Polis180 goes summer school: ‘LET’S TALK! CZECH-GERMAN-POLISH IMPULSES FOR A BETTER COMMUNICATION IN EUROPE’ at EAB Berlin, 30 July 2016

On 30 July 2016, Polis180 organised one day of workshops in the framework of the ‘enter:trust’ summer school, which was organised by the European Academy Berlin e.V. in cooperation with the Polish Robert Schuman Foundation and the Czech organisation Kuro Hrade Králové for Culture and Volunteering. This one-week summer school aimed at fostering a culture of debate and constructive critique, at raising the understanding for each other’s different approaches and at rebuilding trust in European cooperation.

Dr. Weronika Priesmeyer-Tkocz, programme director at the European Academy Berlin e.V: “The workshop with the grassroots think tank Polis180 gave the participants of ‘enter:trust’ the opportunity to sum up the results of the previous seminar days and to give them another possibility to think out of the box. The workshop was outlined so as to not only debate from a Czech, German or Polish perspective, but from the perspective of a truly European young generation – and which will be responsible for Europe’s future.”

Context: The idea behind ‘enter:trust’

During this week of seminars, the participants discussed and analysed German-Polish-Czech relationships, current European challenges, but also common stereotypes about each other. The different seminar formats, including workshops and group discussion as well as innovative debating methods created an interactive and participative atmosphere.

Dr. Weronika Priesmeyer-Tkocz, programme director at the European Academy Berlin e.V. on the idea behind ‘enter:trust’: “At the European Academy, we regularly organise bilateral seminars, both German-Polish as well as German-Czech ones on current European topics, current challenges and possibilities of cooperation. However, we noticed that a trilateral perspective was missing: how are we as neighbours in central Europe thinking about questions of European integration and current challenges of the EU, as for example migration and asylum policy, security, energy, but also populism? As a consequence, the idea of ‘enter:trust’ was born. It aims at giving the younger generation an opportunity to discuss current European developments and exchange views with each other within a tri-national context. The focus here is to deal with different issues in a discursive way.”

Magdalena Stawiana, seminar coordinator at the European Academy Berlin e.V. also underlined the importance of formats such as ‘enter:trust’ in order to make the voice of the younger generation heard: “I constantly get reminded that the ideas of the younger generation must not be underestimated. Young people have many valuable ideas. They want to get involved and they seek the exchange with each other at international level. They discuss in a constructive yet critical way, and it is important for them to have a platform to present their ideas. (…) I hope that the participants will go home with the idea that ‘our’ Europe is something which connects us now and in the future.”

 

Workshops with Polis180: The European public sphere from different perspectives

During a one-day event, cut down in 3 workshops, we discussed challenges, utopias and policy recommendations towards a European public sphere with a group of 20 master and PhD students from Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. The chosen ‘future lab’ format helped the participants to commonly reflect on the concept of a European public sphere and to discuss press freedom and freedom of expression.

In four workshop groups, the participants focussed on one stakeholder and its behaviour towards the European public sphere respectively: the European as well as the national level, civil society and the media. The participants debated and analysed problems, challenges and obstacles potentially impeding the creation of a European public sphere. As a result of this exchange, they developed policy recommendations for their respective stakeholder and identified different options to take action in order to promote and support the creation of a European public sphere.

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IN DEPTH: THE IDEA BEHIND THE WORKSHOPS OF POLIS180

The following abstract presents an overview of the process and findings accomplished by the experts during this workshop:

Phase 1: What are the problems?

In the first phase of the future lab, participants identified the problems and challenges of a European public sphere, asking themselves what actions their respective stakeholder took in favour of or against a European public sphere.

