Who will assume responsibility in Europe? — How citizens, cities and parliaments have to work together for the future of Europe

Petra Kammerevert

Europe has been enduring a major existential crisis for quite some time. A common European identity seems to become a distant prospect in view of nationalist tendencies and the persistence of Euroscepticism in the Member States. Moreover, those Europeans, who can still recall personal experience of war and hostility between neighbouring peoples, and hence value the EU as a peace project, are becoming fewer and fewer. It is therefore important to further strengthen the meaning of European integration, especially against the background of the Brexit. It has also become clear that purely economic aspects of the European project are no longer sufficiently convincing on their own. What we need is a Europe that stands for its citizens — a Europe that is shaped and experienced directly on a local level. Without the backing of civil society on the spot, even the greatest efforts and success stories of the European Parliament will prove futile. European optimism cannot be established by law. If cultural policy is indeed societal policy, European cultural policy has to start at municipal and local level in the Member States.

Finding creative solutions for participation

The Union citizenship introduced with the Maastricht Treaty only represents a legal basis for the creation of a common European identity. In order to promote the citizens’ consciousness of their identity as European citizens, they have to get involved in the policy-making at all levels. It is unacceptable that a majority of Europeans are unable to answer the question to what extent they benefit from the European Union and whether European culture has shaped their lives. It is therefore up to European associations, cultural institutions and political communities to enable European citizens to participate in politics through creative actions, thereby creating a Europe for citizens. In this regard, political leaders have to set up the right financial and legal framework and overthink their priorities. Without the support of its citizens, there would indeed be no European Union.

Besides, the proposals already mentioned by Volker Hassemer and Steve Austen concerning the increasing European cooperation between cities and local cultural institutions, international exchange and the ERASMUS+ programme, play a crucial role in creating a citizens’ Europe. ERASMUS+ makes Europe accessible for every individual and offers all societal groups the opportunity to experience Europe directly. As a European participative and citizen-friendly programme, ERASMUS+ promotes European values like tolerance, freedom, intercultural understanding and democratic awareness.

Today, in times where Europe is confronted more than ever with the challenge of creating a common European identity, ERASMUS+ plays an important role. It is precisely this kind of initiatives and programmes that Europe needs now and at least as much in the future. For this reason, and in my capacity as Chair of the Committee for Culture and Education in the European Parliament, I will work to ensure that the financial resources for ERASMUS+ are at least doubled in the coming program period. In the medium term, every young European under 27 should have the opportunity to participate at least once in his life in one of the ERASMUS+ projects, regardless of his financial situation. Furthermore, it is necessary to extend the possibilities for mobility in the field of lifelong learning.

Raising awareness for a common history

Another EU initiative that promotes citizen engagement in all areas of societal life is the programme ‘Europe for Citizens’. It awards financing to those projects and activities which aim at fostering Union citizenship, improving democratic participation at the Union level and developing citizens’ understanding of the European Union’s history and diversity. Despite this objective of elementary importance for the Union, it is currently not clear whether the programme can continue to receive funding in the future. I consider a budget cut to be a fundamental mistake, because it is exactly this kind of programmes that Europe needs in order to strengthen the feeling of a common European identity and to counteract nationalist developments. Instead of further cuts, substantially more funding is required in the next programme period.

In a nutshell, European citizens have to be more involved in political processes and be at the very heart of European policy-making. European politics has to become more effective and better address the needs of Union citizens. We cannot accept that entire communities feel left behind by a ‘European elite’. Increasing youth unemployment, the lack of prospects as well as the fear of potential negative effects of digitalisation on jobs are only few examples why more and more people are turning away from Europe. In my point of view, we therefore need even more European learning, more information and knowledge about Europe, more Europe-related education and more education on European citizenship. People must be enabled to recognize that the membership in the EU is beneficial! The creation of a Europe for citizens should therefore be one of the most important objectives for European cultural and educational policy and it is up to policy makers to implement this, no matter to which party or institution they belong.

Petra Kammerevert has been a Member of the European Parliament (SPD)since 2009. She takes the chair of the Committee on Culture and Education. Apart from culture and education this committee is responsible for information-society, media, youth and sports policy.

She studied Sociology and Political Science at University of Duisburg. Since October 2010 she is the chairwoman of the Program committee of the WDR-broadcasting council.