Friends of Europe’s annual State of Europe high level roundtable highlighted the pressing need to rewrite the rules of politics at a time of surging support for populist leaders. The event focused on issues ranging from democracy in the digital age, to the future of work and changing migration dynamics.
Speakers urged Europe to move past its leadership crisis and counter the rise in populist sentiment by creating a different kind of politics aimed at improving citizens’ lives. Brussels’ movers and shakers need to get out more, said Carl Bildt former Swedish Prime Minister and Trustee of Friends of Europe. “Move out into the rest of Europe, because there has been a growing disconnect between the bubble talk in Brussels and the fears and the dreams and the possibilities that you encounter in Leipzig or Luleå or wherever.”
The need for Europe to recover confidence in its democratic values is important not just for the EU’s internal health, but also for the rest of the world, said Australia’s former prime minister Kevin Rudd. “What you’ve managed to do here since the Treaty of Rome is fantastic,” Rudd said. “Your voice is needed in the defence and expansion of the democracy project which is now in retreat globally.”
Migration and its impact on European society, economics and politics was a major theme. Speakers stressed the need to change to a positive narrative that counters the hostility towards migrants touted by nationalist politicians and to develop a common approach to migration and refugee issues. “It’s absolutely crucial that we manage to find a common response in the European Union, a common regulation, and all European Union member states must take their responsibility to create a good welcome and an integration plan for refugees,” said Ylva Johansson, Swedish Minister of Employment and Integration.
Europe also needs a stronger policy to frame cooperation with nations in the Middle East on the frontline of the refugee crisis, stated Jordan’s HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal, Chairman of the WANA Institute. “The Europeans have the choice, if they are going to formulate … a policy as opposed to responding only to politics, to begin to consider what good neighbourhood really mean.”
The impact of social media on the democratic process was another key theme. Alexander De Croo, Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium, pointed out that the problem of “fake news” is not limited to social media. “Look at Brexit,” De Croo said. “Some people say it was linked to Facebook, but I think the problem is the tabloids, which came way before social media.”
The event ended with a series of table discussions led by senior decision-makers and European Young Leaders, in which participants generated proposals to adapt the future financing and investment framework of the European Union to a post-Brexit context.
Mario Monti, Prime Minister of Italy from 2011-2013 and Trustee of Friends of Europe, said the current system of seven-year financial frameworks for EU budget allocation risked being overtaken by events. He pointed to major changes since the 2013-2020 framework was adopted.
“The EU relative to 2013 is more isolated and more threatened, and we remain as almost the only standard bearer of certain European values that used to be brought along strongly also from the US side,” Monti concluded.
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