For instance, the young experts noted that the European Union is unable to create a direct connection to the personal life of its citizens, who in return do not identify with the EU. There is therefore no cross-national public debate; complex policy issues are predominantly seen through a national lense. Participants further asserted that when the EU makes headlines, it is mostly negative news. Additionally, they determined national politicians to play a crucial role in fostering thinking in ‘national boxes’, often using a lack of EU knowledge of their own citizens as well as the prominent absence of EU representation in the media to play the ‘EU blame game’. In addition, the media was identified not only as an essential element of a European public sphere but also as an ‘opinion-maker’, meaning that it gives citizens a voice, reflects local opinions and gives space to experts. However, as the participants noted, the media suffers from a lack of funding and citizens face an overload of information through different channels.

Finally, the last point discussed was that civil societies in Europe are missing a blueprint of how to establish participation in the context of European integration. Civil involvement and activism have been limited, mostly due to language issues. In addition, citizens tend to have passive attitudes and a lack of interest in European issues. Participants observed a vicious cycle between inhibiting factors, such as poor language education, and a lack of participation that prevents actors in civil society from having a more substantial impact.

Phase 2: In a perfect world…

After gaining insights into the current obstacles of a European public sphere, the participants were asked to design a vision of a ‘perfect’ European public sphere – a European utopian construct. During this second phase, they defined the ideal behaviour of their respective stakeholder towards a European public sphere, including motivations, policy instruments and tools. Participants were explicitly encouraged to think out of the box and hence, sometimes, truly ‘utopian’.

Broadly speaking, participants focused on awareness, interest and knowledge of Europe, and specifically European politics.

Objective information transmission was identified as a key prerequisite to a ‘utopian’ European public sphere. One group envisioned the EU as an easily accessible ‘customer service’, directly informing its citizens. Practically, a European newspaper could be shipped to the citizens’ post boxes for free. Others highlighted the responsibility of national politicians to inform their voters objectively about decisions taken at European summits. In addition, the public debate would encompass a greater European rather than a national perspective. This would require increased interest for and therefore deeper knowledge of the EU by its citizens. To provide that knowledge, participants urged different media actors to better fulfil their duties of supporting and nourishing a broad public debate with a strong focus on the EU through a European perspective.

Part 3: Policy recommendations

In the final phase of the workshop, the participants were asked to formulate specific policy recommendations for their respective stakeholder.

In this phase, participants underlined the role of national and European politicians to highlight the political variety at the European level and to better cooperate together. The participants recommended to set up common candidates for European elections to be selected directly via a ‘second list’ across all Member States. If these nominations were transparent and competitive, they would tackle the EU’s often-debated democratic deficit and ensure that candidates are elected according to merit and expertise – undermining the claim that the EU is a small ‘elitist group’.

Participants also noted that the administrative capacities of small Member States risk to be overburdened by European topics. Therefore, Member States could create administrative ‘task forces’ to help out those Member States which requested it. Such administrative exchanges would improve the mutual understanding and examples of best practice would be shared between national or even regional administrations.

Thirdly, participants clearly put an emphasis on education. They suggested to put topics such as the political system of the EU and other European political issues on school curricula. Moreover, the majority of participants endorsed an expansion of programmes such as Erasmus, for instance starting at a high school level to reach more people.

As to the media, it was recognised as an essential factor for a European public sphere. Ideally, the media should balance an optimistic but realistic picture of the EU. Intra-European media could function as alternative information sources and a European media alliance could ‘translate’ between national and European editorial teams, diversify perspectives and broaden journalists’ networks.

Conclusion

Overall, this future lab and its three workshops were the source for insightful, fruitful and comprehensive discussions on various aspects of the European public sphere. On the one hand, participants came up with ideas on how to tackle the obstacles remaining in the way of a European sphere. On the other hand, they also formulated precise policy recommendations for the different stakeholders engaged in this sphere.

All in all, the workshop underlined the extensive communication deficit between the EU and its citizens. Also, it emphasised the need for more education about European issues and better information on a daily basis.

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© 2016 Polis180 e.V. | Grassroots-Thinktank für Außen- und Europapolitik

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