For the last few weeks the so called “Yellow Vest” protests have spread like wildfire trough France, with protesters venting their anger against the proposed fuel tax increase and other reforms undertaken by the French President Macron. Although in France protesting is part of the political life, from a European view this matter should not be taken lightly.
As Europeans we should not only be concerned because one of the major countries of the European community finds itself in this dire situation, but rather because the same factors that brought people to the streets of Paris are present all around the Union. In the context of the European Union there is a brewing sentiment of fear against the idea of integration and continuous attacks on the core values of the Union. One has to ask; is it down to misinformation? Is it because these so called extremists are being the loudest? Is it because politicians have long looked down on their constituents?
There are a growing number of European citizens that feel that Brussels is distant, that this political body has overlooked their needs. It is clear that the European Union needs to employ further effort to engage with its inhabitants, especially those prone to fall to the trap of misinformation and radical views. The elevation between European policy makers and citizens is due to its bureaucratic set up. This leads to poorly constructed arguments against the Union such as ‘the EU is undemocratic and run by unelected autocrats’.
One can say that this environment leads to an ‘identity crisis’ where some citizens, feeling neglected by the EU, are ditching their European identity. Often turning to nationalism and unfortunately as Jean Claude Juncker rightfully said in his last state of the Union speech, “narrow-minded nationalism is a damning lie and an evil poison”.
At the moment the EU continuously pours funds into Erasmus+, The European Solidarity Corps and other initiatives that are aimed to increase activism and participation of tis citizens. There are also several EU run agencies and information centres that provide information and help to the public. Another initiative run by the European Commission is Citizens’ Dialogues in which members of the Commission are politically active in the Member States and in dialogue with citizens. The good news is that in the next EU budget there is set to be an increase in the funds allocated to these mentioned incentives.
Apart from these programmes there are room for further effort such starting by increasing educative campaigns aimed for several demographic groups. In addition, there can be an increase in information sources that can provide simplified versions of treaties, policies and function of Institutions within the EU without taking digital illiteracy for granted. There is also a need to create further spaces for debates on reforms in the EU.
The European Union has come a long way since 1957 a unique political and economic union that is now facing its worst adversaries, as Jean Claude Juncker said earlier this year “the hour for European Sovereignty has well and truly arrived”. This Post-Lisbon period will for sure go down as a defining moment for our continent and it is our duty as Europeans to reform the European Union. There are several other aspects in which the union can improve and these shall be touched upon in a coming article by my colleague Adam McCarthy.