“Rebuilding trust and redefining Europe in tough times” is the goal of the long‑term transnational dialogue between civil societies organised by the independent think‑tank Progressive Zentrum on behalf of the Federal Foreign Office. The two‑year project entered its second phase on Tuesday (28 June). In his speech to an audience of over 150 people, Foreign Minister Steinmeier warned that “Europe will only work when it is a Europe of the people!”
Key messages of solidarity and social cohesion
The project was launched in late 2015, with “town hall meetings” held in Greece, Portugal, Italy, France and Spain during its first phase. However, just a few days before the opening event for the next phase, Europe unexpectedly entered a more difficult period. Following the UK’s referendum vote against remaining in the European Union, the debate on the future of Europe has become even more pressing and important.
Some 150 representatives of civil society attended the event in the Federal Foreign Office marking the start of the second phase. In his opening speech, Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe, called for a more courageous fight against populism and nationalism in Europe. The “EU’s key messages of solidarity and social cohesion” played an important role in this, he said. “Europe can only survive in the long term if what is perceived as a project of the elite finally becomes a broader grassroots movement again,” Roth continued.
The right time for the event – albeit not by choice
Foreign Minister Steinmeier gave a speech at the end of the event. He said that the result of the UK referendum meant the event was taking place “at the best possible time” – albeit not by choice. The participants were displaying the necessary “courage not to allow themselves to be consumed by the mood of crisis”. This was also necessary, as “Europe needs new ideas now more than ever!” Having said this, Steinmeier pointed out that Europe can only work if it is a Europe of the people.
In his view, three things were now most important. Firstly, it was vital to take a stand. There were plenty of reasons to be proud of what has been achieved in European integration and to continue this project. After all, Europe has enjoyed the longest period of peace in its modern history. Secondly, it was important to hold Europe together. Germany had particular responsibility for this because of its history. And thirdly, it was important to be honest. A more flexible union was needed for the future path of integration. After all, he said, “No one is a bad European because they want to spend more time on this path”.
Start of the “thinking labs”
The Dialogue on Europe will now focus on the heart of the matter. Over the next 12 months, concrete suggestions on sustainable growth, migration, integration, populism and social cohesion will be made by multilateral “thinking labs”. The results will be presented to the public in the second half of 2017.