Europe day? What Europe day?
Last year, when asked about the 9th of May and why this day is a special one, the vast majority of Europeans would have had no clue what you were talking about. Unless you were in Eastern Europe, where they would have likely associated it with the Victory Day commemorating the end of Word War II with the Nazis’ capitulation. Fewer people were aware this special day is also Europe Day, when the European Union celebrates the Schuman Declaration, which officially launched the first initiative that has led to the EU as we know it.
Since last year, the European Union has being experiencing a dramatic rise of visibility due to both the euro crisis and the Ukrainian crisis. This visibility stimulated the interest of the citizens in European affairs and showed citizens the salience of the Union in their lives. These developments should contribute to making this embarrassing situation of an unknown Europe Day less likely, especially with the European elections only a few days away.
This year it’s different?!
This time, for the first time, the European political parties have designated candidates who are now campaigning for the presidency of the European Commission. Despite having a historic presidential debate gathering these candidates, this initiative has been precluded by some national public broadcasters deciding not to air the debate, which has partially undermined the purpose of such an event. Unfortunately, even the European elections themselves are still suffering from rules designed on a national basis that result in preventing some European citizens from voting. Finally, even their results do not translate automatically into the winning European party securing the position of president of the European Commission. It is indeed up to the European Council to nominate the official candidate, who is to be only approved by the European Parliament. This is why Europe Day should be an extraordinary moment for encouraging debates about the EU in the public space, and making sure we do everything in our power to make these elections a success that carries weight.
Europe Day: a day where euro-bashing can be overthrown.
More fundamentally, Europe Day can be a flagship event for Europeans to stand up and, at least for one day, stop to retreat from the permanent euro-bashing organised by misleading eurosceptic views. Europe Day can be the perfect day to confront them with some fact-checking (e.g. Setting the facts straights). Along with the annual open door days of the European institutions (this year on the 17th May), it is a perfect occasion for citizens to learn about how the EU works. It is a way pro-Europeans can counterbalance the too-biased media reports and nationalist discourse claiming the benefits of integration for select actors and projecting its negative aspects on the EU institutions.
It is up to us to make the best out of Europe Day!
Europe Day is indeed a shining opportunity for bridging the gap between the Union and its citizens. This occasion should be used by all pro-Europeans for going the extra mile to engage themselves in discussions about the EU; not preaching to the choir obviously but rather talking with their acquaintances, friends or family members who don’t really care or know anything about the critical impact the EU has on their daily lives.
Let’s hope that on this day especially, every EU geek, every professional dealing with European Affairs, every student or teacher interested in the European Union would be offering a bit of their time for chatting with their Granny, their baker, their children’s teacher, their loved one, or the stranger on the train in a debate about the importance of the European Project and why it matters for European citizens to vote at the next European elections.
There is no excuse for dodging this civic duty since there are already plenty of user-friendly online tools which help to explain Europe in simple terms, or seek to engage with citizens (e.g. Citizen House and e-rights.eu). This includes the support one might get from groups of engaged citizens and blogs (e.g. Citizens for Europe, Café Babel, LSE-EUROPP Blog or European Citizens Abroad), websites offering electoral tests matching citizens with their respective European parties and MEPs (e.g. My vote 2014, EU and I or Electio), or even think-tanks reflecting on the future of Europe (e.g. New Pact for Europe)
If we all were doing our bit, if such a movement was to take place on Europe Day, I am convinced the quality of our European democracy would be qualitatively improved without having to spend one single euro on communication campaigns, without having to change any treaty or without having to convene any meeting of our European leaders. All that we need is the dedication of ordinary citizens and the belief that the European Project is a positive one that deserves to be shared with all our fellow Europeans. So this Friday, I will have a nice chat with my Granny over Europe in honour of Europe Day. And you, who are you going to be talking to?