Tuesday

23rd Jul 2019

Opinion

A new narrative for Europe

  • 'The prize was amid growing unease about the EU's commitment to solidarity, democracy and justice both inside and outside the Union’s borders' (Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simoes)

Few could dispute the Nobel committee's assessment last week that the European Union has helped to turn a continent of war into a continent of peace.

Many, however, debated whether the committee was right to award the prize to the EU at a time of financial crisis and growing unease about its commitment to solidarity, democracy and justice both inside and outside the Union's borders.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Add to this the reality that for 96 million Europeans under the age of 30, the peace narrative has little personal resonance and one begins to see the legitimacy gap the EU is facing.

Previous attempts to codify a European idea, notably the constitution for Europe, have foundered among infighting between member states and failed to ignite the ambition of European citizens.

But viewed from beyond its borders Europe as an idea begins to take clearer shape.

For outsiders, Europe represents more than a project for peace. Europe is about values: human rights and democracy, as well as freedom and prosperity. The sum total of this narrative is why 10 nations joined in 2004, transforming themselves in the process, and why others (Iceland, Croatia and Turkey) wait in line to become members.

Still others in the EU's neighbourhood, from Georgia and Moldova to distant Kazakhstan, have given voice to their aspirations to a European idea.

Even at this moment of turmoil, other nations and peoples still look to Europe because of its standards - from human rights to the quality of air, water and food, as well as its commitment to social inclusion.

Azerbaijani champions of freedom of expression and pro-democracy activists from Burma to Belarus cite European standards as the benchmarks by which they wish to hold their governments to account.

Where they can, activists evoke the non-EU body, the Council of Europe's Convention on Human Rights and seek remedy at its court in Strasbourg.

Those beyond the EU’s gravity zone and the court's jurisdiction look to the European Union External Action Service to turn its extensive human rights rhetoric into concerted political action where abuses occur.

Yet for a new European "narrative" to stick it must amount to more than words.

Too often in the past rhetoric did not match reality. Critics from Tunis to Tahrir Square were quick to point out how Europe embraced dictators for strategic reasons at the same time as it extolled the virtues of democracy and human rights.

Within the EU's borders recent years have witnessed a retreat from European values as rising populism and a lack of solidarity between and within EU member states have resulted in gains for xenophobic nationalist parties, as well as specific policies targeting minority groups, notably France's expulsion of Roma.

To be meaningful, a narrative delivered to EU's partners must be practised and enforced at home.

The EU needs to have coherent policies and mechanisms at its disposal to check attempts by governments to roll back rights and concentrate power, such as Hungary's assault on the judiciary, or efforts by xenophobic movements such as the National Front to shore up the walls of fortress Europe by playing on the fears of citizens.

To avoid being defined by others, a European idea needs backing first and foremost from its population, reaching beyond the policy elites and their salons of power.

If the EU is to make the most of its democracy and human rights narrative, it must first build a system of domestic accountability in which citizens can place their trust.

EU elites in Brussels and national capitals have practised peace for half a century behind closed doors, through carefully balanced compromises which have edged the project forward.

Now the elites - be they elected or appointed officials, or in the media and civil society - have a responsibility to give the project back to European citizens.

A new "human rights and democracy" narrative that underscores the EU's achievements but is honest about the where there is room for improvement will be more likely to succeed in reconnecting with the European street.

If it is backed by policies targeting rights violations on Europe's doorstep as well as perceived accountability failings at the supranational (EU) level, it will do something of what the peace narrative achieved in its early days: wresting power from those who foster divisions and conflict by their hate narratives, and offering people a positive vision for overcoming day-to-day injustices and for securing their children's future.

The writer is an analyst at the Open Society European Policy Institute, a Brussels-based think tank

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Weber: Six proposals in wake of Spitzenkandidat process

I will not lament the decision-making process that resulted in a package deal on the new leadership in Europe. I respect this result, which was in accordance with the treaties and therefore not undemocratic, albeit unsatisfactory.

News in Brief

  1. UK foreign office minister quits ahead of Johnson as PM
  2. AKK to boost Bundeswehr budget to Nato target
  3. Police arrest 25 after Polish LGBT-march attack
  4. Ukrainian president's party tops parliament election
  5. EU interior ministers to meet in Paris on migration
  6. Schinas nominated as Greek commissioner
  7. Sea-Watch captain hopes for change in EU migrant rules
  8. Russia willing to join EU payment scheme on Iran deal

Six takeaways on digital disinformation at EU elections

For example, Germany's primetime TV news reported that 47 percent of political social media discussions were related to the extreme-right AfD party, when in fact this was the case only for Twitter - used by only four percent of Germans.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. As Johnson set to become PM, ministers pledge to resign
  2. Poland's PiS prepares 'failsafe' for October election
  3. Abortion Wars
  4. EU goes on holiday as new UK PM arrives This WEEK
  5. Survey: Half of EU staff 'don't know' ethics rules
  6. Von der Leyen signals soft touch on migrants, rule of law
  7. Timmermans: von der Leyen will be tough on rule of law
  8. Timmermans trolls 'idiot' Brexit negotiators

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us