Sunday

26th Jan 2020

Opinion

Rising to the challenge of 'European Angst'

Populism, extremism and euroscepticism are haunting Europe, creating a tense atmosphere in which fear, hate, anger and anxiety generate a climate of angst.

The current rise of radical parties such as AfD in Germany, Ukip in Great Britain and FN in France indicates a drastic change in European societies and politics – and the more momentum these populist movements gain, the more clueless the established political, cultural and legislative institutions seem to be.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

The prevalence of hate speech and violent acts threatening migrants and refugees, and hostile attitudes towards liberal values and modern, open societies are clear manifestations of this angst.

Xenophobia still looms large in the modern history of our continent, and it was never completely quashed in the process of an ever closer integration. A very recent expression of this phenomenon is the surprising outcome of the EU referendum in Great Britain, driven by a fear-based campaign.

Political leaders and the traditional political parties are seemingly failing to act on these issues haunting Europe. Following summit upon summit, from Bratislava to Ventotene, solutions seem to be in short supply. Pressing matters such as the redistribution of migrants fall by the wayside, brutally exposing the lack of solidarity in the EU.

This year has seen a tumult of challenges to strident liberal democratic states - popular protest against Ceta, TTIP and globalisation; the biting impact of global terrorism; and most recently an external shock in the form of the American elections. Liberal ideologies have hit a blockage, and responses to this unanticipated outmanoeuvring of the political left and centre by the (far-)right have been muddled.

A constructive discourse

A much talked about phenomenon of recent weeks has been the presence of “fake news” carried by social media sites, and the gullibility of the general public who apparently swallow these articles without question.

Extremism comes in many guises, but the rise of the far-right across our continent, and the at times impassive response to refugees, coupled with the growing presence of insular, nationalist voices, has led to a contagion of hostile sentiments in our daily lives.

On social media, in the press we read, and in the conversations we hear, we are fed a narrative of false dichotomies based on fear. The ease of posting commentary online has led to a culture in which my ignorance is given equal airtime to your hard fought for knowledge. Thus, a question arises: how do we counter these “post-fact” narratives and create a constructive, yet informative discourse in the media?

Who now of our political leaders, of our commentators and philosophers and laureates can stand above the fray, speak out and tackle these fears? Much has been written of chancellor Angela Merkel’s stand as the last bastion of a crumbling liberal elite, not only in Europe, but also in a global context. From who else or where else do we seek the strength to forge new paths, and build a new future that will deliver on shared goals of prosperity, diversity and peace?

New narratives needed

The European Angst conference will shed light on these questions in a unique way. It will leave the comfort zone of liberal consensus by inviting thinkers from across the spectrum of ideas, thus creating a space for passionate debate, for reflection and in-depth analysis. Going beyond the so-called Brussels bubble, the event seeks to take the discussion beyond our well-established comfort zone.

Among the participants are the writers and philosophers Slavoj Zizek, Didier Eribon and Nobel Prize winner Herta Mueller, as well as 42 students selected in an open pan-European call. The students will play an active role in the conference, and they will draft a manifesto on Europe’s future to be handed over to EU officials.

The European Angst conference will create a pan-European space where open discussions will negotiate how we can create better societies. We urgently need new narratives to create a better perspective for Europeaness and to get over the current angst that openly questions Europe’s future.

Alex Godson is the head of communication of the European Movement International

The European Movement International is a partner in the European Angst Conference, which is an initiative of the Goethe-Institut, organised in collaboration with 4 members of EUNIC, and BOZAR. The media partner for this event is EUobserver.

The European Angst Conference takes place in Brussels on Tuesday 6 December and Wednesday 7 December 2016.

Disclaimer

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

Obama warns of Trump-type populism in Europe

The US will stick with Nato no matter who is in the White House, according to Barack Obama, but he warned that Trump-style populism was a danger in Europe.

Populists blame Juncker for 'same old' ideas

Mainstream parties defended Juncker's ideas on how to win back people's trust, but populists blamed the EU Comission chief for dishing up "more of the same".

Interview

'Don't push Turkey away', says writer Elif Shafak

Novelist and essayist Elif Shafak said that isolating Turkey would "play into the hands of populism" and that liberals everywhere should defend their values with "emotional intelligence".

Second-hand cars flaw in EU Green Deal

The moment Europe revels in its carbon-free transport system, most of the cars that emitted too much for EU standards will still be driving around for years somewhere else in the world.

Eastern Partnership must now improve media freedoms

The EU can hardly criticise Eastern Partnership countries for disrespecting media freedom. Five EU member states, including current presidency Croatia, came below Armenia and Georgia in the 2019 RSF Press Freedom Index. Bulgaria ranked nine places behind Ukraine.

Column

What's Libya's impact on EU foreign policy?

The Libya case might finally give the EU some strategic clarity. This sounds like a small thing, but EU foreign policy is in such bad shape that it would be a big leap forward.

News in Brief

  1. Catalan premier refuses to step down, despite ruling
  2. UK set to support new fossil fuel projects in Africa
  3. Leftist MEPs to visit jailed Catalan MEP
  4. Bulgaria may expel Russian diplomats over 'espionage'
  5. EU, China, others agree on WTO body to settle disputes
  6. EU Commission makes move against Poland on judges law
  7. Soros pledges $1bn for liberal universities
  8. Merkel: Germany unprepared for 2015 refugee crisis

Column

Why nations are egomaniacs

A nation, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, is not capable of altruism. Even less so, if such a group has formed on the basis of strong emotions and casts itself as the "saviour of the nation".

Maltese murder - the next rule-of-law crisis in EU?

While Poland's government is escalating its rule of law crisis by introducing even more drastic measures against the country's judges, another problem is looming over the EU's commitment to upholding the rule of law: Malta.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. AI must have human oversight, MEPs recommend
  2. Second-hand cars flaw in EU Green Deal
  3. Why do EU arms end up in Libya despite UN ban?
  4. Brexit deal to be signed, as sides poised for tough talks
  5. Timmermans urges EU governments to tax carbon
  6. Vietnam sent champagne to MEPs ahead of trade vote
  7. China spy suspect had EU permission to work as lobbyist
  8. EU to unveil 5G 'toolbox' to tackle security threats

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us