The search for urgent solutions to Europe’s malaise formed the focus of Friends of Europe’s annual State of Europe debate, which drew over 200 influential figures to brainstorm on issues ranging from immigration to boosting inclusive growth.
“We should look at the question of whether Europe matters to the world and whether the world matters to Europe,” said Louise Arbour, UN Special Representative for International Migration, at the opening session of the 15th edition of the high-level roundtable.
Participants examined policy reforms and ways to better promote policies to win back disillusioned voters. The scale of the problem was highlighted by a new Friends of Europe survey that showed 64% of Europeans are not convinced that their lives would be worse without the EU and 49% believe the EU is irrelevant.
“We are totally convinced that we will not build Europe if we don’t have more Europe and better Europe,” said Muriel Pénicaud, French Minister of Labour. “If you ask citizens, they don’t think Europe protects them. They don’t think Europe listens to them. They don’t think Europe serves them.”
Several participants spoke of the need for a strengthened social contract to improve the lives of European citizens, particularly the young.
“Inclusive growth is actually what citizens want, it’s a key ingredient for the survival of our social contract,” said Jacques Bughin, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company and Director at the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI). “Europe has the power to continue to remain a welfare state.”
Europe needs to up its game in promoting successful policies and making sure the public understands the positive impact of what the EU is doing. “Marketing is not the EU’s overriding strength,” said Marijke Mars, Board Member of Mars Incorporated. “We need to convey our brand message every day … I’m convinced that brand Europe can recapture its market share in citizens’ hearts and minds.”
In particular, Europeans need to take on populist politicians and tackle disinformation campaigns that risk undermining liberal democracies. Fast action is needed, given the approach of the European Parliament elections next year, cautioned Ricken Patel, President and Executive Director of Avaaz.
“There’s one thing I’m afraid off: disinformation, that has knee-capped us in previous elections. Disinformation is a blitzkrieg,” Patel warned. “This is a fundamental threat … they destabilise our societies. We have to mobilise.”
The State of Europe debate was held in the context of #EuropeMatters is a 12-month project bringing together business leaders, policymakers, civil society representatives and citizens to co-design a Europe that still matters in years ahead. Using data across a range of fields, Friends of Europe developed a series of scenarios, envisioning a European Union from a 2030-perspective. These were, along with the citizen survey results, factored into the brainstorm discussions throughout State of Europe. The #EuropeMatters project will produce concrete recommendations for the incoming EU leadership.
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