Veranstaltungen: Dokumentation

6.3.2003

Press Report about the Congress

Budapest. (bpb) Civil rights, more accountability of the European Commission, proactive integration policies for immigrants and more democracy and equality for all EU-citizens were at the the heart of a catalogue of suggestions released by the "European Conference on Citizens' Participation" at the beginning of March. Around 170 participants gathered in Budapest to draft a 27-point paper as part of the European reform process. The suggestions will be presented by members of Politeia, a european network of civil education institutions, to the 105 members of the Brussels Constitutional Convention. The convent is currently drafting the European Constitution, who is expected to be finished next year.

Young participants from almost every country in Europe worked together with EU experts to come up with the suggestions at the Budapest conference. A total of six work groups tackled issues like "democratization", "economic and social governance", "civil society and communications", and a common European foreign and domestic policy. An overwhelming majority of the assembly voted to demand that the Charter of Human Rights become legally binding under the new constitution. The Budapest document's authors went so far as to suggest that the Charter be included in the Preamble to the European Constitution. Other ideas that enjoyed broad support included increasing the range of educational opportunties available to European citizens and directed at European integration; opening the democratic processes of the EU to more citizen involvement; the founding and support of media outlets which would serve all Europeans; and an improved system of accountability of the European Commission.

Not every suggestion enjoyed such broad support. The majority of the participants rejected a proposal from Group IV. Under their failed proposal, the group proposed removing the wording designating full employment as a goal of economic and social policy from the official draft consitution. The authors justified their proposal by noting that the discussions in Brussels have designated only paid labor as worthy of ecouragement.

The suggestion that the soon to be 25-nation-strong Union should have a common defense and foreign policy passed by the barest of margins. The proposal, brought to the table by Group V, apparently only passed because it allowed the individual states to choose the level of involvement in the future common policies. Similiarly controversial was the eventually successful proposal to create a European Peace-keeping Force which should also maintain the capacitiy for a common European military force. A demand that gender-neutral "equality" be included in the second article of the constitutional draft as a common European value also managed to squeak by with a slim margin.

This mock constitutional convention, conceived by the Politeia Network, started February 28th with a discussion in the assembly hall of the old upper house of the Hungarian Parliament. The German Federal Agency for Civic Education, a member of the Politeia Network, was represented by its president Thomas Krueger. During the opening speech in the historical Orz·gh·z, or House of the Nation, Krueger said the event should "give impetus to European citizen involvement and hopefully give some new ideas a push". He went on to say that "Europe can neither create an independent identity nor attain sufficient democratic legitimacy unless we can create a European public sphere." That's why the process of modernising and democratizing the institutional framework of the EU was everbody's business, and not the private purview of Eurocrats, Krueger said.

The former Hungarian Prime Minister and current government specialist for EU-Integration, Gyula Horn, made reference to the recent rancor among candiate countries caused by French President Jacques Chirac's harsh criticism. Hungary and seven other European states recently signed a letter of support for the American policy toward Iraq. Several signatories of the "letter of eight" were EU-candidates, and they have been the recipients of especially heavy criticism, most notably from Chirac. Horn went to lengths to warn against the idea that there could be a "leading nation" within the EU. "Goodbye to those who are on a mission", he said, adding that Hungary had had enough experience with that mentality during its four decades in the Warsaw pact. "And we were always on the losing side."

"We should stop thinking about EU-enlargement and focus on the unification of Europe", said Daniel Tarschys, the Swedish former Secretary General of the Council of Europe. He said the convention is doing good work, "but I hardly see any efforts there to create a European identity." Europeans should therefore continue to try look for new opportunites for civic education in the EU context and media, because these institutions could help create an common European identity. "Identities don't just happen; they are the result of efforts", he said during the following discussion. EU-citizens had a habit of seeing themselves as "victims" of Brussels, he said. "They feel, things simply come over them, mostly stupid regulations." That mentaltiy, he said, must be transformed to one of active participation and citizenship.

That was old news to one woman at the meeting. Alicja Herbowska is a 25-year-old Polish student graduating with a degree in political science and European studies. She was already invited as expert to the conference, because she's a member of the European Youth Convention. So were many of the other young participants. To them, these EU issues are almost old hat, and Herbowska said she didn't learn much that was truly new at the Budapest conference. But the event has been "a wonderful opportunity to network", she said. In the last few months, she and other young Polish EU-fans have set up their own network, and now they're organizing events to inform fellow citzens about the EU.

"This event showed me, a journalist and Euro-sceptic, that those bone-dry discussions within the EU are actually reflections of what happens when a lot of people get together to try to reach a compromise", said David Vaughan, Editor in Chief for Radio Praha, at the end of the conference. He added that this conference on citizen involvement had given him a clearer picture of how the European integration process works than any other event he had seen before.

Magdalena Larsen, one of the invited experts and the development director of the Institute for Citizenship, UK, was also impressed. "After seeing how heated the debates in the individual groups were, I began to doubt that we'd get any sort of useful result", she said. But she said that after the 27-point catalogue had been presented and passed by those present, she was "very, very pleasantly surprised to see such impressive, high-quality results." She said she was sure this conference had given the young participants the feeling that they could help shape their common future.


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