A Dialogue on Europe

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During the last years, Europe hasn’t had the lack of continental crises: the economic and social crisis heightened by austerity policies; the Ukraine crisis and a new perceived danger along EU’s eastern border; the refugee crisis with thousands of people dying in the Mediterranean Sea because of our lack of answers; the climate crisis that makes us every year less safe; the crisis of fear provoked by terrorist attacks in Brussels, Istanbul or Paris. All of these have a continental impact but our way of doing things still expects national answers. And national answers to continental issues just don’t work.

When we tried to reach continental answers by summing up the national answers, it took the discussion to national lines, putting countries against countries, creating disaffection and growing xenophobia — and it didn’t solve the problems.

During the eurocrisis, the political and media narrative has been that Germany imposed austerity, as was written countless of times in the European South, even when the Portuguese and Greek governments supported austerity; that the Portuguese and Greeks are lazy, as Chancellor Merkel said on the campaign trail, even when the fact is that those workers work more hours per year than the average German worker. This lack of understanding and dialogue has put the EU closer to a breaking point and gave way to eurosceptic and xenophobic forces in most EU states.

The state of the Union is weak and needs to be mended. The European Union of diversity and solidarity that so many fought for needs to be rebuilt. And it needs to be rebuilt by us: the European citizens. And the only way for this to happen is through a new Dialogue on Europe that includes everyone.

The German government understood this and after the crisis that increased germanophobia in the south, its minister for Europe started a tour in Athens, Lisbon, Rome, Madrid and Marseille to host town hall meetings directly with the civil society of those countries .

This is the way forward. We need national politicians to be be accountable to their national electorates but to speak to the whole of our shared community. The only way for them to really fight for their constituents is to find allies all over Europe. We need the civil societies of our countries to be more present in the whole continent. We need Greeks in German TV explaining why austerity is hurtful and ineffective, we need Germans on Hungarian newspapers saying why we need refugees to come to Europe, we need Hungarians in Portuguese radio saying why in 2016 our democracies are still in danger and, yes, we need a Portuguese in an Austrian newspaper saying why we need a European Dialogue.

Besides a new common society we also need a reform of the European institutions. Instead of giving power for debate between nations — in the European Council — we need to debate politics — in the European Parliament. We need more political debate across borders. And that has to start with the common citizen. With you.

Originally published in German on the Austrian broadsheet daily, Der Standard.
Featured image: (c) Francois Schnellhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/frenchy/3516112649/in/photostream/