy Outcomes and proposals of the discussion What is the raison d’etre of Europe? Speakers first discussed the contemporary vision of Europe concluding that while for several decades the EU’s mission was to secure peace and stability on the continent, it has changed over time. Today the EU must be able to solve continental and global problems. They stated that there is a systemic competition between democrats and autocrats globally; Europe should be the beacon on new forms of democracy that can win the competition. However, they expressed concern that the EU tends to focus more on the geopolitical shift and global problems. In fact, Brussels does not acknowledge the serious decline of democracy in its own member states. In some countries, autocratization is a reality where attack on the rule of law is deliberate and systemic, such as in Hungary and Poland. But Europe witnesses a broader set of problems of democracy; even in the most established democracies, governments are chipping away from democratic rights in a nuanced way. Speakers agreed that regarding democracy, the EU’s core rationale should change from managing conflict between states to facilitating the democratic engagement of citizens, perhaps through new institutions. A shift from top-down decision-making to more bottom-up involvement of citizens is neccessary. How should the CoFoE treat the democracy problem? The CoFoE is a large-scale, bottom-up, participatory-democracy exercise. This is an open process where deliberation is crucial. Governments in general are not interested in empowering citizens in deliberation and decision-making. In some counties, citizens’ democratic deliberation is systematically discouraged and disabled. For the EU, however, democratic legitimacy and democracy is key, and the Conference is crucial in terms of how to better empower European civil society. What can we expect from the CoFoE? Speakers agreed that democracy should be a main issue of the Conference. There are political powers that want to use the Conference to propose cutting back the current institutional status quo of the EU, especially by eliminating the most democratic institutions and practices, such as the European Parliament and consultation with civil society organizations. What permanent legacy will the Conference leave? There is a risk that governments will leave the CoFoE, ticking the box that European democracy is safe. The need for democratic reform goes beyond the institutional framework of the EU. Not everything must be done by the EU institutions. A lot of democratic renovation and innovation is going on outside of the EU’s institutional framework. The EU’s role, therefore, can be to harness and channel the efforts that happening and empower them with its resources. We are in a transition, looking forward The general feeling is that somehow the EU has to make a transition: from looking at the future of the EU to looking at the future of democracy in a broader sense. The Conference can be a transition point between those two agendas At the Conference, it’s unlikely that we will settle upon one single model of democracy as there are too many variations. The EU’s role in the future: an umbrella for European democratic initiatives. The EU has experience in democracy support beyond the EU. It’s time to learn from those global experiences how to reinvigorate its own democracy. The EU should reinforce the pillars of democracy, which are free media, education, and the rule of law. Proposals on what the EU can do to reinforce democracy Proposals aim to encourage a bottom-up, more substantial citizen participation and democratic transparency: • The EU could establish a permanent citizen’s panel/chamber as a new EU institution. Since this is not very likely, a more feasible alternative is to establish cross-European, standing-citizen’s panels, for example, in parallel to EU summits. • Financially encourage and empower networks of cities and other horizontal citizen’s networks and support such networks. • Encourage citizen cooperation with civil society in democratically troubled countries. • Create a democratic panopticon: a digital platform for monitoring democracy on a permanent basis with the intermittent participation of citizens. • Create a robust fund for empowering independent and investigative media, and to create a common European public space. • Support financially democratic innovations without the participation of governments. • Create a global pool of democratic experimentation. The EU should learn from its own experience in EU external democracy efforts and use this internally. The EU can foster joint action in a broader context of democratic change. This report was written by Zsuzsanna Szelényi, Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy
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